From there to here…

Twenty years ago today, at about 8:00 in the morning, I walked into Shoney’s in Petersburg, Virginia having no idea what to expect. Three weeks earlier, I had celebrated Christmas by walking away from my still poppin’ fresh teaching career in the middle of the school year. Between getting my old condo ready to rent, the U-Haul expense, and setting up housekeeping in a new apartment, I was lucky to scrape together enough spare change to be flush enough to order breakfast somewhere so fancy. It was a starving time – the flattest of flat broke I’ve been as an adult before or since.

With that career turning 20 today, it’s been hard not to linger on where it’s taken me – from Petersburg and Richmond, to the Columbia River gorge and The Dalles, Honolulu, DC, Memphis, and finally back home to Maryland and the shores of the Chesapeake. I’ve met some absolutely brilliant minds and more than a few complete and utter shits. A few of the former, I’m lucky to consider dear friends. The latter are unavoidable no matter how hard you try.

No matter where the geography took me, it’s always been a job – the thing I do to pay the bills and afford to do all the other stuff. That’s ruffled the feathers of the true believers whose paths I’ve crossed. It cost me a few points here and there and maybe made me more than one low key enemy… but I have very few regrets. I’ll bitch about Uncle’s batshit crazy, incredibly frustrating, and outmoded way of doing things until the day I die, but it’s been a good living and it’s given me the opportunity to build a good life with not too many compromises. That ain’t nothing.

I’m just a bit shy of 2/3 of the way through this unexpected career of mine. With 20 down and 12 to go, I do find my thoughts turning a lot more frequently to its end than I do to its beginning. It’s nice, though, this one time a year, to sit down and think about the truly bizarre series of events and decisions that led me from there to here.

The first of June…

Way back on June 1st, 2006 I published my first blog post… on MySpace. A lot has changed in the intervening 16 years. For instance, well, MySpace doesn’t seem to be much of a thing anymore. I’ve also managed to get 16 years older, which I suppose is nice give the binary alternative. 

I’m not big on celebrating my own birthdays, but having something to say day in and day out for 16 years feels like an accomplishment worth noting. 

With 3,660 posts under the bridge, being loud and obnoxious about having an opinion is still something I enjoy the hell out of doing (most of the time). It’s not without some irony that I recognize it’s the job I’ve enjoyed most all these years and it’s also the one that’s paid me virtually nothing. It hasn’t proven to be a money maker, but relieving all this bile on a regular basis is probably the thing that has kept me a reasonable approximation of sane.

So that’s it. That’s the post. If you want to see where it all started, you can check out that very first post here.

As it should be…

Three years ago tonight, I knew I had a very sick dog. I knew we’d run out of room to maneuver. Through surgeries, skin infections, ear infections, bad joints, and most of the other expected bulldog maladies, there was always the likelihood of a bit of improved quality of life on the other side of the visit to the vet’s office.

Three years ago, I knew that wasn’t the case any longer. Standing up under his own power required a herculean effort and the pain of it was written across his face. The one short step down to the porch was entirely beyond his power. I could have filled him with pain meds and hung on grimly for a few more days or maybe even a few more weeks, but nothing seems more cruel than forcing a loyal dog to suffer without hope of it gaining him better times ahead.

Instead, I laid awake a lot of the night and listened to the steady rhythm of his snoring. Most good clocks aren’t as well regulated in their timing. We should all be so fortunate to sleep as soundly as a bulldog.

I won’t relive the rest of the story here. After three years, the inevitable “tomorrow” is still raw. Maybe it always will be.

Maybe that’s as it should be. After all, Winston was a very, very good dog and I miss him.

My 16th year…

Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of my life in sworn service to our mad uncle. People say that time flies when you’re having fun, but in my experience having fun is entirely optional. Time just flies. Well, more specifically, the years seem to fly. Individual days feel like they might well last for weeks on end. It’s when they get rolled up into their individual 365-count bundles that they race away from you.

From my vantage point here as a solidly mid-career bureaucrat, I won’t pretend there haven’t been some good times. A few of them are probably only good in retrospect and with the benefit of distance from the facts, but that’s probably to be expected. Over the last 16 years I’ve been privileged to meet some of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. I’ve also met more than a few sniveling, conniving, climbers who I’d happily shank in a dark alley if I ever got the chance – and thought I could get away clean. Not one of that bunch is worth going to prison over, though I hope I’m still around when they inevitably overreach.

