It’s been a perfectly unremarkable Friday. The freezing drizzle and fog this morning was a nice touch… and just another reason why working from home is greater than working at the office. Otherwise, the day isn’t really distinguished in any way.
I’ve built a lovely cocoon for myself here at Fortress Jeff. With a few minor exceptions there’s not much I want to do that I can’t do here from the comfort of the homestead. Whether it’s plague, foul weather, or violent insurrection, I’m ready to ride it out right here with the critters.
True end of the world stuff is another matter, but in fairness, I’ve grown rather fond of civilization and I’m not entirely sure I want to be one of those people who get to stick around and pick through its ruins.
Where you stand depends on where you sit, I suppose. There was a time I was the first to volunteer to fly off to whatever job needed doing and I rarely thought of what might be happening beyond the next weekend. Back there and back then, I could barely stay put for half a day before needing to be up and out on the next thing. The older I get, though, the more stock I put on the world being regulated by good order and discipline. Chaos, in the wide universe of things best avoided, is the one I loath the most.
I can’t control the world, of course, but I can control a fair amount of what happens here on my little piece of it… so I’ll be striving to extend this run of “unremarkable” as far past Friday as possible.
Memories on Facebook are something of a two-edged sword. As often as they dredge up something I’d forgotten about from the recent past, they also throw up moments that seem like they should have taken place much longer ago.
Two years ago, the internet was raging about the seating of then judge and now Justice Kavanaugh on the United States Supreme Court. It feels like it was both yesterday afternoon and about 600 years ago.
We seem to be in a long stretch now where someone or another is constantly screeching, rending their garments, or taking to the streets for whatever cause of the day is ginning up popular attention. It’s hard to tell the days of the week in some ways because it has all blended together into one large, continuous mass of demonstrating how we feel.
I’ve long been fond of a phrase I first saw many years ago that says something to the effect of “The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings.”
The universe is on to something there. I’ve been working hard to tune out most of the extraneous noise in favor of focusing in on those things I can in some way control or influence. I can’t quite shake the feeling that if we all would just spend a little more time tending our own garden, life would be less shouty and obnoxious.
Then again, the universe doesn’t care about my feelings either, so do whatever.
It occurs to me that part of the reason weekends are so much better than weekdays is I pay virtually no attention to the news on Saturday or Sunday. Of course I catch bits in dribs and drabs from Facebook posts, whatever is trending on Twitter, or what the BBC pushes out in alerts, but I don’t make a conscious effort to seek out news during those 48 hours blocks.
Maybe some would say it makes me a bad citizen, but it makes me a more sane human being. It’s probably worth the trade off. I think I’ll continue trying to keep the shitshow of events entirely outside my own sphere of influence confined to the 5 days of the week that are already dicked up by other factors. Two days of willful disengagement out of seven days in a week don’t feel like an outrageously big ask.
I’m left to wonder if we might not all be better off if everyone spent more time tending to the things that are within their own span of control and less tuned in to Big Events over which no one has any real control. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There are too many people too tied in who seem like they might just get off on soaking in the drama.
As for me and mine, we’ll double down and take a page from General Washington to increasingly strive to be the kind of man who seeks mainly to “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Now it’s important to remember that when it comes to event planning at the very best I am nothing more than a marginally talented amateur. I’m reasonably good at establishing requirements and subcontracting them out to people who can do that actual work. What I lack in any meaningful way is the patience requisite to answering the same five questions 437 times after providing that information in a read ahead packet that clearly no one bothered to read.
The real problem, though, isn’t necessarily who did or didn’t read what… it’s that although I’m tolerable good at identifying requirements, I really have no actual control over them. In the parlance of my employer, I’m not a “decision maker,” and frankly, as I’ve said loudly and often, I don’t want to be one of those. The most significant “wheels coming off” moments I find at an event of any size aren’t actually a result of poor planning or staff work so much as they’re the result of one of the deciders being visited by the Good Idea Fairy twelve hours or so before the damned thing starts.
The result is that plans are made, flyers are printed, and advertising is done… and the new thing that’s being injected starts looking a lot like an after-thought instead of something that was carefully considered and added because it created value in the week’s proceedings.
But since I’m just a guy sitting here, what the hell do I know?
This is the first time in about a month that my laptop hasn’t followed me home. It’s the first time I’ve even attempted to restore the hard earned balance between the quiet, peaceful, sustaining world of the homestead and world across the river that would happily eat up all the free and easy moments if given half a chance.
Already in just these few minutes I’m feeling less submerged in the deep water – far happier for being now surrounded by my animals, my books, and no hint of a self-inflicted crisis with which to be dealt. I won’t pretend that this is anything approaching a controlled environment, but the common problems are swiftly put right and order, such as it is, reigns. Those problems that rightly dwell on the other side of the river, are less apt to be corrected no matter the time and resources brought to bear against them.
