Cubicle hell…

I’ve been a cube dweller for all of my 15 years working for Uncle. The one constant across all those years is a firm belief that if there is a hell, at least one level of it has cubicles stretching out to the horizon in all directions. In effect, to work in a cube is to already be condemned to toil in a hellscape to get credit for your eight daily ours.

Most days, cubicle hell is a land of minor irritations – of people who talk too loudly, non-existent air conditioning, 30 conversations happening simultaneously, an utter lack of privacy, and an endless parade of small distractions seemingly devised to prevent anything that could be mistaken for productivity.

The small annoyances are punctuated occasionally by the large distractions. These are what you may expect to find when the Powers That Be will decide that everyone in the room needs to face a different direction or that the cube walls are one row too tall or too short. The Powers will then, in their infinite wisdom and goodness, decide to address these grave shortcomings in the most expeditious way possible.

If you’ve never tried to conduct business in the middle of a construction zone, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. At any given time your 30 square feet of cubicle hell could be made inoperable when they have to re-route the electric or network cables, when they have to disassemble your desk, or when they need to remove a panel so you can stare obnoxiously across 30 inches of open space at the face of the person with whom you use to share a “wall.” Now the Powers have removed even the pretense that you aren’t packed in elbows to assholes with your fellow condemned souls.

Even if your desk happens to be one spared that day, there’s the general construction noise – the power drills, and shifting metal, dropped tools and banging. All the while, you’re careful to pretend that everything is business as usual. There are no distractions. Everything is going according to plan. You love the new floorplan that the Powers have granted unto you, for they, in their spacious offices, behind actual closing doors, are secure from what they wrought. Surely they know best.

As it turns out, cubicle hell isn’t so much a place as it is a process – ongoing, evolving, and always looking for ways to make every day just a little bit harder and such just one more drop of joy from the marrow. We have met the enemy and it truly is us.

Distractors…

I’ve always had trouble finding my mental focus in loud environments. I don’t know if that’s what makes the hermit life so appealing to me or if it’s the other way around. It doesn’t really matter which caused what. The end result is the same – sitting at my desk with glazed eyes completely unable to cobble together a single coherent thought. It’s just one of the many joys of existing in cubicle hell.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that the day to day isn’t as bad as I feared, but with that said the bad moments are absolutely hellish. At one point this afternoon I was an unwilling third party participant to at least six conversations taking place simultaneously within 20 feet of my desk. Keeping track of the thread of my own thoughts proved to be something between challenging and impossible for the better part of two hours today. For the record, that doesn’t lead to good staff work and leaves me feeling just about as annoyed in this particular workplace as I’ve ever been. That’s no mean feat.

When other people leave the office they’re in a rush to meet for dinner, or go shopping, or engage in some other socially acceptable form of human interaction. When I leave I can’t get away from that sort of thing fast enough. Home is far from silent, of course. There’s the clatter of dogs on tile, television or radio humming quietly in the background, HVAC noises, or appliances running. Somehow those things manage to not be distracting. Half a dozen overlapping conversations, on the other hand, leave me tired and more than a bit frustrated with my own inability to focus through the distractors.

Whatever reason, the subdued sounds of home, a good book, and something pressed from the fruit of the arbor feels like exactly what I need to steady myself.

Break…

It’s recently come to my full and complete attention that I have a problem. As usual, it’s one of my own making and I take complete responsibility for it. Increasingly I’ve found myself pulled further and further into the rabbit hole that is Facebook. Between that and dwelling far too much inside the echo chamber between my own ears, it’s not the best of times.

I feel less able to focus and driven largely to distraction – or perhaps it’s just allowed me to better focus on the wrong things. The Facebook experience has reached a point where it seems to be pulling me further afield from how I really want to spend my time, namely real reading and real writing. The shouting match of Facebook has left me with the distinct impression that it’s currently taking more from me than I’m getting in return. Under the circumstances it seems that the most reasonable thing to do might be to take a few steps back, reinforce the center, and then evaluate where things go from there.

None of this should imply I’m not curious about the day to day comings and goings of the 500 or so people I’m connected with, but I just don’t know that I’m currently curious enough to keep grinding myself down to slake that curiosity. Increasingly what I’m finding delivered into my feed are items I’d be better off, or at least happier, for not knowing. As it turns out, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Who knew, right?

I never thought I’d find myself pondering the virtue of seeking at least partial refugee status from the social media age, but there it is. Will I do it? Can I? I have no idea. Should I do it? Yeah, that answer is resoundingly clear. What that could mean given the interconnected, but somehow less intrusive feeling platforms like Twitter and Instagram remains to be seen.

The only certainty at the moment is that nothing I do will in any way negatively impact my ongoing commitment to writing here as often as possible. Since the beginning, and even more so now, it serves as my primary check valve to vent off anger and frustration before it becomes something less manageable. You’ll never know how fortunate I count myself that I learned early on the importance of “using your words.” In a world ruled by 140 character limits, hanging on to the ability to communicate in prose feels all the more important.

Beyond all of that, I won’t even speculate about what taking a Facebook break may look like – or even if I’ll end up doing it at all. At the moment, though, it’s sounding like one of the best ideas I’ve had in years.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Flint River water. Look, if I open my spigot and the resulting water is brown and filled with particulates, I’m not going to drink it no matter what local officials tell me about its safety. That’s exactly what I don’t hear from news reports coming out of Michigan. There are plenty of reports though of people who continued who were drinking away, despite what some might consider an obvious problem with the water… and now suddenly they’re surprised by the spate of health issues that have resulted. I’m afraid these Michiganders have fallen victim to two fallacies: 1) The government is looking out for your best interests and 2) Anyone else has ultimate responsibility for what you put in your body. While there is very clear blame to be laid on the state and local government in this case, there’s more than enough to spread around to individuals who failed to exercise their own personal responsibility in protecting their health and wellbeing.

