Monday, 23 March 2009

Box of Happiness Sadness: Gelukdoostezza

Box of Happiness Sadness

We like to call the place where we work “The Bad Place”.

There’s a desk shortage in our lab so we, the newbies, have found ourselves shunted into a room already occupied by people associated with another (and, I should add, incompatible) discipline. Our desks occupy a table in the centre of the room; their desks ring ours. Some helpful spatial analogies are:

They are the paying customers. We are the monkeys in the zoo.
They are the Allied forces in May 1945. We are Berlin.
They are the audience at the Coliseum. We are the gladiators.
They are the creationists. We are the evolutionary biologists. Sounds ok, right? But wait: this room is the Kansas Board of Education.

Now that you’ve gained a rough geographical (and tactical) understanding of our position in the room, I can explain this special kind of sadness.

Recently we noted that some of the people surrounding us have, sitting above their desks, something labeled the “Box of Happiness”.

This simple grey box is too high up to see into, so, in our fevered imprisonment, we imagine what it could be:
• Candy
• A pile of soft, soft hamsters
• Unspecified ideological complexes
• A pristine copy of my dissertation, transported from the post-apocalyptic future
• Unicorn blood, in silver vials
• A working global economy
• Etc.
Thus, in our all-consuming envy, we have developed:
Box of Happiness Sadness

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Gingeritis - the sadness that comes from having red hair

I had my hair cut recently. I got bangs, that sort of float coquettishly over my eyebrows. And I left the salon and walked outside and had the biggest shock of my life.

My hair is ORANGE.

I mean, I've always known I was a redhead. And I can see it in pictures and stuff. But in the cold light of day, walking to my car, I suddenly realised that I had a gigantic mop of ORANGE on top of my head.

In a way it's kind of good, it's the high point after a dark period of redhead related identity crises.

When I was four there was a playground by my house where the neighbourhood kids would gather. We were all assembled up there, when someone whispered that they had seen a woman with red hair. Like actually red hair. I didn't understand. The kids all turned on me like I was some kind of liar for claiming to have had red hair my whole life when I actually didn't. I was confused. Brown hair was brown. Black hair was black. But red hair was...not?

A few days later I saw the woman walking past the playground, with her hair dyed fire engine red. My world view had just been shattered.

So, in a way, I was a little relieved to discover that my hair was actually mostly orange when I had it cut a few weeks ago. I mean, it's a pretty large part of my identity. I had the crayola set of 24 pencil crayons, and every time I had to use the orange brown for hair colour, the other kids would say "what is that? Is that one supposed to be you?".

No, it's not. I have red hair, but not every person who has red hair is me. We don't all look the same, ok?

I mean, give us a break, we have a recessive gene that causes us have a mutated MC1R protein. We don't produce enough melanin! It's a serious problem!

My aunt bought a sort of copper-coloured minivan a little while ago, and as we were leaving it in a busy parking lot, she looked back and noted that the distinctive colour actually made it quite easy to find.

"Yeah, I bet my mom's always thought the same thing about me," I said.

Which is true, actually. I'm very easy to pick out of a crowd. People I've barely met recognise me off the street. Do you ever have a moment where you see someone in public that you'd rather not talk to you try to blend in and avoid them? It's impossible for me! I might as well have a flashing neon sign saying "she's over here!"

And then there's the freckles. Do you think freckles are cute? A little splash of a few dozen on someone's cheeks? Adorable! How about being covered with them like you stood too close to a can of brown spray paint? Not attractive.

I fry like a lobster in the sun, my eyelashes and eyebrows are barely visible, and people play connect-the-dot on my arms when I'm not looking.

Also - Anne of Green Gables?!

When I was at the salon getting the bangs cut, as usual the hairdresser cooed over my hair colour and called a bunch of other people over. "Oh I just wish I could get colour like yours," they'd say as they ran their fingers through it.

"Really?" I said. I raised an eyebrow (but of course, they couldn't see it). I don't think they understood what they were getting themselves into. The lack of camouflage, the freckles, the constant teasing and identity-seeking-- the ability to synthesize extra vitamin D is just not worth it.

