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June 9, 2008


Yesterday I decided to aggressively de-clutter, clean and re-arrange my home office and in the process managed to break my internet connection. I rock! Winners for the big pile o' books sweepstakes will be alerted today and announced tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who entered!

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Gas prices in Los Angeles -- and all across the country, I assume -- are insane. I read a story yesterday in the paper about the alleged demand for oil, which many analysts say has not increased at all and doesn't merit the price increases.

I don't know about the whole shady underworld of buying oil futures and all that, I just have a deep-seated feeling that someone is sticking it to us.

Other people in Los Angeles that I've overheard talking about gas prices (it's a big topic on conversation, at work, on the bus, standing in line at the store) seem to be using the best method they have of coping, the "well it could be worse" theory. I am not a fan of this theory -- it only makes you feel rottener for feeling bad in the first place. The best example of the "it could be worse theory" is when you're going through a bad breakup, or a divorce, or maybe your beloved pet just died and you are mourning this loss and your heart is broken and some well-meaning individual tells you something like, "Well, just think! It could be worse. Did you see that story on the news about the poor girls whose family did so-and-so and it was So! Awful!" or "Well, it could be worse, did you see those poor people in the earthquake/tsunami/housefire who all died/were trampled/had their identities stolen? At least you have your health!"

Unless of course you do not have your health, then they find a story of someone who has less health than you do.

These folks mean well, bless their hearts. Sometimes people don't know what to say so they default to the "well, it could be worse..." chitchat. But it is so not helpful. There is always someone who has it worse -- it doesn't make you feel better to be reminded of that when you feel crummy. It just makes you feel worse for feeling bad in the first place. And now you have to worry about the poor so-and-so girl!

And most insidious of all, the "well it could be worse" theory tries to invalidate your own pain or fear or concern.

And mine is just concern, concern about something that seems suspicious and feels like one day we'll be reading an expose in the Times about the people who threw lavish chocolate-covered-stripper parties with their record-breaking oil profits. And with the energy prices rising everything is increasing in cost -- milk, bread, bananas, toilet paper, everything has taken a price jump, and I try not to even talk about it because A) there's nothing I can do and B) it often elicits this response:

"Yeah, I know. But I guess in Europe they've been paying for gas like this for a long time."

There's nothing you can say to this version of "well, it could be worse..." because YES, it is certainly true that in Europe gas costs more. But it's like comparing apples and giraffes! And it still doesn't solve anything.

[Edited to add: I had a whole paragraph here on why I thought that comparing Europe to the Unites States was an unproductive way of talking about our own issues. However, I clearly didn't express my feelings very well since I got about a bazillion nasty emails from people in the UK, Germany and Australia assuring me I was a total asshole. Awesome!

What I was trying to express is that the place I live is experiencing some challenges and while I know other places have challenges, too, it's not working for me to say "Oh well, we should never worry or wonder if there is a way to make things better, or change our habits, or change anything at all, because people elsewhere have it worse off." This is just my personal online diary. Sometimes I have these crazyass things called "emotions." They mix in with the thoughts and come out jumbled.

Also, those "oh it could be worse" conversations that have never made sense to me. [End of edited portion.]

Because how are we supposed to fix and enrich our own nation when we think like that? Are we supposed to move to Europe? Is that the answer? Are we just supposed to be totally okay with something and never strive to fix anything broken because someone somewhere else pays more for gas?

And why does everyone want to assume it's OK as long as someone has it worse? Do we want all humans to be equally miserable? I know water seeks its own level and everything, but really now, that is just crazytalk. Instead of saying, "Well, it could be worse, people someplace else that I don't know and don't interact with in my normal day-to-day life have it worse in this one area, so... OH WELL! Guess that's just life!" what about saying, "This is nuts! We need to fix it!"

What about wanting to make change so that life gets better and water seeks a higher level?

I have no solutions, no answers here ... just the feeling that things have to change and change soon. Do you feel the anxiety and stress that seems to have permeated our whole nation? Americans are good people at heart, hard-working, generous, capable. I don't like the feeling that someone is sticking it to us. I hope that in the end this drives us to change the world in a good way and develop all kinds of amazing technology that doesn't require a stop at the gas station. Maybe in the end it will be a positive thing, a revolution, and instead of always saying, "Well, it could be worse!" the first thing people will think of is, "Well, let's make it better!"

Posted by laurie at June 9, 2008 9:39 AM