Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It could be worse

  I’m entering this blog from the Marshalltown Library parking lot. The free Wi-Fi is the first use I’ve gotten from the new library in 3 years. Thanks to a huge storm in Marshalltown this week, our house has had no electricity since Monday morning at 4 AM. Power has been restored to a few blocks but not mine. I think that the closer you live to a bar or liquor store, the better your chances of having your power restored since I noticed all the bars and liquor stores had their power on around 5pm Monday. This same kind of storm hit 10 years ago and my block was one of the last to have power restored. Both times I’ve been able to watch people in the house across the street watch TV while I have been deprived of watching one of my favorite Law and Order – Special Victims Unit or NCIS episodes for the two hundred and eighteenth time.

  Alliant Energy has a web site that you can enter your phone number and they will tell you when your power is going to be restored. 48 hours after the storm, the web site said they are surveying the impact and can’t make an estimate at this time. What a joke. The one time you could use this information, no one updates the site. You could say that Alliant Energy should be busy working on restoring electricity and not updating some web site and you'd have an excellent point, but then my question is “what’s the point of having a web site to tell me when my power will be restored if they won’t update it until the power is restored?” I looked this afternoon and saw my power was scheduled to be restored yesterday. Thanks!!

Good News! My electricity will be fixed yesterday!

  In the 21st century, no electricity also means no internet and no phone since they both come from the cable company. This is good and bad. On the plus side, no internet means I can’t check on work from home. So far, no crises have erupted that would require me to drive to Des Moines in the middle of the night (turning a big plus to a big minus). On the bad side, I’ve organized a chess camp for Thursday and Friday and no email means no contact with the parents and no electricity means the people in town that were making the camp t-shirts and prize buttons for me won’t get them done in time. My amusement the last 3 days have consisted of walking and playing with my dogs Daisy and Baxter, reading books, and hanging out with Kathy, which are things I enjoy doing even when the power is on. The things I’ve missed most are emails, facebook, the phone, TV, radio, and internet chess. These aren’t trivial things, but nothing I can’t live without. I didn’t miss not seeing the all-star game and I’ve spent so many years opening a can and sticking a spoon or fork in it (even soup!) that I still think of a cooked meal as a luxury. Kathy is becoming an expert at grilling, but I think she is missing ice cream most of all.

  When I told someone how I haven’t had power this week, their response was a bright and cheery “It could be worse.” I felt like asking how and then if they said something like “at least you still your health”, I’d reply that I also found out I just have a debilitating illness just to see how it could get even worse. Then I felt like saying “Duh” in a derisive tone of voice. Instead I just nodded in agreement and mumbled my assent because I suppose the comment was well intentioned and I have enough on my plate without starting anything, but it got me thinking how I just don’t get the ‘It could be worse” crowd. Don’t take that rant to mean that I don’t appreciate all that I have. It is just that I reject the notion that I shouldn’t want better for myself and my family just because ‘it could be worse’. And when something bad happens, it isn't better because something worse didn't happen.

  When someone tells me their troubles, I offer my sympathies, offer to help if I can, and offer a solution if I think of one (but not if the person I’m talking to wants to shoot down my suggestions so they can continue to wallow). The one thing I never do is tell them how things could be worse. I don’t see how that is going to make anyone feel better by knowing things could even get worse. If I was going to point out how things could get worse when someone is sharing bad news, when they share good news, wouldn’t I have to be consistent by pointing out how things could even be better? Or should I keep on talking about how things could be worse? After all, if things are good it could get even ‘worser’ than before it got less worse.

  When I have problems like no power or feeling sick or my car’s not working or a sick dog or getting stuck in traffic or losing a chess game, I try to just acknowledge that I’m not happy about it and move on. On those few occasions where I catch myself thinking about how it could get worse, I quickly descend into paranoia. When a project I was working on was having all kinds of problems a couple of weeks ago (mostly due to stretching a system beyond its breaking point), I was waking up in the middle of the night and checking my emails to see if anything had gotten worse. Maybe that ‘It gets better’ slogan has some merit after all. I wasn’t a big fan of it before, but I guess I’d rather say that to a suicidal harassed teenager than ‘It could be worse!’

  In my opinion, telling anyone a situation could be worse than it already is isn’t a comfort but an invitation to overactive imaginations to create nightmarish scenarios. But in the interests of fairness, I thought I try it the next chance I got. When I rolled into work today at 6:30 (I came in early because I couldn’t check some overnight processes on my computer at home – no power, remember?), I had a conversation with the older gentleman who was the overnight security guard. It was early and I was tired so I don’t remember the exact wording, but as I recall, it went something like this:

“How’s it going?”
“Not so good. Yesterday, the doctor told me I only had 2 days to live.”
“It could be worse!”
“You know, you’re right. Wow! What a relief, I feel better now. Boy, I’m sure glad I ran into you today!”

I’m not sure I really believed him…

It could be worse. If they had bigger silos, there would have had twice as much damage.