Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chip on the shoulder

I am amazed how often I hear this expression…. 
Here in Seattle several members of our beloved Seahawks football team use this phrase to describe the motivating factor in their game after being overlooked in the player draft.  Their chip shouts “I will show all you pundits who didn’t recognize the great a player I would become.”   I suspect Richard Sherman or Doug Baldwin would be King of the Chips.
So what’s my chip?  I suspect it is being small.  My parents tried to soften the blow by saying I was “short of stature”.  Grandma used to say, “big things come in small packages”.  I discovered for myself that being small also got me into “tight spaces” and to the top of pyramids.  I also found success in wrestling because of the lower weight categories and golf where size didn’t seem to matter.  But I confess that to this day a large part of my drive is fueled by a small chip.
So where does this expression come from?  In the 15th century a “chip on the shoulder” was the ancient right of shipwrights to take home a daily allowance of offcuts of timber.”  I suppose it was the equivalent to a seamstress of the “remnant” of material or fabric in clothes-making.  Apparently, the chip practice was often abused and eventually stopped.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why the phrase has taken on a negative connotation as the “act of holding a grudge or grievance that readily provokes disputation”.  I guess Richard Sherman has some historical warrant for being a defensive back.   Maybe that explains how my chip lead to a few playground fights with bigger bullies.
My current chip is prompted by the query, “So are you retired?”  Seems like an innocent enough question, but it feels somewhat accusatory.  Here’s what I wrote in a magazine article recently,
“Are you retired?”  That question was coming with annoying frequency.  Did I look so old?   Was it an invitation to a club I wasn’t ready to join?  Was I simply in denial?  If this were a multiple-choice question for my college students, I suppose the correct answer was d.) all the above.
But perhaps I chafed at this query because I taught in the unit on aging in my human development course, that “retirement” was a social construct of the post WWII years which “scrap-heaped” (my words) older Americans in an attempt to make jobs available for G.I.’s returning from the war.
I knew from personal experience that my farmer grandfather never “retired”.  He kept working productively into his 80s and extended his “coffee breaks” accordingly.  The words of the poet, Robert Frost, capture my sentiment.
                                               But I have promises to keep,
                                                 And miles to go before I sleep
                                                  And miles to go before I sleep.
Wow, maybe the chip was a board…

While at a conference recently I ran into a really old person who knew my dad.  She used another expression/phrase which gives me hope as I live the 3rd Act of my life.  She said, “You certainly are a ‘chip off the old block’.” That felt like a wonderful compliment because my dad was an exceptionally caring, generous and happy person.

To be even a small chip off that block would make him and little, old me very happy!