Even though I should have been happily ensconced today in my home office, I walked in to the building this morning with a little extra spring in my step. Unremarked and unknown to anyone I have slid past an auspicious milestone and that knowledge has, at least for today, has helped give me a little better perspective.
You see, I’ve rolled by the halfway mark of my anticipated career as a professional bureaucrat. That means, should everything go to plan, I’ve already spent more days sitting in a cubicle than I’ll have to spend sitting in a cubicle in the future.
Yes, an extraordinary number of things have to go right to make this reality – the stock market needs to match or exceed its historic rates of return, I have to avoid doing anything egregious and getting fired, and I need to not drop dead or otherwise completely wreck my health.
Still, though, for the first time I’m on the right side of the countdown and I have a rough plan for the way ahead. It’s hard to believe that finding myself on the downhill slide could possibly feel so good… but it does.
There is a world of difference between being busy and getting things done. I was looking at my calendar for the next ten days or so and it’s absolutely undeniable that I’m going to be busy. Meetings are stacked up like cord wood and on a few days there might even be time to eat a lunch that won’t feel like either a late breakfast or an early dinner.
Although I’m going to be busier than a one armed paper hanger, what I can tell you with almost perfect certainty is that I’m not going to be getting things done. Experience tells me that the amount of work accomplished is inversely proportional to the number of hours spent sitting in meetings. It’s a known fact across the bureaucracy, but doe some reason the illusion that meetings in some way equate to work accomplished persists in the minds of people who call meetings.
Maybe it’s possible to both attend meetings and be a productive and contributing member of society, but I’ve never cracked the code on making that happen when the meetings and the work insist on occupying the same eight hours of the day. I suspect that the people who pull off spending all day in meetings and also somehow manage to get something done are willing to slip in a few extra hours on the side.
If you’re sitting around waiting for the same from me, my best advice is to get comfortable, because you’re going to have a bit of a wait.
There’s a local shop about five minutes drive from the house where you can get bread, milk, eggs, smokes, lottery tickets, a six pack of select domestic or import beer, a selection of $8 wines, and hot or cold made-in-front-of-you deli sandwiches. It’s plopped down at an intersection where two or three different deeply exurban neighborhoods come together. If you weren’t use to seeing it there, it might even look out of place.
The fact is, mom and pop shops like Cooper’s Market aren’t just a local resource – letting someone skip the drive all the way into town if they only need one or two things and don’t mind paying the premium – they’re also a national treasure. They’re the natural home for local news and gossip – and even though I’m nowhere near a local in these parts, if you keep your ears open you can always find out who got arrested, who’s kid is doing “the drugs” or got knocked up, what house burned, or what the useless county commissioners got wrong this time.
Maybe it’s the kind of place that’s nostalgic only if you grew up in small town America, where they were the rule rather than the exception. It’s nice to know that there are still a few of them around. I like having the option of the big chain stores when I’m already out in the more densely developed parts of the world, but here in my little section of it I much prefer the familiarity of the human being who knows what you’re going to order before you even get to the head of the line.
Asked in a certain way, by a certain kind of person, the question, “So, what’s do you like to do?” can be something of a loaded gun. It’s marginally less awful than the introductory questions in DC that always seemed to be either “What do you do?” or “Who do your work for?,” but it’s only a very slight degree of less awful.
It’s almost the perfect encapsulation of a no-win question. You see, the things I like to do are not the things that most people want to base a conversation around, let alone a lifestyle. I like taking trash to the dump. I like cutting the grass. I like fiddling with projects around the house. I like hanging out with dogs, cats, and sundry other animals. I like sitting on the back porch in the summer time with a cold beer and a thick, meaty book about English history.
I forgive you if those aren’t the activities that set your heart aflutter… but I’m never going to be someone who longs to spend holiday weekends at a bed and breakfast, or driving into the city for a show, or really wading into all but a rare few circumstances that involves me and a large group of people. I enjoy the beach, though I’ve never felt the compulsive need to take long sunset walks on it. I’m far more likely to fall down the basement steps than I ever am to consider climbing K2.
