1. Trust. I’ve always been very open about the fact that I’m a cynical bastard. Even so, I’m always amazed at the level of trust people have in others that they really don’t know all that well outside a very narrowly defined context. Anyone can open their mouth at any time and tell you any manner of thing you want to hear… which is why I get immediately suspicious when they’re pitch is something akin to “Oh no, don’t worry about a thing.” There are a few exceptions to this rule, but it only applies to a select few who I’ve known for a decade or two.
2. Capitalism. I’m developing a rather intense hatred of capitalism, in which I’m throughly annoyed at the whole idea of getting up five days a week, slogging through traffic to arrive at work, spending 8.5 hours there, slogging through traffic to get home, going to bed, and then doing it all over again. Unfortunately, I have this insatiable appetite for “stuff,” which requires cash, which requires work. This is the 21st century. Why don’t we have robots doing all the grunt work leaving us free to not be bothered by such petty details as needing to trade time for money?
3. Seeing the bright side. Some people are hopelessly optimistic. They’d see the bright lining in a mushroom cloud. Sometimes, I don’t want to see the bright side. I want to sulk. I want to be annoyed. I want to be angry. and I want that feeling to spur me to action in a way that no amount of good feeling ever could. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in haste and anger, but most of my best have also come from the same place. Even if it’s a mixed bag of results, it’s the spark that keeps things moving.
I’m afraid we’re screeching back into one of those times when I’m going to spend far too much time casting around for new blog ideas. In this case, the problem isn’t any kind of block, but rather that everything I really want to write about is embargoed or otherwise of a nature that I consider it out of bounds for this forum. It really is a pity, because I know there are some real doozies that are sitting in my notes just wasting away. Sure, maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime in the future when they’re less relevant, but there’s no denying that takes the edge off them.
If you’ve read The Cynic’s Guide, you’ve already read most of this story. God knows I’ve already lived it. The best I can tell you is that the past is a pretty damned good indicator of what the future is going to be like. It’s 100% situation normal in the belly of the bureaucracy… and that’s a uniquely off combination of comforting and infuriating. If nothing else, I know what to expect. I’ve been here before after all. The names and faces are different, the scenery has changed, but it’s the same old, tired story. The more things change, the more they never do… at least this round of eye rolling is on the banks of Mother Chesapeake instead of Big Muddy.
The single hardest thing I do around here is try desperately to keep my big mouth from writing checks that the rest of me isn’t quite ready to pay for. It goes against my nature as a blogger to censor myself when every bit of my ego, pride, and desire for page views tells me that I could write a scorcher. But no, that little voice inside my head that preaches moderation and self preservation is demanding a hearing… and reminding me that from time to time, opening my mouth and letting words fly out might have a tendency towards shifting my career dissipation light into overdrive and leaving it there until it blows the engine apart. It seems the better part of valor this evening is to keep my powder dry for use when it might be of more practical application.
The butterfly effect is usually synopsized as something like “When a butterfly flaps its wings in Shanghai, a hurricane washes up in Miami.” I’m not a fancy big city mathematician, but it seems plausible that if you make one little change in a complex system, downstream events can be radically altered by that original small shift. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to accept that it at least seems like a reasonable argument.
The fun thing is that sometimes the butterfly effect also works in reverse. Take for instance the meeting you have scheduled for Wednesday afternoon that suddenly gets cancelled. The butterfly flaps its wings and presto the entire day on Monday suddenly becomes gloriously meeting-free. If she just beats those gossamer wings a few more times, this week could be looking up.
Sure, I’m bending logic nearly to the breaking point to make that case, but it feels good. And since I’m a blogger and not a professional chaos theorizer, I’m going to go with it.
I’ve been told on a number of occasions recently that English is a precise language and we must use it precisely. I’m good with that. I like precision. I like to use words to cut through the clutter and mean exactly what I say. Except the problem is, most people don’t. Most people use the language as just another avenue to be vacillate and be throughly indecisive.
Don’t be surprised then, if you ask me “Do you want to do Activity X?” and my response is an immediate no. I’m answering your question honestly and directly. No, I do not want to participate in Activity X. In fact, generally I’d rather stake myself on an anthill covered in honey than engage in Activity X. However, if you changed the question slightly, by saying “Will you do Activity X?” or a more directive “You’re going to do Activity X,” I’ll probably shrug, possibly roll my eyes, and get on with dealing with whatever X is in our little equation.
See, the social contract depends largely on people doing things they don’t want to do. But when you frame the question as whether I “want” to do something or not, you’ve given me the option of saying no, because that’s the honest answer. I spend most days doing things I don’t particularly want to do, so when given the option to avoid adding one more to the list, I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised when I opt out… because frankly life is entirely too short and it’s already too filled with random pointless activities that we don’t really want to do in the first place.
1. The long slog to summer. Now that we’ve tipped the hat to the father of our country, we start the long, hard march to Memorial Day. For those of you not keeping track, that’s 13 straight weeks without a federally approved long holiday weekend in the mix. It feels like a very, very long time between breaks. Of course I’ll probably throw a few days of my own leave at this problem to keep from having a complete break from reality. That’ll stave off the worst effects, but it clearly no substitute for legitimate long weekends. Others will disagree, but for me, this slog from mid-February to late May is the worst part of the year.
