Cargo Cult Adulting

August 14th, 2018 by Potato

In case you’re not familiar with the commencement speech/excerpt from Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard Feynman describes South Sea Cargo Cults following WWII: “During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land.” So it has the superficial form, but of course the form is not what’s important, and without the core functions, it doesn’t work.

A recent post on doing laundry got me thinking about cargo cult adulting.

After I graduated and got a real job, my dad bought me a bunch of nice grown-up work shirts. They’re the kind of thing you have to take to the dry cleaners, or be very fiddly with about washing at home. And of course, they had to be ironed.

So, there I am*, sleep-deprived and busy as hell, watching my baby girl play in the playpen while I futz about with this scorching-hot hunk of metal. And she starts to fuss and wants out to crawl around on the floor and play with her daddy and eat all the dirt, but it’s not safe. This unstable burn hazard and relic of Victorian values is not even really safe for me to be handling in my current state. And even then, I ended up missing part of my shirt, going into work with a wrinkly arm the next day**.

I did not enjoy ironing. I had better things to do with my time, but what could I do, it was part of being grown-up and having stable employment. Then the epiphany: screw that noise. Ironing shirts didn’t make me an adult, being a good dad to my kid was my biggest ticket to adulthood, and she didn’t want me to be ironing my shirts. Wearing shirts that needed ironing (and actually ironing them) was just a symptom of someone else’s adulthood. Besides, it was 2012 (or 2013) and wrinkle-free fabrics existed in the world. Once Wayfare bought me a few wrinkle-free shirts, that was it for ironing.

Now I have a very simple laundry procedure: everything goes in together in one bunch.

Still from Dr. Horrible -- all the laundry dumped in in one bunch.

If it can’t handle cold/normal followed by tumble dry low, I don’t want it. There’s no room for primadonna fabrics in my world, so if someone gives me a gift of clothes and it can’t deal with how I manage laundry, it just goes in the donate pile. I’ve ruined a few pairs of really superficially nice wool pants, and I have zero regrets. It wasn’t meant to be, anyway***. For the ones with sufficient warning labels (or only slightly scarred by my treatment), maybe Diabetes Canada can find someone who has that kind of time.

Of course there’s an even bigger source of cargo-cult adulting: buying real estate. Just today Rob Carrick has an anecdote in the Globe of one young adult living at home, hoping to save enough to buy a house at the expense of renting, being independent, and “[getting] on with the next phase of [her] life.”

And this isn’t some article assignment he had to go terribly far to find: it’s a story I’ve heard dozens of times in recent years. Real estate’s too expensive and out of reach, but people can’t [won’t] move out/have kids/really become adults without a house they can mortgage.

Now there’s a bit of a political brou-ha-ha in Ontario over the sex ed curriculum. Apparently we’re still using the 1998 one. Well, I graduated in 1998, so I don’t know what exactly is in that iteration — I was subjected to the one even older than that — but from listening to some millennials whine about how they have to buy before they can have kids, but the market’s too expensive to buy, so therefore they can’t have kids… well, I can only conclude that there’s something deeply misleading about how you use property deeds in there. As someone who has taken a university-level biology class and is a father, let me reassure you that there’s eggs and sperm and sleep deprivation and inordinate amounts of patience, but at no point does the legal ownership of land or structures factor into reproduction.

Anyway, there will be lots of adjustments from previous generations. Maybe you won’t have a single job that you use interchangeably with the word career — the gig economy is a monster and it’s coming for us all. Maybe you won’t own the roof over you head, or a car. Maybe you will have more monthly bills as Netflix and cell phones weren’t a thing for your parents. Maybe you won’t spend half your weekend on lawncare (or maybe you’ll spend more as you turn your little patch of dirt into an apocalypse-ready source of calories and essential fatty acids).

Comic from XKCD: an apartment filled with playpen balls. Why? Because we're grown-ups now, and it's our turn to decide what that means.

You are**** an adult and you get to decide what that means. You don’t necessarily need the same trappings and signifiers of adulthood that your parents had. And they won’t make you an adult any more than coconut headphones could call down a C-47. Don’t make yourself feel like you’ve put your life on hold for something that doesn’t even matter in the end.

In conclusion, screw ironing. Long live the wrinkle-free workshirt!

* – This is like 6 years ago, so it is safe to assume that this anecdote has been heavily embellished by time if not my story-telling.

** – This because wrinkles are beneath my notice, so of course I actually* wore it instead of just re-ironing it.

*** – This is a great part to put in a gif of Dr. Horrible looking in the washing machine and saying “I don’t love these!” but I can’t find one pre-made and I don’t want to invest that kind of time. Just imagine that I did. Also, it helps to play “A man’s gotta do” while reading this post. Actually, if it’s not too late, just skip reading the rest of this post and go re-watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

**** – Unless you’re not. It’s the internet, after all.

2 Responses to “Cargo Cult Adulting”

  1. Piggy Says:

    A++ post and Dr. Horrible references. <3

  2. Potato Says:

    Thanks Piggy!

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