When determination isn’t a virtue…

I love books. I love how they look on the shelf, the smell of ink and paper, and the heft of a 900-page doorstop in my hand. With that said, I absolutely do not love all books equally. 

Some books, I pick up after reading a positive review or finding something interesting on the front flap. I’ve gotten to be a pretty decent judge of what I’m going to enjoy and what I won’t based on a quick assessment – even if that means literally judging a book by its cover. Sometimes, though, I get it wildly wrong. 

I’ve heard that some people can just stop reading a book they find they’re not enjoying. Being able to just walk away and find something more interesting feels like it must be awfully freeing. I can only wish I was that kind of person. You can probably count on one or maybe two hands the number of books I’ve ever just given up reading because it turns out I have no real interest.

Me? Yeah. I’ll grind through a book, no matter how dull, just because I’ve started it. Once I’m a chapter or two in, I’m going to finish even if it’s an absolute slog. Sure, even from these books I pick up a few worthwhile nuggets, but finding them is more chore than joy. 

As it turns out, there are occasionally times when raw determination to see things through to the end is not in any way helpful… I don’t suppose you’ll see that little gem on a motivational poster, though.

What I learned this week…

I didn’t learn a damned thing this week. Nothing insightful. Nothing even vaguely interesting, unless you’re curious about the people who scour the banks of the Thames for washed up objects from centuries past. I did learn a few interesting things there, but suspect that’s not what most others would drop in the “interesting” category. Otherwise, the week has just sort of slid past without anything particularly informative coming to light.

If I’m horribly honest, I don’t think I could have had worse timing to bring on the whole “What I learned this week” thing if I’d have tried. The very nature of new life features such as social distance, quarantine, stay-at-home tends to limit the new and interesting.

Ah, well. It’s Friday, so whatever. 

That’s it. That’s the post.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The NeverEnding Project. If it weren’t for the Great Plague, I’d have had this particular project behind me for almost a month now. Instead, though, it got delayed, deferred, and then converted to an “online experience.” A better man than me might be laser focused on delivering a world class product – or at least be interested in something beyond the minimum acceptable standard… but honestly, my only objective is for this time-sucking vanity project to reach its long-suffering conclusion, regardless of whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre.

2. The market isn’t the economy. A million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a youth, an obscure southern governor won the presidency on the back of the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid.” Despite the easy money propping up the stock market right now, I have to think that underlying economic conditions driven by our response (or lack thereof) to the Great Plague will be what drives Election 2020 as we draw towards November and people broadly start paying attention to electoral politics. My take, bound to be unpopular in MAGA circles, is that if the Republican Party wants to maintain any relevancy in the next four years, it’s time to focus all our time and money on holding on to the Senate.

3. Complaints. The number of things I do on a weekly basis because “if we don’t, someone might complain” should be disturbing. Doing things just so MaryJane Douchebag doesn’t open her yap just doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. No one (except me) seems to find it disturbing, though. I have no idea when we became a society that spends so much time worrying that someone might complain, but here we are. It’s dumb, I hate it, and it’s just another example of how the 21st century is absolute trash.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.

2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.

3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.

The happy dream of the future…

It’s another day after an extended weekend and another day where I have very little on my mind. Spending a maximum amount of time at home tending the yard, tending the animals, sunk deeply into a book, or just generally avoiding people is clearly good for calming my brain even at the cost of having anything scathing to write about. It’s probably worth the trade off.

Before giving a mighty shrug of indifference I considered a number of topics for today – North Korea, border security, Starbucks, social media, and a few others. It really comes down to not being able to gin up much of an interest in any of them. That might be when the real truth hit me – although I have a passing interest in wide swath of topic areas, there are only a handful I actually give a damn about on a regular basis. That number gets even smaller when you whittle the time down to any individual day.

That’s all a round about way of saying that when it comes right down to it, I simply lack the bandwidth or interest to care about most issues. I don’t and won’t judge someone for what they choose to care about, but I’ll save my outrage and effort for the ones that are important to me. It’s not personal, just the reality of having limited time and resources and wanting to allocate them in a way that best serves my own interests.

There is something deeply appealing to me about pulling up the drawbridge and applying the focusing exclusively on whatever is of interest in the moment. That version of my reality is a number of years off yet, but it’s the happy dream of the future that sustains me.

Playing with balls…

The internet has given us a world where information is hard to escape unless you really make an effort at it. Most days I find myself absorbing as many audio and visual signals as I can stand. Usually those feeds are clogged with finance, history, science, politics, and a bit of local news. Today it’s just chock full of the NCAA basketball championship and opening day of baseball season.

While I’m not actively taking any steps to avoid those things, my level of interest can best be expressed by a long, gaping mouthed yawn. It’s not that I hate sports in general. I don’t spend nearly enough thinking about them to be that bothered. I’d describe my attitude towards them as one of abject disinterest.

That disinterest carries the day most of the time – except on days like today. When everyone assumes everyone is a fan of something and every conversation turns on the Local Professional Baseball Team or Collegiate Basketball Program of Choice. On days like today, my disinterest is elevated to something more monumental in scope and scale.

Despite that, mostly I smile and nod at what feels like appropriate intervals… because being in polite society implies that you’ll spend a great deal of time listening to things in which you have no interest. The fact is, in addition to the lack of interest, I lack the specialized vocabulary and background information to speak on the subject in any intelligent way. I can only assume that since so many seem determined to live and die with their team, there must be something to it. I realize that in this one case, perhaps I’m the one who’s the extreme outlier – though that may just be part and parcel of my long standing personal feud with major social conventions. Regardless of the why, however, it’s simply that the part of a fan’s brain that gets tickled by a grand slam or a long three point shot, doesn’t get my neurons sparking in the same way.

