How you know it’s that bad…

One of the worst kept secrets around is that I’m ready to move on. Other than to a few close friends and family I’ve never said it outright, but I suspect it’s more than obvious to anyone paying any attention at all. Memphis was never a place I planned on staying for a great length of time, but having the happy luck to fall in with a good team and a collapsing housing market made my three-and-out plan all but unworkable. I’d mostly made my peace with that. Or at least I thought I had.

The last year has proven to be more challenging professionally than I ever expected. And I’m not using “challenging” here in any of its quasi-positive connotation. The truth is, the last year has mostly sucked, but I didn’t know exactly how much it sucked until this morning when I found a federal job announcement in my career field for a position near my home town. I seriously considered it for way, way longer than I should have if my head were in the right place. I say that because although geographically desirable (to me at least), the job would have been a two-grade demotion, loss of $15,000 a year in pay, and I’d have to pay to get myself and all my stuff from here to there.

But I still though long and hard about it. And not in that wistful Norman Rockwell way. I’m talking about in that running financials and contemplating living in your parent’s basement for a year or two kind of way. You know it’s bad when voluntarily living in the basement to get away from what you’re doing now and for less money doesn’t seem all that bad by comparison. Yeah, I know I should be thankful to have a job and intellectually, I am. Emotionally, though, I’m spent… and it’s showing.

If anyone in Western Maryland sees me working weekends to make extra scratch in a couple of weeks, at least they’ll know why.


There’s a way things are supposed to work. I’m supposed to know what my people are working on. My boss is supposed to know what I’m working on. And so forth and so on until somewhere in the stratosphere one person knows more or less all of the major projects that are running. For the record, “major” projects don’t include informing the building every time someone makes an adjustment to a slide set or when they need to buy a hundred dollars of toner for the printer. The chain of command exists for a couple of reasons and one of those is to make sure information flows smoothly both upwards and downwards. I’m more than happy to report my progress and issues to my boss, who can then report it to his boss, and upwards ad infinitum. What I’m not going to to is generate a completely new class of report that skips several steps in this process. It duplicates effort and basically makes any semblance of structure pointless at best.

We’ve gotten so concerned and wrapped around ourselves doing things because we can, that no one at any level has called a pause to assess whether we should. What a Charlie Foxtrot. Scott Adams would be proud.

Getting by…

Yeah, I’ve been quiet lately. Fact is, I haven’t really had all that much to say. Like I’ve said before, the best blogging comes from being annoyed. That there isn’t more content being added is probably a good thing.

Work has been slightly less obnoxious lately and making the decision to mostly quit watching the major news networks has probably greatly added to my new found sanity. Since I only control one of those two inputs, I’m expecting that to change at any moment. I’m learning to accept that you can old keep stupid at bay for so long. After that, all bets are off and the best you can hope for is mitigation.

For the moment, I’ll just accept that things aren’t so bad… Ask me how that’s working out tomorrow morning, though.

Being Sherman…

During the Civil War, one of the greatest partnerships in American military history was forged here along the muddy waters of the Mississippi. The senior partner would become commander of the Army of the Potomac and bring Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to its knees in a grinding war of attrition, while the junior partner marched his battle hardened western armies south to Atlanta and on to the sea, making the Old South howl.

From camp near Memphis on March 10, 1864 and just after Grant was called to Washington and promoted to command all Federal forces, his old friend Sherman sent a memo of congratulations that read, in part, “…You go into battle without hesitation… no doubts, no reserve; and I tell you that it was this that made us act with confidence. I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come – if alive.”

If you’re very lucky, you’ll find such a colleague and friend once in a career. If you’re even luckier, you get your chance at being Sherman.

An uneasy peace…

It’s been a good long time since I’ve been anything other than busy at work. Even in the most dire environment, there is often an operational pause; a moment when everyone sucks in a breath and waits for whatever it is that’s about to happen to actually happen. When your jumping from fire to fire, trying desperately to stomp it out with your boots, it’s easy to forget that these moments of pause are nothing if not intensely boring. Plus, they tend not to make for good blogging so the irony is that you have unlimited time to write but really nothing worth writing about.

It may seem that I am complaining about both feast and famine and to some extent that’s true. An environment where the most productive use of time counting holes in the ceiling tile is no better than days where three people couldn’t reasonably be expected to handle your workload. They’re both picture perfect examples of horrendous misallocation of resources. Somehow it seems that there should be a relative median somewhere between too much and too little.

I’m doing my best to take this unexpected down time in stride and make the most of it, but there’s a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that I should be trying to avert some crisis somewhere. It’s probably safe to assume that I’ll get use to this new condition just in time for some other roof to catch on fire. Around here, it’s only a matter of time.

Are we boring you?

I’ve seen almost every stereotype you can think of in the eight years I’ve been in federal service – the solitaire wiz, the three newspaper reader, the aged technophobe, the guy who nods off during meetings, and even the pointy-headed boss. But the one thing I hadn’t encountered before today was the one who falls flat out asleep in their cube. Now it’s been a slow few days and given the lack of foot traffic, it should be at least notionally possible to fall asleep briefly without attracting undue attention. Snoring on the other hand, is a dead giveaway – but has the up side of providing several hours of entertainment for your colleagues… Especially when you do it again after lunch… and even more so when gravity takes over and your head, arm, or other body part thumps onto your desk.

