Menu:

 

I recently received the following letter from a reader:

I am only two years short of being an official senior. My fingers are arthritic and gnarly. My hair is thinning. I have one or two chronic illnesses. My best friend is dying of cancer. My old house has never been renovated and it is falling apart. My dog is very farty. I don't have any savings. Do you think granite countertops would give me a much needed boost? If so, do you know where can I find someone who would be willing to pay for my new countertops in exchange for my "friendship" (wink. wink.), or something else that I can afford to swap (maybe the farty dog????)?

This letter presents me with an unusual challenge. For the most part, I spend my time transforming seemingly insignificant things into promises of future disappointments, disillusionments, and tragedies. I focus on how one unimportant decision can result in totally unintended and appalling consequences, or how one stupid, selfish butterfly in Brazil can flap its stupid, selfish, flappable wings and cause me to make an unimportant decision that then results in totally unintended and appalling consequences.

What I find it difficult to do is to respond in a flip, glib, or hyperbolically pessimistic way to someone already well aware of life's hazards and griefs. It's the people who burble on about how you should always be positive and how I should really read The Secret I'd like to trick into watching anything by Ingmar Bergman, followed by anything by Lars von Trier, followed by Up

So, because I can't make snarky, negative comments about much of this, and telling someone her life might be really hard at the moment, but her sense of humour and her use of "farty dog" in such a manner as to make it sound like a euphemism for something naughty and distressing should really be a great source of comfort is trite and unconvincing, I'll focus on the one thing I can in good conscience catastrophize: the suggestion of exchanging sex for kitchen renovations.

It's entirely possible that granite countertops would bring you a much-needed and well-deserved boost. I also think it's entirely possible you could find someone who'd provide you with some countertops free of charge if you subjected him to your feminine wiles. The problem is, such a man would undoubtedly be either a) a dangerous pervert, or b) desperately lonely and vulnerable and dull and interested in you for more than your wiles. Either way, you'd find yourself resenting those granite countertops that initially promised so much pleasure and delight.

I have found, though, that feeling smugly superior to other people can also inspire sensations of pleasure and delight. So I recommend the following: visit the houses of people you know who have beautifully-renovated kitchens and bulging savings accounts. Then, concentrate on how boring they are, how much less funny than you they are, and, if they leave the kitchen for a moment, encourage your dog to fart on their counter.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
Picture
Vladimir Nabokov was so much smarter than you are. He was so much smarter than you are, he didn't just school you in literature; he also put you to shame in lepidoptery. 

That's right. He managed to write Lolita and to establish himself as an authority on butterflies. Obviously, being really good at two things is greedy and unnecessary, and I'd be consumed by distaste and embarrassed on his behalf if I weren't still quivering with an intense (and, obviously, unconsummated) passion for Pale Fire

"...in a speculative moment in 1945," writes Carl Zimmer in The New York Times, "[Nabokov] came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves."

"Few professional lepidopterists," Zimmer continues, "took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right."

He has now impressive literary and scientific reputations. Most people will never have either, and are forced to be content with being able to a) occasionally finish a crossword puzzle in one of those newspapers you get free on the subway and b) remember five of the 118 (had to look that up) elements in the periodic table.

However, it's worthwhile noting that Nabokov's theory about the Polyommatus blues was only tested because a Harvard biology professor (Dr. Pierce - let's give her her due) began reviewing his work while preparing an exhibit in honour of his 100th birthday. So even if you do, say, manage to be an inspired lepidopterist, it's entirely possible your claims will never be validated during your lifetime and that you'll never be famous enough in any other discipline for Harvard professors to reevaluate those claims after you're dead.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.


 
 
Picture
I'm very concerned. I'm frequently very concerned, so that in itself is not overly concerning, but the source of my disquiet is new. When I feel as though the world is being consumed by the iniquity brought into being by musical theatre and communists, I know that I can rely on Fox News to ground and reassure me. Fox News, however, has now shown its true colours, and those colours are distinctly left-leaning. A pale pink? A rich Eastern bloc red? One of those hippie shades.

