I’ve got a problem with non-fiction. Well, technically that’s not true. I’ve been devouring non-fiction since I was a kid. What I have a problem with is my own non-fiction section. Aside from the decided focus on Western Civilization that’s sure to mark me out as an unenlightened, un-woke heretic of the modern era, titles are wildly wide-ranging. I have books in the to be read stacks ranging from the Greeks and Romans to biographies of Thomas Wolsey to volumes on the western water crisis to sweeping door stops covering Imperial Russia. It’s an embarrassment of riches at my fingertips.
I wonder, though, if it’s not time to close the aperture a bit and pick a few periods on which to concentration my interest. Is it time to shift gears from being a generalist consumer of history to something more focused?
If so, what periods? Republican Rome though the fall of the western empire surely make the cut. Britain from the age of Victoria back to the dawn of time for sure. America from colonization through the Federalist era. The age of fighting sail. World War II. The American presidency. I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed at first blush. I know that doesn’t feel particularly focused, but all things are by comparison.
I’m sure this is just a revisiting of the minor panic attack I had a few months ago about the fiction section being too wide ranging. Still, I think it’s worth considering if and how I should reevaluate what I’m reading. Time, by definition, is limited… and unless we stay in plague mode indefinitely, I won’t have a year to match the reading I did in 2020 and 2021 until 2035 at the earliest. That’s a depressing thought – oddly more depressing in my mind than the idea of quarantines and lockdowns continuing into the future.
I suppose all this is just another reminder that I need to do another round of curation, free some titles back into the marketplace, and relegate others to deep storage in anticipation of the day when I won’t have to be quite so selective about what book comes off the shelf next.
Some days everything you touch turns to gold. Other days it all turns to shit. Today wasn’t either one of those type of days. It was more like everything I attempted to touch was wreathed in fog – no sooner was I just about to put my finger on it than it melted off into thin air. Days like this are far more obnoxious than the other type. At least when things are turning into gold or shit you know exactly what to expect.
Days like to day mostly leave me wondering what circuit is tripping in my head keeping me from focusing in on anything at all. I hope a post work drink or two and a good night’s sleep will reset things one way or the other – because spending two days in a row lost in this kind of fog sounds like an utterly awful idea.
I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.
Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.
Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.
What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.
In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.
It’s a short week and I should feel better about that. I mean no one looks forward to these Friday schleps around antique shops, thrift stores, and used book dealers more than I do… but getting through to Friday this week has felt like a lot more than half the battle. The week has been a long trail of stupid.
I know it’s not just me, either. I’ve listened to other people express much the same opinion that the week has just been “off” somehow. Maybe everyone is mentally checked out for the long holiday weekend marking, more or less, the official end of summer. Maybe there’s a long-discarded canister of nerve gas under the building leaking and causing everyone to operate at half speed in a mental fog. It’s not strictly impossible.
I shouldn’t admit to knowingly giving anything short shrift, but the fact is that at the moment, I’m really performing no better than the rest. The only milestone I see at the moment is 4:00 Thursday afternoon. Past that, the world gets awfully vague and hazy.
Even if I didn’t have a calendar I’d know that we were inside the last three weeks of planning before our latest Big Event kicks off. I’d know it just based on the number of emails that are currently sitting in both my in and outboxes. I’d know it because my phone was ringing when I got to my desk this morning and was ringing when I walked away from my desk at the end of the day.
The current Big Event is now close enough on the calendar that it’s starting to attract the attention of the gods on Olympus… and they’re asking questions and very much interested in making sure their thumb prints are present and undeniable.
That’s fine, of course, none of this is a point of personal pride for me. I’ve long ago accepted that staff work is a land where blame piles up like cord wood and all credit is owed to the gods. As a poor simple planner in the hands of an angry god, though, it would be nice if time to time, the Olympians took a passing interest way the hell back in December when I started agitating about needing to kick off the planning process… and when grand sweeping changes are awfully easy to make.
We all have our own twisted fantasies about how things are supposed to work. I don’t suppose there’s any real problem with that unless you start laboring under the delusion that there’s any chance they might accidentally work that way at some point.
1. Energy. It’s the stuff which lets us stay awake after dinner instead of falling asleep on the couch with a book in our hands. My level has never been high enough to run the risk of becoming a distance runner, but at a bare minimum I could usually stay awake until my already geriatric bed time rolled around. For the last few weeks, though, mine has been missing entirely. It’s a small thing, yes, but it’s altogether frustrating and I need it to stop right the fuck now.
2. It’s never been worse. Three separate times this week I’ve heard either a talking head on television or someone in real life say that “our country has never been more divided” or “It’s never been worse.” One of the main problems with the laughably short human lifespan is that only being around for a few score decades and a lustrum or two means most people who don’t study it have no sense of history. You see way back in 1814 a foreign army burned the nation’s capital to the gound. I’d say that could be considered objectively “worse” than where we stand in 2019. Fifty years after the burning of Washington our country conducted a viscous, bloody, and protracted civil war. Now I’m not an expert, but that seems significantly more divided that we are just now.
3. Waiting. There’s never been a doubt in my mind that I would eventually get back to being a two dog household. I planned for a reasonable period of adjustment. I also wanted wanted to wait for the winter weather gave way to spring because housebreaking in the winter sounded infinitely more awful then doing it when it’s temperate. There’s also the fact that March and April constitute my “busy season” at the office. Thanks to one of my distinguished colleagues, though, I’m currently obsessing over any one of four English mastiff mix puppies up for adoption through a rescue outside of Baltimore… and trying to come up with a way to make jettisoning the plan sound at least passingly logical and not at all like something that would be a batshit crazy idea.