2. CBO Reports. The Congressional Budget Office is the non-partisan doer of research on behalf of the feckless officials we elect to Congress. Their reports are spun by both sides equally, but on balance the reports themselves are as close to fair and balanced as we’re likely to see from any large bureaucratic organization. I forced a laugh when I saw their latest report on the impact of the proposed minimum wage hike. It’s the classic Washington good news, bad news story. The good news is raising minimum wage could lift as many as a million people above the poverty line. The bad news is it could also simultaneously throw as many as half a million people out of work. A report like that gives both sides plenty of ammunition and seems to increase the likelihood that we’ll stay true to form and opt to do nothing at all. Based on the CBO’s report, it seems that a radical increase in the minimum wage is a devil’s bargain at best… great if you keep your job and get your raise, but a spectacularly craptastic deal if you’re one of the 500,000 extraneous employees who are thanked for playing and invited to go on back to the house.
3. Dreaming while you sleep. It’s very rare for me to remember dreams I have once I wake up. Sometimes they’ll stick as a vague recollection, but usually they’re gone by the time my eyes are fully open. Except the one I had last night that featured a former boss of mine. Somehow he showed up in my current office with glowing red eyes, tore up a couple of cubicles and then hurled a potted plant at my head. The odd thing might not be that I remembered this little episode once I woke up, but that it didn’t actually feel very surprising. Make of that what you will.
The trouble with being away from work for the better part of a week is that if you want to keep getting paid on a regular basis, you have to go back eventually. If I’m honest with you and myself, it was exhausting. Not in that way that you’re tired after a long day of chopping wood or being physically engaged, but in that very special way that leaves your brain feeling like it’s turned to jell that could ooze out your ear at any moment. Today was definitely a day like that.
I keep telling myself that it’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things, but even while the joy of time off is still fresh in my mind I know that’s not really true. As I’m sitting here bashing at the keyboard, flanked by a steaming mug of fresh coffee, a few good ideas, and a couple of dogs, I know it’s not true at all. At best I’ll muck through tomorrow, the day after, and the ones that follow so I can get back to doing this as quickly as possible.
But hey, I like eating something other than Top Ramen and there are bills to pay, so before the sun’s up tomorrow I’ll be back at it. Maybe not with a spring in my step or a song in my heart, but sometimes just going back has to be good enough. Sometimes that’s the best you’ve got.
The world where days off are relaxing, restful, and leave you feeling recharged and ready to face the world is probably a complete fiction. Even on my slowest moving weekend, I don’t remember reaching the end of it and feeling particularly recharged. If I’m lucky, the weekend means I’ve allocated an extra hour of sleep each day to the five or six I try to stick to during the week.
Even though the extra long, long weekend I’ve had is coming to it’s inevitable end, the best thing I can really say about it is it has been fruitful and productive. I won’t even make the pretense of it having been restful in the least. The last two days have been eaten up by organizing last year’s tax information and pulling together the even larger stack of paperwork needed refinance a home loan. Either one of those activities over a two day period would be enough to make a simple history major like me crazy, but running them simultaneously has left me feeling a bit like maybe the world getting hit by a meteor wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could just sit happily in front of the television and not have ideas that inevitably end up causing me to jump through inordinate numbers of hoops. I could just use one of the online tax services and let it go at that… but for a little more effort, I can squeeze every drop I’m owed back out of the system. The loan I have now is good enough… but I can better structure my debt using a new loan. I could just sit here and stare at the talking images, or I can try to churn out a few hundred more words of my own story.
For a guy who fundamentally thinks of himself as lazy, I’m not at all sure I’m doing it right. Surely I’d spend more time with my feet up and a lot less trying to cram 30 hours of “wanna do” into a 24 hour day.
The sales flyers and ads on TV will tell you that today is Presidents Day. Title 5 of the United States Code, subsection 5103(a) defines it as Washington’s Birthday, and for my purposes, Washington’s Birthday is what I’m going with… Mostly because he was field commander who led the nation-in-waiting in a bloody war of independence at least in part over taxation without due representation. Despite his heroics, George Washington goes into the modern history books simply as a southern aristocrat. Most people don’t know much more about him than he owned slaves and may have been president at some point. That’s a shame, because Washington was basically America’s first badass action hero. He could have been king, but he laid down his sword and went home. What kind of ridiculous self control does it take to say no to a crown?
As usual, none of that is really the point. The point, dear friends, is that I’ll be spending a good chunk of Washington’s Birthday gathering my tax information and preparing to render unto Caesar. Washington’s war of liberation may have ensured that we’d have representation, but the taxation part is still completely out of hand.
I think I’ve made a connection. Maybe it’s just in my own head as a I struggle this Sunday morning to figure out what to write about, but I have a sinking feeling that my snap assessment is right. While I’m sitting here at the kitchen table with piping hot coffee, two dogs snoring, and the soft hum of the morning news yammering in my ear, it occurs to me that my posts are more interesting when I’ve been forced to deal with stupid people. That’s what spurs the best rants out of my head. After two blissful days of not leaving the house, I’m beginning to wonder if I might not need those interactions to keep things fresh. They give me perspective, because nothing seems so bad, wrong, or stupid as it does when it’s happening right in front of you. Is it possible that I need to be out there if for no other reason than to find new material like so much grist for the mill?
If it’s true, I should go out today and immerse myself in watching people. I should seek avenues to maximize that connection in service to the blog. I should do a lot of things, though. For now, I think I’ll just enjoy the balance of my extra long, long weekend and not force the issue. There will be plenty enough time and cause to be out in the world dealing with people when I can’t otherwise avoid it… because really, if that’s the price of keeping this blog fresh and interesting, I think I’d rather just bore you to tears.