Where do you start on a day like this? We’ll debate on what to call events in Las Vegas. I’ve settled on calling it an act of domestic terrorism but the media is still working out the language. The left will use it to scream for “gun control” legislation and in fundraising ads for the next six months. The right will use it as evidence that the average citizen needs to be increasingly armed against an increasingly dangerous world and in fundraising activities for the next six months. That’s the simple politics of the thing. As much as everyone will say they don’t want to make a terrorist event like this an issue of politics, it’s what it will ultimately boil down to even as the Las Vegas Police and FBI continue to collect evidence at the scene.
The issues surrounding firearms and public safety are so charged and entrenched that we seem to be incapable of having even a conversation about them. Both sides live in dread that giving so much of an inch will cost them mightily during the next election. It’s one of those issues that’s so fraught that objectivity simply doesn’t exist – and that’s why I haven’t spent much time considering either side today.
What I have been considering is the other issue that we so rarely talk about it – that is, what’s going on in the head of someone who decides one day to drive to Las Vegas, rent a hotel room, and build a sniper nest? I’ve spent a lifetime around firearms, using them for both food and recreation and learning how to apply them in self defense. The idea of using one to lay siege to a public event simply would never occur to me. I don’t think it would occur to all but the smallest percentage of people. I find myself now particularly focused on those people – and what switch flips in their head that drives them to become the very worst of us.
After a long and glorious spread of days off, I found myself back to work today. Maybe I should say I found myself kind of back at any rate. I worked from the comfy confines of my home office, which is probably about as a good a way to ease back into it as one could reasonably expect. It was still painful and I know it will be more so tomorrow when I resume my customary position locked into the middle of the cube farm.
I don’t know that I’ll ever really make peace with needing to whore my brain out by the hour to the high bidder, but I’ve at least accepted it as the preferable alternative to starvation and homelessness. It seems likely that acceptance is probably as good as it’s going to get. I can’t foresee a circumstances where I would spring fully awake from bed each morning eager and happy to file forms, create new and better slides, and engage the bureaucracy in a ceaseless battle of attrition. Climbing from the bed with my lips twisted into a grimace and with a gritty determination just to get through to the close of business feels like something I can manage, though. That’s probably enough.
If nothing else, I know the posts here are going to start picking up again soon. Few things feed that beast more than anger, frustration, and cynicism. All of those elements are in short supply when I’m left to my own devices. It’s remarkable to see how the word count plummets when I pass a day not filled with meetings and random paperwork. By Thursday, I think it’s safe to assume I’ll have a full head of steam built up and be back in proper form… that may not exactly be a good thing, but it’s at least the enemy I know. That should probably count for something.
As it turns out, when I spend the day knocking around local used book shops, eating a late lunch, and then dicking around the house I tend not to have many great topics come to mind when I sit down to blog. Lest someone think that’s a complaint, it’s not. It’s just a simple statement of fact.
In the back of my mind I know this ultra-long weekend is also at its halfway point and I’m bound and determined to squeeze as much down time and relaxation into the five days to come as possible. If things feel a bit more bland than usual around here for a few more days, consider this an official apology.
I’ve spent most of my career as a relatively junior bureaucrat in various organizations. That usually means working in small spaces well away from anything like natural light. My last desk had what passes for a view around here, though. You could see grass, and some vines, and even a few trees. You could tell if it was sunny or if it was snowing. It’s such a small thing but I apparently came to appreciate it far more than I realized.
Sitting now in an interior room with no hope of seeing daylight, I realize I miss that damned window. I made the mistake of escaping the office for a few minutes around lunch time today. The sun was shining, the breeze was freshening off the Bay, and it was all the things mid-day in early spring should be. It was the kind of day that might make it a bit challenging to want to climb back into the bowls of a post-modern office.
The older I get, the more I tend to believe that we’re not really wired for this kind of work. Hermetically sealed glass, concrete, and steel – unless it’s incredibly well designed – really is something of a soul suck. It’s only the pesky things like pay and benefits that makes it tolerable… but only just. I’m realist enough to know now isn’t the time to run off into the wilds to live in a lean-to, but when the working days are done, you’ll be hard pressed to ever coax me willingly into another office building…
and all for want of a window.
