With today’s setting sun we’ve arrived at the halfway point of this week’s events. It’s also the shortest day on the schedule, so thinking of it as halfway done is a bit deceptive. Even if we are fifty percent finished, the more demanding elements of the schedule are still to come – the ones that historically run way over or way under their allotted time without much rhyme or reason for why it’s happening other than the vagaries of public speaking and lack of effective rehearsal time. Fun fact is that most people apparently have absolutely no concept of time once they’re in front of an audience… and they tend to ramble. A lot.
There’s a part of me that wishes I was an optimist and thought that all will be smooth from now through the end. The part of me that has done this more often than I want to remember knows that tomorrow will be the day the wheels fly off if it’s going to happen. I also know there isn’t a think I can do to change that trajectory in the next twelve hours. So, in the finest traditions of the bureaucracy, I shrug, get a few hours of sleep, and wait for the feces to intersect with the air movement mechanism… and people say I don’t know how to have a good time.
What I need now is absolute quiet. The wiring in my head is not, among other things, designed to keep me on and engaged with people every minute of a 12-hour day. Even with people with whom I have a friendly rapor it’s quite simply exhausting. In a building full of perfect strangers it’s like my own little version of hell. So if you don’t hear from me for a few days it’s because after wearing out every ounce of patience and calm I can muster, I’ve gone home, curled into a little ball, and attempted to make the world go away.
You could fill an entire sheet of paper with what annoys Jeff this week. I know this because I have just such a piece of paper in front of me while I’m typing this. Look at any three lines on that page and you’ll find three things that sent my blood pressure soaring into new and probably dangerous heights. The state of my cardio-vascular system, though, isn’t the point.
Instead of reading you the full list this week, I’ll offer commentary on just one – the one that is the most troubling, and pernicious. As Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s true enough, but what Spidey almost never talks directly about is how frequently people with that power abrogate their responsibility.
When that happens you have power making decisions based on optics rather than effectiveness… and once you have people more worried about how something looks in the photo op than how well it works in reality, you’ve lost any shred of credibility. Sure, you have the power to make those decisions. No one is going to stop you. They may not say anything, because everyone is terrified of telling truth to power, but they’ll judge you for it for the rest of your days. Sure, you can make people do stupid things, you can make them smile and take it, but you can never, ever make them like you or respect you as a human being.
I had a moment today. It was a moment in the late afternoon when the phone wasn’t ringing, there weren’t two dozen emails demanding immediate action, and no one was parked at my deskside expecting a decision of any kind. It startled me. It startled me and the the reality set in that I was in the calm… that last moment of peace, the deep breath before the inevitable shitstorm crashes over your head, swamps all efforts to manage it, and defiles everything it touches with its unholy stench.
Yes friends, I had that moment of calm this afternoon and every finely honed sense developed during nearly half a lifetime as a professional bureaucrat is screaming out a warning of rough weather ahead. Truth be known, I could have done without the calm – without the chance to sit back for a minute and think on the myriad of ways the thousand moving parts of this circus can come undone between now and Monday.
Someone once said that “Jeff is happiest when he’s bitching loudest.” There’s probably some truth in that… although I’d settle for being a little less happy if there were reason to need to do a little less bitching.
Some people just naturally lean towards accommodation and giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m not one of those people. If you fail to follow instructions or otherwise don’t get to do something because you couldn’t be bothered to get after it the first dozen times you were told what needed to be done and the date by which it needed to be accomplished, I tend to have no sympathy. The higher up on Olympus you sit or the more important you think you are are all factors that garner even less sympathy.
Alas, I’m told I have to play nice and contort myself into all manner of painful positions to be accommodating… at least to some people. The number of people who think the date when something is no longer available or the words “sold out” don’t apply to them is simply staggering. Collectively getting people past the idea that they are some kind of special case would, in my opinion, go a long way towards correcting the general asshattery with which anyone with half a brain or a quart of common sense has to deal with on a daily basis.
Next week will be my personal version of hell, featuring 12 hour days, 750 of my new best friends all crammed into one room, and having all the responsibility to make it go right, none of the authority to make any actual decisions, and every bit of the blame if the wheels fall off for any reason. If I were in any way in control of my own destiny this would basically be the very last thing in which I would ever knowingly engage. Yet, party planning sticks with me from job to job like some kind of Gypsy curse.
If next week is hell, this week is a strong contender for that title. It’s the week in which everyone who has been ignoring the impending arrival of hell week has their “oh shit” moment and realizes if they don’t do something they’re going to look like utter twatwaffles in front of a live studio audience. When I was teaching this was the part of the year when I got to tell students that no, they really were going to fail because they didn’t bother to do any homework. I’m told, however, that letting these people fail, regardless of how deserving they may be of it, is “unprofessional.”
It all means that in many ways I’m spoon feeding adult humans a lot of information that was previously made available in slides, and memos, and email, and through various and sundry face to face conversations. I’m paying for the same ground five or six times a day in some cases… and paying for the same ground over and over and over again makes Jeff very, very surly.
Whatever else may be in doubt this week, you can rest assured that behind this serene exterior is a stroke or heart attack just waiting for the right moment to strike me down.
1. The help. OK, so here’s the thing… There’s a point in the life of a project when it is no longer a good idea to throw additional bodies at the problem. Two or three months ago, when I started asking for specific assistance was the time to allocate resources. Ten days before the light turns green and this things has to work is not the time to offer up “whatever help you need.” In fact adding new people at this point is pretty much only going to slow things down and make everything harder to do. We have long since crossed the line of departure after which I will either be able to manhandle this shitshow across the finish line myself or it will collapse in a catastrophic and spectacularly public manner. There really is no third option now.
2. The National Capital Region. Loosely defined for my purposes as the District and the counties of Maryland and Virginia abutting the federal enclave, the area usually makes my list because of their abysmal ability to deal with even the most well forecast snowfall. This week they make the list because those feds operating in and around the NCR have gotten themselves a “free” day off tomorrow. I get the logic of not wanting a few hundred thousand workers coming into the city when a million or so people are swamping the place for the inauguration, but I want a day off too damnit. Back to back three-day weekends would have been perfect.
3. Due dates. Here in the land of making things more difficult than they need to be, we call due dates “suspenses.” These suspenses are what tells us how long we have to work on various action items. The idea is simple enough. The problem is the near universal belief that it’s wrong and immoral to send anything out “before its suspense.” The very idea seems asinine to me. My intent, every single day, is to get things off my desk and on to someone els’s as quickly as quality allows. Hanging on to stuff just because it isn’t due yet has got to be one of the most patently ridiculous things that happens on a regular basis… Which is really saying something because we are full to the rafters with people doing absolutely ridiculous things.