Indelible Blue Pen

Jason C. McDonald (CodeMouse92)


May 30, 2011

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Gainfully Employed!

(This entry was incorporated into my speech, “A Field Guide to Common Nerds,” which I had the privilege of sharing at the iSTEM Summer Institute 2013 at North Idaho College.)

I am convinced that most of the best jobs involve a certain degree of insanity as a prerequisite. There are the obvious ones, such as crab fishermen in Alaska (Deadliest Catch rocks!), sky diving instructors, and helicopter loggers. Then there are the more sane jobs, like waiting tables or working the front desk (though I’ve known quite a few nutty secretaries in my time.)

But what many people don’t realize is that a sizable majority of the middle class (and the employed members of the upper class) are textbook mental cases in hiding. That’s what makes them so good at their jobs. Sure, they look normal, but that’s just their “How to Look Like a Sane Member of Society 101” class talking. I should know. I’m one of them.

Take firefighters, for instance. My firefighter uncle is a self proclaimed pyromaniac, and according to him, almost all his fellow “dragonslayers” are. Tell me…would a sane person run into a burning building or jump out of a plane into a wildfire? My uncle says that he and his buddies draw straws to see who gets to light the practice fire.

During one of my mother’s worse asthma attacks, we were on our way to the hospital, and I was riding shotgun in the ambulance, next to a firefighter/paramedic. A call came on the radio about a massive fire at a trailer park. My first reaction – “Yikes, I hope everyone is okay!” His first reaction – “Rats, what I wouldn’t give to be on that call!”

But that is what makes these people so good at their jobs – they fight fires and respond to hairy emergency situations because they like it. They’re addicted to the adrenaline rush. Its a similar drive to that of skydivers, ER physicians, and racecar drivers.

Then you have us authors. I’ve written many articles on the bizarre and twisted mind of the writer, and I have yet to find any evidence to suggest a shred of sanity in our being. We get woken up by characters in the middle of the night. We appear to talk (and argue!) with ourselves in the grocery store, when we’re really holding heated debates with aforementioned characters. When we’re in that creative mood, we’re moody and withdrawn. Add in our ability to get our minds into the heads of those same characters and around their respective worlds, and we’re dead ringers for bipolar schizophrenics with multiple personality disorder. Woo hoo.

I’ve found that songwriters are cut from the same cloth, only they hear music in their heads that no one else can hear. Like I said – textbook mental cases. But very gainfully employed mental cases.

Programmers are a strange breed, and one of the few groups of oddballs that have actually been studied in depth by modern psychologists. Many programmers relate better to the consistent and relatively predictable computer than they do to humans. (Okay, you can stop sniggering. It is hard to see the consistency in computers until you understand programming.) As such, programmers exhibit behaviors similar to individuals with autism. They are often withdrawn from social situations –  a few to the point of isolation. The majority just prefer to keep their social realm within familiar territory, by talking shop to anyone who breathes. Which makes for awkward situations.

Innocent Bystander: That sure was an exciting football game.

Programmer: Perhaps, but not as exciting as getting a complex XAML data binding to work with an SQL database after weeks of trial and error. That happened to me just last week, and I found that all I had to do was…

And everyone wonders why tech geeks are so bad at explaining computer usage to laymen.

Then there are the breed of crazies even I can’t wrap my brain around (primarily because I’m not one)…artists. Now, I love artists. They’re spontaneous, insanely creative, out-of-the-box, perfectionist thinkers that are downright fun to work with. But they can also be frustrating to work with because they’re spontaneous, insanely creative, out-of-the-box, perfectionist thinkers.

Can’t live without ’em, can’t figure out what on earth to do with ’em.

I’ve known dozens of these liaisons of randomness, and I’m convinced they’re the only breed of human capable of whipping my and my sister Jacqui’s rears in the left-fielding department. This is primarily because they’re not overt about it. They don’t fire off one liners left and right. They take one, let it stew for a few days, weeks, months, get it perfect…then blast you into oblivion with their astonishing display of stunning randomness.

The strangest thing about artists though is that they are their worst critics. Writers, programmers, and a lot of songwriters can spot glaring errors and flaws in their work – but they can also be blind to the finer details. But if an artist creates a masterpiece, and has one single pixel out of place, they go nuts until they either fix the error or blow the entire creation into oblivion. This is the same perfectionism complex that allows them to create such stunning works of art.

Our elderly next door neighbor, Marie, painted this fantastic landscape of a canyon my family and I used to frequent in Arizona. Yet, as my mother and I stood gawking at this stunning masterpiece, Marie carried on about how horrible she thought the painting had turned out. “I’m just going to paint over it and start over,” she threatened.

Mom and I begged her to let us have the painting, and she relented on the condition that we get it out her garage ASAP. From then on, every time she walked into our living where her work was proudly displayed, she would shake her head. “How can you stand something so hideous in your house?”

Then you have your 24-hour news station correspondents – paranoid pathological liars.

We could go on and on, discussing the nutcases that make this world go around, but the internet wouldn’t have enough space for this blog post. So I will leave you with this simple thought:

Just about every person you interact with, from the guy delivering your mail to the doctor you entrust with your life, is crazy in their own special way. And thank God for it. If every person on this planet were sane, this would be a truly scary place.

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