I got my annual reminder today that I had successfully completed almost none of my mandatory online training for 2016. Training is important, or so we’ve been told. It’s so important that in at least one instance I successfully completed the exact same training module once a year from 2007-2016. Yay Constitution Day Training!
I spent two years earning a teaching degree and another two and a half years actually doing it. I’m a voracious reader and self-educate on any number of topics. You don’t need to convince me of the importance of training or education. With that being said, if you want me to think of it as a priority, perhaps you might consider changing up your program of instruction once or twice in a decade. No matter how fine a narrative I consider a book like Team of Rivals, it ceases to become informative if I read it every year and can predict with near 100% accuracy what’s going to appear on the next page.
On the other hand, if the intent is to simply make sure that one of the multitude of annual training requirement boxes is checked off before time expires, well the powers that be are doing a fine job of course development and instruction. When I know that’s the goal, I can box check with the best of them.
Sunday night I saw an advertisement for the Chrysler Pacifica siting its onboard vacuum cleaner as a feature… as if a shop vac or a stop over at the neighborhood carwash is just too hard to figure out. But fine, if people don’t have enough appliances in their homes and need to start carrying them in their cars full time too, I’m not going to judge. Well, I am going to judge, but I’ll do it quietly at least.
Add to that advertisement the several social media posts I’ve seen singing the praises of minivans as the new “cool,” all I can do really is shake my head and disbelief. A 68 Chevelle is cool. A 59 Caddy with its enormous fins is cool. A McLaren P1 is cool. Anything rolling out of the shed at Koenigsegg is, by definition, cool. See where I’m going with this yet?
I get that people drive minivans for very good reasons. They’re excellent at what they were designed to be – small, personally owned busses. People carriers. Chances are you bought one because it was very good at what it was designed to do. That’s the same reason I drive a full sized pick up truck instead of a 137 pound Smart Car.
What I didn’t do was buy a pickup truck and then try to justify myself as now driving a cool car. I bought a truck because I have two dogs that occasionally get filthy and from time to time I have the need to haul large or awkwardly shaped things from Point A to Point B. I didn’t buy the truck because it was cool any more than you minivan drivers bought your ride because of its cool factor. I bought it because it was vehicle that would get the job done.
If you’re driving a minivan, embrace it for what it is. Celebrate its capability. But for the love of Pete can we all agree to stop pretending that it is any way “cool?”
My neighborhood has an internal Facebook-style social media site that keeps homeowners apprised of the latest news of our small slice of Ceciltucky. The vast majority of updates are made when someone is having a yard sale, there’s going to be an association meeting, or some other important civic event. This past week, though, the whole feed has been given over to a recent spate of crimes that threaten to drag our quiet neighborhood down into the gutter with Baltimore or the unfortunate souls who live in Elkton proper.
You see, over the last three days there have been empty bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade found thrown into several yards. One of these bottles had the audacity to land in someone’s driveway and shatter. On another thread, there is news of an unnamed presidential candidate’s sign that was stolen from someone’s yard. The neighbors are up in arms over the effrontery of the vandals, thugs, and hoodlums plying their trade in our usually bucolic subdivision.
There’s wild talk in the hood about installing gates, and cameras, and streetlights and I love my neighborhood for having such a massive hissy fit of an overreaction to a $5 crime. It’s one of the ways I know I’m among good people. After spending a few years living in a suburban Memphis neighborhood where car windows were regularly smashed and at least one burglary was reported a month, I just kind of chuckle to myself. This is probably the safest neighborhood I’ve ever called home so I’m cautiously optimistic that cooler heads will prevail before someone calls an association meeting to approve a special assessment for security upgrades.
My guess, if only based on the type of bottles involved, is that it’s local neighborhood kids being stupid. Sure, you’ll want to stop that before it escalates beyond a few thrown bottles and a missing yard sign, but in the grand scheme I don’t think we’re seeing the birth of a new and terrible criminal enterprise along the banks of the Elk River.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to living the hood life here on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore.
1. Ghosting. If you thought dating at 18 was an exercise in the absurd, you should really try dating at 38. I don’t do it often, which is a testament more to my incredible shrinking tolerance to people than it is the number of opportunities available. As obnoxious as I find most human interaction, I think the thing that bothers me most are the ones that just disappear. You plug along being your normal charming self, go on a few dates, and *poof* suddenly they disappear from social media and stop answering texts. It’s one of those times when having generally low expectations of people is such a valuable trait. If you had any kind of decent personality I’ll probably spend a day or two wondering if you ended up in a ditch somewhere, but after that I’ll file you under T-for-twatwaffle and move on with my day. In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t be annoyed and just appreciate that I’ve been saved from discovering that factoid six months down the line after I’ve invested more than a few hours and a couple of meals into figuring out if you are a total asshat.
