Section 5: Complex Consequences Chapter 1: Chips Fall
late May 24, 20yy Los Alamos to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Casey’s morning trip to Bandolier Ruins was early in the season which gave her choices of ladders to climb to view ancient households. On her way back to Los Alamos , she stopped at a Dairy Queen, then caught up with Sally at Marilyn’s home. The living room was strewn with pictures and memorabilia to use at the memorial service a month off. Sally and Marilyn seemed relieved that their plans were now set, while waiting for elder daughter Ellen’s return from her junior year in Germany.
Casey and Sally had stowed luggage for yet another hotel night before the next day’s early flights to their respective homes. Both were mentally gearing up for a coordinated exploration of Pink Page attacks, operating as a team formed at the previous evening’s dinner. Neither knew how things would work out with “Millennial Matt”, as they now called their entrepreneurial, if historically deficient, much younger colleague. Casey congratulated herself for finding multi-generational and intellectually diverse allies.
Driving down the mountain, Sally and Casey discussed their project name, ‘Team 3Gen’. That seemed to capture their human generational differences with a side hint of technology evolution.
One rejected name had psychological overtones for Casey. She asked Sally, “That idiom we talked about at dinner is intriguing. Do you know the original meaning of ‘A Chip on My Shoulder’?”
Sally turned her head to look at Casey, dislodging the ear bud on her right side. “I was just looking it up. You’re more literary than me, so that question has stumped two computing elders at once. Let’s have a stop for some coffee. I’ll hold a seance with my iPhone Siri.”
Around a long bend in the highway, Casey spotted a gas station with signs to ‘Eat Here!’. Its lot was filled with big motorcycles, the kind with silver mufflers and bulging side pouches. A few beat-up trucks filled the remaining parking spaces. Colorful strings of chili’s bordered the entrance to a building that appeared to be left over from World War II.
Casey exclaimed, “My mother always advised choosing eateries by number of parked cars. Generalize that advice to all vehicles and a vintage building and we might find a change of ambience from our more upscale restaurant meals of the past two days. Let’s stop here and join the hogs.”
Sally nodded agreement. After gassing up, Casey moved the car under a stand of pine trees so they could do their idiom homework in the shade. Their little rented Toyota Corolla seemed out of place as the motorcycles pulled from the lot onto the open road. After the roars died down, Casey pointed to Sally’s jabbering iPhone. “Geez, Sally, doesn’t that voice make your head spin?”
she smiled, “Nope, vision loss enhances speed listening, mainly by forcing concentration. Maybe there’s also an audio working memory system that holds the last 10 seconds while the brain is finding the best associations for the audio content.”
Casey laughed, “You vision loss folks have different bodily systems going, don’t you? That ‘speed listening’ feature seems useful for Whisperers also. Maybe slowing down speech through our earables has made it harder to listen comfortably and accurately. Who knew?”
Sally nodded, flicking the buttons that slowed the speech rate to 200 words per minute. “I’ll be uncomfortable at this speech rate but I respect the needs of the listening-impaired.”
Casey went on. “Now, what did you learn about the ‘shoulder chip’ idiom?”
Sally shrugged. “Well, the venerable Wikipedia gives a pedantic explanation about sawmill workers taking boards home, then losing some rights, and blah blah blah. But, hey, I found a song from a Broadway musical and a ponderous poem. ”
She continued, “Sorry, I got off track. Seriously, there are several definitions which boil down to (1) a grievance, (2) persistent anger, and (3)an attitude of fighting to remedy the perceived wrong. Or, as my taxi driver Mike would say, ‘somebody who goes around mad all the time’.”
Casey’s shoulders drooped. “Ouch! But, the grievance could also trigger imposter syndrome. I always picked the wrong battles where I felt inadequate. Then I got frustrated and I upset the old guys in charge.”
Sally nodded, “For sure. ‘Imposter syndrome’ afflicted me until I finished my book and got tenure. It’s really prevalent, even hurting that charming Claremont university president.
Casey nodded. “Hey, maybe naming the condition will control the symptoms. Usually, I get so angry that I sputter. A few days later, when everybody else has forgotten the situation, I finally figure out my reactions. I wonder if training with Whisperers can overcome imposter-itis or that shoulder chip thing.”
They opened the car doors to let the warm late afternoon breezes rustle their clothes. Sally popped her ear buds into her neck pouch and stowed her iPhone. Casey glanced across the view of the mesa that she wished Sally could share with her. For a few minutes, they simply enjoyed silence.
Twenty feet away, a red truck pulled up and out jumped three women. Each held some kind of electronic device. “We have company, probably some geocachers, three women,” Casey explained to Sally.
Casey’s Whisperer locked with that of the youngest looking woman of the trio. The lady’s profile described a variety of hobbies, her favorite books, and travels. Casey’s own profile probably described her nerdy activities, age bracket learning, and hometown. Sally’s Whisperer was in ‘no-contact’ mode.