2. A report out of the National Transportation Safety Board calls for the total ban of cell phones while driving, claiming it’s a distraction. Well bugger off. Everything inside the passenger compartment of a vehicle that’s not the steering wheel, gear shift, accelerator, and brake pedal is a distraction. The radio is a distraction. That drive-thru grease-burger is a distraction. Crying children in the back seat are a distraction. Bees flying through an open window are a distraction. So while we’re going, let’s ban all the distractions and save so many, many lives. We’ll do away with radios and drive-thrus, crying children and roll-down windows. We’ll cover the damned cars in bubble wrap and install an engine governor ensuring they can never go faster than 15 miles per hour. Fine, safety is important. While hurtling around in a one ton metal bullet we should all be paying attention to what we’re doing. What I don’t understand is what on earth anyone thinks passing one more law making a specific subset of distracted driving illegal (which in many jurisdictions it already is) will really do. Prohibition didn’t stop drinking. The war on drugs didn’t stop drug use. I have a hard time believing a ban on cell phones is going to stop people from checking that next text message. Don’t even get me started on the jackassery of how anyone might plan to enforce such legislation once it’s law.

3. The choices. Despite my personal preference for one of the other alternatives it appears more and more likely that 364 days (plus a leap year) from today, America is going to inaugurate a socialist, an unindicted felon, a megalomaniac billionaire, or a former Canadian citizen as President of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment if you will. I could launch into a long rant about how we got here, but frankly we’re more or less stuck with this band of misfits in 2016. My real question, the one that’s going to haunt me in my sleep, is how we get well from here. What’s it going to take to find some legitimate leadership in America in 2020 or are we henceforward and forever doomed to have such pretenders enthroned as the heirs of Washington and Jefferson?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Priorities come, priorities go. My attention gets swept away to other things that feel important at the time. The one thing you can count on is that by Thursday at least there things will have throughly annoyed me. It’s comforting, like the steady ticking of a metronome. Every week. There it is.

1. Typhoid Mary. In the early part of the last century Mary Mallon was arrested and isolated as a known carrier of typhoid responsible for infecting at least 51 people with the then considered deadly disease. I introduce Mary as a reminder that if you’re sick enough to be hacking up a lung and generally sound and look like warm death, you’re sick enough to keep your ass at home. “I don’t think I’m contagious” or “I’m feeling better” aren’t good enough cover when you want to get all up in everyone’s personal space coughing out whatever version of plague you happen to be carrying. It may surprise you to discover that none of us are as indispensable as we might think we are. The world will most assuredly go on turning if we spend a few extra days on the couch, so don’t be shy about using a little time to feel better. If you won’t do it for our own sake, how about doing it for the people that get to share your recirculated air?

2. The internet. Despite that it provides the venue for any number of things that I enjoy doing, I’m currently finding the internet more of a giant time suck than usual. I need it not to be. There are things I really would like to get done – aside from being driven to distraction by pictures of cats and being tempted to read every scrap of information ever imagined by the human mind.

3. Sleep. Actually lack of sleep. The last two nights have been post-midnight bed times due to the issues discussed in Weekly Annoyance #2. As much as it pains me to admit it I need a good, solid night of going to bed early and staying there for about 12 hours. Likelihood of that happening any time soon: 0.00%.

Editorial blues…

I’m editing. That is all. As essential as I know it is to putting out a good, readable product, it’s the part that I hate the most. I know it’s at the very center of the creative process, but there’s something about recovering the same ground two, five, a dozen times that, to me, makes it feel like the most non-productive thing I could spend my time doing.

Add to my generalized hatred of editing the fact that at the moment, I’m trying to do it on a beautiful, blue-skyed, spring day and I hope you can start to see why at this very moment, my heart just isn’t in it. Not to take anything away from the work in progress, but on days like this sitting inside and doing the work is damned hard. I know it’s only going to get harder as the weather gets nicer, though. It’s going to get harder right up to the point I realize it’s 93 degrees and I’m sweating my balls off. Then there’s no place I’ll rather be than in front of the air conditioner getting some long overdue work done.

In this part of the country there isn’t always a long time between frozen tundra and baking asphalt. I’m doing my best to keep the momentum up, but I’m giving up all promises not to get distracted for these few weeks while the weather is nice enough to enjoy.

Focus…

I’ve been having one of those days where it has been impossible to focus on anything for more than a minute or two at a clip. I wish I could blame it on some kind of external distraction, but I can’t. It’s all my own brain jumping from one thing to the next without any apparent rhyme or reason. It’s bad enough sitting here at the kitchen table trying to get through a blog post. It was downright crippling sitting at my desk trying to exercise my renowned skills as a tab-wearing PowerPoint Ranger.

Everyone’s entitled to an “off” day now and then, but when you make your living with your brain instead of your hands, it’s a little disconcerting when you never quite manage to get things into focus. I’ve had days like this before and I’m sure I’ll have them again, but at the moment all I’m hoping to do is make it through New Friday to Saturday (Part 1) and see if maybe a weekend can get my head straightened out.