What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Forgetting Tuesday. So as it turns out, when I have more than two days off I lose all sense of time and do things like completely forget to write a blog post in the middle of the week. Since the chances of finding too many four-day weekends in the course of a year is slim to none, I’m not worried that this will become a regular occurrence… but really any deviation from the normal schedule is enough to make me just a little bit twitchy, especially when it’s something as built into the daily schedule as writing. Maybe we are all entitled to an occasional misfire, but I like to think my inner sense of consistency is stronger than that. Apparently it is not.

2. Luddites. I work from home one day a week. To make that possible I rely on a lot of decades-old technology such as email and the telephone to stay connected to the home office. When I discover that my normal day for working at home is going to be shanghaied because I’m “needed” at the office, that usually translates into having to have someone available to flip the slides. That’s fine. Whatever. But when you’re going to want to do things like that could you please not let me find out that the person we’re staging this meeting for will be talking to us from his car on the way to some other meeting while I drag myself in to the office to huddle around a single land line like a congress of latter-day Luddites. If only there were a fancy device that let people hear voice communication from more than once location simultaneously instead of trying to pretend we exist in a universe where the best solution is two tin cans and a bit of string.

3. The oblivious. There are any number of awkward things that can happen in the modern office. Of them, the one that annoys me the most is probably the people who have no natural sense of when a conversation has hit it’s logical conclusion. They just continue to stand there looking at you as if you’re supposed to stop the world and entertain them for whatever duration their attention span can muster. Look, even when I’m not pressed for time, I don’t want to spend any significant part of the day in idle chatter. I’m just not that social. If you’re that desperate for social interaction, hit me up on instant messenger like a normal human being. I can work with that. But please, for the love of all the gods, don’t just stand there with your arms draped over my cube wall hoping that I’m suddenly going to get chatty. And yet I’d be the asshole if I just looked directly at someone and told them to go the fuck away.

The interregnum…

As we all know by now I’m a devoted creature of habit. Some of them are so well worn in that I’m not sure I’d know who I am without them. Others are more malleable based on circumstances. Contrary to opinion popular in some quarters, I’m not completely inflexible on all points – though I am on a few of them to be sure.

The real trouble comes when, of necessity, one of those more ingrained habits must change. Since unwelcome change in all its myriad forms is something that must be resisted at almost any cost, migrating one of these habits towards something new and different is rarely a course of action I’ll embark on willingly. I don’t like spending that much time with a warning klaxon rattling around my head that something isn’t right. The whole idea mostly just serves to remind me of a sign a friend of mine kept in his dorm room lo those many years ago. Perched above his desk, the sign gave off the constant reminder that “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”

That seems to have become my unofficial motto across several fronts lately. My reading of history informs me of all manner of destruction/creation cycles and their near-inevitability. Mythology is filled with tales of the old giving way for the new to rise. It’s all very inspirational, of course… But that damned interregnum between one habit dying and the next taking hold tends to throw my whole neatly ordered universe temporarily out of kilter and that just sucks.

The new old routine…

As everyone knows by now, I’m a creature who enjoys habit. I may not quite run like clockwork, but some days it’s damned close. Work, mostly is just another routine. Get up, show up, do the time, and get the hell out. There’s a rhythm to it and even when the level of stupid is unmitigated, at least you know there’s (usual) a fixed end time to the suffering. My approach isn’t quite Zen, but at least it helps stave off the madness most of the time.

The problem today is that after ten days off I’d managed to set myself into a different routine. Sure I was still waking up two hours before the crack of dawn, but it was to do actual productive things like reading, cooking, general home repair, or tending the menagerie. What I wasn’t doing is answering emails that would be unnecessary if people read the whole memo, or going to meetings that could have been emails, or trying to look attentive when someone was talking about the most recent time they were visited by the Good Idea Fairy. I liked this new routine. The fact that I’ll invariably find something to tinker with, or read, or be curious about is one of the reasons I know I won’t go stir crazy in retirement. If I’m honest, nearly everything that interests me occurs naturally outside the scope of the office.

Fortunately I have the capacity to put up as good a front as anyone. I can play the game when it suits me. It exacts a terrible cost, though, in that playing my part and adjusting to this new old routine is absolutely exhausting.

Unknowingly alarmed…

My daily schedule is so well ingrained by now that it doesn’t even feel like a schedule. It just feels like life taking it’s natural course. That’s how it feels right up until something sends the future careening off into a different timeline, which is what happened this morning.

Fortunately it wasn’t accompanied by the arrival of a time-traveling version of me from the future and a rift in the space-time continuum, but it was accompanied by the blaring of klaxons and a general confusion about why the universe seemed to be crashing down on my head at 5AM on a Sunday. Even the dogs seemed perplexed at what was happening, so at least I wasn’t alone in my confusion.

