Zero point zero…

Let me be among the very first to say I can admit bad decisions when I make them. My idea to kick off an August AMA was met with a resounding silence zero point zero.jpgfollowed by the distant womp womp of a sad trombone. Level of interest: Zero point zero. That’s ok. The sheer volumes of topics around here that never get past the idea stage is staggering so it’s just one more aborted notion on the pile.

Of course if there’s no one out there feeding me ideas, that means I’m back to relying on my own devices. After compiling a couple of thousand posts, I guess you can say that I’m ok with that. It’s not exactly a new thing. I’m just going to proceed from the assumption in this case that silence implies consent and that I should continue doing what I’m doing.

So, you may be asking, what does that mean? Well, it means you’ll be sure to see more stupid things that happened at the office, a bit of commentary about the news of the day, and whatever else happens to catch my interest in the moment. After so many posts I’m finding it’s nearly impossible not to tread some of the same ground, but I’m finding it entertaining to look at how my thinking has evolved over time. All things considered it’s not a bad way to run a joint.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being filler. So a funny thing about events is that when you plan one that people are interested in, they tend to show up. When you plan an all day snoozefest, they tend to avoid it if they can. The easy solution to this problem is just to declare the snoozefest a designated place of duty for the day and *poof* you have an instant packed house. The problem of course, is even though you can mandate that people be somewhere in body, you certainly can’t force them to be present in mind or spirit. So instead of working my own projects – and tending to my own nearly sold out event – I get to be filler. Because a 2/3 empty auditorium looks bad… and not looking bad is far more important than actually doing good.

2. I’ve spent the week basically regurgitating the same seven or eight points for people who either didn’t bother to read the source material or were incapable of understanding it. Since many of these people have fancy titles like CEO, Vice President of Whatever, Owner, and Doctor, I have to wonder who exactly is out there keeping the lights on in the business community. I’m sure they’re all very busy, very important people, but a bit of basic reading and comprehension really doesn’t feel like too much to expect… and yet it is.

3. A monopoly on good ideas. Just because someone has a star on their uniform (you know, like the Texaco man), we really owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap of assuming that he or she is the font of truth and all good ideas. No one, not even the high and the mighty have a monopoly on good ideas. Telling truth to power is hard work. It demands personal courage, but if no one else in the room is brave enough to correct the man in the big chair when he insists the grass is purple and the sky is green, we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favors.

A case of the feels…

We’ve been wandering down the path of politically correct, overly sensitive molly coddling for most of my adult life. I was lucky I guess to catch the tail end of the last generation that was allowed to compete, win, lose, and sometimes feel badly about ourselves. Now we all get trophies just for showing up. We’re told that good enough is ok. And for God’s holy sake we must walk on every eggshell in order to avoid saying or doing something that someone, somewhere may find in any way offensive or objectionable.

So here’s my open invitation: If you ever find yourself in a conversation with me, just spit out whatever is on your mind. Don’t feel any need to mince your words or to use euphemisms to “soften the blow.” Be honest and forthright in your meaning – you know, the way our parents taught us. You’re not going to hurt my feelings because we’re grown adults and anywhere within my (admittedly limited) span of control you’re allowed – even encouraged – to have an opinion different than mine. On some level I might even find some of those opinions offensive. That’s ok too. Having your ideas challenged builds character. And believe it or not, having character and the courage of your convictions use to be considered a good thing.

Not now, though. What we want now is a world where we all think the same things, feel the same way, don’t rock the boat too hard, or heaven forbid, have an original idea that doesn’t march in lock step with whatever passes for the mainstream. Don’t offend anyone. Don’t hurt their feelings. Don’t dare express an opinion that isn’t approved, packaged, and sanitized for your goddamned protection.

There was a time we did great things in this country. It was a time when we were dared to dream heroic dreams… but it was also a time when we didn’t worry quite so much about bumps, bruises, and skinned knees – and when having a bad case of the feels wasn’t considered a mortal wound.

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers…

Because I’m perfectly comfortable being lazy and letting blog-worthy ideas come to me instead of chasing them down, I’m opting to respond to a question posted on my Facebook page in response to last night’s blog post. I’ll apologize in advance for the 24 hours delay in getting back to you, Jess, but I hope the fully formed response makes up for its less than timely delivery.

The question: What tools do you use to keep this list and how often do you go to it? And is that just the blog list? What about ideas for books and such? How do you keep track of everything when there is limited time to address any of it? Inquiring minds want to know.

The answer: Starting from the last part of your question, let me go on the record as saying dealing with limited time is the bane of my existence. I’m going to assume for purposes of discussion that I’m not alone in that sentiment. Between a day job, the blog, a couple of longer-term writing projects, and the other mandatory ephemera of life demanding attention, there is always more to do than there is time to do it. I try to keep this in check by an occasional ruthless culling of priorities. Every few months I physically make a list of everything I do as part of my day-to-day routine, rank order them, and then cut away as may at the bottom of the list as I can get away with eliminating.

