Triviality: The Strange Attractor

It is positively embarrassing how hard I have to work to keep my life simple. I am by no means a minimalist, one of those pompous types who say snide things about people who own more than they do. I own what I need and want, periodically culling out the things that no longer bring either utility or joy. The same goes for time. I have little patience for the trivial in my life–those things that others seem to heap upon me for reasons that defy reason.

For example, I had a position once at a university where the faculty was unionized and as a result had an extremely legalistic system for promotion and tenure. I frankly did not give the unionization thing much thought until time came for my first annual review. I was handed a large (extremely large) notebook wherein lay a description of all the things that were supposed to go in my “packet.” About page seven, I decided that my time was better spent doing something than telling some over-employed university administrator what I had done and promptly ignored it. I did pull together my vita for them, which I thought was pretty big of me, considering.

My department committee was not amused. I refrained from telling them I didn’t follow the directions because I thought it was a prank, though it was hard. They admonished me that if I expected to get tenure, I would have to comply with protocol and submit a complete packet the following year. I then refrained from telling them that to my mind, they were as much the ones being assessed–to see whether I wanted tenure there.

Soon after, I was in a meeting with the Chancellor and several of my faculty cohort. This subject was not only on my mind, evidently, since it came up during our discussion. The Chancellor groaned and said, “Good lord. Those damn four-inch thick notebooks fill one wall of my office every year and all I ever read are the vita.”* Well, duh. Who’d have thought an old country boy could figure things out as well as a chancellor?

Certainly not the department committee, who insisted on the status quo once again. Only this time, I had a plan. I was going to do everything, every single thing, they asked me to do. I spent hours, against my deepest inclinations, getting everything just right. When I got it back, I was again admonished for failing to meet protocol. It doesn’t take twice for me to learn not to pee on the electric fence, so I reverted to my previous habit of refusing to do stupid stuff for other people’s sake.

Things went downhill from there, not only because the university was rife with trivial policies and procedures, but because the people who administered them loved it. The Chancellor’s brief admission of the absurdity of it all was a breath of air in the dank cellar of university administration. To this day, I can see the acutely puzzled faces of the committee as they silently tried to fit me with some kind of adjective. Judging from their treatment of me afterward, “dangerous” is the one they settled on.

You don’t have to be in academia to appreciate the power of the trivial to suck the life out of the hardiest of souls. I recently needed my truck title, which I thought was in my glove box. Oops. Not there. It had been sent to the wrong address by the bank after the loan was paid off. Three DMV’s in three different states and three anguished weeks later, I walked proudly into my local one, valid Kansas title in hand. They said they would happily mail (yes, snail mail) it to Springfield for me. I could expect my Illinois title in four to six weeks, unless of course, the state computer system had not correctly noted the release of lien.

No, that could never happen.

Taxes require hours, sometimes days and weeks to fill out. Paperwork for buying a house is like reading Bob Dylan’s Tarantula backwards a thousand times. Phone answering system cascades have been shown to warp spacetime, and not in favor of longer life for the listener. When people call me on the phone, a blessedly rare event these days, they always tell me ten times more than I wanted to know, most of it twice. What gives?

Government, while certainly not the only offender, is probably the most noteworthy. Life under the thumb of bureaucrats extending their gnarled fingers into every corner of our formerly private lives is offensive to the liberty-loving spirit for all kinds of reasons. What we eat, whom we hire, and how we speak are no longer considered off-limits for the energetic government drone. We often neglect, however, to add to our objections the sheer theft of our lives. Time stripped away by the gnomes immortal who manage these traps will never be given back. It cannot be. It is gone forever.

Were I to believe the life-stealers capable of a concerted effort, I would think that a vast conspiracy had been launched–one to keep mankind too busy to cause trouble. I don’t, and so have to settle for a more mundane explanation for why others excel at wasting our time.

I think it a primal fear–the fear of life. Every moment spent doing something useless is one less moment left to face the larger questions deep within each of us. It is one less moment to dwell upon our eventual demise and the brevity of our time here. Seeing others engaged in rich and fulfilling behaviors must be awkward when one spends his/her life with a dull sense of futility gnawing at the soul. Better to keep other busy as well–too busy make a mockery of our listless lives, too busy to engage us in any thought-provoking way, too busy to smell either the roses or the stench of a life half-lived.

I hate when others confiscate my money in the name of social justice, meddle in my business when it’s none of theirs, and give me advice I can live just as well without. I hate it doubly when I think of the time it wastes. Every instance is the theft of my life measured in time. It’s the only one I have, so perhaps you’ll forgive me for being stingy with it. I’ll do the same for you.


*I was momentarily sidetracked looking up the correct plural for “vita.” I give. You figure it out. “Vitarum” was a bit pompous for me.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Triviality: The Strange Attractor

  1. Kay Neal says:

    The plural of vita is vitae. The plural of curriculum vitae (literally “course of life”) would be curricula vitae (courses of life) and not curricula vitarum (courses of lives). Vitae is both genitive singular (genitive = possessive) and nominative plural (nominative = subjective), causing grief among many generations of Latin students.
    In normal Latin usage, a noun (for instance a body part) is singular if it refers to something possessed individually by a number of people.
    I too resent the wasting of my time (and my family’s time) by various officials. The public school system is one of the worst offenders. I no longer suffer in complete silence, but I am not yet over my general reluctance to make waves. Reading your blog bolsters my resolve!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s