1. Virtually in person. Monday was one of those days where I was in the office fulfilling the (in my opinion) questionable requirement that our little team must always have a warm body in the building. Like the ravens at the Tower of London, the whole enterprise would collapse should we all simultaneously be doing the work from anywhere other than our assigned badly lit, gray-toned workstations. The only meeting I had that day involved seven or eight people… half of whom were also physically in the office. It’s awfully telling that despite so many people being on site, the whole meeting was held over Teams with everyone participating from their desk. If we’re all going to be meeting virtually from our own section of cubicle hell, I’d really love a non-corporate speak explanation of why there’s even a push to have more and more people in the office? You’ll never convince me it doesn’t defy logic and plain common sense.
2. Pulling rank. This week, as I may have mentioned, was the yearly spectacle where I attempt to stage manage / executive produce a three-day series of presentations. This year there were 9 organizations and 21 separate presentations across three days. This event rated permanent support from me, three guys who managed the IT infrastructure from soup to nuts, and a handful of rotating support personnel from each of the participating organizations that fell in for their portion of the event and then buggered off. By way of contrast, there was another event on Tuesday morning. This one lasted 90 minutes. It rated support from a staff director, six subject matter experts, three guys to manage IT, and another half dozen aides, support staff, and various strap hangers. If it sounds like I’m in any way angry and a little bitter, I like to think it’s justified hostility and just one of the many reasons why I hate the last week of April.
3. Choices. At the princely cost of $4.25 per gallon, I filled up the truck this morning from about a quarter tank and spent $77.60. I didn’t jump online to “Thank Brandon” or scream “Orange Man Bad” because I know the American president has next to no direct control over setting global commodity prices. I paid my bill without much comment, because paying his way in this endlessly beshitted world is a man’s job. Well, that and because no one twisted my arm 12 years ago in west Tennessee when I bought a big V8 powered pickup truck knowing full well that on its best day, I might get a little more than 16 miles per gallon. Brandon didn’t do that. I did… and so did everyone else who opted for size and power over efficiency. Want to find someone to blame? Take a hard look in the mirror.
Day one of my Very Important Event is in the books. Nothing seemed to slide completely off the rails… although I couldn’t connect to the network there for a few hours so I honestly have no idea how well anything outside the room I was sitting in really went. That it went at all is pretty much a giant assumption on my part. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if there are a shit ton of angry emails in my inbox or 1001 complaints that someone could use their eyes to find the right link. That’s a tomorrow problem, of course.
For tonight, I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to cook. I want to sit here in this mostly dark room nursing another gin and tonic and scratching the dog’s ears while the cat sheds on me. Anything else feels like it requires way more brainpower than I want to allocate… so I’m not going to.
I’ve done more than enough things I’d rather not do today as it is. These last couple of hours are mine and everything else can bugger directly off.
And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.
“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.
COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.
This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.
Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.
But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.
That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.
One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.
1. Bureaucracy. Wednesday morning I received an email from the Office of Personnel Management. The sole purpose of that email was asking me to forward the email, a request to take a survey, to my supervisor. Yes, before anyone asks, it was a legitimate email versus some kind of elaborate and badly executed fishing expedition. Every time I start to think that maybe we have reached peak bureaucracy, Uncle goes ahead and sets the bar just a little bit higher.
2. Meetings that wouldn’t even justify being an email. The bosses called a global “all hands” meeting for our corner of the great green machine this week. There were 80 invitees in person or online. Squarely in the middle of when I’d generally be breaking for lunch. Surely, you’d think, this would be for the transmission of important information or critical organizational changes. No. It was 30 seconds of regurgitated talking points and 14 minutes of birthday cake for one of the top line managers. He’s a good enough guy and all, but if you’re ever wondering why morale has moved on from being in the shitter to being in the septic tank, I’ll present exactly this sort of asshattery as evidence.
3. Pants. I had to stop what I was doing in the middle of the day today and put on pants. Between the rain and the plummeting ambient air temperature, it was just plain uncomfortable. I’m not mentally ready to concede that the long summer is over. I’ve obviously spent too much time growing accustomed to conducting the business of the day in tee shirts and shorts. Making the transition back to actual pants feels… onerous.
I am a professional bureaucrat. Not the best pusher of paper that ever lived, but there aren’t many cases where I have trouble holding my own.
