Some days you feel like you may have actually contributed something – made a difference to someone, somewhere. More often, in my experience, the average work day is more a haze of answered emails, unavoidable phone conversations, and shuffling papers from one side of the desk to another. At best, maybe you manage to shuffle some of the papers from your desk to someone else’s. As often as not, that’s as good as it gets.
Maybe there will come a time when I look back on these 35-ish years of professional “life” fondly, though sitting in the middle of it, I current can’t imagine why. I accept it, grudgingly, as a means to a desired end. I’m lucky to be good enough at the work that I don’t get hectored too much by the bosses and the pay is reasonably good. It’s got that much going for it – but ginning up spectacular PowerPoints, enduring meetings that never quite seem to end, and the inevitable zero-sum bureaucratic infighting isn’t the kind of thing I can imagine anyone getting passionate about. I’ve met a few who find it their true calling, though. That’s something that convinces me more than ever that we can never really hope to know what evil lurks in the hearts of man.
There’s not really a point to all this beyond saying that today I felt like a particularly ineffective cog in a uniquely inefficient machine creating marginal products for an apathetic audience. At least such feelings only occupy 40/168ths of an average week so that’s a bit of a mercy.
Look, I’m glad I’m not out there passing around resumes and all… but lord almighty am I glad I have other other interests that round out the “personally fulfilling” side of life’s ledger.
What we have here tonight isn’t a lack of things to say, but rather a lack of motivation to put in the time ckick-clacking at the keyboard to make anything meaningful appear. It’s probably safe to write that off to being the backlash against spending the best part of eight hours today turning out evaluation reports, project kick off emails, and trying to answer what felt like several thousand questions that revolved around the difficult task of putting 100 people on a bus two weeks from now.
Maybe it’s not exactly a lack of motivation so much as it’s just the idea of spending another second sitting in front of a keyboard making me want to violently spew my dinner all over my nice home office. No good every comes from that feeling. It seems that this week is determined to turn itself into a case study of knowing when not to say things. I recognize that has being an important skill even if it happens to be one I have never completely managed to master.
So I hope you’ll forgive me just now if I step away from the computer, set the phone down for a minute, studiously avoid tuning in to any form of news and find myself something absolutely mindless to spend the evening doing. It feels like exactly what the doctor might order as a salve for missing motivation.
1. Failure to pay attention. I observe people around me. It’s as much for entertainment as it is out of the general sense that it’s just good policy to know what is or could be happening in my immediate surroundings. It’s the people who have absolutely no interest or regard for anything that extends past their own nose that I find most infuriating. They’re the ones that will pull out in front of you without noticing onrushing traffic, or throw their car in reverse to leave the gas pumps and narrowly avoid hitting the car behind them. They’re the ones who look utterly perplexed when someone asks if they’re ready to order after standing in line for the last fifteen minutes without once glancing at the menu. They’re the ones who stop short in the middle of the sidewalk and somehow look surprised when the next person trips into them. How wonderful it must be to exist in this world without any sense or interest in things happening just beyond arms reach – forget things that happen out of sight. Those might as well be witchcraft. Situational awareness isn’t just keeping an eye open for something in your environment that just doesn’t seem right. Sadly, awareness, whether situational or itherwise if apparently a bridge too goddamned far for 90% of the people living on this beshitted rock of a planet.
2. The shifting sands of Mondays. One of the big “so whats” about telework is it’s supposed to prepare us for working from alternate locations when our usual place of business is flooded, radioactive, or otherwise unavailable for doing business. When the office closes for a snow day, I’m theoretically supposed to be able to fire up my computer and do my job from home (which is a fine plan in theory, except for the part where even though I’m technically on the clock, the other 3000 people who I occasionally deal with don’t have telework agreements and are home not checking their email and phone messages). The whole theory of being able to do everything you can do in your office from a remote location is a fine one and probably true somewhere. I’ve got a situation next week that is ideal for “proof of concept” of why telework is the right answer. The meeting with high profile people is squarely in the middle of my regularly scheduled day to work from home. The most straightforward approach would be to call in and participate in the meeting as if being somewhere other than in the office didn’t make a difference. The actual approach will be to “just switch your day so you can be here for the meeting.” When we proceed from a place that assumes the quality of my work or advice on a subject is driven by where I am geographically, we’ve already lost the fight to build a 21st century workforce.
