First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.
I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.
I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.
Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.
Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.
I read an article this morning that indicated “studies report” a massive uptick in the number of people who are seeking mental health treatment because of issues ranging from “the world is spinning out of control” to “climate change is going to kill us all in the next 50 years.” These and similar Big Fears are apparently incapacitating an entire generation of people by filling them with existential dread.
Look, we live in interesting times, I get it. I’ve also studied enough history to know that everyone always thinks the world is ending. When the Soviet Union parked missiles in Cuba, the world was ending. When the German army marched on Paris in 1940, the world was ending. When the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was killed in 1914 and the Europe descended into war, the world was coming to an end.
The point is, we’re hardly the first generation to think the world is spinning off its axis. Although past performance isn’t a guarantee of future results, something tells me that we won’t be the last one to think that either. To our credit, I suspect humanity is far harder to kill off than we we’ve been led to believe.
I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you every little thing is going to be alright, though. There’s more then enough shitshow to go around. The trick is, you’ve got to turn the news off occasionally. They’re telling the worst stories of the day because that’s what puts eyes on screens. I won’t claim to be immune to the news of the day… but I spend most of my effort looking at the small bits of it I might be able to influence in some way. Put another way, I take care of my business, keep my nose clean, and make sure me and mine are as able to ride out the inevitable storms as well as we can with the resources available.
You’ll find no end to problems in this old world of ours if you insist on looking for them. My advice is to try just focusing in on the ones where you can make a difference instead of the ones that almost seem designed to inflame and distract. Who knows, you might just save yourself a few sleepless night and tens of thousands of dollars in bills from the local head shrinker, so it’s a bit of a two-fer.
There was a time in my career I would have done back flips about the possibility of working 12-hour shifts. The work week that consists of basically three days on four off, the possibility of a steady supply of overtime, night differential, and holiday pay. Now that I’ve over-topped my projected career halfway point, though, the idea is less appealing on just about every level.
I’ve never wanted or expected something for nothing. I don’t mind doing the work in exchange for the pay… but in any duration that stretches on for much more than eight hours, I lose interested and focus at an alarming, perhaps even exponential, rate.
I’m not shy about telling anyone that I’ve long since reached the point in life where, with a handful of possible exceptions, the only place I really want to be is home. I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of money just to have those four walls and a roof. There are dogs and a cat and a tortoise there. The furniture is comfortable. I control the temperature and in a pinch can even make my own electricity. I’ve spent a half a lifetime filling the space with objects of at least personal significance. If it wasn’t the place I most wanted to be, I’d be concerned that I was doing something completely wrong.
I suppose that’s all a long way of saying that I’m going to take a pass at “volunteering” my name for the short list of people who might be willing to sign up for 12-hour days at some indeterminate point in a possible future.
Still trying to get the new morning routine down. Getting out of the house in the morning has temporarily become an Overlord level planning effort. But this was the first day of needing to be up and out of the house while running against the clock. I presume with repetition we’ll all get a little better at that.
Perhaps the more difficult part is now that we have the new pup along, the order of operations has changed. Instead of showering first while Maggie lays around in bed for another 30 minutes, it’s straight up and outside, then feeding, then shit, shower, and shave, then more outside, and so on. Getting my still sleep-addled head around these nuances is, at best, a work in progress.
If it were a person throwing my well established routine out of sync like this, they’d be cancelled immediately… but since the cause has four legs and an endless supply of adorable looks, Jorah gets a pass. And some ear scratches and belly rubs, probably.
1. “Free” college. Almost a decade ago, the federal government stepped in and allowed people to refinance their mortgages during the housing crisis – but only if you let your payments fall behind. If you took your word as your bond and paid on time even though it was hard, well fuck you sucker. That’s why it took me $30,000 out of pocket to close the sale on my Tennessee house. I played by the rules and got properly fucked for the trouble. Now Senator Warren comes along and wants to push student loan “forgiveness” as the brave new way ahead. If she gets away with it, once more I’m a sucker for playing by the rules, doing the hard work, and being responsible for paying my own debts. I really do despise the 21st century.
2. Morale. Apparently as a moral boosting endeavor we’ve installed a wall-sized mural with my organization’s name blazed across 30-feet of graphics and some fancy new signage in our bit of cubicle hell. I’m sure someone thought it would be a good idea and that everyone was sure to find it inspirational. I’m just not one of them. I’m probably too jaded and cynical at this point to ever be bought off by new signage. That’s just the kind of guy I am. Want to improve my morale? Throw me a step increase in recognition of the work I’ve done. Hit me with a time off award – that one is my personal favorite. Order up some office chairs that aren’t low bidder junk or computers that aren’t crippled right out of the box. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it on something that matters… because new wallpaper doesn’t get it done.
3. 5PM. Being a creature of habit, there’s not much I value more on any given weekday than leaving the office on time. I value arriving on time, too… because getting to work on time is a reasonable employer expectation. The converse should also be true – leaving on time should be a reasonable employee expectation. Except the average office is full of subtle signs and symbols that it isn’t the case. No one will come right out and say it, but you’re supposed to just understand and not mention that someone at echelons higher than reality has scheduled a meeting to start an hour or two after you’re supposed to have departed the area for the day – and that’s assuming that the meeting will accidentally start on time, which of course it won’t… The not so subtle message being that anything you have outside the office walls couldn’t possibly be as important as what’s happening inside them. Then again, this is often driven by the same people who think they can fix morale problems with wallpaper, so it’s whatever I guess.
Even though I should have been happily ensconced today in my home office, I walked in to the building this morning with a little extra spring in my step. Unremarked and unknown to anyone I have slid past an auspicious milestone and that knowledge has, at least for today, has helped give me a little better perspective.
You see, I’ve rolled by the halfway mark of my anticipated career as a professional bureaucrat. That means, should everything go to plan, I’ve already spent more days sitting in a cubicle than I’ll have to spend sitting in a cubicle in the future.
Yes, an extraordinary number of things have to go right to make this reality – the stock market needs to match or exceed its historic rates of return, I have to avoid doing anything egregious and getting fired, and I need to not drop dead or otherwise completely wreck my health.
Still, though, for the first time I’m on the right side of the countdown and I have a rough plan for the way ahead. It’s hard to believe that finding myself on the downhill slide could possibly feel so good… but it does.