2. EpiPen. I’m always a little perplexed when people seem to be surprised that it costs money to keep yourself alive if you’re not in perfect physical health. As I pointed out to a colleague, a hundred years ago, people who needed EpiPens or really any significant medical intervention to save them from the earth’s flora and fauna just kind of dropped dead. While I’m not endorsing that as the ideal solution for people with allergies, but when death is the consequence, spending a few hundred bucks to stay alive doesn’t feel like too stiff a price to pay. Somewhere along the lines in this country we’ve developed the idea that more and more “essentials” should just come at no cost to us. I have no idea where that kind of mindset comes from. There’s a cost for everything in life, the only real question is whether it comes out of our pocket in the retail line when we decide it’s a necessity or at the point of a gun when government decides the next installment of our tax bill is due. We can give the government enough power to feed us all, to house us all, to clothe us all, and to medicate us all… and on the day that happens we’ll all be well and truly slaves.
3. Accountability. I’m bombarded multiple times a year with reminders to fulfill approximately 178 yearly training requirements. Among them are such classics as ethics and cyber security. Let me not check those boxes on time and there’s hell to pay. Let me violate one of the rules, policies, or laws they cover and there’s a good chance I’ll end up seeing the inside of a courtroom if not the inside of a federal minimum security prison. I’m smart enough to know that the rules are always somewhat different for the rich and powerful, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It certainly doesn’t mean I have to give my vote to a candidate who doesn’t feel in any way constrained by the rules and requirements that have a tendency to make the job such a pain in the ass for the rest of us. Just once I’d love to see a little accountability and a story of a senior official caught in a web of misconduct that resulted in more than solemn-faced apology or blanket denial.
I don’t mind working hard. The powers that be are paying good money to rent my brain for 8 hours a day and I’ve got no compunction about whoring myself out like that. When push comes to shove I’d much rather be doing hard work with my brain than hard work with my back. The brain seems less likely to give out at an inopportune time and leave me lying flat on the floor or chewing muscle relaxers like candy corn.
Although I don’t mind working hard, I hate the living hell out of working stupid. I hate reworking the same ground two or three times and changing every happy to a glad. That’s not hard work. That’s not focusing on content or intent. That’s focusing on the style over the substance and the fact that anyone has time for that in this business should tell you a lot about how their time is being spent. I don’t mind if they want to waste their time turning the latest memo into the great American novel, but I’d appreciate it if they didn’t try dragging me along into their own personal hell. I’ve got worries enough of my own without keeping track of who likes one space after a period and who likes two.
The things we choose to focus on tells a lot about the kind of person we are when we shed the artificial constructs of rank or grade. It tells me everything I need to know about who “gets it” and who is way the hell out in the tall grass. Other people might not notice details like that, but I do. The Lord might tell us not to judge, but I think in this case He would make an exception.
When I worked in the District, the most important question asked at every social engagement was some variation on “What do you do?” or “Who do you work for?” The answer, of course, would immediately raise or lower your social standing or level of attractiveness. There was a while there I was introducing myself as Jeff, the young and idealistic Chief of Legislative Affairs for Some Random Made Up Hippy Dippy Non-Profit. That had way more cache than being a bureaucrat from deep within the bowels of some big agency.
To those who know me, I often answered the question with a touch more realism. When asked what I did, my stock response was almost always “I do PowerPoint.” For long stretches of my career it had the additional benefit of also being largely true. There was a while there I could diddle a PowerPoint the same way a virtuoso can make a Stradivarius violin sing. Plus it always seemed just a little bit funnier than the usual, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
Now if people ask, well, the answer always comes with a little less humor. What do I do? Depending on the day you ask, I either have meetings about meetings or I’m the Organizational Party Planner in Chief. The irony of an arch misanthrope being the touch point for planning your next 1500 person event isn’t in any way lost on me. It’s one of the reasons I know the universe has a sense of humor.
At least when the time comes to punch out of here, I’ll know that I am fully prepared to begin my second career as the most overly officious and bureaucratic wedding planner in all of human history… because dealing with overly sensitive, emotional clients who want their special day to be just perfect sounds an awful lot like dealing with the day-to-day demands of your run of the mill general officer. The only thing missing is the poofy white dress.
