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.
It’s finally Friday night after what felt like an exceptionally long week. I’m feeling tired, but mercifully not sick. So, I’ve got that going for me, anyway.
I’m sure there are those of you out there with grand and glorious plans for the weekend. Good on you. Me? Well, all I really want to do is sink down into a nice comfy chair with a good book and a decent gin drink and lose myself for a little while. Mercifully, I can do exactly that for just about as long as I can stand it over the weekend. Aside from laying in the weekly groceries, there’s nothing on my “must do” list.
I intend to take full advantage of the situation… So, if anyone needs me, please don’t.
One of the tasks that more or less defines my job was impossible to do this week until around 10:00 this morning thanks to a bit of software that had been migrated to a new and improved flavor last week and then promptly shit the bed.
Look, I don’t personally care. If Uncle wants me to do the work, he’ll make sure the systems and software all function. I can sit around twiddling my thumbs with the best of them. I am, after all, a highly seasoned bureaucrat. It’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory.
The only catch is when systems are down for days on end, it tends to create a backlog and then when the boffins over in the IT office get sorted, the whole log falls directly on your head. That’s where we ended up on today – with at least three days of backlogged work in the queue plus whatever extra came in over the side before close of business.
To at least one person, every bit of it was something ranging between “important” and “urgent.” To me, of course, it’s all just something to blast through as quickly as possible while trying to get about 80% of it tucked into the right places. If I’m being perfectly honest, since I read every single item that passed through my hot little hands today, I can tell you none of it was actually important, let alone urgent. It was mostly the living embodiment of the kind of electronic ephemera the bureaucracy passes around to continue justifying its own existence. It’s the kind of morass you really want to take a bit at a time rather than in anything resembling large chunks.
It’ll get done – mostly because I don’t particularly want to deal with this particular hot mess again on Monday. It’ll get done, but I’ll piss and moan about it the entire time, because it’s just another wound we inflicted on ourselves for no discernable reason. If that doesn’t define government work, I don’t know what does.
I started about four different posts for today and not one of them made it past the first sentence or two. Good ideas, maybe, that just didn’t have the juice to go all the way. It’s something I’ve just come to expect occasionally – especially on Friday evening. By the end of the working week, sometimes there just aren’t any creative juices left to flow. It’s an occupational hazard of trying to find something fun, informative, or snarky to say five times a week, 52 weeks a year. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
That’s when you get this post. The one written bemoaning the inability to write any other post, or to find anything interesting enough to comment on, or something aggravating another to earn my ire. By this point in the week, maybe the well of ire is running predictably low… or maybe the ire is still there, but screaming about it into the void feels like more trouble than it’s worth.
In any case, it’s Friday evening, so that’s something. We’re about as far away from the working week as it’s possible to be in the absence of a federal holiday or burnt off vacation time. Instead of spending a lot of time wishing I had some better writing, I’m going to accept this as good enough, pour myself a large gin and tonic, and not worry about any other deadlines until Monday.
1. Friday afternoon. Once upon a time, I actually enjoyed Fridays. They were a day full of promise. Now, of course, Fridays are just the day the Good Idea Fairy makes its rounds or people remember shit they should have done earlier in the week and try to jam it through so they can claim it got wrapped up before close of business. I can only urge you not to be that guy. Don’t wait until Friday afternoon. I promise you, deep down in places professionals aren’t supposed to talk about, no one give a shit at 3:30 on Friday how good an idea you’re having or whether something gets done or not. Maybe there’s an exception for immediate threats to life and safety, but otherwise all anyone on the line cares about on Friday is getting the hell away from cubicle hell for a few days. I know the uberbosses, enthroned high on Olympus, have forgotten their days lower down on the org chart and truly believe that everyone wants to (or at least should) give 300% 24 hours a day, but the heights of Olympus aren’t a reflection of any kind of universal reality. Sometimes those memos are just going to linger over the weekend… and I’m perfectly fine with that.
