And we’re back…

The good news, I suppose, if you happened to miss reading my daily rantings, is that I’m back. The bad news, if you’re me, of course, is also that I’m back.

I’m not upset at all to be back to blogging. It’s the fact that my having anything to say is squarely driven by being back to work after nine days off that’s the problem.

As it turns out, when I’m not spending a large portion of each day screwing around with work, I’m mostly content to putter around the house, knock off an errand or two every day, and otherwise keep myself to myself. I believe I’d be happy to keep that schedule up indefinitely. There isn’t enough time in a standard weekend to really grasp how much better those days are, but when you stack eight or nine of them in a row, the truth outs.

If all goes according to plan, I’ve got just under 14 years left in harness. I’ve occasionally wondered if the blog will survive that transition. I use to assume it would go on as long as I did. Maybe I’ll catch a second wind, but it feels just now like the whole thing could easily find it’s end precisely when the work stops. It turns out the angst and bitching is dramatically reduced by the simple expedient of doing what I want and on my own schedule rather than tinkering about with email and spreadsheets all day. I’m not sure I’ll have all that much to say when I don’t have that to fall back on.

I’d imagine that will be a good problem to have… and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

When determination isn’t a virtue…

I love books. I love how they look on the shelf, the smell of ink and paper, and the heft of a 900-page doorstop in my hand. With that said, I absolutely do not love all books equally. 

Some books, I pick up after reading a positive review or finding something interesting on the front flap. I’ve gotten to be a pretty decent judge of what I’m going to enjoy and what I won’t based on a quick assessment – even if that means literally judging a book by its cover. Sometimes, though, I get it wildly wrong. 

I’ve heard that some people can just stop reading a book they find they’re not enjoying. Being able to just walk away and find something more interesting feels like it must be awfully freeing. I can only wish I was that kind of person. You can probably count on one or maybe two hands the number of books I’ve ever just given up reading because it turns out I have no real interest.

Me? Yeah. I’ll grind through a book, no matter how dull, just because I’ve started it. Once I’m a chapter or two in, I’m going to finish even if it’s an absolute slog. Sure, even from these books I pick up a few worthwhile nuggets, but finding them is more chore than joy. 

As it turns out, there are occasionally times when raw determination to see things through to the end is not in any way helpful… I don’t suppose you’ll see that little gem on a motivational poster, though.

My kind of motivation…

I took a bit of time this morning to engage in one of my favorite work activities – gazing at the calendar for the next 11 months and starting to plug days I know I want to take leave into Outlook. It’s a delicate balancing act between maximizing where vacation days adjoin various federal holidays and holding enough time in reserve to scatter around the rest of the year on days when I just don’t have the mental energy for bureaucrating. 

It’s probably more art than science, but it’s one of the more personally vital things I do every year. I’ve long known myself well enough to understand I do better when I have well-marked targets. I can plow through almost any governmental foolishness when I know there’s a long (or very long) weekend somewhere out on the horizon at a date certain. I do better when I’m working towards something – and there’s not one thing in Uncle Sam’s gift that I value more than time off. Cash awards get taxed to hell and back, medals gather dust in a drawer, and certificates won’t even get you a cup of coffee… but time off, time not spent updating spreadsheets or sitting though meetings that could be emails, that’s the good stuff.

Like 2020 before it, we’re still in the belly of a plague year with 2021. Days off in the back half of the year, after we’ve all been shot, and are presumably back in cubicle hell, will be more valuable than days off here on the front end when I’m still mainly at home. My plan of attack is weighted heavily in favor of days in June and onwards, with a balance of seven days in reserve to take “just because.” 

No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Some of these dates will slide about a little. It’s a mark on the wall, though – something to work towards beyond hours of mashing at the keyboard on behalf of our wealthy uncle and that’s exactly the kind of motivation I need. 

The post holiday slump…

We’re back in that part of a year where hoarding vacation days is a thing. The next long weekend milepost is Washington’s Birthday. Then it’s the long slog through to Memorial Day before holidays start appearing regularly on the calendar again.

These are the days when I’m least likely to burn off annual leave. That’s doubly true as we prepare to enter Plague Year II. With the promise of a vaccine coming over the horizon, business as usual, and filling cubicles won’t be far behind. Vacation days then will be far more valuable than any vacation day taken while we’re still living under plague protocols and working mostly from home.

If it sounds like I’m more surly than usual in the next few weeks, it’s mostly because I am. Without even the hint of a week’s long weekend on the horizon for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say I’m in a mood.

Inner peace makes for dull blogging…

It’s the middle of the week, a federal holiday buried between vacation days, pouring down rain, and about a gloomy a day as you could find. Businesses are starting to close up and people are beginning to revisit the days of “safer at home” as the Great Plague surges around us. I’ve largely tuned out the 2020 presidential campaign, which I consider over, done with, and not to be gotten back to until closer to the inauguration (aside from occasionally flinging rocks at both sides via Facebook or Twitter).

Put another way, there’s absolutely nothing that I feel a compulsion to talk about today. I’ve taken great pains to make the house a perfectly comfortable retreat from the world. I’m not sure the dogs and I could hold off a Spetsnaz assault team, but for keeping to ourselves through the pandemic whether it lasts a few months or another year, we’re reasonably well set to minimize how much time we need to spend dealing with the world “out there.” 