After a couple of weeks of relearning how to spend most of the day without a cell phone, I can say that it’s at best, unpleasant. I’ve made a few necessary adjustments to my personal workflows that have made the circumstance a bit less onerous, but I’m afraid there is just no good substitute for having my digital life at my fingertips at all times. Technically I guess I could go back to the dark ages and start carrying around a paper planner all day, but at that point why not just switch back to stone tablets and chisels? At least I’ve managed a few work around that keep me mostly connected during the day. They’re not seamlessly integrating my life, but they’re at letting me limp along, which I suppose is better than nothing. Just barely.
The real issue I’ve run into after becoming essentially phoneless for large chunks of the day is that I’m losing track of the myriad of notes and reminders I’d regularly send myself throughout the day. Outlook does a good enough job of keeping me on track with most official functions, but I’m feeling the absence of emails to remind me to look at one particular memo or stop for milk on the way home. I’m really missing the ready place to keep track of the copious number of ideas that passed the “I should write about this” test and made it onto my running list of possible blog topics. So it turns out the next step in the process of learning to live with traumatic loss is to come up with some kind of system of recording notes and ideas that doesn’t depend entirely on me seeing the right post it note three minutes before I’m going to need it.
Go ahead and ask me how much I enjoy creating solutions to problems that really have no need to exist at all in the 21st century.
1. The bulldog whine. I don’t know where it came from but for the last few weeks Winston has been a whiner. Whines while I’m fixing his food. Whines when he wants an ear scratch. And whines at four in the morning because he’s bored. It only seems unusual because for most of his life, Winston has been a remarkably quiet dog – aside from the expected bulldog snoring and snorting. If he were doing it to get my attention when he needed to go out that would be one thing, but as far as I can tell it’s mostly just because he’s awake and thinks everyone else should be too.
2. Begging. I’ve had a bitch of a week. I’m getting my ass kicked from pillar to post and it’s not over yet. In the 30 minutes I try to squeeze in a lunch and some time to mentally reset, I’m sorry I don’t want to run the gauntlet of “spare a dollar” panhandlers sitting outside my favorite gas station/sandwich shop. I’m sure they all have very sad stories and they’re all very deserving people, but I’m busting my ass over here in the hopes that it’ll keep the rest of me above water. My observation has been they’re mostly just sitting on theirs looking for someone else to pay the bill. Fuck that noise.
3. Indoor voices. If you work in a relatively confined space with twenty other people, it might be a good idea to go ahead and use your indoor voice. If your indoor voice proves insufficient to carry all the way across the room to your intended recipient, that would be a good time to get up out of your swivel chair and walk over to continue your conversation at an appropriate volume. Or you could just shout at each other. Either way.
Some of the news outlets are making hay about President Obama staying on vacation while Louisiana floods. Some say he should be back in Washington monitoring the situation while others say he should have flown directly into the flood zone. Now I’m no particular fan of this president and his policies, my take on that situation is a healthy “so what?”
If my house were sitting up to the rafters in water, the very last thing I’d want to see is the president and his host of support staff, security, and journalists descend on my street. Frankly at a time like that the only people I’d want to see are the ones who are there to physically help with the clean up process. If I had to speculate, I’d say that when you’re up to your eyeballs in water a presidential handshake and photo opp are far less valuable than a guy with a pump or shop vac.
What no one sees behind the scenes of a concerned president feeling the nation’s pain is the massive logistical operation involved in moving him anywhere. What appears calm and perfectly scripted on screen only does so because 1000 people are peddling like mad just out of the shot. I’m guessing Louisiana doesn’t need that kind of help right now.
There are plenty of good and reasonable reasons to criticize the president and his handling of the nation’s issues… but sorry, folks, this isn’t one of them.
I had four meetings today, which isn’t unusual in and of itself. The real issue was they were scheduled in such a way as to make sure that I had no more than 45 minutes between any of them. The longest uninterrupted stretch of “work” time I had today was the 90 minutes at the start of the day… and the first thirty of those minutes were spent rebooting repeatedly and trying to coax my computer into playing nicely with the network.
That’s pretty much a nice way of saying that I did absolutely nothing productive today. I listened to a number of people talk about the many, many productive things they thing we should be doing, though. If my understanding of bureaucracy is in any way accurate, we give full credit in either case. It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference whether you talk about doing things or you actually do them. More and more of my time seems committed to the former.
I’m fighting an ongoing battle with my innate sense that getting things done is important versus the reality that just showing up in the meeting about the thing that needs done. On days like this it’s helpful to be reminded that there are eight hours in every work day and however Uncle wants me to spend them is his business. For as long as I’ve been doing it, it still feels like an awfully strange way to spend the day.