2. Paper cups. I know it’s saving the world or whatever, but I miss Chick-fil-a’s Styrofoam cups. In its new, socially responsible paper cups, the lemonade gets watered down on the ride between drive-thru and office. It’s just disappointing.
3. Heating and cooling season. So here we are well into autumn. It’s a special time of year where I fire up the furnace each morning to knock the chill off the house and then a few hours later when passive solar heating has sent the indoor temperature well into the 70s, switch the air conditioner back on to get the place back down to a reasonable sleeping temperature. At least in this part of the world this mixed season doesn’t usually last long. While it’s here though, I spend an unreasonable amount of time pondering the time, effort, and cash it takes to maintain a steady 68 degrees.
Most weeks, by the time Friday rolls around, I’ve simply had it. I try to eat a big enough lunch that dinner can be a piece of fruit, some cheese, and, if I’ve remember to pick one up, a soft pretzel with good mustard. By Friday evening the thought of the time and effort involved in actual cooking is a bridge too far – and you might as well forget about taking the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to find decent carryout. Delivery? Right. I live far enough into the wilds that nothing I’d want delivered even comes close to me with their drivers – Those that do, arrive with a stone cold meal.
This wasn’t most weeks, though. This week was special. I skipped the fruit. I skipped the cheese. I even skipped the pretzel and mustard. Moving straight on to the gin and tonic portion of the evening felt like a far better use of the small motivation I was able to dredge up. Maybe in a bit, once the juniper and botanicals have worked their magic, I’ll feel up for a trip to the kitchen to raid the peanut jar or open a can of something. Maybe. If not, that’s fine too. At the moment I’m perfectly fine and happy sitting here with no bells ringing, no email, and no one asking for a damned thing.
My laptop took 90 minutes to boot up this morning. Combined with the more than an hour it took to get access to our primary workspace, that put me about three hours into the workday before I could really even start “working.” That’s the point at which I realized that thanks to some very helpful new “improvements,” I didn’t have access to one of the email boxes I need to do my actual job.
The whole thing got mostly unfucked sometime after I’d have usually gone to lunch, so now you can add general hangeryness to the mix of what was stupid today. Add it atop all the things, unseen, piling up in the mailbox I’m supposed to be working out of today. They were all things piling up on me, because I’m the designated stuckee for the next week, so there’s no reprieve in knowing I can just pass the buck to the next sucker who comes along.
The very best part of today is that even though all my systems are now “working,” in order to send an reply from Mailbox #1, I first have to copy the body of the email and the intended recipients into a Word document, close Mailbox #1, open Mailbox #2, paste in the reply itself and the rest of the email thread, manually build the distribution list, hit send, close Mailbox #2, reopen Mailbox #1, and hope the reply shows up. All told, something that should be as easy as sending email could take 5-10 minutes per message depending on how slowly the software opens and the size of the distribution list. There’s a recurring report on Monday with upwards of 100 recipients. It may be the only thing I get done before lunch.
Normally I roll my eyes at coming to the office to do things I could just as easily do from home. Today, of course, I spent a large portion of the day not even able do those things. If you ever find yourself thinking I’m too cynical or jaded, I promise you, it’s all for cause.
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.
If there’s been one constant during my tenure in the bureaucracy it’s that Friday is almost universally “take out the trash day.” It’s the day everyone throws the projects or tasks (i.e. absolute trash) that’s been stinking up their workspace over to the next poor dumb bastard who’s supposed to do something with it.
The trash could be anything – vague policy, badly written memos, research or answers that are needed first thing Monday morning that no one got around to asking for until 4 PM on Friday afternoon. It’s all just junk that someone didn’t get around to working on before the weekend started to bear down on them.
On alternate Fridays, this endless flow of trash bears down on my desk. In the finest traditions of the bureaucracy, I do my part to shove it onwards through the pipe to make sure it doesn’t spend the weekend making a stink of my own work area. Where it ends up and what happens to it when it gets there is entirely secondary to its not becoming stuck on me.
Yeah, I’ve definitely lived long enough to become the villain of the piece.