I almost wish it did… if for no other reason than it would make these “big days in sports” feel a little less torturous than a slow death by a thousand cuts.

The number two thousand…

The earliest post I’ve been able to track down showed up on June 1, 2006. There were some earlier efforts, I’m almost sure, but my own records only go back that far. If there are earlier posts out there somewhere, I’ve lost them to the electronic ether.

Nine years and 1,999 posts later we arrive at my 2,000th post. I’m not sure if that means I have too much to say, too much free time, or too much nascent desire for attention. A combination of the three is the most likely reason I’ve stuck with it this long. For whatever reasons, while other hobbies and interests have come and gone, the blog, in all its many forms has remained a consistent part of my life. At this point I’m not sure how I would self-identify without it.

It’s been tempting over the years to monetize the effort, to sell my services to other sites, or even to give it up completely, but obviously none of those ideas ever stuck. For these last 2,000 posts I’ve always been writing about whatever happened to be on my mind. It’s always been writing to sooth my own soul and to suit my own sensibilities.

Like it says up there in “About” at the top of the site:

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: I’m not a regular guy. I don’t spend all weekend watching sports and I think domestic beer, for the most part, sucks. I’m never going to discuss how much I can bench press or how big my engine is. What I will do is comment on those issues that strike my interest on any given day including but not limited to travel, politics, technology and life’s unavoidable interaction with stupid people. Some posts will be mundane others will be rants of a more epic variety. I strive to keep it entertaining, but in the end I’m writing for my own benefit, not for an audience. If you’re waiting for a big finish, there isn’t one. This is what it is.

Maybe that’ll change at some point in the future, but I suspect you’ll hear much the same thing in 2024 when we’re talking about the 4,000th post.

Blank space…

Usually by the time I get home at the end of the day I’ve got half a dozen post its or a few hastily scribbled margin notes to remind myself about whatever blogworthy ideas I had during the course of the day. Yeah, I’ve long since given up the illusion that I can remember something that happened at 8AM when I sit down to write ten hours later.

It didn’t happen today. Not one single note anywhere. Plenty happened, of course, just nothing that I would consider even marginally entertaining… and certainly not something I’d want to relive for 30 or 45 minutes this evening. What I’m saying is that tonight I’ve got nothing. Just wide open blank space where a blog ought to be.

I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Even surrounded by the best topics, some nights it just doesn’t happen. Missouri is burning again. A card carrying socialist is drawing 25,000 people to his political rallies. China devalued its currency. The EPA just dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste water into a clear mountain river. The state of Alabama is the subject of a Go Fund Me campaign. There’s plenty enough going on that seems worth commenting on.

Any one of those issues would chew up 300 words without looking back and yet even while I sit here, just naming the jackassery in the air today makes me exhausted. It’s not so much that I don’t care as that I’m too annoyed by what passes for civilization to even be bothered to comment. All I really want to do is shut down, pull a cork, and settle in with a good book. It’s not one of my finer or more engaged moments, but it’s the fact of the matter.

Maybe tomorrow it will matter, but for tonight I just can’t be bothered enough to give a damn.

The illusion of interest…

I could probably fill a book with number of bits and pieces of daily ephemera I declare “one of the hardest things I do.” Somehow that doesn’t keep the list from growing. In that spirit, one of the hardest things I do currently is simply pay attention. Actually it’s not even that so much as it is just trying to look interested.

Once the charts start flipping, I’ve got a window of 20-30 good minutes where I’m attentive and focused. After that it’s a doodle-fest or I start making notes on whatever it is I would be working on back at my desk. Either way, whatever is on those slides is barely getting a head nod. I’m basically doing whatever it takes to keep my eyes from glazing over and accidentally falling out of my chair. Nodding off and landing on your ass is considered bad form at meetings. I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty – although it is completely, gut wrenchingly hysterical.

The challenge to look interested doesn’t discriminate between my own material and stuff that has no impact or influence on my day-to-day existence. After the 30 minute mark everything falls into the category of probably interesting, but irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant by nature, but simply because my brain has lost the capacity to receive new information while struggling mightily just to give the illusion that the lights are on upstairs.

If you see me in a meeting blinking rapidly, shifting in my seat every 30 seconds, or jabbing a #2 pencil into my thigh, try not to take it personally. It’s probably not your subject matter, it’s just that you let your meeting run way, way too long and I’m doing my level best to offer the illusion of interest or, if that proves impossible, to not fall asleep and start drooling all over myself.

My next fix…

Usually I sit down at the computer with at least a vague notion of what’s going to end up on the screen. It should be something heavy, but not too bleak. Something entertaining, but not too frivolous. It should be witty, but not comical. None of those are hard and fast rules, of course. They’re more like selectively enforced guidelines. Since on any given day what’s going to end up online is up in the air right up until the last minute, I find it best to have very few hard and fast rules. All they tend to do is get in the way of posting something halfway interesting.

Even disregarding the guidelines, I’ve had some trouble today focusing in on what I wanted to say this evening. There were plenty of news articles that I could justifiably talk about. The office? Sure, it’s full of ridiculous things that would be easy enough to spell out in 300 words. The Fortress of Solitude? There’s always something dinging around that I can make sound new and noteworthy. Still, none of those struck a chord today. Nothing stood out screaming “write about me right the hell now.” Most days by the time I get home I’ve got two or three ideas in the running. Days like today, it’s like the theme is just grinding it out, jamming one foot ahead of the next, and getting through to the end.

It’s the kind of day that makes a guy appreciative of the other days – the ones where things go like butter, the words fly onto the page by their own accord, and you’ve got some spark of life left when the lights go out. Three-day weekends, man they mess with the routine. A holiday weekend is a great thing, but getting back makes me feel like a junkie coming down. There’s plenty going on around me, but all I’m really thinking about is where I’m going to find my next fix.