I have to admit that it’s a pretty ballsy move to take not one, but two naps when you’re only three weeks into your new job. I mean, I can be an arrogant prick, but my hat’s off to that kind of nose-thumbing of authority. Tomorrow I’m going to try keeping my riotous laughter to a minimum as I think it might have disturbed our sleeper. Maybe I’ll bring in a nice CD of Brahms and try to set the right mood for the day. In any case, it’s some of the best in-office entertainment I’ve had in a while. Not sure if that’s good or just sad. Possibly both.

Date and Places

It would be easy to spend the day wallowing around in the news coverage of the 9th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, but I’ve actually done my best to stay away from that today. Sure, I paused and reflected about where I was, where we were, and what we’ve become since then. I’m starting to see how our parents generation can point to the time before President Kennedy’s assassination as seeming to be more innocent. Hindsight does that, it seems; rounds off the sharp edges and gives things past the soft glow of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The world was a violent place long before September 11, 2001 and it will be violent a thousand Septembers from now. Even knowing that, there will never be an anniversary of this date that doesn’t drag me back to the memories of that morning – to the shock, the disbelief, the anger, and the pure raw hatred of those few who came here to attack us on a crystal clear September morning. History usually dulls some of the feeling in telling the story of the past. Maybe too few years have passed or perhaps this is one of those memories you keep with stark clarity for the rest of your life. In any case, it’s been a tough one – even without the accompanying chatter of the media.

Traveling lite…

I spent twelve days on the road over the last two weeks and it seems like a good point to make some observations on living with the iPad now that it’s had time to become a regular part of my routine. The short version is that it holds up remarkably well – Perhaps even better than expected. While I was on the road, I shifting seamlessly between the iPhone and iPad. I had even packed my MacBook Pro, but didn’t ever have cause to turn it on. For someone whose sense of wellbeing is almost defined by having a connection, that’s saying something.

On the more nuts and bolts level, battery life continues to exceed expectations and will last all day under all by the heaviest use. High portability meant that more often than not, it was riding shotgun in the truck when I went anywhere and was subject to not-quite-extreme heat when left there for a few hours at a time. I’m not exactly hard on equipment, but it’s held up to everything I’ve asked it to do and probably has oomph to spare.

The only complaint I have after a few months use is, not surprisingly, the fingerprints. Given a little OCD, they could drive a guy just short of ’round the bend. Keeping a screen wipe within reach is strongly advised. Even at that, the prints don’t really detract all that much from the screen… unless you’ve already made up your mind that it’s going to bother you. I still wouldn’t want to rely solely on a tablet for text heavy blogging or major productivity, but for knocking around the interwebs, occasional forum posts, and keeping your library with you everywhere, it’s hard to beat.

Off the road…

There are any number of great and good aspects of traveling, not the least of witch is ending up back at the place where all your stuff stays (and where you have sole dominion over the air conditioning and your schedule). Going home is always bittersweet and leaving tends to bring out more melancholy in me that usual. I’ve lived somewhere other than “home” for the better part of the last decade and despite that, I still think of it as exactly that; home. In a different time and place, maybe I’d go back, but every trip reminds me just how much I have changed (no matter all my protestations to the contrary) and how much the mountains haven’t. I may be from them, but I’m not of them any more. At the first opportunity, I went downstate and stayed… and then logged a couple of hundred thousand miles after that. When I left I swore I’d never be nostalgic for the deep quiet of the woods or the long whistle of a coal train rolling through a mining town. On a purely objective level, there’s no reason to think of home as a place I’ll ever live again. On an emotional level, though, well, that’s another thing altogether.

I’m not quite foolish enough to believe that I can go home again. I’ve priced myself out of that market and since a guy’s got to work it’s nothing more than a happy thought. Even if it were possible, I can think of dozens of reasons it wouldn’t be a good idea. Maybe someday when I invent the equivalent of sliced bread or get around to writing my great misanthropic diatribe. When that happens, of course, home would be fighting a strong desire to go somewhere with palm trees and a rum economy. Until then, I suppose it’s enough that I have promises to keep… and miles to go before I sleep.

Weekly report…

Yes, I realize I’ve been slacking. As much as I try to keep up a steady stream of 2-3 or more posts a week for the last two years or so, I figured laying off for a week wouldn’t kill anyone. Of course that doesn’t mean I checked out completely. There are plenty of ideas banging around between my ears that just haven’t made it into print yet. I’ll get to those at some point. For now, I’m going to do my best to relax (definitely not my natural state) and enjoy my last few days off. Next time I’ll see more than a weekend away will be Christmas, so I’ll be doing my best to make these count. I’m willing to say that I’ve done well with that so far.

In the meantime I should really go see what mayhem the dogs are causing. They’re being far too quiet and while that’s perfectly acceptable at my house, it’s probably a bad sign here if we ever expect to come back.