This method has the unfortunate side effect of having sliced away most of what you might consider hobbies, unfortunately. It’s also led to a greater than reasonable volume of dog hair residing under furniture and in the photocarpets than I’m entirely comfortable with. Having, as I do, a fairly wide OCD streak, learning to accept that dust is unsightly but probably isn’t going to kill you has been a particularly difficult lesson to digest. I’m sure there are very good writers who find some other way of managing their time and getting it all done, but this is a method that works for me. Mostly. If you’re out there with kids or husbands or wives demanding attention, yeah, I’m not sure how you’ll make all that fit. Mercifully the only living creatures I’m responsible for are basically satisfied sleeping under the kitchen table while I do my thing.

Now when it comes to the meat of keeping track of ideas I try to keep it as simple as possible. I know there are a metric crapload of apps specifically designed for list making, but I tend to rely on something simple and understated – the Notes app that came installed on my phone. I chunk out the big ideas into either blog ideas or book ideas with one extra category left over specifically for issues I want to feature on Thursdays as part of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Since I usually have one or two other works in progress on hand at any given time, those generally have their own “note” as well so I can keep them segregated and avoid having a list so long as to make it functionally useless.

I refer to my lists fairly often, though some see more action than others. I try to add ideas as they come to me during the day or especially at night if I wake up with something that feels particularly important. As an aside, no matter what idea comes to you in the middle of the night, write it down so you can give it another look in the light of day. 3AM is a terrible time to make decisions about the virtue of half formed thoughts. Likewise, whipping out your phone in the middle of a deadly dull meeting to jot down the most unintentionally funny thought of the day is frowned upon. When I find myself in those circumstances, painfully separated from the electronic world, there’s no substitute for ye olde pen and paper (provided you transcribe the important parts over to your electronic filing system before your great ideas are lost to the shredder). I’ve lost more “good ideas” than I can imagine by simply assuring myself that I’m sure I’ll remember it later. The hard truth is there isn’t one chance in a hundred that you’re going to remember anything more than the fact that you had an idea that you neglected to write down.

The best and only advice I can give on any of this is to find a system that works for you and apply it mercilessly all day, every day. If you’re going to write five, six, seven times a week, it’s the only way I’ve come up with to even attempt to keep the pipeline full of new and semi-interesting ideas.

Topics, ideas, and factoids…

I keep a running list of topics, random ideas, and factoids I think might be useful when faced with a moment of indecision over what to blog about on any given night. Looking at the list it’s a pretty well rounded selection of stuff from work, news items, and the just plain ridiculous things you see on a day-to-day basis when you’re paying attention to your surroundings. After looking at this list tonight, all I can tell you is there was nothing there that moved me to type. After 15 minutes of looking at the list, that’s precisely all I accomplished.

So what’s coming to you tonight is once again, just a blog about how damned hard it is to blog on a regular basis. Most of the time if you sit down and go at it, the words will flow eventually. Occasionally, though, all you end up doing is sitting there wondering where the words are that should theoretically be on the page already. It happens. I’ve been blogging for six years and writing for a lot longer than that in one form or another, but I’m just starting to come to terms with the idea that sometimes the words just aren’t going to be there when you summon them. It’s apparently an occupational hazard.

The worst part, of course, is that it’s an occupational hazard I then get to inflict on you by way of rambling 248 word posts that don’t really say anything at all. You’re Welcome.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to follow directions. Don’t ignore the very clear directions I provide and then try to raise hell and cry the blues when everything goes to hell in a handbag. I will not hesitate to refer you back to the previously ignored instructions and remind you that I told you so.

2. Bright Ideas. No. You didn’t just have one. Almost no one has legitimate bright ideas. What you most likely had was a bad idea masquerading as a bright idea. The two are very much not synonymous. If what you’re thinking about hasn’t been done anywhere, by anyone before, there’s probably a reason for that. Just let it be.

3. “Helpful” salespeople. I know the sales people are just trying to be helpful (and boost their commission), but when I show up at a shop asking for something specific, I’m not really interested in something similar but more expensive. I’m actually interested in the thing I’m asking about. I know some people wander in not having a clue in the world what they’re looking for, but rest assured I am not one of those. Although I appreciate your pluck and determination, what I really need you to do is bugger off.

August: By Request…

It’s been a while since I’ve opened up the request lines around here. With July rolling to a close, the summer doldrums well in place, and realizing that I can’t write about sequester and furlough every day and expect 99% of you to keep reading, it seems like as good a time as any to let someone else do a bit of the heavy lifting involved in topic selection.

11182-i-love-question-markThe rules are simple and straightforward:

1. You pose a question or identify a topic of your choice. Be ruthless, I’m looking for a challenge. Just don’t ask about math. I don’t do math.

2. I carefully hand craft a response and post it on jeffreytharp.com for your amusement.

I’m tempted to say that nothing is off limits, but there’s not a chance in hell that I’m giving you jerks passwords or account information just because you were froggy enough to ask for it. With a very few limitations, though, the gloves are off so feel free to pick your topics and ask your questions with reckless abandon.

I’ll keep the request line open for the entire month of August (or until I get tired of it), so the sooner you leave me a comment, the sooner I can get on with the serious work of writing a sarcastic response.