The first thing to go…

With the arrival of two new members of the household, it’s been a busy two weeks. One thing I noticed across these last 14 days is that when shit gets busy or my stress level cranks up, my time on social media plummets. In fact, it seems like it was the first thing to go as my mindless doom scrolling of Twitter or TikTok shrank to almost nothing. The time spent trying to get a decent photograph of a bad eye in a poorly lit room also rose exponentially, so it’s something of a tradeoff. 

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, in fact it’s probably just the opposite. For all of its entertainment value, there’s no denying that social media is, by its nature and design, a complete time suck… and the fact that I’ve largely avoided it is something I really noticed as I sat down here on Friday evening to start putting the week behind me. 

I don’t necessarily miss the mindless scrolling, but I definitely miss having the unallocated free time with which to do so. In any case, if you’re one of those people who has sent me funny, funny memes or clips in the last few days, just know that I’m not avoiding you personally and I’ll eventually get back to those DMs and laugh along with you… probably. Unless I decide to just “delete unread” and start fresh. Could go either way.

Excess free time…

Being on leave at the moment, I’m living in a bit of a strange gray area – somewhere between paying attention to what’s happening in the broader world and not. The further I slide into this little vacation-in-place, the more “and not” that area takes up. Dispensing ear scratches, fiddling around the house, and the mountain of books I live with are slowly expanding to take up all the available white space. It’s hardly the worst way I’ve spent my time.

It would be easy enough to slip back into a mode of ranting about the president, or Congress, or the Great Plague. The closest thing I’ve come to that, though, is occasionally kicking a hornet’s nest on Twitter just to see what kind of reaction I can gin up. It’s a mildly entertaining way to pass the time. As it turns out, according to anti-vax / plague deniers on that particular platform, I’m a damned dirty commie who should shut my stupid mouth. Like I said, it’s entertaining enough, but not exactly an intellectual challenge. I am learning to appreciate their furious thrashing when I only respond to them using gifs, though.

I know I shouldn’t be using this time to feed the trolls, but honestly, I just can’t help myself. There are some honest to God issues in the world, but getting your blood pressure up on the internet doesn’t feel like a way to solve any of them. I’m sure the novelty will wear off in the next couple of days.

It’s a good thing the books and animals are always standing by to fill in as much of the excess free time as comes along. I mean I could finally get around to filling the 852 nail holes the previous owner left in the walls here on the homestead… but since that project has been on the list for five years and hasn’t gotten done yet, chances aren’t so good for it making the cut.

Just one more…

One of the great problems I face with reading is that I’ve done enough of it over the years to start racking up a number of favored authors who I love for their writing or their area of focus or both. If those authors are still alive and active, I have a tendency to want to read whatever new material they publish. I suppose that’s only really a “problem” if you already have 150+ books sitting in your “to be read” pile… that didn’t cost $20 or more to order new from Amazon.

That’s not in any way an admission that I didn’t just pre-order the new Harry Turtledove novel, but I will confess to feeling mildly guilty about it. Although you shouldn’t think for a minute that it’s anywhere near the level of guilt that might result in cancelling the order.

I love to read, but I’m not a speed reader by any stretch of the imagination. In an average year I get through 50-60 books. At some point, I’m probably going to have to come to terms with the fact that there simply isn’t enough time to read everything I want to get through. There probably isn’t time for that in several dozen lifetimes.

A less acquisitive person might see this realization as a reason to slow down on purchases and maybe try to catch up – just a little bit – on what’s already stored for future reading. Me? Well, I prefer to just go ahead and rationalize my behavior. I’m fortunate to not have particularly expensive hobbies. I’m not pouring away money on golf or boating. I mean, it only stands to reason that I’m more likely to get to something that’s already in hand, so really I guess there isn’t a problem with tucking just one more thing onto the stack.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. HOA meetings. My neighborhood’s annual Homeowners Association meeting is scheduled tonight and leaving the house to attend this thing that’s happening a couple of thousand yards away from my back door feels onerous. Just the thought of having to do something like that every week or, gods forbid, multiple times of the week sends me into mild fits and twitches. I admire the hell out of you guys out there who have a couple of kids who you chase around to practices, performances, or games after work. I think it’s clear that the lack of “personal staff time” under those circumstances would make me certifiably crazy in short order.

2. Republicans/Trump/the Media made someone send these bombs. Bullshit. This is the same argument from people who want to believe beer companies make someone drive drunk or fast food joints are making us all get fat. You know who’s responsible for the dumb shit I do? Me. Not the president, not the media, not McDonald’s, not Budweiser. I’m responsible for my decisions and actions, even in this age that wants very badly to tell us that we should just blame things on someone else rather than take even the tiniest measure of personal accountability. If you want to live a life where you’re always the victim of someone else’s dastardly designs, I don’t suppose I can stop you, but it’s sure as hell not a world I ever intend to live in.

