On the wrong side of truth in the internet age…

The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.

By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.

Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.

Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.

Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta. 

I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth. 

Some people just don’t have it…

One of the many skills I’ve learned as part of Uncle Sam’s bloated civilian workforce is the gift of reading my audience – how interested they are in what I’m saying or whether the question I want to ask is appropriate for the setting. Some people have apparently not learned that lesson, which is how you end up in an auditorium without an empty seat in the house listening to someone GenFlag_GeneralFlagawkwardly accusing the General Officer corps of being inept, slow to change, and out of tune with the realities of the war around them. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of asshats wearing stars on their shoulders, but the guy on stage doesn’t happen to be one of them. I actually have to admit he carried himself with far more patience and class than I would have under the same circumstances, but that’s not the point.

The point, dear friends, is that when you have 1000+ people in an auditorium laughing at you, an Assistant Secretary of the Army laughing at you, and a 4-star general looking at you with a mixture of pity and contempt, it’s probably best to go ahead and sit down. What you shouldn’t do is rattle on for another three minutes while reading your prepared, yet incomprehensible, statement/question while everyone else in the room stares at you in utter disbelief. It’s a good bet that someone is still the the bowels of the building getting himself a wall to wall counseling session… and probably wondering what he did to deserve it.

The thing to remember is malcontentery, like comedy, is all about timing. Clearly some people just don’t have it and should probably remember that before opening their mouths in public.

Work in progress…

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was working on a real live book. Yes, I’m still working on it. So far I’ve managed to keep in from slipping onto the vast list of projects I’ve started and have every intention of getting back to some day. In case anyone is interested, here are the vital statistics to date: 21 pages (in MS Word format), 82 paragraphs, 11,690 words, and 53,999 non-space characters. Don’t think that’s a lot? Open a blank single spaced Word document and start writing about on any topic on which you consider yourself an authority. Then give me a call when you’ve reached your 21st page of block text… but no cheating. Make sure that’s with standard one inch margins and 12 pitch font. I won’t even make you account for the side notes, comments, or any of the extraneous reference information you end up putting together in the process. After a couple of months living with this work in progress, I’m starting to understand why Hemingway drank.

So far, I’m finding that what works best for me is to just sit down and throw up as many words on the page as possible. Even then, if I can manage a couple of hundred words a day, I’m doing pretty well. I’m trying to write blog posts, comments, and other stuff too, so I’m hoping that it’s more about quality than quantity. If I can keep up this breakneck pace, I should be finished the first rough cut in another 233 days. Sigh. That means editing in the spring and then fine tuning and polishing the final draft in the summer. It all seems perfectly plausible as long as I don’t stop to think about it for too long. Mostly, though, the plan is to just keep writing until I run out of things to say and then decide what needs to come out or what needs beefed up. It’s not elegant, but it’s at least some kind of logic.

I started writing as a catharsis. It was a means of ejecting the poisoned thoughts that I could never openly blog about onto the page and not be particularly worried about how I said it or who I said it about. It’s evolved into a slightly better rounded discussion of my observation of good and bad leadership, the philosophy of management, and the experiences I’ve had with them during a particularly problematic point in my career. Since it’s proven to be largely impossible to untangle the events from the people involved I’ve mostly stopped trying. If it ever sees the light of day, I suppose I’ll just have to accept that some people are going to be pissed off. It doesn’t don’t know if any way to write other than based on my memories of the events as they happened. Lord knows I’ve got a mountain of supporting documentation for most of it… and even what isn’t well documented can be confirmed by eye witness accounts.

The real question, I suppose, is whether I’ll have the guts to actually let anyone see it once it has gotten something in the proximity of finished, which I’m thinking should be some time 60-70,000 words from now. On a personal level, seeing something like this go to print would be a validation of time spent and misspent. If I put on my rational professional hat, well, there’s a difference between burning your bridges and setting fire to the whole damned city. As usual, the parts that will tend to cause trouble are also the most interesting. Maybe I should change the names, call it fiction, and really let the dogs out to run. This is probably one of those times when I should wish I didn’t have a mile-wide malcontent streak.