I like to think consistency is one of my better personality traits. I like plans. I like order. I like having at least a passible ability to know what to expect… not that you’d know it by my fairly fanatical love of routine and schedule. I can get along without being scheduled or maintaining a routine, but I’m hands down better when there’s at least some level of effort put into restraining the forces of chaos.
I’ve long suspected that what seems to me a natural lack of consistency in most people is at least one of the reasons I struggle so much in dealing with them. In general, we’re a wildly inconsistent bunch – running hot and cold, present or distant depending on the day or hour. It’s hard to account for the vagaries of human inconsistency and I don’t always respond well to that.
Yes, I also recognize that expecting other people and the universe to bend to accommodate the way I best function is something of a fool’s errand – and one of my less endearing personality traits. What can I tell you, I’m a pretty uncomplicated guy running on a ridiculously complex operating system. It could be a bug or a feature. It rather depends on your perspective.
I’ve got to remind myself from time to time that I really can’t control the world or the people in it through personal preference. I can, however, mostly hold the chaos at bay here inside the well-defined boundaries of Fortress Jeff. I’ve put a fair amount of blood and treasure into making it “just so.” It’s into this world that I’ll choose to retreat every time, to dwell among the animals and the books, when I literally can’t even with people any more.
Asked in a certain way, by a certain kind of person, the question, “So, what’s do you like to do?” can be something of a loaded gun. It’s marginally less awful than the introductory questions in DC that always seemed to be either “What do you do?” or “Who do your work for?,” but it’s only a very slight degree of less awful.
It’s almost the perfect encapsulation of a no-win question. You see, the things I like to do are not the things that most people want to base a conversation around, let alone a lifestyle. I like taking trash to the dump. I like cutting the grass. I like fiddling with projects around the house. I like hanging out with dogs, cats, and sundry other animals. I like sitting on the back porch in the summer time with a cold beer and a thick, meaty book about English history.
I forgive you if those aren’t the activities that set your heart aflutter… but I’m never going to be someone who longs to spend holiday weekends at a bed and breakfast, or driving into the city for a show, or really wading into all but a rare few circumstances that involves me and a large group of people. I enjoy the beach, though I’ve never felt the compulsive need to take long sunset walks on it. I’m far more likely to fall down the basement steps than I ever am to consider climbing K2.
At 40 I’m acutely aware that time is increasingly limited. I spent a large amount of that time already finding out what I like and what I don’t and given the option, I’d like to continue doing the bits that I enjoy as often as possible. I think you’ll find that if your follow up question is “Yeah, but what do you do for fun,” our conversation is very rapidly drawing to a close because it’s likely we’re never going to actually understand each other.
I’m not saying that all new things are out of bounds, but whatever it is you’re reaching for had better be spec-goddamned-tacular to convince me it’s better than the joy that only comes from comfortable familiarity.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was as close to coming unglued today as I’ve been in at least four years. At one point around 2:30 this afternoon, email was hitting my inbox and I was taking on so much verbal guidance that I’m pretty sure I could see the code in the matrix. I wish I was joking. There was a minute there this afternoon when I’m almost positive that I could hear the synapses firing in my brain.
In the middle of my boss talking to me I squeezed my eyes shut and rubbed my temples, muttering something to the effect of “I think I’m losing my mind back here.” At least I think that’s what I said. Whatever it was that came out of my mouth in that moment must have been a doozy because the boss’ face was a decided mixture of curiosity and concern when I opened my eyes. It wasn’t my finest moment. Then again, it wasn’t anything close to a good day, so I don’t know why it would be.
I don’t mind hard work – physical, mental, it makes no difference to me. I’m the guy who comes home from his day job and spends another four hours at the keyboard chasing the dream of making a living and a life from the written word. I’m the guy who spends hours on the yard until it looks “just so” and order has been restored from the chaos. With that being said, I need to note that there’s only one of me. I can’t change one thing sixteen times and have any hope of keeping up with the two dozen other things people want. I wish I could tell you that I could. Hell, I wish I actually could do it all but there are limits… and I’m old enough to know better than to spend all day every day working beyond those limits. Nothing good comes from that.
So tomorrow I’m going into the day knowing that I’m already running close to max RPM. Some people are happy enough to rev the engine until it blows apart. I’m not one of them and will make decisions accordingly.
There are a number of reasons I’m not likely to ever be drug kicking and screaming into a position of leadership. Aside from the fact that it just plain doesn’t interest me from anything other than an academic standpoint, I loathe putting on a jacket and tie just to sit at a desk all day, small talk and glad handing make me want to poke myself in the eye with a pointy stick, and really, the only screw ups I want to be responsible for in life are the ones I make myself. With all of that being said, should the worst ever happen and I get stuck in one of these positions, I hope that I remember the little things; like knowing how to get from Point A to Point B without six other people managing the arrangements for me, or being able to have a conversation with my contemporaries without needing hundreds of slides and a stack of memos to decide what I want to say. I’d especially want to remember that normal people tend to have interests and obligations that aren’t work related so keeping them standing around early in the morning and well after close of business should be avoided.
I’m not even going to get into how bloody obnoxious it would be to basically have no control over my own schedule. Being shuffled around from place to place and meeting to meeting with just a few notes jammed in my hand at the last minute would drive me right up to the edge of wanting to beat people with my shoe. I’m glad there are people who welcome that level of pain in the ass, but frankly I’m ecstatic that I’m not cut out to be one of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stick my nose in a book about the Danish invasion of England. That’s way more interesting than a three ring binder chuck full of information about the fun things to see, do, and talk about at Fort Pignuckle, Louisiana.