The days, especially when untroubled by even needing to telework, do tend to blend together a bit though. If it weren’t for knowing yesterday’s vet appointment was scheduled for Tuesday, today would be more or less indistinguishable from Saturday or Monday or the day after tomorrow. I’m a dedicated creature of habit and it doesn’t particularly bother me in any way… but it does make fishing for new topics just a little problematic, which is how you end up with a stream of consciousness mess something like this one.

Fortunately, I can already predict that things will be back to normal tomorrow and you’ll get a full boat of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Some things don’t stop, regardless of how peaceful and docile the week seems. I should probably be thankful for that.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Wanting it bad. There’s an old saw when it comes to government work that says “If you want it bad, you’ll get it bad.” Put another way, if you want to shove something out the door fast, don’t be surprised when quality suffers. I’ll be the first to say that not every project needs to take months and years to come to fruition, but there are times when you’d be far better off and deliver a far more refined product if you’d just take a few extra days to put just a little bit of polish on the final effort… but if you demand a rush job, don’t be surprised when the result is one ugly-assed example of “good enough.”

2. FCC complainers. I didn’t see the Superbowl halftime show this year, but I did see clips of it. According to complaints received by the FCC it was “a x-rated display like you’d see at a strip club.” All I keep thinking is that the poor person who wrote that complaint couldn’t possible have ever been to a strip club or actually seen porn. I almost feel sorry for these puritanical douche canoes who are clearly too uptight about the human body to ever really enjoy any sexytime.

3. Lack of motivation. By Thursday whatever motivation I could manage to scrape together to kick off the week is well and truly spent. While I’m mostly focused on keeping my ducks more or less in line and getting across the Friday afternoon line of demarcation, there’s always someone rolling into the last third of the week with boundless energy, optimism, the desire to do great things. While I’m sure these people are well intentioned and may even be organizational rock stars, the only thing I really want to do with them is kick them directly in the junk. Because it’s Thursday and I’m expending every ounce of available energy to keep my eyes from rolling out of my skull. If I can put anything more than that on the table at this late stage of the week, it’s a bonus, but really shouldn’t in any way be expected.

That thing I do…

I’ve never really liked the term “loner.” It has connotations of wild eyed Unibomber wearing rags and shitting in the woods that doesn’t feel fitting. That said, for most of my adult life I’ve had a natural inclination towards running a one man show. Relying on other people to get through the day to day basics always feels problematic to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is no matter how well intentioned others may be, you’re the only one who’s going to be with you 24/7.

From the time I was a kid, my natural instinct has always been to turn inwards when shit gets stupid and dig down into an inner wellspring of resolve. The worse the external force, the stronger my desire to hunker down becomes. It’s not so much turning ostrich and sticking my head in the sand as going tortoise, dropping my center of mass, and relying on strong personal armor to ride out the danger. It’s just one of the things I do to navigate the world.

That’s all a long way of saying I recognize that I’ve been doing a shitty job these last couple of months keeping up with people or getting back to them in anything like a timely manner. As they say, it’s not you, it’s me. The short term outlook calls for more of the same, though I’m expecting May Day 2020 to be a significant inflection point where after it’ll feel a bit less like me versus the universe.

Getting up…

I’ve started getting up early. Maybe I should say I’ve started getting up earlier. My standard wake up time at 5am seems to have been early enough to make most people a little twitchy. A morning that starts at 4-something would likely send them ranging completing around the bend.

I don’t hate my slightly early wake up time though. I’ve always had something of a fondness for the early hours of the morning, before the rest of the world wakes up and tries to ruin the day. I generally resent the fact that the human mind and body require sleep at all. Laying there in the darkness for hours at a time doing nothing of note feels like a tragic waste of more than a quarter of the available hours in the day. That’s fertile enough ground that I’ve covered here before.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve consciously made the effort to be out of bed no later than 4:30. Some people would use that time for working out or making breakfast. It’s what I should do. Of course what I’m really doing is using the extra thirty minutes to read another chapter or two and giving the critters some extra ear rubs before leaving for work.

It’s been good having a reminder first thing in the morning of why there’s value in tolerating monumental levels of fuckery during the day ahead. It helps stifle the quiet inner voice that tells me to load up the truck and just keep driving instead of turning into the parking lot. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would rather get that extra thirty minutes of sleep in the morning, but I’m finding those few extra minutes spent actually doing things I enjoy to be almost invaluable.

It’s whatever gets you through the day, I guess.

The deep breath…

Well. Here we are again. I should probably have something controversial or heart felt to plug in here today. I don’t know, maybe the apathy here at the moment is a nice punctuation mark following yesterday’s post on motivation and the lack thereof. That’s probably how I’ll end up justifying it to myself, anyway. You, of course, are free to make your own determination.

The reality is that I’m just looking for a night where I don’t spend at least a portion of the time railing about some fuckery that’s happened at the office. There’s something to be said about not giving them free space in the evening after letting them rent out my brain for eight hours during the day. So much as I’m tempted to rant and rave as usual, I’m just not feeling up to it tonight.

I found myself in a bit of a lull today anyway… I’m not saying that it wasn’t the kind of hot mess you’ve come to expect. I’m in a position for the moment where everything is pushed out and waiting for other people to do their bit – a review, a signature, and bit of bureaucratic hand-waiving. As Gandalf would say, “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.”

It’s the deep breath before the next plunge, anyway. But then there’s the next one. And the one after that. And the one that follows that one right out through the next couple of months. Maybe I should be thankful for the momentary pause… though all it’s really done is ratchet up the anxiety level that it’s not a pause at all and the ominous silence means something has flown wildly off the rails.

Yeah, living in my brain is a laugh riot sometimes.