The Hershey Bar Cure
The telephones in our office haven’t worked right for more than a week. The phone company is looking into it. The fax machine works sporadically, but probably won’t actually get fixed until somebody figures out what’s wrong with the phone lines. Two computers crashed at a critical moment, and our e-mail was briefly out of commission.
The printer is performing erratically. The microwave is still working, but it makes a funny noise. We’re afraid to try the coffeemaker. Oh, and the ficus tree is dropping leaves.
So nothing works. So what else is new? There’s no flood, famine, pestilence or hailstorm. No plague of locusts. No reports of sunspots. The moon isn’t even full. It’s just another one of those days when, for no apparent reason, everything falls apart. The little things you have come to depend on for daily convenience — electronic gadgets and goodies, technological toys and trinkets — conspire to let you down. The mega-systems you rely on to keep your world spinning — transportation, communication, utilities — suddenly decide to betray you. And there is very little you can do about it.
A colleague sat in traffic the other morning on Jimmy Carter Boulevard for an hour and a half because the rocket scientists who have been trying to “improve” traffic flow, primarily by establishing near-permanent installations of orange and white plastic barrels along the roadway, shut down all but one westbound lane at a busy morning hour.
I was happy to join him in a heated rant about that particular road project, since one of the crew members, just a few days before, had sprayed my car with gray goo that looked suspiciously like ready-harden concrete. I don’t think it was malicious; I think he was busy watching another guy place traffic cones so that cars trying to get into the left turn lane were forced to make a sudden change in their travel plans.
This particular intersection has been under siege for several months, with no sign of letup — or completion. The workers bumble on, adding a traffic barrel here, subtracting a turn lane there. At least you can give them a nasty glare as you ride by; but what are the options when the culprit is anonymous?
The technician who comes to unsnarl your phone lines is not the person who caused them to snarl in the first place. The fax-fixer is not the fax-breaker. Nor is the customer relations specialist who
‘handles” you and your complaint about the printer the one who is actually responsible for its fizzling out. He or she is simply there to speak in a soothing monotone designed to calm you down.
(I have, on occasions when I wasn’ quite ready to be calm, asked the first person I was connected with to hand me over right away to a supervisor, on the theory that the higher-paid employee rather than the lower-paid one should have to hear me out.)
Sometimes the villain who is complicating your life is beyond earthly reach entirely. I’ thinking here of the squirrel who bit into a power line and plunged my neighborhood into darkness; he departed this life at the instant his teeth made contact with the cable. There was hardly any point in yelling at the furry cadaver that plopped down at the end of my driveway.
When whining or venting or complaining are ineffective or impractical, is there anything that works? Well, yes, actually.
Susan Randall, a licensed professional counselor at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, recommends stress reduction techniques to get yourself through the immediate situation —
deep breathing, stretching, meditation, humor, a walk around the block, some classical music. Even talking to yourself is a good idea; if you’re stuck in traffic or fuming over a crashed computer you are better off resigning yourself to a delay than ranting and raving over something you can’ do anything about.
Randall also recommends yoga, regular exercise or sports to keep yourself generally healthy and mentally ready to deal with stressful surprises.
To her good advice, I might add that an occasional Hershey Bar with almonds has been known to work, too. I’ve also thought of taking up a hobby, specifically indoor gardening, which might help me remember to water the ficus tree.