The Great Plague era, for me at least, will always be remembered as a golden age.
I estimate that I avoided driving about 40,000 miles over the last two and a half years – saving on fuel, maintenance, and general wear and tear both on the vehicles and on me too if we’re being honest.
It was perhaps the first time in my life when being an introvert positioned me uniquely to thrive in a world that is normally built to service and reward extroversion. Staying home, hanging out with the animals, reading as many books as I could get my hands on, and doing almost all of my own cooking is almost entirely the life I was really built for.
Most weeks for the last 30 months, I got to spend four workdays out of every five working from home. No commute, no small talk or interruptions, and not listening to the guy two cubicles over hack up a lung while suffering from “just allergies.” It was a chance to knock down whatever work was thrown my way using a brave, new approach. It feels like, for a while there, we almost embraced it.
I’m enough of a student of history to know that no golden age ever lasts. Eventually the conditions that fuel them gives out and the world then tends to revert to the mean. I’m told that my own personal golden age now has an official expiration date… so now all that’s left is to take a few weeks and mourn the future that almost was.
The world has been and continues to be in a rush to “get back to normal.” You’ll have to forgive me, because I just don’t see the appeal.
This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.
Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.
But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.
That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.
One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.
Back in the heyday of the Great Plague, there was a lot of talk about the “new normal.” Adjusting to it, living in it, surviving it. It was the phrase people used when they had no idea what else to say.
I’ve made no secret that I loved life in the new normal. Staying home and avoiding people was the kind of world I was built to inhabit. Sure, there was death, chaos, and economic turmoil, but beyond a nagging fear of dropping dead due to unseen and seemingly un-fightable forces, it wasn’t just a case of surviving in the new normal, or even living in it. It was sixteen months of absolutely thriving – or living my best life as the damned kids these days insist on saying.
This week, I’ve started back into the new, new normal. It’s slightly less problematic than Old Normal, but nowhere near as good as I found life in New Normal. This New, New Normal is far more about just living – maybe “enduring” would be the more descriptive. Returning to the land ruled by extroverts after a year and a half in which the attributes of the introvert were ascendant is just plain hard and I’m not a fan.
I have many friends who like to claim status as introverts, misanthropes, or hermits.
Maybe they are those things… but only a little. Six weeks of “quarantine,” shelter-in-place, or stay home orders have them filling up my inbox with a steady stream of messages about boredom, or wanting to go places, or see people, or otherwise get back to their lives as usual.
Meanwhile I’m over here living my life as usual.
We’re out in the tall grass of introversion, here kiddies. The Great Plague is for deep end hermit-ing. Maybe my friends do need a little time away from people now and then, but me, yeah, I was built for this shit.
It turns out some people get bored at home. I’m sure I knew there were people out there who filled every moment going places and doing things, but it never occurred to me that being bored at home was a possibility until I started seeing so many people saying as much. Thanks Facebook.
Maybe I’ve never even considered the possibility because I’ve spent years structuring life in such a way that boredom at home isn’t something that can happen. Here in its penultimate form at Fortress Jeff, I’ve surrounded myself with books and movies and animals, failsafed the power supply, and laid in sufficient food to mostly sustain us all beyond the occasional need for fresh produce. Even if I weren’t working from home, there would be enough around-the-house projects to keep me going indefinitely… and that’s before even starting in on the yard work.
The idea that I should somehow be bored under the circumstances simply never crossed my mind. The world has merely adopted social distancing. I was born into it, molded by it.
So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
As you may well know by now, I’m not well known as a joiner of activities. I don’t seek out social events or organizations. I don’t join clubs or rush out to sign up for team events. A million years ago as a student, group projects were an absolute agony… and I like them even less now as an adult. To say I do my best to avoid those situations is an understatement at the least. Anything that reeks with the stench of “group project” is to be avoided at nearly any cost.
The officially sanctioned Large Bureaucratic Organization “org day” is exactly the kind of thing I was built to avoid. The endless rounds of small talk with virtual strangers, the repeated need to refuse requests to sign up for various “team building activities,” and spending hours standing around looking vaguely uncomfortable are rarely the hallmarks of a good time. They’re not, in short, the kind of things I would enjoy doing under any circumstances, let alone when it’s laid on under the auspices of a benevolent employer.
