I am irritable and scratchy today, and I think I know why. It’s for a stupid reason, but one that has important things underlying it.
Background: my awesome employers, Index Data, are flying all of us out to Cancun at the end of the month for a sort of company conference/holiday in a luxurious hotel by a beautiful beach. (“All of us” is fourteen people — I love small companies.) So that’s a good thing, and it makes me very happy to look forward to a week of sunshine (especially in contrast to the vile weather we’ve been having in Gloucestershire).
But yesterday I got an email with some information about the hotel, which said:
Dinner dress code for men are slacks, collared shirt and enclosed shoes. Dress code for women are sundresses, dresses or slacks. No jeans.
That annoys me. (And not only because of the horrible singular/plural mismatches.)
So why is this a big deal to me? Partly, it’s that I can’t for the life of me imagine how it’s the hotel’s business what I wear; partly it’s the absurd arbitariness of picking one particular fabric, demin, and decreeing that it’s unacceptable. It’s on a par with arbitrarily stating that, for example, brown shoes may not be worn, or cotton shirts, or that hair must not be brushed back from the temples.
But I’ve realised there’s something more fundamental at play here.
Like most of us, I have a complicated life. I have a lot of thinking to do in my job as a programmer, in my avocation as a paleontologist, in living with a family who can be as complicated and demanding as every other family, in learning to play and sing an increasing repertoire of folk songs, and indeed in writing this blog. On top of that comes all the very boring thinking-about-stuff that you have to do just to live a normal life in a modern society — dealing with bills, bank statements, and the rest.
So I cope the same way everyone does: by ignoring the things that I don’t much care about. There are a lot of things I don’t give mental energy to, even though some of them are potentially useful.
For example, I could probably cut my energy or telecom bills by switching providers; but I don’t do that because it’s not worth the investment of time and mental effort — or at least it’s not worth it to me. (Some people love this stuff, of course, and will happily spend hours comparing tariffs under different hypothetical usage scenarios. More power to ’em. It’s great that they enjoy it, but I don’t.)
Similarly, I’m sure I could make my desktop box run 10% faster by compiling a custom kernel. But I just don’t care enough to put in the hours. I used to enjoy that, long ago; but those days have passed and I think about other stuff instead now. (Again, there people out there who love tuning their kernels and overclocking their CPUs, and again I sincerely wish them all joy.)
The problem is, there is just too much to think about, and something’s got to give.
And so we come to the Mexican hotel dress-code. One of the things I don’t think about is clothes. What to wear is a problem that I solved for myself in, I don’t know, 1985, and haven’t really given serious thought to since then. Every morning I put on pretty much the same clothes (jeans, T-shirt, maybe a sweater over the shirt during winter) and forget all about the what-to-wear problem.
Just like finding the optimum telecoms provider, or compiling the ideal kernel, the problem of what to wear is one that some people — lots of them, maybe even most people — find fascinating. It’s inexplicable to me, but evidently true, that lots of people consider clothes-shopping a treat rather than finding it a baffling and tedious chore. (And again, as with telecoms optimisation or kernel compilation, I wish those people the best of luck and hope that they have lots of fun with this activity.)
So it’s a complete jolt to have a hotel — a hotel, which is supposed to be there to serve me, not dictate to me! — should suddenly thrust this boring, time-consuming issue back into my forebrain. My approach to buying clothes has been that when I notice I’m down to my last few pairs of jeans, I order some more on the Internet, they arrive and life goes on. Suddenly I have to start thinking about this stuff, and I have other things I want to be thinking about!
But for some reason, this is an activity that the world seems to think it’s OK to force me to think about. It’s as though the Which? editors suddenly told me that I wasn’t allowed to use PlusNet as my ISP any more and I had to figure out who to use instead; or the Ubuntu people removed the pre-compiled kernel from their distribution and told me I had to go back to learning how to build my own; or as if I told the hotel staff that they had to dissect a turkey neck and measure the zygapophyses. I enjoy doing that, and thinking through what those measurements mean. But I have the basic common decency not to impose that on other people. If only the hotel would do the same.
So my irritation with the no-jeans rule is because it’s broken my optimiser. I have an efficient procedure for dealing with the clothes problem, and now I can’t use it.
… and finally
I played and sang four more songs at the Forest Folk Club last night: Julie Miller’s gospel song Broken Things (which I know from Lucy Kaplansky’s version), Richard Shindell’s cheerfully goofy ode to trucking The Kenworth of my Dreams, John Lennon’s meditation In My Life and Dar William’s celebration of urban serenity The Hudson.