A few weeks ago, it seemed that everyone middle-aged person I spoke to was in a state of sadness, ranging from wistfulness to regrets to depression to bitterness to despair. It was pretty consistent, and its amazing what people will admit to me — some of these people barely know me. They seem to project something onto me. One middle-aged person I have met recently who doesn’t seemed depressed at all said to me, “It’s very clear that you are a happy person when people look at you. It shows.” (She actually said this in French, as she is my new pal to practice French with, but I took the liberty of translating it for you).

I guess because I look happy and I have large teeth that blind people to the truth about me (i.e. misanthropic but yes also empathic), and particularly at work where I sit in the best-decorated cubicle in the building (I dare you to find a better one), people have this urge to tell me of their lost hopes.

In the back of my mind, I remembered an old post I wrote on this, during which time I wasn’t feeling so hot myself. In this post, I referred to an article called “Midlife Misery: Is There Happiness After the 40s?, which was definitely worth my rereading. When I would talk to these peers, I kept wondering, why are they so disappointed? What did they think life was going to be?

I mean, my parents said a million times that life was hard and they couldn’t have been the only ones. I’m sure other people were given told by their parents to keep their expectations down. It is, however, the folly of youth to often think that no universal rules apply to them. I recall when I would come home from college, I’d see my parents looking miserable at the dinner table as they talked about their jobs they hated and thinking, “Yeah, well, I’m not going to be like you, I’m going to be an ARTIST and rise above this petty unaesthetic world you live in.” I was obnoxiously smug but I really didn’t know anyone my age who felt different. Life didn’t turn out to be the big party I thought it would be, but it turn out to be a pretty good adventure. So… what happened to these other people?

There’s no real answer to this, but I can’t help but wonder.

I’ve featured some Troubletown cartoons before (like this one), but lately, Lloyd Dangle has been on it. I’ve laughed wildly at the brilliance all of his latest strips. He *is* from Oakland, you know. Here a few tidbits of late. Mr. Dangle, we at The Nerge salute you. (That’s the Victorian “we”).

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Did you know that outer space has a smell? As I look at the NASA photos of spacewalkers, also known as folks on EVAs (Extra-vehicular activity), I wondered what they experience out there in the void. Here are some things I found.

On space smell:

Some people call it kind of ozone-like. I wasn’t sure what ozone was supposed to smell like, but it’s kind of smoky and a little harsh, bitter-smelling… Korzun said it’s kind of like a smell from a gun, right after you fire the shot. I think it kind of has almost a bitter kind of smell in addition to being smoky and burned. — Peggy Whitson, ISS

“When we come in from a space walk, this smell of space is what we’re calling it up here,” she says, “and we’ve tried to decide what that really smells like and its kind of a mild, to me at least, a mild form of when your car is overheating, that kind of smell. It’s not unpleasant but its definitely there, and that totally surprised me.” — Nicole Stott, ISS

What is feels like to spacewalk:

Flying in space here is phenomenal. It’s amazing just to feel your body adapt to floating around in zero (gravity). But it was really, truly amazing to me to do a spacewalk, especially at the end of the (station’s robotic arm) as Valery was swinging me around. — Peggy Whitson, ISS

Gosh, I’m not sure how to describe it. I was there for the birth of all three of my children. I did the first F-18 intercept of a Bear bomber off the coast of Canada. I represented Canada in a bunch of different levels, including as a fighter pilot. I was a test pilot doing all sorts of very fascinating, challenging, brand new work. I went to Mir, I went to the ISS. But nothing compares to going outside for a spacewalk. Nothing compares to being alone in the Universe; to that moment of opening the hatch and pulling yourself outside into the Universe.

Sometimes you’re driving on a mountain road, it’s slippery and you’re doing a bunch of curves and you don’t really see anything because you have a cliff falling away on one side and another cliff up on the other. But suddenly you come around a corner and you say, “Oh wow!” And there you’ve got the whole valley in front of you, or they make one of those nice pullovers where you can stop and look out, and you do, and you stop and you get out of your car and walk over to the edge and you see where you are, where all those little myopic turns have taken you.

A spacewalk is very much like that in that the opening of the hatch is probably step 750 of the day. And steps 1 through 749 were all boring and minuscule and each one was on a checklist and you had to do every one right, so you were very painstaking. But suddenly you do this one step, and suddenly you are in a place that you hadn’t conceived how beautiful this could be. How stupefying this could be. And by stupefying I mean, it stops your thought.