Casey realized the group were on hot pursuit of a hidden treasure. The geocatcher waved to Casey as her friends scurried into the stand of pines, looking into shrubs. One emerged with a small black tube. She unfurled a roll of paper. Her facial expression turned from glee to annoyance as she read the paper’s message to her companions.
Casey turned her attention back to Sally. “Uh, Casey, you don’t have to tell me, but do you remember what triggered your ‘chip on your shoulder’? I’ve noticed you speaking through clenched teeth at odd moments.”
Casey thought a while, “There might have been other provocations, but I definitely remember two incidents in my aborted graduate work. My first advisor – left for another school without a parting word of advice. I was pushing 30 and really wanted to get the degree. I felt abandoned.”
Sally shook her head. “I’m familiar with that. You build up a professional relationship laced with dependency. Then, poof, you must start over. This happens to lots of grad students. Yes, you were ditched.”
Casey groaned, “It gets worse. Then when I had a draft of my thesis, I met with a widely renowned committee member who was inordinately proud of his recent graduate with a similar topic. He slammed down my draft manuscript on the table.”
Casey threw up her hands. “Bang, the pages flew out of the binder. He muttered, ‘This is not in the same quality as my student, Jim Prince!’ He seemed insulted by my topic and 200 page manuscript.”
She bent her head. ” I already knew my work suffered from immature ideas and wasn’t mainstream. I was devastated !”
Casey flexed her fingers, pretending to be typing madly. “Dammit, in those days we even designed our own fonts and were unwitting testers for an early Xerox printer. Sitting in an overly cooled room to protect that precious machine and its server and the primitive keyboard terminals, I had typed my fingers and eyes to exhaustion. Now those beautifully printed pages were scattered around his office. I started to cry and left without picking up my manuscript.”
Sally said, “So, you were at this prestigious place, dumped into thesis limbo. But maybe the big cheese was just challenging you to greater heights. Do you remember any constructive suggestions?”
Squirming at the suppressed memory, Casey let out a long sigh. “No, slamming down my thesis in front of me was so shocking I didn’t know what to say. Few classes were offered so my graduate cohort had to create our own research seminar. We often read papers at home, came in to lunch, scrawled out ideas on brownie plates at the cafeteria, then wandered back to our offices or apartments. I never got deeply into any advanced topic or got much feedback on my own half-vast ideas. Grad school was a sick joke!”
Realizing she’d never put together all these miseries, Casey concluded, “The combination of career uncertainty and a family illness just hit me all at once. I dropped out: All But Dissertation. I just didn’t feel fit for academic positions after those encounters. I thought I might be better as a staff researcher. I liked being a programmer, tester and documenter. And I was good.”
Sally patted her shoulder, as if brushing off chips of scorn. “Casey, I’m so sorry to hear that. You’ve done lots more as independent researcher than many academics, and you know that. But, it’s sad that the grievance lasted your lifetime.”
Casey glanced out the window. The geocachers were unpacking some paper and pencils.
She continued, “Well, there were other circumstances. I was first generation to graduate college, which made me feel exemplary and at the same time inferior. I was woefully inexperienced, yet driven to succeed but stumbling on and off the career path into an immature technical field. I didn’t know any successful academics. And then I became gun-shy about relationships.:
She laughed, “Sputnik fueled my educational opportunities, but I didn’t have the boosters to reach career orbit. Sorry, bad metaphor. Now, we’ve named it, I would like to hear that poem you mentioned for comparison.”
Sally pinched the text into her Voice Dreams app and chose the British Graham voice.
Title: The Chip On Your Shoulder
Author: Edgar A. Guest
You’ll learn when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Which you dare other boys to upset,
And stand up and fight for and struggle and smite for,
Has caused you much shame and regret.
When Time, life’s adviser, has made you much wiser,
You won’t be so quick with the blow;
You won’t be so willing to fight for a shilling,
And change a good friend to a foe.
You won’t be a sticker for trifles, and bicker
And quarrel for nothing at all;
You’ll grow to be kinder, more thoughtful and blinder
To faults which are petty and small.
You won’t take the trouble your two fists to double
When someone your pride may offend;
When with rage now you bristle you’ll smile or you’ll whistle,
And keep the good will of a friend.
You’ll learn when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Which proudly you battle to guard,
Has frequently shamed you and often defamed you
And left you a record that’s marred!
When you’ve grown calm and steady, you won’t be so ready
To fight for a difference that’s small,
For you’ll know, when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Is only a chip after all.
Casey dropped her head down on the steering wheel, then back to the head rest, pounding her fore head and sweeping her hands over her shoulders. “Ha, that makes sense. ‘Time is life’s adviser’. This gives me lots to think about, regrets and all, when I review those narratives from my Whisperer’s living data. Hey, why are we still sitting in this car? Let’s get some coffee, pie and chocolate to soothe over these insights.”
The geocacher trio were huddled around sheets of paper spread across the truck’s hood as they studied a colored page of text taped to the windshield. They paused to listen to their Whisperers reading our profiles then waved and returned to their writing activity.
Casey whispered to Sally, “I guessed they are working on a field puzzle or multi-cache. Don’t you envy their freedom and joy?”