No one knows better than I that control is an illusion. Even if it is a fiction, it’s a happy fiction, and one that I’m pleased to let have its way here inside my own four walls. I’m in a slow recovery from the week and months that were. I feel better now than I did ten short hours ago, so that’s something – a good sign perhaps. Throw in a few days of real down time and I might have a fighting chance of really feeling like myself again. A boy can dare to dream.
1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.
2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.
3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.
I’ve always had something of a temper. It’s a family trait. Over the years I’ve learned, mostly, to suppress the worst of it. I’ve got plenty of tells if you know what you’re looking for, but for the most part I get away with it. Any facial expression that ranges from indifferent to annoyed and you’ve basically strayed into the red zone. It’s hardly the work of a zen master, but it’s what I can manage.
My carefully cultivated facade cracked for a moment today. I found myself halfway down the hall in what could generously be described as a blinding fit of rage before that small voice of reason cut through to remind me that grabbing someone by the tie and bouncing their head off the closest available wall is considered inappropriate… and probably detrimental to my career. I reigned it it, walked it off, and seethed quietly for the next hour.
I’ve spent my adult life working on the art of mastering my temper and learning what I need to do to keep it in check. I slipped today and I hate myself for it – not so much that it happened but because it offered up a brief glimpse at what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
General George Washington stayed in contact with the Continental Congress by means of fast dispatch riders.
General U.S. Grant send word of his victories to Lincoln across the wire.
General Dwight Eisenhower stayed in contact with Allied HQ in London by radio (and through the occasional, and often troublesome visits from elements of the Combined Staff).
Today, we have the ability for the people who dwell within the five-sided insane asylum in Arlington to count every nut and bolt in the inventory. We can do it. We have the technology. As is often the case, though, no one has pondered if it’s something we should do just because we can.
Situational awareness is a beautiful thing… but at what point do you trust the people on the scene to violently execute the mission without further “assistance” from higher headquarters? Eventually, the ability to become an Everlasting Know-It-All just makes everything more difficult. I know everyone wants to think their little piece is indispensable, but history shows me that our greatest commanders have moved the world with a hell of a lot less data and a hell of a lot more faith in their subordinates.
“We make choices. I’m well aware there are forces beyond our control but even in the face of those forces we make choices, and then we live with them. And then we die with them.”
Gold star if you can pinpoint the source of that little pearl of wisdom without racing over to the Google. Here’s a hint: It’s from deep inside a television series that could have been great but met its end before being fully realized or appreciated. I came across it a few days ago and it’s stuck with me for whatever reason. It’s one of those rare quotes that’s really gotten inside my head and left me to ponder. Not that I mind pondering. As far as I’m concerned the ability to ponder and think deeply on a topic is one of the very few things that really separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Choices. Making them, giving their power up to others, changing our minds, and then choosing all over again. Knowing that we’re always making them without having all the facts and with an imperfect sense of how they will play out, still we make choices every day and live with their consequences – or die with them.
There’s no surer way to convince me to do something than to tell me I can’t. That’s why I take Maryland’s new gun laws set to go into effect on October 1st a personal affront and challenge. The modern sporting rifle (a.k.a. Assault Rifle; a.k.a. Evil Black Gun; a.k.a. Military Style Rifle), isn’t something I would have picked up for my own collection. I’m not a rifle guy for the most part. I’ve probably put more rounds through an old beat up tube-fed .22 than I have any combination of the other rifles I’ve ever had my hands on. Then the governor and state legislature of Maryland did something stupid. They told me and every other law abiding gun owner in the state that we shouldn’t be allowed to have these “scary” looking rifles because someone, somewhere might use them for devious purposes. The same thing could be said of kitchen knives, of course. I mean does anyone really “need” that big, scary looking butcher knife or meat cleaver? Just think of all the needless kitchen related injuries we could prevent if we were only allowed to buy paring knives. Sigh. I’m exhausted from making hundreds of variations of that argument every time someone asks why I insist on exercising my Second Amendment rights.
The fact is, I would have lived out my life and been perfectly happy with an old bolt action rifle if my state’s governor wasn’t dead set on telling me what I should or shouldn’t want or be able to own. We arm NATO countries. We arm the Iraqis. We arm the Egyptians. We arm the Afghanis. We arm the Syrians. Hell, within my own lifetime we even armed the Iranians. We send guns to Mexico that are turned on our own. But when it comes to allowing Americans to arm themselves against threats to our life, liberty, and property, well, that’s a bridge too far.
I don’t understand a world where that makes sense. And that’s why as soon as some official in Washington or Annapolis says I shouldn’t want something, I feel the compulsion to run out and start hoarding it. I’m not sure I can put a finger on the last law passed in either place that didn’t result in more taxes out of my pocket or being allowed to enjoy fewer personal liberties. Until that trend reverses course, exercising all your rights at every possible opportunity just makes good sense.
Maybe that day will never come. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll be able to say I’ve done my small part.