So just remember, be kind to your redheaded friends. We're confused about our identities, teased mercilessly, and probably sunburnt.

Rudersporttraurigkeit - aka "Rowing Sadness"

I'm going to tell you about the worst part of my life.

No, not the time that my mom said she "trained" my pet rabbit to come home after he was released from his cage.

No, not the fact that I'm single, living in a flat the size of a shoebox, with a newly-engaged couple who can't even put a goddamned jar of mayonnaise back in the fridge because they're busy being so revoltingly in love all the time.

No, not even the evil passive-aggressive power-tripping departmental admin who gives you a look like you've just given a million orphans cancer by violating them sexually when you heat up your apparently olfactorally offensive lunch in the communal microwave.

No, this sadness is far worse. And, incidentally, it is the sadness that started it all.

"What's wrong?" That's a fairly typical question when I arrive to work.

And last Friday I said, "I...I wish there was a word in English for 'rowing sadness'".

And I think that I actually looked so depressed about it, that my lab-partners didn't roll their eyes in disgust at the mention of the R-word.

You see, I'm the women's captain for my friendly neighbourhood boat club. This was the worst decision ever. Like imagine if you had actually agreed to go all the way with that freckly kid from chemistry class just because he complimented your hair at the grade 10 dance and you were feeling desperate, and then the condom broke. Someone should have handed me a "so you've ruined your life" pamphlet when I agreed to take on the job.

Don't get me wrong--I like rowing. There I said it. I do. I was that unathletic bigger girl in gym class that people generally pitied too much to make fun of, and who was so worried about her gym mark bringing down her average that she would stand on the sidelines and cheer for people even if she didn't know them to get points for participation . (Give me a [awkward pause] blugh! Give me another blugh! What does that spell? Hrmmn!")

After all these years, rowing is a sport that I can actually do - and I'm reasonably good at it. But no one with a human soul should ever be captain of a university level-rowing club.

I could probably handle the fact that 60% of the emails I recieve, and 80% of the emails I send are about rowing. I can also deal with putting my nascent PhD on the slow track for the next few months. Supervisor? What supervisor? I'm trained in secret arts of camouflage. (Actually I'm not. See gingeritis.) The inane captains meetings full of bitchy undergrads are fine as long as I've got solitaire on my phone.

No, my rowing sadness begins almost everyday at 5:45am.

"Doodle-do-do" (that's the sound of an incoming text message, and sound of my beautiful dream about me and Han Solo cuddling up inside a Tauntaun disappearing into the pre-dawn).

"Hey I ate some dodgy beef at noodle bar last night and can't keep food down. There's no way I can make the outing. Should I call someone for a sub?"

At this point, my life becomes a lot like an episode of 24, except that I'm incoherently sleepy and in my pyjamas. I have exactly 15 minutes to make a decision about whether or not to call off the outing, in time to warn the other girls and coach not to come down to the river, and probably in so doing prevent some building from blowing up somewhere I imagine. When dodgy beef is involved, I almost always end up having to cancel.

I also enjoy the text messages that ask about the weather. "It's snowing, are we rowing?" "It's raining really hard, are we still having an outing?" "It's the vernal equinox, which is bad for my chi. Should I still come down to the river?" Yes, yes, yes you fools! We're rowers! That's what we do! We row! If you wanted to join the "wake up before 6am and send text messages to someone about the weather" club I think they still have lots of places available.

There's the super keen athlete rower who thinks that we're all lazy wimps, and who chooses to do different warm up activities than the rest of us because she knows better. She's the first one to get to the outing, and gives me helpful comments like "you're doing that wrong" when I'm trying to figure out how the hell I'm supposed to open the door to the boathouse when the handle's broken and my key's just snapped in half. The hypochondriac is the rower who's been texting me all night with regular updates on her bowel movements. I managed to convince her to come, but I no longer feel comfortable looking her in the eye. She also doesn't help me with the door, but talks to Super Athlete about her stomach problems. The Important girl usual arrives next, just as I've managed to jam a piece of plywood under the door to wedge it open. "Do you know what time we're going to be done? I have a really important class at nine. Also, I don't think I'll be able to make one of the regatta days because we have a seminar that day."