About once a year someone on the outside asks if I’d recommend government work. A decade ago I’d have said yes. Government work isn’t going to make you rich, but the pay doesn’t suck, the health and retirement plans are good, and you never have to worry about your employer going out of business. It was a haven for those who value stability – a place of low risk and correspondingly modest rewards. After a decade of living through multiple hiring freezes, multiple pay freezes, and multiple government shutdowns, though, I couldn’t recommend it with a clear conscience these days.

Uncle is no longer a stable employer – pay and benefits are just another political football at risk every year. If you’re going to live with that much uncertainty, you might as well go work in the private sector where you might have a chance at making some real money for assuming the risk that your company or contract won’t be there a year from now. I won’t go so far as saying that both options are equal – but the assessment of whether public service or the private sector is a better place to have a career feels like more of a dice roll now that it has in the last 16 years.

In a few months I’ll climb over the halfway point on the long road to whatever retirement might look like in or about 2035. That feels like a far more important milestone than yesterday’s just passing another year on the job. Who knows, maybe my mood will even improve. Probably not, but it would be a neat trick if it did.

Eight years of WordPress…

Sometimes I forget just how long I’ve been blogging. Then the internet jumps up and gives me its standard shocking reminder. Look, my blog has been around long enough to have once called MySpace home, so I’m well aware that I’ve been rambling for a long, long time now. That fact that WordPress has been home now for eight years, though, somehow feels more shocking than the fact that it use to live at a url that ended in myspace.com/blog.

I like it here. It feels comfortable. The longer I do this, the more I appreciate simplicity and ease of use in a website. The point all along, I suppose, has been to learn what I can about being a better writer rather than learning how to run a website. The later would probably have been a far more lucrative endeavor, but I still find the former much more fun.

There’s something deeply satisfying about barfing up what’s usually the worst of the day onto the page and hitting publish. It’s my 21st century equivalent of applying leeches and purging myself of bad humors. The two or three hundred words that end up here on the typical day let me purge off the most obnoxious and annoying bits of the day and settle in with the good stuff. If I weren’t blogging it, I’d just end up having to find another way to get the mess out of my head.

So, I’m celebrating eight years with WordPress. In all likelihood it will go unremarked and unnoticed, but it really does mean the world to me.

Fifteen…

This coming Saturday will mark an auspicious milestone for me – The 15th anniversary of signing on as one of Sam’s civilian employees. The truth is that number feels vaguely fictitious. It clearly isn’t possible that much time has passed since showing up to meet the bosses and a gaggle of other new employees at a Shoney’s restaurant just outside the gates of Fort Lee in Virginia. As much as those days in the old Blue Auditorium and nights of bar hopping between Petersburg and Richmond feel like a different lifetime, they also feel a bit like they happened last month.

Due to some of the vagaries of the dual age and years of service requirement of the federal retirement system, racking up half of 30 years doesn’t quite put me officially halfway through a career. I won’t hit that magic point until March of 2019. Having fifteen years down still feels good. Just knowing you’re close to the back half of the game give a bit of comfort that sitting in cubes working on PowerPoint won’t last literally forever… even on days when it feels that way.

So what have I learned over the last decade and a half? I’ve learned that some people are heroes and others are knaves. I’ve learned that management and leadership are rarely the same thing. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you roll your eyes they actually won’t fall out of your head. I’ve learned, perhaps most importantly, that given enough time and distance, even the worst of bad days isn’t as awful as it seemed in the moment. That’s the kind of folksy wisdom you need to remind yourself of as frequently as necessary.

So as for me, Saturday will mark 15 years down and about 17 ½ left to go. For anyone else out there following along in Uncle’s great civilian army, you know that magic 15 year mark also means one very important thing. It means that I’m adding another 52 hours of vacation time to the mix. If you think having an extra week plus a little of new found time off coming my way every year from here on out to the end doesn’t hit me right in my happy place, well, you might not know me at all.

A happy place to hide…

Last year on this day I wrote that I was amazed a year had gone by and that “feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.” As much as I would love to say that the second anniversary of buying Fortress Jeff finds that to be less true, of course it isn’t. The place is still a near constant construction zone (though fortunately this year’s efforts have been less dramatic) and the project list has only continued to grow.

It’s taken a while to get to a place where it feels like I’m not walking into someone else’s house that just happens to have all of my stuff in it… but I’m pretty much there now. Except, of course, for the occasional discoveries of little things that leave me wondering the logic behind why things were done a certain way when they built the place (like mystery light switches) and the perplexing rational behind not putting this place on a full basement.

