A look back, fondly…

I miss the early days of the Great Plague. Chalk that up to yet another unpopular opinion, but I said what I said.

I miss the complete lack of traffic on the roads during those moments when I couldn’t avoid leaving the house. I miss the wide berth that everyone gave one another as they scurried through the grocery store, masked, and avoiding eye contact. I miss living my best life “safer at home.”

For a guy who has never had much use for people at the very best of times, those days were a glimpse into a world I never imagined could exist. Despite the lingering threat of sudden and unexpected death lurking on the breath of every passerby, my blood pressure went down and my general level of annoyance became almost entirely manageable. You might even be forgiven for taking the impression that I enjoyed it.

Look, I’m not sociopathic enough to advocate for having ongoing, continuous waves of deadly virus spreading around the world just to make me more comfortable, but it has painted me a picture of a world that could be. The lately departed plague season feels increasingly like a preview of the world I’d want to build myself once I get past the stage of life that involves trading time for money. After that it’s venture out for food, venture out for books, and to hell with most everything else.

I wouldn’t have suspected it at the time, but it seems that those first, uncertain days of the plague will be the ones I look back on most fondly.

A bit too high…

I’ll be the first to admit that my Instagram feed is not generally what most people would consider “wholesome.” It’s thick with porn stars, egirls, and instathots. Thankfully I don’t subscribe to that particularly American brand of puritanism that shrieks and clutches its pearls at even the mention of the human body. 

Occasionally, though, some other things break through the Insta-clutter. A couple of nights ago I was scrolling through my feed and I landed on a photo of row after row of books. It was a real thing of beauty – formal, but comfortable; well loved, but equally well maintained. 

“I want something like that when I build a house,” I mumbled to myself before filing it away for reference should the occasion ever present itself to build my own book room from the foundation up. 

Upon closer inspection, of course I want something like that. The picture that so fascinated me was of the royal library in the Palace of Versailles. 

It’s good to be ambitious. Goals beyond food, shelter, and procreation are what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. I fear, however, in this case I may have set my sights just a bit too high. 

My new obsession…

Some people have used the last few months of forced disengagement to learn languages, write their great American novel, or somehow make themselves into more productive human beings. Meanwhile I’ve been over here mostly living the same life I’ve lived for years.. with the exception of developing a new minor obsession. I now find myself spending at least a few minutes every day looking over floorplans of houses I’ll never build.

I’ve spent time looking at floorplans for old houses, new houses, prop houses from TV series and movies, castles, Roman villas, and family compounds. At first blush, it doesn’t make much sense, but hear me out.

Even though the Tennessee house was “new construction,” the only personalization came in picking the finishes. The bones of the house were all pre-determined by others. Every other place I’ve lived was designed and built originally to meet someone else’s expectations and needs. In every one of them, I’ve found myself asking often, “Why the hell did they do it this way” as opposed to in an alternate way that would make more sense to me. Having spent my life living with other’s decisions, the only grand ambition I have left at this point is to build a house from the basement up – Fortress Jeff achieving its final form that puts walls, switches, and doors exactly where I want them and all with a general layout that makes sense for how I intent to live in it.

Even though I’ve spent months looking at floorplans, none of them has been quite right. Most of them have been miles off. Many of them, though, have had distinct elements that are perfect – or that could be perfect with just a bit of architectural rejiggering. I’m keeping an open file (a self-contained Pinterest board?) with screen shots and notes about each of them. That goes a long way towards showing what right looks like from my perspective here and now. We’ll see what right looks like after it’s had a decade and a half to percolate.

So, what does this perfect place look like? Well, my current kitchen layout basically gets transposed into a new setting, the front door doesn’t dump directly into the main living area, there’s a room for dogs – tiled and suitable for hosing down – a pocket office to keep the computer and other bits that keep the household running from dominating whatever other room they’d be in, three garage bays, and some bedrooms, I suppose. Forgive me, please, but I haven’t put much brainpower into the rooms whose purpose is largely to be places to go lay down in the dark with your eyes closed.

I know, describing it doesn’t do justice to what I’m seeing in my head. Sorry about that.