I would have been simmering with rage, except that I'm too busy rummaging through the locker, looking for the all important boat lights. If I've forgotten them it means we've all gotten up early for nothing. It also means that I haven't entirely heard what Miss Important has said, and will forget it in about 30 seconds. The super athlete is now checking her heart rate monitor while she does some jumping jacks. The hypochondriac has asked for the keys to the toilet, but I can't find the keys anymore. I must have dropped them while I was looking for that piece of plywood.

Two Nice Girls show up together, and take the blades out of the rack automatically without being asked. I would kiss them, except that I'm lying on my back under the boat, trying to attach the safety lights. The masking tape isn't working. Go find the duct tape. My phone rings, just as the cox arrives. Good she can handle the lights.

The coach is calling. From across the river. I can see the lights on his bike. Is everyone here? No we're still missing uh...three people. I squint at some dark shapes on the bank. Is that one of ours, or does it belong to a different boat club? It's the Apologetic girl. "I'm so sorry," she says breathlessly. It's fine. I don't have the time, nor the professional qualifications needed to deal with her self-esteem issues. The coach is gently reminding me that we're running late.

I drop my phone. It bounces on the gravel, towards the dock, landing millimeters away from the water. I look up. The Complainer has arrived. Good seven people plus the cox is enough to get the boat out. No, I don't care about how cold your hands are. Once we've maneuvered the gigantic boat into the water I check the time. We should have launched ten minutes ago. And then, I have a sinking realization that the last girl who hasn't arrived yet is... Space Cadet. I phone her. No answer. I send her a text "uh... are you still coming to rowing?" I phone her about eight more times. And then, ten minutes later, while we're all debating what to do, she floates up to the boathouse as though everything is hunky dory.

Meanwhile the Important girl has been FREAKING OUT about her lecture. The Complainer and the Super Athlete have begun whispering dark secrets. It's too much to hope that they're plotting a mutiny though. The Hypochondriac has wandered off behind some bushes, and the Apologetic has probably started cutting herself again, because it's all her fault.

And, for the record, at this point it's now 6:47am, and every other decent person on earth at home or in bed.

It's like this every day. I wish I didn't have to do it. I wish that my lab-mates wouldn't have to see the sad look on my face in the morning. I wish that Rudersporttraurigkeit didn't exist.

I wish I had time to tell you more about how I feel, but I have a lot of really important emails to send. About rowing.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Queuesumption: Queue-Bypassing Sadness

Have you ever walked in the door of a party or bop and saw a group of people that seem to be congregating?  Perhaps you've walked past them, down the stairs making a joke to your friends about how stupid all the people standing in line are.  They clearly just don't know where they are going-- you certainly know better.  As you round the final corner you finally see the problem.  After paying your cover charge and getting your stamp you still have to get rid of your pesky coat. 

All of those people that are standing anxiously in line were waiting to get rid of their coats so they can enjoy the rest of the party.  You being so awesomely cool got to bypass everyone.

Unfortunately now you have to go wait in line.  And 25 people have come in after you.  That guy you were hanging out with in the line outside.. is going to get to the party a half hour before you and score all the hot chicks.

That... is queuesumption.  Presuming that whatever the "sheeple" are queueing for can't possibly apply to you.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Internasjonalsnakksomplagiatorstatistiekpathy: International Talk Like a Statistical Pirate Day Sadness

Enthusiasts of strongly functional languages and environments to statistically explore data sets will almost certainly recognize the desolation of attempting statistical analysis without R.

Pirates who have had their tongues cut out due to a slight misunderstanding about the intended functionality of the captain’s peg leg, likewise, will almost certainly recognize the desolation of transmitting thoughts into speech in a world without “Arr.”