All things considered I think I can be happy hiding from people here for a good long while.

Seven years, but still no itch…

Way back in January of 2010 I was casting around for a new blog platform. Having moved the original blog over from MySpace to Blogger, I was really looking for the place on the internet that could give me a permanent home – or at least a home that’s as permanent as we make anything in the electronic world. I did my homework and tried to assess all of the potential platforms, finally landing on WordPress as the one that seemed not only to offer exactly what I needed, but the one that seemed least likely to go belly up in six months.

A few credit card payments to secure domain names and for hosting fees and *poof*, WordPress became the one stop shop for whatever words felt like they needed said on any given day. Very little has changed here in the intervening seven years. In fact the page format is almost exactly as it was when I started posting here back then. Fortunately I made a point of choosing a layout that wasn’t destined to feel like a throwback to the early days of the internet and at least to my eye it’s managed to avoid looking too terribly dated.

One of the biggest reasons I selected WordPress from the competitors was that through WordPress.org it gives you the power to control nearly every possible element of your site. Despite good intentions to learn all of those under the hood management tools, I remain stubbornly fixed at the .com version of WordPress. It’s probably time I accept that I’m never going to be the nuts and bolts designer of this place and stick to what I do at least with some marginal level of skill – putting a few simple words on a blank screen and convincing a few people a day to give them a read.

As always, I’m happy to be spending one more “big day” on WordPress with any and all who stumble across my small portion of the internet. We’re seven years in and I still feel like I’m just getting warmed up.

The real celebration…

First and foremost I’ll take this opportunity to thank the many people who reached out to me through Facebook, or text, or email, phone today. Your birthday wishes are, by me, appreciated.

In other news, while I was digging around the site today in hopes of coming up with a suitable message for the day that I haven’t tread too heavily on the previous anniversaries of my birth, I was struck by something remarkable. As it turns out, June 1st isn’t just my birthday. I know. I’m as shocked as you are to learn that anything else of importance might have happened previously on this date. I’m still a little perplexed and amazed by this particular discovery.

Today also marks ten years since publishing my very first blog post. It’s bad. I mean really bad. It’s badly written. It’s badly thought out. It’s just bad in almost every conceivable way. If you don’t believe me, you can dig it up in the archives but scrolling down to June 2006 and hitting the link, but I’m not going to link it directly because it really is just that bad. I even contemplated making the post private rather than remarking on it, but that really defeats the purpose of what I’ve been trying to do here.

Those first posts really are awful. I’m struggling to find a voice and it readily shows. Looking back across those ten years, though, what I also see is upward trajectory of improvement – tighter writing, better reasoning, and the development of ability to tell a bit of a story in just a few hundred words. Still, I like the idea that if someone were so inclined they could map the constellation of things that have rattled through my head from then to now as the posts rattled around the internet from their original home on MySpace (seriously), to Blogger, and finally here to my own site powered by WordPress.

Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot of time until I start thinking about what’s changed from then to now. Looking back on some of the things 28 year old me thought were important enough to take up blog space, 38 year old me would love to sit him down for a nice long talk. There are lots of posts I wish I hadn’t made and some others I wish I’d have had the guts not just to publish, but to nail right to the mast. I like to think I’ve learned a lot about the world around me and even more about myself over the last 2,176 posts.

So unlike many of products that reach their tenth anniversary, there won’t be a lot of changes. I’m not going to go all New Coke or tinker around with the Colonel’s secret recipe. Whatever improvements happen will be organic and develop naturally in the fullness of time. I can only hope the writing is as much improved over the second decade of blogging as it was in the first.

We’ll all have to come back in June 2026 to find out.

Five…

I don’t usually post on Fridays because they tend to be the black hole of blogging. No matter how interesting a post you have, no one is going to see it anyway so it’s generally better to hold it for the next week.

Today is one of those rare exceptions to the rule simply because this is the 5 year anniversary of my transition to WordPress and the introduction of jeffreytharp.com. Big milestone here. It’s the rare bird indeed that manages to hold my attention through 1,826 days, 37,628 views, and 500 comments.

Thanks to everyone who’s been around since the beginning. Welcome to those who are just joining us. I like to think I’m still getting warmed up and finding my stride in the digital world… so we’ll just have to see how thinks look in another five years.