3. The rule of three. Sometimes making WAJTW a triple-topic post bites me in the ass. Usually that happens when the biggest things that annoy me are still holding over from the previous week or when it’s something that feels like it could (or has) featured every week. I mean there’s only so many times I can say some version of “people in general annoy the living hell out of me.” It’s always a true fact, but I like to have specific points of announce to point at rather than just the fact that people and their infinite capacity for stupidity continue to exist.

I have no idea…

Most days I muddle through with one eye on the news, social media, and a few choice blogs just to keep a grip on what’s going on in the world. The news makes me crazy, but the only thing worse is not having a clue what’s happening in the world. On days like today, though, I emerge at the close of business like a mole – eyes squinted, vaguely confused look on my face, and a general confusion about the world that everyone else has been inhabiting. The days when I’m tethered to PowerPoint, email, and God help me, to meetings are really the bane of life in Cube City. I’m not saying I expect vast swaths of free time in the middle of the day, but a few minutes now and then to come up for air might be nice.

Worst of all, of course, is that blogging on near-daily basis means I burn through a lot of ideas in a very small amount of time. I rely on the news of the day and unfortunate dealings with other people as a primary source. When neither of those two things happens, it means the well runs dry pretty damned quick. That’s how you end up getting a post about not having any idea what’s going on in the world instead of one about what is actually happening. It’s a small matter of semantics, but it makes a big difference.

So there you have it. The Russians could have overrun all of Ukraine and we could have made first contact with an alien species all at the same time and I’d not have a single clue any of it was happening. In some ways I’m probably better off for it… but posts complaining about not having anything to post about will only cary me so far. Eventually, I suspect someone is going to want some actual fresh commentary and content around here. Or maybe not. The interwebs are a fickle place.

Free time is for wimps…

After kicking Nobody Told Me: The Cynics Guide for New Employees and What Annoys Jeff this Week: 2012 in Review out the door this summer, I took a break. Or at least I took a break from writing things I wanted published with my name on the masthead. I’ve still been tinkering with other projects, of course, because just sitting around with nothing on my plate makes me nervous and jerky. Still, it was nice to have some breathing room and to not be beating myself repeatedly over self-imposed deadlines.

As much as I’ve enjoyed not laboring under too many of those requirements these last few months, the gears have still been slowly grinding out a few new ideas. Now that the nights are long and the temperatures are getting downright cold, it feels like a good time to start tinkering and see if either of those notions have legs.

The first isn’t so much a fresh ideas as a continuation of the What Annoys Jeff this Week series. I’ve started doing some of the initial leg work to publish 2013 in Review as soon after the new year as possible. I’d love to promise it on January 1st, but creating commentary, editing, and formatting take time. More time than you might think if you’ve never given it the old college try. What that really means is that 2013 in Review is probably best described as “available in January” with a date to be determined. Sure, maybe it’s an exercise in pure ego, but who doesn’t want to start off the year with a blunt reminder of all the stupid shit that happened in the one that just passed? Anyone? Bueller?

In a departure from my usual ranting full of snark and discontent, I’m also gearing up for a first plunge into fiction in almost 20 years. I’m not so ambitious as to think I can take on a novel, but I have been kicking around an idea for a short story. I wish I could take credit for the original idea, but it was actually a passing comment from a friend at work that I haven’t been able to shake for the last few weeks (despite trying very hard to ignore it in hopes that it would go away). I’ve been doing my due diligence and some initial research. It’s still the barest fog of an idea, but I think it could make an interesting 10-20,000 word virgin effort. I won’t even hazard a guess about how long something like that might take me.

I like to think my chops have improved a bit since I wrote a few shorts back in high school, but I suppose we won’t know if that’s true until I sit down and start smacking the keys. Even if it never sees the light of say, I have the feeling it’s going to be a worthwhile mental exercise. So there are the two big bites I want to take off over the winter months. I’d say between those and a few other bits that are percolating, I can manage to keep myself gainfully occupied for the foreseeable future.

Apparently free time is for wimps.

What I Did on My Furlough Friday (Part 5 of 6)…

You can see from the title that word came down from echelons higher than reality that the Great Defense Furlough of 2013 has been shortened from eleven days to six. That’s outstanding. I’m all for it. I’ll be glad to get back to not having 20% of my pay chopped off every other Thursday.