The heart, though, of any house I would ever build is almost certainly a “great hall of books.” You know, something medieval, but with excellent shelving. In fact, if the construction budget looks thin, you should probably just expect a library with a monk’s cell bedroom and kitchen attached… although giving up the garage would be extraordinarily painful.

The real trick, of course, will be figuring out how to cram everything I want into a footprint that doesn’t go sprawling across the countryside and send me into bankruptcy. Those details, though, are far less interesting than where, exactly, to put the inglenook. Hopefully my next obsession will be a self education in creative construction financing.

Eyes on the prize…

We’ve been back to work for a week now. It’s situation normal, but unavoidable if your life goals include not living under a bridge or in a van down by the river. Add in not going to prison and you’ve basically covered my Tier 1 Life Goals. Anything beyond those few things is really just the gravy.

Still, if I sit here and try hard to channel my inner Mr. Brightside, there is a federal holiday coming up. That’s something. The glimmer of a promise of hope in the darkness. It really feels like I’ll spend the next decade and a half casting my eyes from holiday to holiday looking for the dim gleamings of days not tethered to the cubicle.

So eyes on the prize or whatever

What Annoys Jeff this Week?



1. Performance appraisal. I’ve spent more time than I want to admit this week dicking around with the required “self assessment” section of my annual performance appraisal. It feels like a monumental waste of time. The “old” evaluation system was a pain in the ass too, but at least it was consistent. You could copy and paste big chunks of content from year to year, change some dates and key words and then move on with a minimum amount of fuss and trouble. Since the system we’re now under is “new to us” if not exactly new, it’s starting from a blank page… which translates into more time fiddling. Look, when you’ve been told, albeit in a roundabout way, that the system is designed to drive people to the middle and prevent too many from being way out in high performer land, the incentive to make the end product immaculate is pretty low. Instead of the time and effort going into this new evaluation, it feels like we could have been just as well served by accepting that if we were fucks ups, someone would have told us by now, and that our raise will in all likelihood be within a hair’s breadth of the average unless you’ve done something breathtakingly good or bad in the last 356 days. Going though all the added motions really just adds insult to injury.

2. “Upgrading” software. I don’t mind software upgrades that improve the function of my equipment or make it somehow more secure. I do mind software upgrades that fail to install on the first attempt and then run in the background indefinitely consuming system resources while providing no way to stop them from the user side. Sadly there is absolutely nothing I’m empowered to do about the low bidder equipment or substandard tech support we’re saddled with other than bitch and complain about it at each and every opportunity. So I guess I’ll either limp along as is until the aborted update grinds my system to a complete halt or the admins throw my machine off the network for not having received the update. If only there were a great big organization in change of electronic communications I could call on for help in these situations. You can’t see it but I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I’m currently staring at the inside of my head.

3. Thursday. Well, not just Thursday. I’m just really kind of over weekdays in general. I’m tired of dealing with people. I’m tired of the same bureaucratic and administrative Groundhog Day experience every five out of seven days. I want to sit on the living room floor dispensing ear rubs and playing tug with the dogs, drinking coffee, and reading books… and I’d like for that to happen without finding myself quickly driven into bankruptcy. The dogs have become accustomed to a certain level of lifestyle (and medical care) and I need an ever increasing amount of space for book storage, so that pretty much precludes any radical changes to how I spend the average weekday. Most of the time, the week goes by with a dull “meh,” but this week it’s more of a roaring angsty rage. Good times. Im glad we’ve had this chance to talk.

Time well spent…

With a few minor exceptions, yesterday’s activities were very close to how I’d describe spending a perfect day.

I started out in the pre-dawn darkness, the dogs happily sniffing and snorting, and running off a bit of overnight energy while I loaded the first cup of coffee onboard. Transition inside to making a simple breakfast – eggs, toast and jelly, more coffee, and scarfing it away while watching some obscure documentary and occasionally correcting the presenter on the finer points of early 1900s political life in America.

Then there was reading… and making lunch… and more reading… and then making dinner… and more reading to cap off the day.

My perch changed, depending on what room was getting “the good light” at any given time. It was too humid a day to risk the books being outdoors, so that’s maybe the one real downside of the day.

