The sin of pride…

I can say ” I don’t give a shit” a thousand times, but the reality is that when my name is attached to something, I actually do give a shit. I give a shit not really because I have any particular use or affection for the thing itself, but because I care deeply that the thing in some way has my name attached to it… and I prefer that my name not be attached to a big steaming pile of shit. 

Sure, it’s the sin of pride or something, but I’ve just never particularly liked the idea of doing half-assed work. You’d think by now it would be an operating condition I would be use to – particularly when people who should know better seem utterly oblivious to the size of the wrenches they regularly throw into the machinery at the last possible moment. Of course then they have the audacity to ask accusingly why the goddamned machinery broke down. 

It’s probably for the best that sixteen years of hard won lessons learned have largely tempered my mouth. I can usually manage to choke off the inclination to tell uncomfortable truths to powerful people because I know it won’t do a damned bit of good. Now if I could just learn to control the “you’ve got to be shitting me” look on my face maybe all would be well… but just now, I’m having an awfully hard time disguising the look of complete disgust at knowing that this is really how we do things.

Day 1…

Today was my first telework day in over a decade. I learned (or maybe re-learned) a few things:

1. When no one comes by your desk to talk, even with distractions of social media, animals, and an enormous killer snow storm bearing down on you, you can cram more work into two hours than you often get done in eight hours at the cube farm.

2. For years I’ve been blaming my work-issued laptop for being an antiquated, slow piece of junk. As it turns out, the computer isn’t the problem. Even on my out-at-the-end-of-the-road Comcast network connection, the thing is a veritable speed demon. So starting today, I’ll officially be blaming the network people for allowing us to creep along like we’re still using dial-up.

3. When they blow stuff up on the north range, I can hear it at my house. I’m fairly sure I knew that already, but it’s still satisfying to have an answer to “what the hell is that thumping” when the dogs start barking for no obvious reason.

4. Daytime television really is awful. I left the TV in the kitchen tuned in to the local news as background noise… but lord, the filler the run between the 12:00 news and close of business at 5:00 is just well and truly bad.

5. Working in fuzzy slippers and sweats is nice, but I’m going to enjoy it a lot more when I can help keep the world safe for democracy from the comfort of the back porch.

It’s going to be a doozy…

Hard as it is to admit, my inaugural foray into non-fiction was not met with thunderous applause. I can count on two hands and a foot how many copies of Retribution wandered off the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m not saying that with any kind of self pity, although I do think the world is missing out on a fun little short story. Notwithstanding the monumental lack of sales, I enjoyed working in fiction. It’s a refreshing change from the usual 5W’s style professional writing that is one of the many banes of the average cubicle dweller’s existence. Trust me, writing reports, emails, cost estimates, and justifications memoranda does not constitute a rich literary life.

That being said, I think I’ve settled in on my next topic… and it’s one that takes us all back to the future. My bread and butter has always been an apparently bottomless ability to bitch and complain about whatever topic was set in front of me. As often as not, that ability turned itself on peculiarities of working inside the world’s greatest bureaucracy. Time and circumstances have conspired to bring me back around to where it all started.

If Nobody Told Me, was an tribute to a youth lost in service to the machine, I’m starting to flesh out the vaguest idea of the next effort to be more of a deep dive into the mid-career oddities, realizations, and situations that make you really want to consider where it was that your professional life to such a harebrained turn. It’s safe to assume there is plenty to say about those issues and I think I have just the point of view to make them both hilarious and thought provoking.

I haven’t started writing yet. I’ve barely scraped together some notes, a few snippets of outline, and the most ephemeral of notions in my head of where I think this should go, but it feels like the right topic at the right time. It feels like the project that might well keep me on a halfway even keel in increasingly turbulent waters. I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know when I’ll have a draft. I don’t even have a fully formed central thesis. I do have an idea. As dangerous a spark as an idea can be, that’s all it takes to start. The rest will come later.

Stick around folks, I think this next trick is going to be a doozy.

State of the Union…

In the strictest possible sense, the state of the Union, is peachy. It’s not like we have states threatening to join up with Canada or Mexico or anything. We’re in the middle of a presidential election cycle where if the incumbent is turned out of office we’ll most likely see yet another peaceful transition of executive authority. Considering world demographics, even the least among us is doing better than the large majority of everyone else on the planet. We survived our capital city being sacked. We survived a brutal civil war and then fought in the war to end all wars before getting pulled into the war after that. In between these wars, we survived finical panics and Great Depressions, pestilence, and famine. Despite it all, we’re still here and managed to cure contagious diseases, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with nothing more than electrons. Keep in mind, we did all those things in our free time when we weren’t occupied dealing with the big stuff. That’s my big picture thinking about the state of the Union, anyway.

If you distill the state of the Union down to the question of whether you’re better off now than you were four years ago, the response probably isn’t as positive. There are plenty of people who can’t find work, can’t buy or sell a house, and at best have spent the last four or five years treading water at best and being pulled under at worst. It’s not an easy time for America and it’s not an easy time to be American. It’s easy to be an optimist when Wall Street only goes higher and unemployment runs at 3%. It’s a hell of a lot harder to be an optimist when you can’t find a job or you’re going to bed hungry at night.

So, you ask, what’s really the state of the Union? Well, it’s probably somewhere between the two extremes. That’s where reality tends to live. It’s neither as strong nor as weak as the pundits and politicos make it out to be. The United States, warts and all, is still the shining example of how to be a republic. Local, State, and Federal governments fight one another. Political parties fight with everyone. Even the separate branches of the same government are locked in Byzantine conflict. Somehow we muddle through without veering too far left or too far right. Dysfunctional as it is, the process is still a wonder to behold. With financial crisis spreading through Europe, our lifeblood oil flowing from the Middle East, and the supply chain for our consumer goods that stretches all over Asia, we Americans are once again learning that we have to engage with the world – the whole world. The future, and a far stronger Union, lie in the direction of cooperation, consensus, and international competition. It’s a hard lesson, but one well worth learning.

The learning cliff…

Not every day can be stellar. I’m fine with that. At the moment, though, I’m frustrating the hell out of myself with the things I don’t know the answers to yet… Like who needs to review which documents, what office is responsible for some random project, the name of the go-to guy for some obscure and arcane piece of minutia. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to lose my institutional memory. I knew who those people were just by virtue of having been around for a long time. Today’s just one of those days that feels like falling off the learning cliff instead of running up the learning curve. I’ll feel a damned sight better when I’ve figured out the magic questions to ask in order to get the answers I need. In the meantime, I’ll keep my head down and powder dry. Frustrating as it is, I’ll take it any day over random chaos.