Sometimes smart isn’t enough…

I’m a reasonably smart guy. I’ve never hidden that fact or been embarrassed by it the way some people seem to think you should be. There are, however, times when native brain power just isn’t enough.

This morning I went through my usual Saturday – did things like take a load of trash to the landfill, stop by the bank, and roll past Tractor Supply for the biggest bag of bird food available. Then I made my fatal mistake.

You see, today is Saturday. I didn’t think of it as anything other than Saturday. One of 52 that we get every year. It’s the day of the week even I get groceries. What every other person in the county apparently thought of today as, however, is “the last Saturday before Thanksgiving when they should take the whole family to the supermarket and pick up three carts full of food.”

It didn’t even occur to me. If it had, I’d have changed the plan and done my shopping at 5am to avoid the masses. I should have known better, should have been more aware. I was awash in a vast see of dumb as hell and have no one to blame but myself.

Mercifully I’m home now. If you want me to leave, setting the place on fire is probably the only way to shake me loose… and even that isn’t guaranteed to get the job done.

Joy suckers…

I was served up an article today listing the “10 costumes you must never ever wear for Halloween” unless you want to risk being branded a privileged cultural appropriating racist. Having worn a few of those costumes as a kid, I can only say I’m incredibly thankful to have grown up before everyone started being offended by everything and all dissent can be silenced by simply branding the other person racist. The ideological lock step with which certain segments of the population seem to believe must be adhered to without question or deviation is chilling. Especially when you remember a time when that same group rallied regularly in support of radical free expression in the arts, in public forums, and on the airwaves. Then again, perhaps that really just meant freedom for those enunciating approved, doctrinaire ideas.

Here’s the neat thing about being a grown ass adult: I’m old enough to not have to ask anyone’s permission before wearing anything, especially not when the point of the day is to dress up in such a way as to come as you aren’t. I’m also old enough to remember when the ending of a popular children’s poem was “But names will never hurt me,” though that’s probably a topic for a different post. In any case, I heartily thank the gods I haven’t gotten a cease and desist letter from the punk rockers, or the new wave kids, or the grunge bands demanding that I give up my beloved Doc 1640s. Surely, based on how the idea of cultural appropriation is being applied in the early 21st century, I’m guilty of absconding with late 20th century English heritage, no?

Maybe you won’t hear it anywhere else this year, but you’ll hear it from me – if you want to dress as a samurai, bandit, cowboy, cop, biker, construction worker, sailor, Indian chief, or whatever else happens to tickle your happy place, go forth as you will and enjoy your Halloween festivities. My advice to you is to not let the fact that some small segment of the population wants to act as judge and jury of a self-appointed inquisitorial hurt feelings goon squad get in the way of your enjoying the day. They’ve clearly managed to suck the joy our of their own lives already and you’d be well served not to let them do the same to yours.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

On personal fulfillment…

Some days you feel like you may have actually contributed something – made a difference to someone, somewhere. More often, in my experience, the average work day is more a haze of answered emails, unavoidable phone conversations, and shuffling papers from one side of the desk to another. At best, maybe you manage to shuffle some of the papers from your desk to someone else’s. As often as not, that’s as good as it gets.

Maybe there will come a time when I look back on these 35-ish years of professional “life” fondly, though sitting in the middle of it, I current can’t imagine why. I accept it, grudgingly, as a means to a desired end. I’m lucky to be good enough at the work that I don’t get hectored too much by the bosses and the pay is reasonably good. It’s got that much going for it – but ginning up spectacular PowerPoints, enduring meetings that never quite seem to end, and the inevitable zero-sum bureaucratic infighting isn’t the kind of thing I can imagine anyone getting passionate about. I’ve met a few who find it their true calling, though. That’s something that convinces me more than ever that we can never really hope to know what evil lurks in the hearts of man.

There’s not really a point to all this beyond saying that today I felt like a particularly ineffective cog in a uniquely inefficient machine creating marginal products for an apathetic audience. At least such feelings only occupy 40/168ths of an average week so that’s a bit of a mercy.

Look, I’m glad I’m not out there passing around resumes and all… but lord almighty am I glad I have other other interests that round out the “personally fulfilling” side of life’s ledger.

