Warning: Do Not Operate Heavy Equipment while Thinking
I've never really been very good at names, and I occasionally forget commitments, but lately I’m finding myself suffering more from information induced amnesia. There are only so many things I can honestly keep track of in a day, and as I run my mental transmission through its gears, from my morning routine involving meds for the cats, through daily meetings that blur together over time, through solving other people’s problems, through solving my own problems… I find my brain feels like it’s been wrapped in cotton by the end of the day.
In the right situation, that cottony feeling can be a mellow thing where I relax and let things go. Heck, I’ve paid good money to bartenders to help me attain that cottony goodness. But when it’s from overwork, it’s not really “goodness,” it’s more like having your foot fall asleep and then try to walk on it. Thinking becomes a frustrating experience where the brain responds sluggishly and possibly a bit painfully…
I seem to recall a story about when they were inventing the adding machine. By “adding machine” I mean that big contraption with buttons on it that you would punch numbers down one at a time, and then pull the handle forward to add the figure to the series. Chunk, chunk, chunk…. Trrrappt It’s an insanely complicated device, as anyone who ever tried to reassemble an adding machine will tell you. Well, he’ll tell you years later when it’s more of an amusing anecdote than a question your mother asks with increasing alarm.
As impossible reassembling an adding machine is, inventing one from scratch was even more mind-boggling. The story goes that at the end of a day of diagramming, prototyping, and mulling over the inner workings of bits of metal and math, the inventors were so drained of any mental capacity that they had to hire drivers to get them home. There was just no way that someone could hold that much information in his head and then be expected to operate a motor vehicle.
Now, I realize that what I do for a living is mentally demanding, but I don’t have kids. I don’t have anything really complicated waiting for me when I get home other than Jon Stewart’s latest musings on the state of affairs. And if I want to skip it and sleep, I can. Often I’m forced to even as I sit in front of the screen…
But there are millions of people out there using their brains on way too many tasks every day. And operating heavy machinery. While I’ve worried for years about driving on Portland streets after happy hour, wondering how many of my fellow travellers are also fellow barflies, it’s only recently occurred to me that my fellow travellers may not need that double martini to get into a dangerously, incapacitated state.
The mix of personal and professional lives makes the same sound in my skull as the ice in the shaker and the stresses of the day makes me forget things as easily as a heavy pour of vodka. That five-mile-an-hour crawl we call “rush hour” is rather like the end of a pub crawl… it’s all a bit blurry, and I probably shouldn’t be driving, but somehow I make it home after another binge of meetings, memos and dry erase boards.
And like a professional alcoholic, I get up and do it all over again the next day, with a bit of a headache and questions about yesterday echoing in the back of my head.