I thought I could rely on Fox News because it provides a steady stream of anti-mosque interviews, Karl Rove money shots and slim, blonde Republican women. So when I heard that Fox News was reporting that Los Angeles had ordered 10,000 jet packs for its police officers, firemen and paramedics, I was credulous and thrilled. At $100,000 a shot, they're pretty pricey, but what's a billion dollars when the safety of the skies and the fulfillment of the promises made by science fiction films are in question? 

Turns out I rejoiced prematurely. Turns out that, while the jet packs do exist and a whole two of them have been constructed by the company in question, Los Angeles has not started hiring Law Enforcement Jet Pack Officers just yet.

How did Fox News manage to get this wrong? 

Well, they relied on the reporting of the left-wing, lamestream media, that's how. Instead of sticking to crafting stories based on the folksy imaginings of registered Republicans, they turned for inspiration to the Weekly World News.

While unimpeachably reputable, the Weekly World News is undeniably east-coast elitist. Listen to these headlines: 
"Kim Kardashian's Butt Explodes". 
"Harry Reid Joins Male Brothel". 
"How to Sell Your Soul to the Devil." 
And, most damningly, "Megan Fox Marries, But She's Still a Man." Clearly this rag is pushing the gay marriage agenda.

Fox News should know better than to trust the only publication read by all activist judges. They should leave the Weekly World News to the Ivy Tower set and stick to the only credible news source: Sarah Palin's Facebook postings. 
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
Picture
We are the first generation of Facebook users. Even if you refuse to use Facebook because you have, unaccountably, no interest in discovering whether your grade-six crush got fat, you know people who do use it (which means you can just use their accounts to check up on that girl who told you your one-act play sucked in grade twelve without appearing to compromise your anti-Facebook stand). 

Some of you even have to suffer through drawing-room-farce-like internet antics because your parents have gotten themselves Facebook accounts. They start friending all of your friends and then asking why you look like such a slut in all those photographs.

That's all very well, but what's going to happen as we age (which we will, alas, insist on doing)? Facebook will undoubtedly prove to be a great comfort to many older people because it will allow them to remain in casual contact with friends once they're no longer able to go out because they're so completely infirm. It will mean, however, that it will be impossible to keep using that one flattering photograph from your 20s because you'll be undeniably in your 80s and it would just be embarrassing.  

And if you're morbid, which is the way all right-thinking people should be, you'll already have considered things like which of the people you know will die first. Everyone you know, every single person you know, will die eventually, but in what order will they do so? Because we're the first generation of Facebook users, the people who receive memorials on the site tend to be ones who've died tragically and prematurely. But as they years pass, all those with Facebook profiles will die. 

What will happen to the Facebook profiles of people who've died? For the first while, they'll probably be makeshift memorials. People they knew will post on their walls and express sadness. But after the initial shock? After the mourning period has passed? Will Facebook keep those profiles up or will they be made to disappear? If they remain visible to others, we will find ourselves with a virtual graveyard. Instead of gravestones, we'll have profile pics and an archive of posts about parties and obscure political movements. Our children and grandchildren, instead of just searching Facebook for lost flames, will use it as a genealogical resource, combing it for insight into their forebears. 

And then when whatever's better than the internet is invented and all the kids are accessing it through cyborg-like attachments implanted in their flesh, a few nerdy types will use computers to look up Facebook to find photos of their great-great-grandmothers much as researchers today use microfiche to scan old newspapers for items about ancestors. 

I, for one, am going to start being even more careful about looking svelte in the photos I post to my profile. After all, it's possible that profile will one day be the property of posterity.




Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
Picture
As anyone who's ever read this site (or run into me casually at a dinner party) knows, I'm terrified of dying. It doesn't matter how much I try to imagine it's like sleep, or like the time before I was born - it scares the crap out of me (as do aging, penury, the limitless expanse of space, any limited expanse of space, and Lloyd Robertson).

However, because I don't like to play favourites, not dying scares the crap out of me as well. It would be kind of like not ever having to sleep. There would be no end. There would be rampant overpopulation. There would probably be no really meaningful vows of marriage. 