As it turns out, my daily habits are far more deep-rooted than I imagined, because without giving it a thought I’d apparently managed to set all of my normal week-day alarms on my way to bed last night. Unintentional. Unthinking. Just the sheer force of habit from so very many early mornings past.

Fortunately I only cheated myself out of about an hour, since 6AM is what passes for sleeping in around here. I may have started out life as a night owl, but I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate the deep quiet of these small hours of the morning.

Entrenched and natural…

I’m glad to say I had the wherewithal this afternoon to make it back to the new house instead of following the well-worn path to the old. Given my tendency towards routine and habits, I’m calling it an accomplishment. While we’re on the topic of habits, I hadn’t quite realized how much being in a new place would though my week-day schedule totally out of whack. I hit all the marks on time (even a few minutes ahead of normal), but couldn’t shake the feeling of being off. I wonder how long it takes for new habits to feel entrenched and natural. By the time they do, it’s probably not something you even notice.

The dogs survived their first day alone at the new place, so that’s something. It’s going to take a while before I’m managing everything quite so well. I’m ready to have a deep, passionate love affair with this house, but it’s going to take some time before I start thinking of it as “home.” I have a funny feeling that getting the last bedroom/current storage area sorted out, unpacking the garage so I can do more than squeeze the truck in, and getting the giant stack of flattened cardboard out of the dining room will go along way towards making that happen.

In the meantime I’ll be trying not to let my OCD take over and remember that sleep is actually a good thing.

On giving up…

I’ve mostly given up on trying to get a post together on Friday nights. It’s generally not for lack of something to say so much as it’s because by the time Friday night rolls into town, I can barely stomach the idea of spending more time looking at a monitor. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, Friday night seems to be the night my brain mashes down on the “system reboot” switch. Just staying awake until 9:30 or 10:00 will be a major accomplishment. Forget any wild notion of trying to get something done or taking the effort to go somewhere. It’s a losing battle and I’m largely given up on fighting the inevitable.

I know in about 11 hours I’m going to wake up and be, what in my world passes for refreshed. I’ll charge through the next two days knocking items off my to-do list and sometime Sunday night realize that the weekend burned off way too quickly. Such is the near-mechanical rhythm of of my weeks. Still, now and then, it would be nice to get home, look around, and want to go out, raise hell, and get stupid. As it is, all I’m really interested in getting is another pillow so my spot on the couch is all the more comfortable.

Interregnum…

Most people who write never actually talk about how much their first drafts suck. Since I clearly have no shame, I’ll say it out loud and in a public forum: I know for a stone cold fact my first draft sucks. It’s legitimately awful. It’s full of spelling and grammar issues. It’s likely to have favored words and phrases repeated every few pages. There are whole sections that I’ll want to rip out, stomp on, and never think of again. That’s the nature of a first draft. As much as we’re tempted to think of it as the beginning of the end, it’s really just the end of the beginning.

My tendency, and I can only assume it’s shared by others, is to want to launch a new project out into the world as quickly as possible. Of course this is a terrible, terrible mistake because it doesn’t give you the time and space necessary to really work out the kinks and rough spots. Since I know that going into it, what I’m planning on doing now with this short story is absolutely nothing. I don’t want to re-read it. I don’t even want to think about it for at least two weeks. A month would be better if I can convince myself to stay away that long.

Time and distance is the only thing that helps give a layer of objectivity when I get back to a work in progress. For me at least, if I try to edit my own work just after it’s finished, I know I’ll do a lousy job of it. Being too close to the story, I’m reading what I think is there (or maybe what I wish was there), rather than the words that are actually on the page. Really editing your own work is mostly a fool’s errand. That’s why the best editors can make a boatload of money plying their trade. Those of us who can’t afford the best editorial support, simply make do by asking trusted associates to take on the job for peanuts. Frankly, if you’re interested in more than a free copy of the finished product, I probably can’t afford your editorial services at this point anyway.

So where I am now is in a bit of an operational pause, somewhere between active writing, re-writing, and editing. Since I’ve built up a good head of steam and have forced myself into the habit of writing every night, though, this isn’t the time to lay in the cut. My job now is to keep writing, even if that means taking on another project or maybe doing a little freelance work to keep my chops up. I’m tinkering with a few ideas and even managed to free write for a while last night which is something I rarely ever get the chance to do.

Whatever small project I take on during this damned interregnum, you can rest assured that it will be in some way geared towards continuing to build my little hobby into something a bit more substantial. This may never been what I do to pay the bills, but I’m still fairly certain it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.