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.

The last perfectly average day…

September 11I don’t remember a damned thing about September 10, 2001. It must have been a perfectly average Monday. I was a second year teacher just trying to get through the week – or more likely trying to get through until Thursday and pint night at the Green Door.

America went to bed that night a nation more or less at peace with the world – victors of the Cold War and long past the 100 hour ground war in Iraq – we contented ourselves with international peacekeeping and the occasional cruise missile strike. We collectively went to sleep not knowing what would happen a few hours later. We went to sleep not knowing we were already at war and that the enemy wasn’t coming for us from across the ocean, it was already here living amongst us. For a few more hours, ignorance was bliss.

Not long after dawn, thirteen years ago tomorrow, the enemy came out of a vivid blue sky, targeting indiscriminately men and women and children and killing our kin and countrymen in their thousands.

I don’t remember anything about the 10th of September, but I remember almost everything about the day that came after it. If I let it the whole thing can spool through my memory like a newsreel. When I think about it now, especially today, the anniversary of the last day that was perfectly average, the sting and loss and anger all come back. It’s just like it happened yesterday.

That’s for the best. So many are bent on forgetting – on reinventing a past that never existed – that those of us who lived through it owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to never forget what we saw and what actually happened on those days in September. As for me, I’ll never forget. I’ll never forgive those who did it or those who supported them and who support them still. At every opportunity I’ll call for my country to be vigilant, to take the war to the enemy, and to beat back the gathering international darkness using every element of our national power.

We’ve all most likely seen the last of our perfectly average days. From here on out I’m afraid we’re destined to live in interesting times.

3rd anniversary…

I’m approaching today not so much as a 36th birthday as the 3rd anniversary of making a 900 mile drive from Memphis to reclaim my Maryland residency. Frankly, it’s the event that feels more important… and I’ll explain why (of course).

As far as my birth, I had very little to do with that other than being present. While I’m pleased that I’ve managed not to step in front of a bus or be eaten by a shark between 1978 and this morning, a lot of that has probably been simple dumb luck more than anything else. As you might guess, celebrating simple dumb luck isn’t really my style.

What is my style, though, is celebrating a very intentional decision I made to extract myself from what had become a hopelessly toxic situation. That’s a real milestone event for today. It’s one of the few decisions I’ve ever made without having doubts or second thoughts after the fact. Coming back to the good soil of my home state was arguably the single best decisions I’ve made to date. That’s not to say that everything is puppies and butterscotch, but at least as I’m sitting here looking out the window writing this post, I know I got the geography right this time. Human beings are generally a resilient bunch, but I’ve long suspected that we are each best suited for and thrive in a particular place… and even as I rant about the out of hand taxes and lunatic nanny government here, this place seems to be it for me. No matter where my travels have taken me, I always seem to come around again.

If nothing else, I can say with certainty that enjoying this fresh-brewed Kona in the rental kitchen is superior in every way to being just past Nashville and screaming east at 90 miles an hour with two dogs and a truck loaded to the gills. I appreciate and thank you for the birthday wishes today friends, but what I’m most proud of on this June 1st is my 3rd anniversary.

Anniversary…

Yes, yes, I know It’s Thursday and Thursday means What Annoys Jeff this Week. As long as I have an internet connection and a bit of power in one of my iDevices, I’ll get that post up at some point later today. Just now, while I’m sitting here watching the snow turn big_15to sleet turn to rain turn back to snow, I’m taking a moment to wish myself a happy 4th anniversary on WordPress.

I can’t say it’s always been perfectly smooth sailing, but WordPress has genuinely provided a great home for jeffreytharp.com. With 30,212 views, 410 comments, it’s been everything a small blogger who spends his day writing about whatever wild-assed idea crosses his mind could ask for. I can’t say for sure whether I’ll be here in another four years, but consulting my magic 8-ball, I’d have to imagine that signs point to yes. I’m not the kind of guy to tinker with something that works and this joint is filling my need to offer the world my opinion very nicely.

Now if the internet is any guide, I should run out and get myself the gift of fruit or flowers or maybe a new appliance. The internet is a strange place.