Besides, immortality might not mean no death; it might just mean no natural death. If science devised a way to prevent aging and inevitable death, one would not be guaranteed an endless life. Imagine living in society that has banished death by natural causes and then one day getting hit by a car. Well, you say, maybe medicine can now regrow human beings from tiny strands of DNA (my knowledge of science, admittedly, is shaky). Emergency personnel could drag you from a fiery wreck and reconstitute you. Undoubtedly, though, there would be some unfortunate people who would be murdered and then buried. Or otherwise hidden. Really mean or really crazy people would find some way to make sure that dead people never came back. And if you were in a position to live forever, your chances of meeting someone who'd want to kill and bury you would certainly increase exponentially.

It's like any vampire movie. In any vampire movie, a vampire dies. Often many vampires die. Some lucky and now soulless individual thinks "well, it's immortality for me now" and then before two hours have elapsed, he or she has been staked. From immortality to dust. Imagine being immortal and then getting staked by some smart-talking upstart four-foot-tall high-school student who used to cheerlead.

But maybe knowing you were immortal, even if you could be killed by decapitation, would at least make you less afraid because there'd be a chance, at least a chance, that you'd sidestep death. Or maybe it would make you more afraid, because there'd seem to be so much more to lose.

And if death is ever vanquished, there will be a number of poor bastards who expire the day before. I frequently think about the young men who were killed on the last days of the First or Second World Wars. So close. And I fully expect that I will pop off moments before the eternal life serum is unveiled.
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.


 
 
Picture
Dear Catastrophizer -
A concerned query: is it possible that pessimism could be seen as merelyapotropaic --i.e., unconsciously intended to ward off evil by imagining the worst (whereas optimism could be seen to be hubristic--i.e., asking for it...)?

It's absolutely and entirely possible. In fact, I think it might be unavoidable, especially now that I know it has such an impressive name. All the kids will be doing it ("Johnny, come down from your room right now and stop being so merelyapotropaic!").


It's also something that must be guarded against. Catastrophizers must sincerely and unremittingly expect the worst. They must not go unconsciously doing anything in a doomed attempt to safeguard themselves. No amount of negative thinking can protect you from all the terrible things that will undoubtedly happen to you.

If you wish to remind yourself that the worst really is bound to happen, just follow the following simple steps:

1) Watch any movie by Bergman.
2) Drink a pot of coffee.
3) Go to bed and cuddle up with Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych.
4) Remind yourself repeatedly that while optimists and pessimists may disagree over the likelihood you'll be killed in a plane crash or struck by lightning while falling from the 23rd story of a high-rise and suffering from small pox, no one, no one can argue that you're not going to die. Nope. Even if you miss every car crash and disease, you'll be dying at some point. You will no longer BE. Of course, it's also possible that your self-awareness will be compromised by senility before you die, so that might take the edge off.
5) Sweet dreams.

It's in fact imperative you do this, even if you are a devoted and dutiful Catastrophizer. As any PBS special or old person will tell you, our culture tries desperately to deny the fact that we're all going to die. We try to hide our wrinkles and our old people as best we can. We obsess over life-prolonging treatments and diets as though a acai-berry smoothie will cancel out mortality altogether. We avoid confronting other people's deaths by natural causes by, as I said before, shuffling off our elderly to old-person ghettos (unless they're wealthy, in which case they may be lonely and un-visited, but they at least get to play golf on a Wii). 

Our popular culture provides us with no memento mori art. We have Beckett's Pozzo saying, "We give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" in Waiting for Godot, but who reads that past college? Who actually reads that in college? 

It's possible there will be more open discussion about everyone dying when the Baby Boomers get even closer to it. If they haven't already, they will soon be realizing that their generation is going to be dying en masse in the very near future. 

And unless or until you have a human skull to stare at, keep this idea in mind: you won't be far behind. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
 
Picture
I often feel as though unborn children are laughing at me. That people who do not yet exist are already beginning to snicker. If one is a thoughtful, sensitive, imaginative person (I am obviously referring to myself AND preparing to say something terribly portentous), then one realizes life is like a book one will never finish, like a movie one will miss the end of, like other things one thinks are gripping that one will be prevented from seeing through until the end.

I recently heard Dr. Michio Kaku, a fancy string-theory person who is pictured on his website looking like Doctor Who standing in front of a powerful fan, talk about his new book, Physics of the Impossible. He claims that, because we can now teleport atoms, it might be possible in the future to teleport larger things. Like Dr. Michio Kaku. He also contends that time travel might be possible in the future, and that the reason we don't notice that we're surrounded by time travelers from the future is that they are wearing clothes that make them invisible (which will also be possible in the future). 