In that role, one of the things you are faced with is that while you can be an advisor – a voice of reason – you’re not in any way to confuse your position as being that of a decision maker. That function is performed by others. It’s a fact that you either accept fairly early in your career or it slowly drives you towards a special kind of madness.
I’ve come to terms with it.
I’ll give the very best advice my seven years of running certain projects can provide. It will generally be insightful and guided by the experience of having been there and tried that at some point in the past. I can tell you where the bodies are buried, why certain ideas have never worked, and the kind of feedback we’re likely to get if you follow any specific course of action. What I can’t do is force you, as the decision maker, to follow the best path. That part is wholly out of my hands – and often beyond my ability to influence.
I can only promise that I’ll always give you my fair and honest estimate of what should be done, the resources it needs, and how to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls… but don’t think for a moment that means I won’t be right there cheerfully dispensing a loud and hearty “I told you so” when the thing turns into a barely mitigated shitshow because you wanted to go your own way.
I might be a trusted professional, but don’t think for a moment I’m above gloating even when the cock up means I’m doing 5x more work than we’d have needed to if we did things the right way from the start.
1. Pennsylvania roads. With a tax base that includes two of America’s biggest cities and metric shit tons of New York City commuters, I’m never entirely sure why the roads throughout the commonwealth are so utterly appalling. Maryland is a tax happy, liberal paradise, and as annoying as the endless road work throughout the state is, at least the worst of the pot holes get filled. I mean a bit of decent infrastructure feels like the minimum one should expect from a state government with their hands so deeply into everyone’s pocket… but not Pennsylvania, though. They seem determined to let even their biggest highways turn back into dirt tracks and cow paths.
2. Bait and switch. You lured us into accepting a meeting request with promises that “lunch will be provided,” but suddenly the day of the meeting it ends up moving to 9 AM and there is no food. In any other context that’s plainly a bait and switch tactic and illegal in many contexts. I’m not saying you should never trust management, but a bit of good, healthy skepticism is always in order.
3. In recognition of a newly annointed federal holiday scheduled for tomorrow and noting the 14 working days that the creation of this lawful public holiday slashes from the number of days I’ll be in the office during the balance of my career, there is no third thing that annoys me this week.
I sat through ten separate briefings about contracts today. Maybe it was one very long briefing. After the first hour, it mostly tends to bleed together with one contract being much the same as all the others. I’m sure to those who’ve dedicated their careers to the exciting world of government contracting or those companies who are hoping to score the next billion dollar contract from their Uncle Sugar, it’s all entirely fascinating. Being neither of those two things, it’s all largely something that just must be endured.
I’ve said for years that I’m completely agnostic about what people say or do once they’re on stage. I’ve rented you the hall, made sure everyone has a place to sit, talked to the guys who run the sound and video, and otherwise set conditions for you to succeed or fail on your own merits. What anyone chooses to do with it from there, is entirely between them and whatever gods they follow.
As a mostly disinterested third party, these several days of talking contracts does nothing for me so much as make me want to lay down and take a hard sleep. With no vested interest in any of the content one way or another, it’s all a jumbled wreck of dull, duller, and dullest when it hits my ears. You’d think after seven years of sitting through these some affinity for the stuff would rub off just due to long familiarity. Alas, it seem familiarity has only bred that other thing it’s famous for creating.
Some people, probably those with a more optimistic world view, would say we’ve reached the point in the week where momentum has kicked in. My less generous take is that really it’s just bureaucratic inertia taking hold of the event. Once a program or project starts, they’ll mostly just continue along indefinitely until something forces them to stop. There’s no stopping function here until close of business two days hence.
There’s a schedule we’re vaguely close to following. People are showing up more or less at their designated times. We’ve trudged through the first and longest day without any overly serious problems. Don’t get me started on people’s seeming inability to brief and then immediately go away so we can proceed on schedule to the next segment. This introvert will never understand the tendency to stand around, blocking the camera, glad handing for ten minutes once you’ve finished what you’re there to do. Personally, once my piece is finished, I want to be the first out the door. I’ve never felt the need or desire to mill around talking about what I just talked about when there was literally anything else I could be doing.
On a positive note, I haven’t had to worry about a giant tent blowing away during a freak thunderstorm, the caterer not making enough food for lunch, or issuing refunds for people wo decided to spend shit tons of money and then not show up. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Still, from my wheelhouse down at the edge of the stage, the only good event is the one that’s already over.
1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.
2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws. That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered.
3. Outlook web access. On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?