In the blended centre of a Venn diagram describing the intersection of these two groups, there is a very special kind of sadness.

You must understand that in this capricious universe there is a malignant trickster force, known by many as “God”. Once a year, for one magical day, it employs an arcane magic that calls into existence both a GNU project similar to the S language and environment for statistical computing and a guttural noise for expressing the emotions arising from a life of treachery on the high seas.

The sadness that this day inspires is a kind of preemptive nostalgia, combined with a sense of the fragility of happiness. Some would say (a thin slice at the centre of the diagram) that it calls upon that infinite pit of blackness in the human soul, the recognition of mortality and the steady chasing footfalls of the beating clock as your life’s time passes. Others have noted it’s similarity to the disappointment experienced when anticipation proves greater than reality [hyperlink to Sequel Sadness].

Either way, at the end of this annual day of unbounded joy for the very few and temporally/geographically non-contiguous members of this group, as the sun sinks low into the horizon, and the last linear and nonlinear modelling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classification, clustering, and sighs of “Arr” spread across the land, there is a distinct feeling of:

International Talk Like a Statistical Pirate Day Sadness.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Sequel Sadness: Sequel Sadness

Hey, remember that time when you were a highly respected academic, and you got so excited to see that movie? That movie that was a sequel to your favorite movie of all time?

Remember how you saw the first one, and it was so awesome that you went home and you pretended you were a paleontologist and that you went to an island where some geneticists had actually brought dinosaurs back to life and you got to see them walking around and eating people and then you also got to fire a gun at them?

Remember how totally sweet that was?

And remember how after you saw the first one you were so scared of raptors living in your closet that you smeared ketchup on your favorite stuffed animal and left him on the floor so the raptors would go for poor old Bearlykins rather than for you, snug in your bed? Remember how the next morning you found the dog with what looked like really thick, red, tomato-based blood on her mouth and you thought the raptors had gone for her, so you took Bearlykins and rubbed him all over with a raw chicken and then cut open his little furry insides so all the stuffing came out and then painted the stuffing with your mom’s nail polish so it looked like entrails? And then you left good old Bearly, boy he was a good stuffed animal, outside your door? And remember the next day, when the dog died of salmonella poisoning?

Wait I’m getting off track here. But remember how, after you saw the first one, you read The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker and went to grad school and got a PhD in paleontology, and you wrote lots of books and articles and your citation count was through the roof? And how you discovered twelve new species of Cretaceous sauropods in North Africa? And then you heard all about how there was going to be a sequel?

Then remember how that sequel fucking sucked?

Remember how you got so disillusioned with paleontology and this whole, I don’t know, this whole just STUPID dinosaur thing, how much you hated dinosaurs if they were going to get onto freighter ships and come to LA and try to eat Jeff Goldblum because, God, what a stupid fucking plot twist. What a stupid fucking movie with its stupid fucking animatronic dinosaurs.

And remember how you left the theatre and went back to the lab, after stopping at that liquor store on Colfax, and you got really drunk, and then you went home and you got your gun, and you came back to the lab, and you almost hit that car on the way because you were trying to take a drink but you couldn’t see the road through the paper bag, but you made it back to the lab anyway, and you took your gun out of your hip holster and you went into the exhibition hall next door to the lab, and you stood behind the T-Rex skull, just stood behind the back of that skull and put the cold muzzle of the gun to the back of its bony cast spine, and shot it execution style until the clip ran out?

Remember how big those Girl Scouts’ eyes looked?

Yeah, that’s Sequel Sadness. No translation needed, because this is a phrase made from the unholy union of Hollywood and Wall Street, in the American-English-speaking US of A.

… you totally thought I was going to talk about Star Wars Episode I, huh.

Welcome to the Melancholexicon

Where have you been?

It's alright. We know where you've been.

You've been without the Melancholexicon, the dictionary of trivial and extremely specific sadnesses. This is a dictionary for words you didn't even know were making you sad, until now, when we told you.

Welcome to the machine.