In which I oppose mandatory fun…

Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.

Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world. 

If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely. 

It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity. 

It’s just a Game…

I read the Entertainment Weekly article on Game of Thrones’ eighth season this morning. I almost wish I hadn’t. Although it feels like it has been years since season seven ended and I’ve been giddy at the thought of the kind of monumental television the season might be, I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be over. I almost feels like it might be better if the 8th season went unaired so that it remains forever subject to imagination.

That’s not practical, of course. HBO expects a hefty return on their investment. There are spinoffs to market. And all, stories do eventually reach an end… even if we find their end unsatisfying (I’m looking at you here Sopranos).

I like a lot of television programs. There aren’t many of them that I feel invested in, though. Series come and go and for the most part once they’re gone I don’t spend much time thinking about them. TV is ephemera – something to be consumed in the moment rather than to be dwelled upon. Thrones is different not just because it’s occupied my imagination for nine years now, but because the story it tells and the characters themselves are just so damned compelling.

It’s just television – just a Game – but knowing that winter, at long last, is upon us, leaves me wishing the long summer had lasted just a little bit longer. I’m desperate to see who wins and who dies, but I’m just a little bit heartsick at seeing it all drawing to an end.

Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

Doing stuff…

I’ve mostly accepted that aside from making a quick stop to top off groceries or for fuel, weekdays are going to be mostly consumed by going to, being at, and returning from work. By the time I get home, tend the herd, and have a bit of dinner, my brain has pretty much turned to mush. All I’m good for after that is mixing a decent drink and maybe a passingly interesting blog post.

The weekends, for their part, aren’t much better with their time eaten up with errands, cleaning, yard work, and generally keeping the homestead from falling down around my ears. By the time that all gets knocked out, it’s usually already late Sunday afternoon.

What perplexes me, and in fact makes me a little bit jealous, is how other people seem to carve out time to actually go do things for recreation. Of course I’m not likely to show up in a stadium full of people, but I wouldn’t mind so much getting out to stomp around the high ground at Gettysburg or take the tour at Independence Hall. Those things take time, though, and I know the minute I pull out of the driveway my mind is already going to ticking off the things that are lurking around not getting done.

I’m telling you folks, inside my head is a damned strange place to live sometimes.

Thanks Hollywood or: The Most Important News of the Day…

I like movies. I don’t like going to the theater to watch them, of course, because people, but still I like the idea of losing yourself to a story for a couple of hours. As much as I like movies, I’ve always struggled a little bit with the “awards show” concept. It’s always struck me as a bit of inside baseball, when the market already does a pretty fair job of telling us what movies are “good” and which ones were “bad.”

Box office receipts aren’t everything, I know. Some movies are made because someone with deep pockets and enough horsepower to get it done want to follow their passion. If you’ve got tens of millions of dollars to spend and that’s what you’ve set your sights on, I say good on you and go with God.

Having a laundry list of insiders telling me what movie was “best,” though, doesn’t really work for me. I find movies, like every other kind of art, to largely be something that largely depends on the eye of the beholder. I like period drama and old masters. That someone else likes comedy and modernism doesn’t make either one of us more right or more wrong.

With all of that said, I’m utterly and completely perplexed by the cry that rose last night from social media and today across the news sites and morning talk programs. I “work live” all day every day and can say with certainly that mistakes happen. You correct them and move on as quickly as possible, which seems to be what they did last night. That it’s something that anyone cares about enough to make it The Most Important News of the Day leaves me with even less faith in humanity than usual. Thanks Hollywood.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Paid subscription to online “newspapers”. Um. No. I’m not paying for content that’s free elsewhere. If I were to pay for access, I would expect the content to be advertisement free, but since you’re not going to do that, I’ll keep my cash right where it is. I don’t mind paying for pay-wallservices and I don’t mind targeted advertising, but I’m not generally going to be willing to pay for the privilege. There’s nothing in the Cumberland Times-News, Baltimore Sun, or Washington Post that I really need to read, so instead of paying them for the service, I end up using news aggregator sites, blogs, and alternative media, which further reduces ad revenue for the newspapers, which further harms their business model. It’s some death spiral they’ve tucked themselves into.

2. Small talk. Not surprising for a guy who writes as a hobby/inspirational career, I don’t consider myself much of a talker. Most things I have to say tend to come across better in writing anyway, although that’s not really the point. Maybe it’s a social failing on my part, but I don’t like small talk. I don’t want to engage in it. If I’m not showing the least interest in your monolog about the week you’ve had, please take the hint that I legitimately don’t have any interest in the conversation. That should be your cue to back away slowly and let me get back to doing something that’s nominally productive. I’m happy to talk when something needs to be said, but idle chatter just for the purpose of having something to say isn’t my style. It’s never going to be my style. And if you force it on me repeatedly, I’ll consider you an irredeemable asshat and proceed to ignore you as much as possible, while seething silently inside because it’s considered bad form to punch you in the throat.

3. The New Friday. It’s finally New Friday here, which roughly translated means on this first week of furlough, it’s officially furlough eve. While I usually await time off with great anticipation, I’ve been sitting here ticking off the list of things I wouldn’t mind getting done around here. That’s good. I like having lists and like checking things off of them even more. Then, of course, the practical implication of why I have this abundant free time occurred to me and made most of the checklist a moot point. Since getting productive things done generally seems to cost money, well, let’s just say I’m sitting here looking at the first of what will probably be eleven remarkably unproductive weekends. Maybe it’s time to sit down and start the editorial and design work on the 2013 edition of the What Annoys Jeff this Week eBook. At least that’s more or less free entertainment.

Today’s feature presentation…

downloadThe next posts don’t need much in the way of introduction. I think we’re getting into one of the parts of the old MySpace blog that everyone seemed to enjoy. Yes, we’ve reached the end of January 2007 when the old blog took on a real “Jeff’s gonna bitch about work in almost every post” flavor. Like most of these other old posts, some are better than others. A few might actually rise to the level of being insightful in their own way, but even the least of them is jam packed with snark… and after all, isn’t that really what you want to see? So go ahead and grab a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and enjoy today’s feature… posted live in and color in January and February 2007.