At 40 I’m acutely aware that time is increasingly limited. I spent a large amount of that time already finding out what I like and what I don’t and given the option, I’d like to continue doing the bits that I enjoy as often as possible. I think you’ll find that if your follow up question is “Yeah, but what do you do for fun,” our conversation is very rapidly drawing to a close because it’s likely we’re never going to actually understand each other.
I’m not saying that all new things are out of bounds, but whatever it is you’re reaching for had better be spec-goddamned-tacular to convince me it’s better than the joy that only comes from comfortable familiarity.
For most of last week I wasn’t fit for service. Sure, I managed to feed and bathe myself and tend to the life, health, and safety requirements for Maggie, Hershel, and George, but otherwise I was lost in the tall grass. If I had needed to submit a readiness report, it would have read “not mission capable.” Anything that wasn’t essential just got left on the side of the road.
I don’t handle grief well. I don’t suppose most people do. My approach is almost universally to put my head down and grind through whatever the situation is in low gear. I doubt that my psychologist friends would call it a particularly healthy coping strategy, but it’s what I do. Drawing inward, circling the wagons, defending the keep – call it what you will, but history tells me that it’s what works to get me through to the other side of any individual crisis of the moment.
Consequently to all that, most of the administrative minutia of life stayed on the wayside until I was better able to get and keep my head “in the game” as it were. That means this week I’m just now starting to pick back up with the business of keeping the household running smoothly – groceries, laundry, and cleaning. It was also time to check in on the administrator’s panel for the blog and pay some fees, and tend to the minor details that keep my small part of the internet up and running.
It was in checking the back office side of the blog that I discovered one last gift that Winston gave me. Without me knowing it, my tribute post to a good and faithful dog rocketed into first place as the single most viewed post in the nine year history of this blog. In fact it didn’t quite double the previous “most viewed” record, but it came awfully close. It turns out the internet isn’t always the dumpster fire we make it out to be. Every now and then its collective users can find a way to leave even the most jaded among us more than a little bit surprised with their generous spirit and kind support.
Winston raised the bar on me while I wasn’t paying attention. If I never write another thing to exceed that mark, I’ll be more than happy with the result.
This was the first Monday I had to actually go into the office in months. Something about staffing and coverage and blah blah blah. I’ll still get my telework day this week, just not as the day that eases me back into the weekday routine of angst, bother, and death PowerPoint.
I know it was a Monday today mostly because when I got to the office and wanted to buy a bagel, I discovered that my wallet, watch, and other small items I carry every day were not where I expected them to be (i.e. in my pockets). Instead, they were exactly where I left them the last time I had returned home from being out in the world of people. Which is exactly where they are deposited the hundreds of times a year I come home from being somewhere else, so it’s not as if they’d been secreted off to a new undisclosed location and chaos ensued.
I can only assume this was my subconscious rejecting the idea of a Monday that strayed so far from the standard. This lack of early morning cerebral engagement means I started off the day doubly disappointed – first, I was destined to spend the day tethered to my desk in the concrete bowels of the building without fresh air or daylight and secondly, I was required to do it without benefit of starting the day with a toasty warm bagel.
I think that nicely encapsulates exactly what kind of day it has been. In fact, I’m going to start a petition to officially change the name of Monday to Double Disappointment. It feels altogether more fitting.
Under any normal circumstance, Thursdays are sacrosanct and reserved exclusively for What Annoys Jeff this Week. This week, of course, has been filled with what I can only charitably describe as abnormal circumstances that cast any of the usual annoyances far into the shadows.
Instead of phoning something in, I want to use this generally largest audience of the week to say thank you to everyone who has called, emailed, sent a text, a tweet, or Facebook message over the last few days. I know I haven’t gotten back to many of you personally – the truth is, I haven’t even read the bulk of the messages yet. The last couple of days all my mental energy has been flowing deep into the reptilian section of my brain and focused on self preservation and generating emotional scar tissue. I promise I’m going to read every one of them just as soon as they don’t threaten to send me off the rails into ugly crying territory.
Winston was one of the very few creatures on earth that I loved without reservation. Based on your responses, you noticed . Please know that I was and continue to be touched beyond words by your kindness. You all helped lighten the burden of an incredibly hard day and I’ll always be grateful for that.