These are very exciting suggestions. I would like to be teleported. I would like to travel back in time and stare knowingly and condescendingly at the people who can't see me through my invisibility clothes. 

But, you know what? I probably won't live long enough these things happen. Dr. Kaku probably won't live long enough to see these things happen. Even if I do live long enough to see these things happen, I won't live long enough to see the equally exciting things that will happen after my death happen. I will never know how this all ends, whether this all ends, which science fiction narratives were eerily prescient. Smug little future people will look back at my generation and think smug things like: "How did they ever get around without hover Hummers?" "They ate food?! What a quaint, curious thing to do?" "They had organs? How impractical!"

I hate that the people of the future will know more than I do. When I studied the period "between the wars" (1918-1939 for those of you who haven't yet discovered the glory that is looking back smugly at generations past), I was haunted by the fact that the people who lived then didn't know they were living between the wars. They probably thought of themselves as simply post-war. But I know better. I know that the world was headed for yet another appalling conflagration. And they didn't. Which means that some irritating undergraduate with great self-regard will think something about us. She/he will think how amazing it was that we didn't know yet. About the coming war? About the unprecedentedly important scientific discovery? Who knows. I don't, and that drives me crazy.
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
 
Picture
The Catastrophizer isn't simply good for realistic and dispiriting relationship advice. Read as I do what Scientific American couldn't: provide a reasonable answer to the following question.

Where will the U.S. get its electricity in 2034?

This question needs to be rephrased. It should read: "Where will those in the U.S. still able to afford electricity get their electricity in 2034?" For by 2034, American society will have become even more dramatically and irreversibly stratified. From their fortified mountaintop aeries, the wealthy (employed either by aerie fortification service providers or a CSI spinoff) will gaze out over a landscape dotted with melting ice caps and adorable baby animals that are the last of their kind. 

The poor will live largely underground, partly because their eyes can now function only in near-darkness and partly because the baby animals are hungry.

Oil reserves will have been exhausted and natural gas will have been ruled out as too obvious. So the question remains: where will the rich get their energy?  The answer is proof that innovation will not be extinct in future times. The engineers of the future, now gripped by Bieber fever but soon to be gripped by the terrible, terrible cold, will have devised a way to power their remaining luxury devices by harnessing the energy produced by the burning of other countries. People the world over will still want to move to America, because they will be on fire.  


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
Picture
I have received my second reader question! From someone who is not in the least related to me! Read on:

Let's say you're the parent of a very successful catastrophizer--should you feel pride, because so much of you lives on in a new generation? Or sadness and regret because your offspring has arguably been infected by your own congenital and over-arching pessimism?

      -
Anonynomous Individual Not 
        Responsible for Fathering the
        Catastrophizer


Before going any further with this answer, I should make one thing very clear: you should always feel sadness and regret. Very occasionally, you may allow yourself to feel pride, or joy, or elation, but only because those sensations will add a certain piquancy to your subsequent feelings of sadness and regret. Don't be concerned about having to force the return of the sadness and regret; they will come back without much prodding because life is full of things that cause them.

Feeling pride that part of you lives on in the next generation can quite easily be made to result in profound depression (although all things, obviously, can be made to result in profound depression). First of all, that pride is necessarily bound up in the fact that you yourself will die, a fact which is likely to be interpreted as a downer. The individual in whom your qualities (fine ones, I will admit) will live on will also die, possibly without issue. Even if that individual were to produce offspring, those offspring would eventually die, and so on. Even if you belonged to a family that regularly produced progeny, all of whom inherited your qualities, remember that the world itself will most likely shrivel up and disappear at some point in the vast expanse of future time. Your pride will, one way or another, be short-lived.

You should absolutely believe that it is because of your style of parenting/doomed genetic bequest that your child has developed catastrophizing tendencies, because as you've indicated, that line of thought will undoubtedly produce more sadness and regret. However, if you were lucky/unfortunate enough to produce an even vaguely observant child, that child, one way or another, would have grown up catastrophically. The beige and brown Ford Fairmont had nothing to do with it.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.