1. Microwaved tuna. In a world where Jeff is king, I will decree any pigfucker that microwaves tuna fish in an enclosed space such as an office break room guilty of treason and subject to either being stoned to death by his or her colleagues, or being tied to a large rock and flung into the sea, whichever is more immediately convenient.
2. Bad takes. It would be a mistake for you to interpret my calmness in the face of gale-force stupidity as indifference. While I may well be indifferent, even when I’m fully engaged and focused I’m never going to be the guy who runs around flailing my arms wildly to demonstrate just how concerned I am. It’s counterproductive and makes you look like an idiot. I prefer to, when possible, remain outwardly placid and consider the array of possible options in a frame of mind that doesn’t look to an observer like the end credits of a Benny Hill episode.
3. It’s the day before the formal start of President’s Day weekend. That’s great. I dearly love it. It’s one of my 10 favorite federal holidays. But with its inevitable departure on Monday it means we’re right in the teeth of the long march through late winter and early spring… a period that’s well known for its dearth of regularly scheduled days off. Added to it that it’s the period of the year when my workload tends to be at its most ridiculous and it’s practical a magic formula for turning my regular sunny disposition absolutely foul.
1. Joy theft. If I’m bluntly honest, I’ll tell you that I spend all day at work wanting to get home and lose myself in a book. By the time I’m home, dinner is made and cleaned up, and I’ve tended the creatures who share my roof, I’m so bleary eyed and tired that getting through a paragraph without my mind wandering is hard. Three nights out of five I can’t seem to focus on the words long enough for it to even be enjoyable. It’s just one more way that paying bills and being responsible conspire to suck all the real joy out of life.
2. Signals over the air. All I want to do in the few minutes between when I pull into the parking lot and when I have to be at my desk is get my morning Twitter update and find some funny, funny memes. Apparently that is too much to ask because for the last two weeks the parking lot has been a large dead zone. I don’t know if it’s my phone, Verizon, or just the Department of the Army trying to suck even a brief flicker of fun out of the surrounding air, but for whatever reason there’s nothing doing on my phone for those ten or fifteen minutes. If you think a few minutes of boredom and mindlessly staring out the windshield is enough to break my spirit and get me to my desk a few minutes earlier than I have to be there, well, it’s like you don’t know me at all.
3. Mushroom status. When grown in a farm setting, many mushrooms are simply left alone in a dark room and fed a steady diet of shit. I’m sure it happens in every organization of more than one person, but this great green machine of ours seems to have honed leaving people out of the loop to a fine art. It’s always exciting to come to the office and find an email from someone working in another organization letting you know that “your boss from high on Olympus said ‘X’ is going to happen.” It’s when you, as the person nominally responsible for “X,” have the exciting opportunity to let that individual know that no one in your own organization has bothered to tell you a fucking thing and thank them for the heads up before launching out on a paper chase to sus out how much time you may or may not have wasted depending on the veracity of your informant’s information.
1. The closest gator. It’s just human nature to try killing the alligator that’s closest to your boat. Just by virtue of its proximity it’s the one that should pose the most danger. Most of the time your natural assumption is probably right. Every now and then, though, that gator that just happens to be closest is just swimming past… and while you’re focused on him the big, ugly sonofabitch swimming up behind you is the one that’s going to take a bite out of your ass.
2. Not being elsewhere. It’s a rare day when I don’t want to be home above all other places. Just this once, though, I wish circumstances would have allowed a bit of leeway so I could have found myself, for a few hours, in Rock Island, Illinois. Today was a live demonstration that that a certain big government agency can manage not to trip all over itself in pursuit of elevating someone eminently qualified into the ranks of senior leadership. I just wish I could have seen that shit in person, you know, just to prove in front of my own two little eyes that such a thing is actually possible.
3. Bordering on exhaustion. It’s not lack of sleep. Thank God my brain disengages as soon as I turn the lights off and lets me drift off to sleep on demand. The problem comes in those 19 intervening hours, when it’s busy jumping from point to point. I usually have a pretty good capacity for leaving the work over on the other side of the river, but for these past few weeks and another few to come, it seems to be following me. Even when I’m not thinking about it, a few ideas are churning in the back of my mind. It’s probably a necessary evil for the time being, but lord it’s wearing my ass out.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago I use to dread the arrival of Sunday night and the end of the weekend. Now that Mondays are usually spent working from the comfort of home, Tuesday is the day that causes the most angst and consternation. Now that I’ve settled into the new Monday routine I’m even more starkly aware of just how cripplingly unproductive a day at the average office is.
The trouble with being an information worker is that so much of what you touch requires some amount of reflection and analysis. Concentration is pretty easy to come by when you’ve got views of the woods and the loudest sound is mid-morning trash collection across the street. It’s a much harder commodity to come by when you’re stacked shoulder to shoulder with 30 other people who are all having their own conversations, or are warming up their lunch, ignoring phones ringing, pushing reams of paper through the shredder, and making their way to and from meetings and appointments, or who are just away from their desks wandering around to pass the time.
Now I can be a pretty focused guy. When the need arises I can summon monumental amounts of concentration on one point to the exclusion of all else… but I’m starting to suspect that the need to do that all day, every day is a major contributing factor to why I drive away from the office four days a week feeling like someone has run my brain through a blender. Somehow I doubt seriously that’s part of the recipe for wise and effective analysis over the long term.
I know for a fact that isn’t not even a short term recipe for a happy and productive Jeff.