There are other people who do the things I do. Most of them do one or two of those things, but individually my skill sets are not particularly unique. What is unique, apparently, is my capacity to do all the things more or less at once. That doesn’t usually bother me far beyond my normal daily baseline level of thinking the world is going to hell in a handbag, but today is one of those rare exceptions that sent my blood pressure soaring to new and interesting levels.
I had the occasion today to observe a program that is about two thirds smaller in scope than just one of the projects I’m working on had been assigned a full time project manager, who was leading two full teams of subject matter experts developing content and managing logistics, and a full staff of support personnel. By contrast my own project has me and a pick up team of folks who make it to the meetings when it doesn’t interfere with something else they’re doing, where I’m managing my own logistics, and hoping that someone, somewhere might actually develop the content we’ve agreed needs to be developed.
Because as has been noted in this big green machine of ours, gripes go up the chain of command, I noted the discrepancy and opined that things might go better if we applied a few additional resources in the race down the home stretch. Given the time and manpower the collective “we” seem willing to throw at other projects, it didn’t feel like an unreasonable request.
If anyone wants to know the exact moment I stopped caring whether this mother turns out to be a success or failure, you can trace it directly back to that time that leadership shrugged and responded that, “well, you know life’s not fair.”
I’ve built a career on getting shit done on time and to standard, but you can damned well believe I’ll remember that one the next time someone calls wanting to pick my brain on a day off or comes around looking for me to pull another minor miracle out of an empty ruck sack.
I had a moment of extreme clarity this afternoon as I was sitting in my cube quietly seething at the inefficacy of things in general – and of the minuscule probability of ever getting my office computer fixed in particular. Like a real living version of Office Space, I realized that I’ve basically achieved every professional goal I’ve ever set for myself and my last real motivating factor is to cut hassle to an absolute minimum wherever possible. I try to do respectable work because that cuts down on the number of people who are going to ask for it to be redone. I cancel meetings when I don’t have anything new to share because a meeting running loose with no agenda will breed more work all on its own. I smile and nod to all manner of ridiculous ideas because fending all of them off would be both exhausting and futile.
It’s not the recipe you would want to use for ginning up someone’s best efforts, but it’s certainly one that works when the overarching objective seems to be reaching “good enough” and proceeding no further. If I were young and impressionable this might have the tendency to being dispiriting. Mercifully I gave up having spirit many years ago. Then I jettisoned professional pride and shortly thereafter personal pride in a job well done. What’s left then, it seems, is the motivation of not being hassled. What happens when that’s no longer a motivating factor, the gods alone know.
I supposed it’s yet one of those cases where I’ll have to burn that bridge when I get to it.
Some days, like yesterday, the words flow out like water from a geyser – pressurized and seemingly inexhaustible. Then there are the other days, when nothing at all fits; the words aren’t there. Not even the topics are there. It doesn’t matter how much backup material you’re sitting on when you can’t manage to string the narrative together. If I felt like being honest, I’d admit that those are usual the evenings when I pull out a canned post – one that’s not time sensitive – that I have pre-written and occasionally use for filler when life intervenes in the writing process. As it is, though, the cupboard on those is currently bare so in the absence of good options, this is what you get.
Sometimes writing is an art. Other times it’s more like a fist fight. The fact that tonight is the latter doesn’t mean that it’s bad, just that it’s harder than it would be otherwise. That can make for good writing or it can make everything feel more than a little forced. That’s mostly the luck of the draw on any given night.
I’d like to tell you I had a better formula for how this is supposed to work, but writing, even these simple small posts, is a lot more like breathing than I want to admit even to myself. It’s just something that happens naturally without too much intervention. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s labored, but mostly it’s outside your direct control.
Even with the world on fire and a hundred possible things to write about, occasionally you get nothing. Since I’m not on a deadline and I’m not doing this for the money, the occasional bout of getting nothing isn’t really so bad… and since no one is asking you to pay for it, you’re mostly stuck reading it until I find something more interesting to say.
In the meantime, if you find yourself sitting in a cubicle and feel like chuckling at the fact workplaces everywhere are quite possibly filled with asshats of every conceivable form and style, click over and read a few posts at http://www.askamanager.org. They’re not all funny, but most of them are damned entertaining.