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but I knew I couldn’t keep notes up there and I would forget stuff so I sorta resolved to myself that I would verbalize and attempt to, as eloquently as I could, express what I was feeling and what I was seeing so that later I could listen to the recordings of it and remember, and not have missed such an amazing experience. And yet when I listen to the transcripts of what I said, most of it was just, “Wow!” It was so pathetic! But the experience was just overwhelming! — Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, STS-100 mission in 2001

Um, I kind of think this guy was cued to on some of his lines…

“I felt superb,” answered Zhai Zhigang, who carried out about 25 minutes of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) about 343 km above the earth after floating out of the Shenzhou-7 cabin on Saturday afternoon.

“The process of taking on the Feitian spacesuit went smooth,” said Zhai, looking confident and radiant on the screen at the BACC. “In the vast space, I felt proud of our motherland.” — Zhai Zhigang, Shenzhou-7

What’s a space suit like:

The space suit, I think it weighs about 300 pounds. We have a white space suit and the reason for keeping it white is so that most of the heat is reflected off of us. What happens is, when we are facing the sun the temperature is about 150 degrees on the front side of our space suit and it is about – 150 degrees on the backside of our space suit. We basically have an ethylene glycol, very much like what flows in the radiator of your car, going through our underwear. In fact we have very fancy underwear that keeps us not too hot and not too cold. We can actually control the temperature of our suit with a little knob that is on the front of our suit and keep it exactly the way we want to have it. If you’re working hard you often turn that temperature down and if you’re waiting for your buddy to finish something and you’re just floating in space waiting, you will actually turn the temperature up because you’ll get a little bit too cold. When the sun goes down as you orbit onto the dark side of the earth, it can get very cold and we often at that time will turn on heaters on inside our gloves so that our fingers don’t get cold because we don’t actually have any fluid flowing around our hands it stops at our wrists basically. So, we have electrical heaters to keep our hands warm and that is very important because the dexterity of our hands is what allows us to do our job on our EVA, Extra Vehicular Activity. — Steve MacLean, Space Shuttle Columbia

And finally:

masada.jpgI am absolutely astounded by a conversation I just had with a coworker, but first, a story. (I’ll tie it in later, I promise).

When I took the Motorcycle Driver Safety course, the instructor began by asking the class what is the safe way to ride a motorcycle. Various students offered ideas. After a couple minutes, the instructor said, “Actually, there is NO SAFE WAY to operate a motorcycle. If you are on a motorcycle, you are in danger.”

So, my coworker and I were commenting on the plastic cutlery in the kitchen and the Garbage Patch/Gyre. We discussed how it’s impossible to avoid plastic in modern society and every piece is a toxic nightmare.

He said that there should be a law against non-biogradable products and I said, do you really think that’s going to happen? We’re experiencing the largest man-made ecological disaster ever (so I’ve heard, although is it really worse than Chernobyl?) and that was allowed to happen.

He replied, I’m surprised that something like that can happen, that the safety precautions didn’t work.

I said, “Are you forgetting Three Mile Island? Chernobyl?”

Him: “Well, that was a long time ago.” (Really?)

Me: “Safety precautions fail. Operating nuclear power plants and offshore drilling will inevitably lead to massive destruction because sooner or later they will fail.” (this is the tie-in to the motorcycle story).

Him: “Huh, I never thought of that.”

Now this guy is reasonably intelligent and in his mid-50s and works at the EPA. And he never thought of this? How can anything made by humans be 100% safe?

My usual metaphor for the state of the world is Masada. But after this conversation, I decided it is more of a Roller Coaster of Doom. Picture yourself on a roller coaster that is about to collapse. If you jump off, you’ll be killed for sure, but you’re going to die anyway at the end. So what do you do? Frankly, I think the only solution is to help those in distress, and otherwise, enjoy the ride.

So, we’ll end with this happy video.

Today’s photo offering from NASA:
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When venturing to Ireland from The States, many well-wishers will reference trite mythology in their farewells: leprechauns, fairies, etc. There’s an overwhelming mindset that going to Ireland is akin to stepping into a fairy-tale. There’s certainly enough to encourage this type of thinking: castle ruins, endless green countryside, charming accents. Even though it was clear to K & I what was obvious idiocy, we were fooled by reputable guidebooks to adopt certain expectations that turned out to be ridiculous. As one of our charming hostesses said, “People are surprised at the mundaneness of our lives.”

Other discoveries:

Lastly, Ireland is even more charming and lovely than I expected. I was very sorry to leave.

Click on these to see some photos that shore up the fairy tale mentality. Looks fake, doesn’t it? Yeah, I’m just messing with you… Ireland doesn’t even exist! irish-castle.JPG rock-of-cashel.JPG