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Weltschmerz

This is an impromptu post. The dreaded snow storm that was to hit the northeastern US is now here, so I have a snow day. Yay for me. It means that I can catch up on laundry, cleaning, taking out the trash, and watching YouTube!

But, I digress . . .

First, the catalyst for today’s post is one from Matt Forney’s site back in January. Then, there’s this one from the now-website-defunct In Mala Fide.

Synopsis of both:

1. Nothing in the Manopshere is really that original. It’s been written before and talked about before. The difference is in execution. Indeed, when you choose, as Ferd did, to leave Syracuse, New York and walk — yes, walk — to Portland, Oregon, that takes real guts. Though I’ve read Ferd on occasion, I’ve never followed him closely. I hope he makes it, and lives to tell the tale.

2. The problems with men and boys of the Gen Y demographic can be traced back to a growing and very strong dissatisfaction with modern life, especially as played out in the Anglosphere sections of the North American continent. Escape into porn and video games, flunking out of school . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

Of course this stuff isn’t original. I should know because I was in this boat many years ago. As a Gen Xer, many of us were some of the first to figure that something was wrong, but the shit didn’t hit the fan with the same velocity and splatter radius as it did once the millennium came and went.

When in my 20s, I managed to find a term to apply to what I was feeling: Weltschmerz. In German, “world sorrow.”

A bit of history . . .

The term Weltschmerz comes from the German writer Jean Paul, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His writings are fantastical and use highly unusual tropes to achieve their effect. Weltschmerz is when the individual realizes that his mind and physical reality are at odds. Later, the term came to mean the sadness that one feels upon realizing that his weaknesses are largely the result of the limitations that the physical and the social worlds place upon him. In short, he realizes clearly that, “it isn’t all me.” If I fail to make an impact in someone else’s life, it’s probably due to something in the other person that’s outside of my control. If I don’t get the job, it’s probably because of some regulation that exist that causes the myopic HR folks to overlook what I can bring to the company. If the chick I’m hanging out with won’t sleep with me, it’s probably because she’s not that interested in me, anyway. Weltschmerz can be exacerbated by unrealistic expectations, formed through societal pressures. Gen Y feels this the most strongly, but so did Gen X.

Let me relate a story from my own life:

Upon returning from Asia to escape the 1997 financial crisis there, I really had nowhere else to go but my hometown and live with my parents. It wasn’t the first time I had done this, so I didn’t feel like a complete failure. But, it still hurt. What was I going to do? Well, the smart thing I did was to ditch trying to be some globetrotting English teacher, hunker down and learn a STEM skill set. I decided on IT. As I said, very smart.

But, trying to do IT in my hometown sucked balls. I needed to get out. I needed to work at some joe job so that I could earn enough money to get out and get to a bigger city. I needed enough to plunk down for rent and for expenses, since I had no relatives in any of the cities that I was considering (e.g., New York, Atlanta, and Washington, DC). So, I hit the want ads (remember, this is in the pre-Net days) and found an ad for an office supply company with a distinctly red and white logo, and off of which Mitt Romney made millions back in the 80s. (You figure out which one I’m referring to.)

The job ad instructed all applicants to head to the downtown unemployment office to fill out applications and interview for the jobs that were coming open. The company was opening a new store in the shopping mall near the house were I lived as a child and the positions were for people to help set up shelving and stock the shelves before the grand opening. Simple enough. I liked doing that kind of work because I usually felt productive and it kept me away from office politics, especially from snide and backstabbing middle-aged women. I knew I could do this job.

After filling out the application, I interviewed with a decent-looking, dark-skinned woman in her early 30s and who was four months’ pregnant. She thought that I made a good candidate and put my application in the “yes” pile. I asked her, as a matter of course, how long would it take before I hear a “yes” or “no” about the job and the start date. (The grand opening was a little over a month away.) She gave the customary, and bland, “two weeks” answer. I shook her hand and left the office.

The two weeks came and I didn’t hear anything. I waited another week. Still nothing. I gave up midway during the third week. Another one bites the dust (or my nuts). Oh, well . . .

The following week, my mother comes home from work and tells me that she saw a big red banner on the outside of the store in the mall. I couldn’t believe it. I asked her more about it, and the banner said that interested parties should call or walk in. So, I hopped on my bike and went over there, a bit pissed off.

I walked into the store and met a fresh-faced, and dark-skinned, early 20-something who had just graduated college and was in some kind of “management training” scheme with the company. I told Mr. Fresh Face that I had applied for a position there about a month ago and didn’t hear anything. So, he went to the back office to pull my file. Nothing there. (No surprise.) Then he told me that, if I wanted a job, I’d have to fill out another application and take an ethics test. (Oh, boy.) Since I needed a job, I complied. We both then walked back to the office where I got to work.

The ethics test was a generic “If you found a $20 bill on the sidewalk, what would you do?” multiple-choice time sinkhole. It took me no more than ten minutes to breeze through it, using what I knew about psychology to get the “right” answers. Once completed, I told Fresh Face that I was finished and then asked the customary, “How long before I hear anything?” “Two weeks,” was the response.

Oh, by the way . . . though the preggo lady at the unemployment office told me that the store was opening in a month, nearly seven weeks had passed and the store still wasn’t open. I did see Preggo Lady again in the store on the day of the ethics test and she looked like she was having trouble standing up. No matter.

Two weeks came and went. With a mixture of being incensed and mild bemusement, I returned to the store to inquire about my fate.

Fresh Face wasn’t there, unfortunately. He was attending some kind of training in another city. A middle-aged woman met me and took me back to the office, where she talked with me briefly. I told her that I had put in an application and was there to see the results. She checked her (paper) files and found the applicant. Hallelujiah! Praise the Lord and pass the beans! My application was actually there! She read through it and said, in a monotone:

We have the application and you look like a good candidate. But, we had to scrap the ethics test because too many people were failing it. If you still want a job, you’ll have to take it again.

And, by the way, I was one of two people who actually passed the ethics test.

After she said that, I said, “no thanks” and left the store. Nearly two months had passed since my first interview with Preggo Lady.

And, that gents, set me on the path to our contemporary Weltschmerz.

 

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