Maybe it’s the kind of thing that’s good for someone’s morale, but I’m not that someone. The sort of things that improve my feeling of well being aren’t generally the ones that lend themselves to being a team event. Give me a comfy chair, a good book, a decent beverage, and a furry critter whose ears need scratching and my morale goes up dramatically. Recruiting me to join in a tug-o-war, not so much.
In this case, the best possible outcome I can hope for is managing to spend a couple of hours showing the flag and being seen by the right people before quietly disappearing to do something that will legitimately make me feel better about the world. I know there is no way to account for every individual preference when dealing in large numbers, but it would be nice, occasionally, if someone recognized that one size does not fit all.
For me, the waiting is just about the worst. Sitting in a quiet place knowing in an hour or less it will be swarming with hundreds of people who talk for a living and are yelling to be heard over one another is really just like a descent into madness. Or maybe a decent into hell. Possibly both.
Business developers, sales execs… as far as the eye can see its people who want to talk and want you to talk with them. I’d very nearly rather set myself on fire. I’m sure they are all very fine human beings, but their innate mode of operation exhausts me at a very base level.
Waiting for this barely controlled chaos to start is awful… but pretending to be engaged, polite, and vaguely interested for hours on end in what several hundred complete strangers are saying is really just about the very worst thing you can ask me to do in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
Frankly I’m amazed that year after year I get through it without completely withdrawing into my own head and slipping quietly into psychiatric emergency.
Like many industries, here at Tharp Weddings and Events LTD (a tiny subsidiary of Giant Bureaucratic Organization, USA), we have a busy season. At the moment we are directly in the middle of it. Which explains the random nose bleeds and increasingly surly attitude.
The simple fact is the next five weeks are going to fuse into an undifferentiated and increasingly frenetic hail of emails, phone conversations, meetings, briefing slides, and random conversations in the halls. It’s like being inexorable pulled towards an earth-based black hole centered on the first week of May that’s doing its level best to suck in every element of reality that surrounds it while spewing anti-reality out on the other side of the event horizon.
For someone who has to work diligently at being civil and talkative in a crowded room, the whole thing is basically a preview of what my version of a hell dimension might look and act like.
This time of year is something that is simply endured. If it feels like over the next few weeks that the writing here is suffering, it’s not your imagination. On the typical day I’m busy using every scrap of available energy to fend off the encroaching madness. Historically it doesn’t leave much in the tank to deliver the kind of online snark you’ve come to expect around here… and for that I am gravely sorry.
It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of large groups of people – or of people in general. My misanthropic tendencies run pure as a mountain stream and remain one of my most consistent personality traits over time.
Despite my misgivings about people and groups, I’m a reasonable enough adult human being to know that both are sometimes unavoidable. While social engagements aren’t something I seek out, they are a fact of life from time to time. In those circumstances, I’m perfectly capable of behaving myself in polite company, of making small talk, and generally being a pleasant enough human being.
So you see, what I mean when I say “I don’t like people,” is I don’t go out of my way to find them, but I’m perfectly aware that they are a simple fact of modern life with which I have learned to contend. I learned a long time ago that most people need far more social interaction than I do in order to feel some sense of community or fulfillment. I’ve made peace with it. Mostly.
I’m never going to be the guy who wants to be the center of attention at a party of social event. Like Mister Ed, I’ll likely never speak unless I have something to say. Others may be more tempted to flap their gums to fill in awkward silences. That should in no way be mistaken to mean that I’m going to stand in a corner looking surly for the duration of the event. Just because I don’t usually want to doesn’t mean I can’t play nicely with others when the need arises.
Sometimes, you see, circumstances demand that we do that which we would not otherwise do, not because it’s how we’d rather spend our time, but because it’s something important to the person asking us to tag along. That said, I find myself growing less and less accommodating by the minute. If I’m going to be condemned in either case, I’d rather be condemned for what I am rather than what I am not.
What I need now is absolute quiet. The wiring in my head is not, among other things, designed to keep me on and engaged with people every minute of a 12-hour day. Even with people with whom I have a friendly rapor it’s quite simply exhausting. In a building full of perfect strangers it’s like my own little version of hell. So if you don’t hear from me for a few days it’s because after wearing out every ounce of patience and calm I can muster, I’ve gone home, curled into a little ball, and attempted to make the world go away.