That book life…

Last week I finished reading a book, The Gentle Madness, that outlined the lives of some of the great book collectors and personal libraries assembled over the last five hundred years. It also covered how many of those libraries were broken up over time – sold off in toto or in part, lost to fire, stolen, gifted to public institutions, or released back into the wild through glittering auctions. These were the “important” libraries of history – the first printed books, manuscripts on velum, hand-copied tracts carefully illuminated by monks in the Middle Ages – the incredibly rare and the magnificently expensive. These were the libraries of royal dukes and titans of the industrial age.

It makes me extraordinarily happy that such collectors and such libraries even exist. Even so, I walk away from that read feeling just a little bit sad – mostly because, unless there’s a multi-state lottery jackpot in my future I’ll never be able to possess books like that. I’ll never have the opportunity to walk into a room filled with five hundred year old volumes and revel in their smell and feel and the sheer joy of knowing that for just a short slice of history I am custodian of such rarities.

I love books. I love being surrounded by them. If I had but the funds, I’d like nothing more than to assemble a first rate, proper library – old classics well made and maintained dating back from the dawn of printing and beyond. Given the reality of not having fabulous mountains of wealth, mine is a simple working collection of books.  It’s hardly worthy to be considered a library at this point – just 500 or so volumes of history mixed with fiction, some government and politics, and a few outliers straying into sociology. Hardly a blip when compared to some of the lions of book collecting, whose personal libraries swelled to hundreds of thousands of books.

I read what interests me at the moment, acknowledging that it would be impossible to dive down every rabbit hole – or even one tenth of the rabbit holes given the limitations of time. Sure there are a few modern first editions living in places of honor on my shelf. There are a few well worn favorites that I keep coming back to time and again. If nothing else, I can at least claim that every book that ends up on one of my shelves is one that I’ve read. Nothing earns its spot there simply for decoration or adornment.

I could save a shitload of money if I were just able to borrow books from the public library like a normal person. I’m touched lightly by that gentle madness, though. The books possess me at least as much as I possess them… and I don’t mind it even a little bit.

Your lack of sleep is showing…

I haven’t been sleeping worth a damn for the last week or so. It’s not a problem falling asleep. That happens fast enough, occasionally before I even have time to reach over and flick off the lamp. It’s more a problem of staying asleep once I get there. I’m naming the direct cause(s) as a free-roaming cat, a dog that fights for every inch of bed space and another whose snores seem to be able to shake the very ground, a trip to the bathroom occasionally, and my poor sleep addled brain trying to tune it all out. It hasn’t been a winning combination for a couple of nights now.

It’s starting to bleed through into things like a marvelously reduced attention span, incredibly hostile mood (yeah, more so than usual), grumbling at dogs who are doing dog stuff, and even, I suspect, the complete shit that passes for blog posts that I’ve been planting here. Sorry about that. I don’t know that coming clean about it makes those bad posts any better, but it’s at least honest.

There are things I could do that would probably improve my quality of sleep – banish the animals and the electronics from the bedroom, cut way back on liquid consumption after dinner, and generally try to decrease aggravation from 8PM onward. None of those things feel particularly likely to happen, though, so maybe we should all just get use to expecting me to be more surly and less coherent from here on out.

On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”

The virtue of 4AM…

I’m an early riser by most people’s definition. Weekday, weekend doesn’t really matter. Unless I’m deathly ill, and usually even then, I’m awake a few minutes on either side of 5AM. Today was a rare exception that pushed the day’s start time to 4am. When you’re use to waking in the small hours of the morning one hour is pretty similar to the next. It’s dark, the world is quiet, and you don’t want to do anything so much as sit on the porch and enjoy another cup of coffee. Sadly, though, today wasn’t the day for that.

Without detail, suffice to say what had me up in the small hours was a patently ridiculous task that involved significant eye rolling and standing around a parking lot in the morning’s light drizzle for far longer than was strictly necessary.

That’s not to say that waking up at 4am is completely without virtue. Dragging yourself out of bed at 4AM and starting the clock on your work day by 6:00 delivers the undeniable benefit of then being able to punch out and head home by 2:30 in the afternoon. That part of the day felt good and right. Most people wouldn’t make that devil’s bargain, I’m sure, but if the powers that be would let me kick off every day at 6:00 and clock out at 2:30, I’d sign up for that schedule in a hot minute. Sadly I inhabit a world where I’ve been “invited” to meetings starting at 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, and 7:00PM. Those are hours I’m exceptionally uninterested in being in the office, but during which bosses seem to thrive.

Maybe that’s why I’m such a consistent fan of early mornings.