3. Accusations. In the American tradition of jurisprudence there are two concepts that we collectively seem to ignore when it’s convenient. One is the idea that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The other is that the accused has a right to confront the witness against them. In a world where the accuser either cannot or will not produce substantive corroborating evidence or identify witnesses to the alleged crime, accusations remain just that. As much as I would like to see certain crimes where punishment is dealt out first and questions asked later, it’s not a framework I’d particularly want to live under. If the mere accusation of wrongdoing is enough to decide guilt, what’s to stop any of us from seeing Lizzie Proctor talking to the devil?
Let me start by saying I roll out of bed every morning with a rough plan in my head of how I expect the day to go. Plans are wonderful things, even if they are so often driven completely off the rails by outside influences.
It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the perfect image how how a weekend might go lives up to all the hype in planning. You see, in my deepest dreams, weekends are long unbroken stretches of quiet time – time to be alone with my thoughts, time to tinker in the house or yard, time spent companionably silent with the resident critters, or neck deep in a stack of books.
Every now and then I manage to hit one right in the sweet spot. If I’ve remembered everything on the grocery list and tended to all the other errands than need tending, when the garage door slides down on Saturday morning it need not open again until Tuesday. It’s like living inside my very one dreamscape.
I got to walk the property and note down trees and limbs ready to feed fall’s backyard fires. I got to spend a long time just standing in the yard playing out different plantings for next spring and what arrangement they may take. I got to distract a chocolate lab long enough for one of a friendly rink-necked snakes living in the back yard to make a get away. And I got to enjoy an inordinate amount of time spent watching five hummingbirds dive bomb each other for getting too close to the feeders.
Sigh, yeah, if money were no object… but of course it is an object so these plans are but a dream to be observed through a glass darkly. At least I know I’ve got a solid grip on what I want to do when I don’t have to do anything. It might not be the hole plan, but it feels like a solid first step.
Every now and then you find yourself sitting inexplicably in a mile long line of traffic on your way home from the office. As you’re sitting there building up a good head of steam wondering what slack jawed yokel is standing between you and the sweet, nurturing balm of home, you sometimes get a gift. I know this because I got one of these gifts this afternoon. It was a gift in the form of my phone serving up a song I probably haven’t heard for more than a decade; one that I first heard when it was already playing on “classic rock” stations; one that takes me right back.
Instead of sweating my ass off in a Jeep with the windows open hoping to catch a breeze, I was behind the wheel of a ’91 Chevy Cavalier, its paint peeling, and seat frames welded something close to upright. I was beating the hell out of that old car on 4×4 trails, and running it flat out across railroad crossings to see if we could get all four tires off the ground, and planting it high center on a snow bank when I though I could pass a coal truck on snow covered roads. I was riding shotgun in an ’81 Camaro – you know, the kind with the side pipes and blue light in the dash.
For those almost nine minutes, Joe Walsh blazed forth one of the definitive songs of my youth misspent in pool halls and arcades and at backyard bonfires and some of the tamest house parties you could possibly imagine. For a couple of minutes rolling at dead slow along Route 40 in Havre de Grace this afternoon, we got the whole band back together and we were young and brilliant and brave and foolish again with a whole wide world stretching out ahead. Those were some times, man.
The universe couldn’t have picked a better time for a reminder that it really has been good (so far).
After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.
Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.
First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.
This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.
So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.
After some thought today it occurs to me that I spend upwards of 60 hours a week doing things that by definition I don’t want to do. How do I know I don’t want to do them? Well, because someone has to pay me reasonably well to convince me that it’s how I should spend my time.
That thought leads to the corollary that I’m so completely resistant to doing things that I don’t want to do in the 44 or so waking hours that I haven’t sold off because I spend so much time doing shit that I really don’t want to do in the first place.
When you spend 60 hours a week doing that which you do not naturally want to do, the calls of “you should go to the gym,” or “you should stop eating red meat,” or “do you really need that second whiskey sour” tend to fall on deaf ears. Honest to God, I don’t even hear “you’re cutting years off your life” anymore because I just assuming a good portion of what I’m cutting off are the years at the end when you sit around a nursing home shitting yourself. That’s way up there on the list of things that I don’t want to do.
The 40 or so hours that I’m awake and not being paid, are for the things that I want to do. It’s a freedom that certain life decisions have afforded me and I intend to take advantage. I’m going to drink the good whiskey. I’m going to eat the steak. I’m going to sit in the comfy chair with a book. I’m not going to spend what is currently my most limited resource on the damned stair master or learning how to make tofu “taste good.”
I just don’t want to… and that’s not a statement I get to use nearly often enough.