Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sweat and Dust

“To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not each of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." – Genesis 3:17-19

This Hunter-Gatherer, a descendent of Adam, has turned into a madman with a keyboard. It’s how I earn my living, if not by the sweat of my brow, then at least by the sweat of my brain. From 8:00 a.m. until the early evening I sit in the midst of very smart, very technical people and try to translate their technobabble into something resembling the English language. “There are four main tables in the database schema and about 50 utilities,” one of them says, “and we need ERDs for each of them by the end of the month.” I nod my head sagely, acting for all the world like I both know what he is talking about and care about his intent.

But I don’t. Or, more correctly, I don’t, but I need to know what he is talking about, and very quickly, and I need to care, because my paycheck is dependent on my ability to absorb highly technical information and turn it into understandable prose. Note to self: look up ERD.

In many ways I’ve spent the last 23 years of my life enacting an elaborate charade. I am not a TechnoGeek. Far from it, in fact. I’m an English major. I have a degree in Creative Writing. I keep trying to deny it, keep going back to school and tacking on more degrees – in Education, in Theology, an MBA, for God’s sake. And the bottom line (ooh, a nice business reference there) is that I want to write poetry. I sit in endlessly droning technical meetings and listen to talk about Nodes and all too quickly tune out and start composing Ode to a Node in my head.

I’ve learned to fake it pretty well, and they pay me a great salary to figure out what ERDs are and somehow “do” (whatever do means in this context) fifty or more of them by the end of the month. I’ll do it. I always do it. But at the end of the day I go home and wonder why I’ve just spent ten or eleven hours of my time simultaneously bored out of my skull and frantically scrambling to get more work done than I can realistically accomplish. It’s a tug of war in which my soul is caught in the middle.

I just turned 50, which qualifies me for reduced fares on city buses I never ride and a discounted membership to AARP, which I don’t want to join because it makes me feel old. I have friends and cohorts who are seriously talking about retirement. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, still trying to make the transition from my interests and passions to a viable career. I don’t think I want to be an ERD Specialist when I grow up, whatever that might entail, but I think I might just become one anyway out of necessity. I look on the pragmatic side, which is tougher than you might think for a hopelessly romantic idealist who writes Odes to Nodes. There’s something to be said for regular paychecks, especially on cold winter nights. I am living the American Dream[TM], which affords me a nice 4-bedroom, 2.5 bath suburban house with screened-in porch and finished basement and plot of land, two cars, all the trimmings, two daughters who will soon be college educated, and exotic toys like leaf mulchers and snowblowers, which clutter the two-car garage. I love my wife, I love my kids, I love my friends, I love my church. I get to engage the Creative Writer side by writing for a couple magazines and seeing my words in print. Life is good. I am blessed. So why do I feel that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I get in the car to drive to work? And the theology major in me wonders if this is what God intended.

I also wonder how much of this is simple whining, the product of Baby Boomer navel gazing and an insistence on My Happiness. I wonder what the feudal barons in 13th century France would have said when the serfs in the fields complained about a lack of self-actualization and the angst and malaise that accompanies being stuck far down the rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Would they have sent them to therapy? Or would they have called them scurvy knaves and smote them on the backsides with their swords? I think I know the answer. Those feudal lords hated Maslow.

I wish I knew the answers. In the meantime, I have to work on ERDs for the next few hours and then mow the lawn when I get home. In nice, neat diagonal suburban swaths, of course.


Mark K. said...


Short for Emergency Repair Disk, an ERD is a diskette that creates backups of important system files and settings and is used to help troubleshoot and fix issues for Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000 users. The ERD is used in conjunction with the Windows repair option and you will be prompted for the diskette when needed.

As to your sinking feeling in the pit of stomach, you're suppose to fell that, it keeps you hungry for God.

Andy Whitman said...

Nope. Nice try, though. There are competing acronyms in the techie world, and this is one of them.

In this case, ERD is Entity Relationship Diagram. From the tutorial I've been reading:

"Entity relationship diagrams, or ERDs as they are fondly known in the field, contain a wealth of information on the architecture of a relational database. Unfortunately, those not actively working on database design issues are likely to find them confusing, intimidating, and sometimes aggravating. "

To which I can only say "Yeah, buddy."

"As to your sinking feeling in the pit of stomach, you're suppose to fell that, it keeps you hungry for God."

To which I can only say "Amen."