The whole effort was interspaced with ear scratches, and belly rubs, being turned into an occasional climbing post for the resident cat, or getting momentarily distracted by some of the background noise on the television and the occasional trip outside to supervise the dogs.

There were coffee drinks and whiskey drinks when I was thirsty and home cooked meals when I was hungry. There was, other than the ones I placed on myself, absolutely no demands on my time at all. For one full day, I did exactly what I wanted to do without outside interference – or thinking about what I needed to do on the next day.

It was, in a word, idyllic. It was time well spent. It was exactly how I’d spend my days if the world didn’t conspire to fill it with other, far more monotonous and far less interesting, activities.

Forty and one…

First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.

I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.

I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.

Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.

Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.

Something to look forward to…

I hadn’t really planned the long winter break to also be a break from writing, but as it turns out being away from the office reduces the amount of things I have to bitch and complain about to unnaturally low levels. Being away has been a great thing for my blood pressure, but a horrible thing for blogging. It’s a sacrifice I’d be perfectly willing to make if it wasn’t for the need to actually produce an income.

The break is all but over now, so I fully expect that we’ll have ginned up a full head of steam before long. Just knowing that the end is near is more than enough to set off an occasional eye twitch. It turns out quiet time with the books and animals and an occasional trip out for fresh produce really is a lifestyle choice I could sustain indefinitely.

The real pity is that there’s still so much time on the clock before I can put that ideal into practice. At least I have something to look forward to.

Plans…

Let me start by saying I roll out of bed every morning with a rough plan in my head of how I expect the day to go. Plans are wonderful things, even if they are so often driven completely off the rails by outside influences.

IMG_2720It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the perfect image how how a weekend might go lives up to all the hype in planning. You see, in my deepest dreams, weekends are long unbroken stretches of quiet time – time to be alone with my thoughts, time to tinker in the house or yard, time spent companionably silent with the resident critters, or neck deep in a stack of books.

Every now and then I manage to hit one right in the sweet spot. If I’ve remembered everything on the grocery list and tended to all the other errands than need tending, when the garage door slides down on Saturday morning it need not open again until Tuesday. It’s like living inside my very one dreamscape.

I got to walk the property and note down trees and limbs ready to feed fall’s backyard fires. I got to spend a long time just standing in the yard playing out different plantings for next spring and what arrangement they may take. I got to distract a chocolate lab long enough for one of a friendly rink-necked snakes living in the back yard to make a get away. And I got to enjoy an inordinate amount of time spent watching five hummingbirds dive bomb each other for getting too close to the feeders.

Sigh, yeah, if money were no object… but of course it is an object so these plans are but a dream to be observed through a glass darkly. At least I know I’ve got a solid grip on what I want to do when I don’t have to do anything. It might not be the hole plan, but it feels like a solid first step.

That which I don’t want to do…

After some thought today it occurs to me that I spend upwards of 60 hours a week doing things that by definition I don’t want to do. How do I know I don’t want to do them? Well, because someone has to pay me reasonably well to convince me that it’s how I should spend my time.

That thought leads to the corollary that I’m so completely resistant to doing things that I don’t want to do in the 44 or so waking hours that I haven’t sold off because I spend so much time doing shit that I really don’t want to do in the first place.

When you spend 60 hours a week doing that which you do not naturally want to do, the calls of “you should go to the gym,” or “you should stop eating red meat,” or “do you really need that second whiskey sour” tend to fall on deaf ears. Honest to God, I don’t even hear “you’re cutting years off your life” anymore because I just assuming a good portion of what I’m cutting off are the years at the end when you sit around a nursing home shitting yourself. That’s way up there on the list of things that I don’t want to do.

The 40 or so hours that I’m awake and not being paid, are for the things that I want to do. It’s a freedom that certain life decisions have afforded me and I intend to take advantage. I’m going to drink the good whiskey. I’m going to eat the steak. I’m going to sit in the comfy chair with a book. I’m not going to spend what is currently my most limited resource on the damned stair master or learning how to make tofu “taste good.”

I just don’t want to… and that’s not a statement I get to use nearly often enough.