All other things considered, Furlough Friday has gone pretty much how you might have expected. There was grocery shopping and playing with the dogs. Before the day is over there might even be a little laundry. What there hasn’t been, of course, is anything that would have required any more funds than was absolutely necessary. The grand irony of furlough is that you have plenty of time off, but the pay reduction makes you want to squeeze every quarter until George screams for mercy. Fortunately beer is still pretty cheap and no one is charging admission to sit on the deck, so it hasn’t been too much of a sacrifice yet.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go now and do absolutely nothing. It’s my furlough day after all and working is against the rules. With the end in sight, at least now I can kick back and attempt to enjoy the rest of the day. Someday soon I’ll once again spend Fridays fiddling with PowerPoint, but today’s not that day.

What you get…

What you get when you’ve got a guy who’s a little too attached to his routine and an extra day off every week is a list of things that usually takes until mid-day Sunday to accomplish being done before noon on Saturday. That’s not the worst problem to have, of course, but it does point towards needing to revise the weekly to do list to account for an additional 24 hours of non-scheduled time. I told myself I’d get down to the business of outlining a few potential ideas for a new book, but from this post you can imagine for yourself how that’s going so far.

So yeah, here we are on Saturday afternoon with absolutely nothing pressing to get into. I’m flipping through my three-ring binder of comfort food recipes trying to light onto something that sounds good for dinner tonight. As for the rest, it looks like maybe I’ll get some reading done and get some quality time with the kids… or maybe I can get started on building the bigger tortoise habitat that I sketched out a few months ago. Seriously, having this much regular free time on on hands is freaking me out a little.

Balancing the budget…

Anyone who’s ever tried to eek their way out of debt knows that the first step is to put themselves on a budget. Unless you’re a natural bean counter or have a high pain threshold the process is pretty much agonizing. Since what I seem to have lately is too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, I thought maybe some of the same principles could be applied. Just like preparing a budget, the first thing you need to know is how much you’ve got and where it’s going. Conveniently I’m a creature of habit so this part wasn’t too hard.

So far, here’s what I’ve come up with for a typical weekday*:

* And yes, the hours are blurred because posting the exact times you do things regularly on the internet is pretty dumb, but not having any graphic way to show where my day goes leaves the post a little flat, so that’s my compromise.

The first thing that became apparent to me was that the vast majority of things on this schedule are pretty much non-negotiable, with the exception being “free time” that usually falls around 7:15-9:30 PM. That’s two hours and 15 minutes out of a 24-hour day that’s more or less unaccounted for by something I consider a “must do.” It’s the part that gets cut out when any of the other activities run long… and I’m starting to understand why my weekdays feel like a sprint most of the time.

So the good news is I pretty much know exactly where my time is going. The bad news is I lack the ability to create more time, so that pretty much leaves trying to rejigger the time that’s already available as the only real option. It seems the only way to add new activities is for something I’m already doing to fall off the list… Which explains why I haven’t touched a computer game or the Xbox since I got serious about writing again. It also explains why the house is never quite what I’d call “clean”.

Looking at your day laid out in black and white is sort of depressing, if only because you realize how little flexibility you actually have. Now that I can see how little time there really is for the fun stuff, it’s time to start making hard decisions about what stays and what goes… and figuring out how to get less than six hours of sleep on an average weekday and not to fall asleep at my desk. If I could just cut two hours out of the time I’m laying in bed doing nothing, I think I’d be way ahead of the game and might actually manage to write and watch an hour long television drama all on ths same day.

Mad props…

I’m going to level with you. I have no earthly idea how you people with a wife/husband and an assortment of kids get through your day. It’s Friday afternoon and I don’t mind telling you that I’m flat out exhausted by the week when it rolls to a close. I’m exhausted from the sheer volume of human interaction that it takes to get through the day. Being an introvert, every one of those interactions requires a tremendous amount of energy to fight my natural instinct towards keeping everything a nice respectable distance. You’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say it’s exhausting in its own right, which brings me back around to the point of this discussion.

I’m almost positive I’ve said this before, but my hat’s off to you guys out there who get home and then turn around and fill the night with soccer practice, dance rehearsal, tutoring, going to the mall, or whatever the case may be. How you keep up with it is quite simply beyond me. If I don’t have those 4-5 hours between work and sleep to block out the world and refocus, I’m told I have the disposition of an angry badger… and that’s not fun for anyone involved. I suppose we all do what whatever we have to based on the situation we’re in, but in this case the only thought I can offer is “better you than me.” Seriously. I have an deep, yet purely academic appreciation for what you do, but I’m so glad it’s not on my agenda that the English language doesn’t have an appropriate way to describe it. Keep up the good work.

Now if you’ll pardon me, it’s time for a glass of wine and a good book so I can marshal my energy for dealing with the world tomorrow morning.