Consider these alarming figures: 16.1, -46, the 5,465 days since Barney Google was last spotted in his comic strip, the obtuse angle, 144, the right honorable trapezoid (MP for Hoodlum Meadows), the old Route 527 Traffic Circle, figure 5 (omitted for inclusiveness), the lower 62 percent of kangaroos, and the Great Catastrophic Car Drop off the Ocean Boulevard Pier. They all point in a clear direction, except for the traffic circle which pointed in every direction, and the right honorable trapezoid, which points in four directions, but is only sharpest in one of them, as so many of us are.
Clearly what people really want is to be more anxious, and deep down they know it. This makes a fresh anxiety the perfect gift for someone. They might look at it askance immediately, but the more they think it over the more they'll realize they might be called on to do something about a problem too massive and imponderable for them to deal with. The terror of the world slipping farther out of manageability helps fight off daytime sleepiness caused by laying awake all night worrying, and gives something to lay awake all night worrying about. A good new anxiety and in days the recipient can't imagine ever living without it. What's the surer proof of a gift's good fit, apart from elastic cuffs or the recipient not chasing you with a cudgel?
The challenge is in finding one. There's no sense getting someone anxieties about work or personal relationships or how when the car is in second gear there's a screaming noise from underneath the hood crying, ``Let me out'' or ``I'm trapped'' or something like that until you get to the traffic circle. Everybody has those already and they don't hold any fresh terror unless the screaming noise shifts to a new and maybe highly original language. This is hard.
For example, suppose someone came up to you and demanded you have a plan for something to take the place of vanadium. That's not going to catch the imagination unless you're already in the vanadium product placement industry, and in that case you probably know all about the anxiety anyway. If you're outside the industry you might not be sure even whether vanadium is a metal, the castle where the villain from the Pac-Man cartoon series lived, another social-media web site you never get invited into, or the breed of guinea pig that's filling up your shoe closet. You'd be helpless finding a replacement for any of them, but it would be a vague anxiety based on replacing something you didn't know about with something else you didn't know about, and at that rate anything you don't know about will do. Problem solved, anxiety nullified.
How about the anxiety you're going to listen to a story which goes on twenty minutes after you recognize the punch line was ``and it turned out the guide had died twenty years ago''? The dread can only last at most twenty minutes, and even that dissipates when it turns out you walked away twenty weeks earlier. The anxiety that you might wake up one morning to find someone made Rocky V while you weren't looking? Sleep in until noon and the fear is gone. We seem to have snuck up to around seven or eight while I wasn't looking anyway.
You know, we might have reached a point where there's nothing left to be alarmed by. Isn't that alarming? ... Say!
Trivia: Vanadium was discovered in 1801 by Andréas Manuel del Rio, professor of Mineralogy in Mexico City; but consultations with Alexander von Humbolt and the French chemist H V Collet-Descotils made del Rio conclude he had just found chromium. Source: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, John Emsley.
Currently Reading: The Shock Of The Old: Technology And Global History Since 1900, David Edgerton.