The limit of endorsements…

Although my days of voting in Republican primary elections are over, I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop keeping an eye on them. It was gratifying to read reports last night coming out of Georgia that both the governor and the secretary of state, officials who stood as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s attempt to illegally overturn election results, both won their primary fights against Trump endorsed opponents. It gives me at least a bit of home that even though Donald’s voice remains loud within the party, it may not command the unquestioning obedience that it once did. 

On the other side of the coin, we have utter wackjobs like Marg Green winning her primary in the Georgia 14th. That’s a clear indication that we remain miles and miles away from what anyone could reasonably call “normal,” but it’s a just barely a shuffle in the right direction… even if It’s probably still worrisome that the measure of a candidate is “well, at least this one isn’t crazier than a bed bug.”

Now, having said all that, I don’t mean to imply that any politician anywhere that won their primary yesterday is actually any good. The older I get, the more I hold the opinion that they’re all either useless, self-serving, creeps, crooks, or weirdos. Many of them seem to be all those things simultaneously. It’s a matter of picking through the trash heap in hopes that some of them are very slightly less awful than the others.

What a wreck we’ve made of a perfectly nice republic.

The way we used to…

My Facebook feed has been flooded over the last week or two with “promoted” articles heralding the end of the Great Plague… notwithstanding the fact that the case rate remains 2/3 of what it was at the peak of the “second wave” in the fall of 2021. Admittedly, we’re well off the highs seen at the peak of the omicron variant, so that’s something. 

The articles I’ve seen have a few things in common. They all want everything to go “back to normal.” Like New York’s new mayor, they want to see office buildings filled to the rafters and busy hot dog carts on every corner. I get it. There’s intense pressure from politicians, landlords, and service sector business owners that have seen taxes and profits slashed over the last two years while information workers realized they can conduct business from anywhere.

Mayor Adams argues that by not working from the office, people are not going to the drycleaner, or restaurants, or spending money on other services. That feels like a bit of a specious argument. I’m still doing most of those things, but I’m doing them and spending that money in the community where I live rather than at places that are in geographic proximity to a random office building. It sounds a lot like the arguments of “back to work” proponents like Mayor Adams boil down to wanting to get back to treating office workers as cash cows versus presenting an argument for why it’s in any way beneficial for them to go back to spending 40 or more hours a week sitting in a cubicle. 

A million years ago when I was boss, I had team members all over the damned country. While I sat in west Tennessee, others sat in Texas, Illinois, and Virginia. For all practical purposes we were all “working remotely” from each other even if we happened to be working in an office building. The trick was, as long as the work got done, I didn’t care where they were physically sitting, or if they took a two-hour lunch, or if they knocked off early on a Friday afternoon. In my mind, it’s about the work, not about taking attendance like some kind of 19th century schoolmarm. 

When politicians, business leaders, and managers, tell me they want everything to be normal again, they’ve obviously got their own axe to grind. I suspect they’re missing the larger point, though. There’s a pretty large subset of high value employees who are no longer going to be satisfied schlepping into an office every day just because that’s what used to be normal… and management is going to run an unanticipated risk in trying to jam that recently squared peg back into a round hole. 

To put in another way, there’s no reason to expect “normal again” will mean we’ll do everything the way we used to. The sooner that sinks in, the better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rabbit holes. I’ve lived these last 43 years without ever needing much more than my regular checkups and copays. Despite that, I recently went down an internet rabbit hole reading about my insurance plan’s catastrophic health coverage and how to avoid out-of-network charges. I mean it’s nice to know and surely will come in useful someday, but there’s an hour or two of my week I’ll never get back.

2. Normal. Turn to any news provider and you’re bound to hear stories about “getting back to normal” or “the new normal” or “life after COIVD” or “life with COVID.” Most of those stories turn on the same general theme of wanting something analogous to pre-pandemic life to return as close to immediately as possible. Personally, I’m in no rush… although that could be because most of what I’ve enjoyed during the Great Plague are the same things I enjoyed doing back in the Before Times. The only significant change I’ll notice in getting to whatever “normal” looks like in the future will be inevitably spending more time commuting and sitting in a cubicle. If you’re waiting on me to do handsprings about that kind of normal, it’s like you don’t even know me.

3. Mud. I plant grass seed in the back yard every spring and fall. Jorah, on the other hand, spends all four seasons doing his best to turn everything inside the fence line into a sodden morass. It’s not entirely his fault. The soil is thin and surprisingly bad – mostly clay and rocky – so what grows there doesn’t grow thick. Being a deeply shaded area, at least a third of the green is moss rather than grass. The minute it’s disturbed, it opens a gash and mud ensues. I only bring it up because his favorite thing to do on rainy days is go every outside at full speed kicking up mud like some kind of teenaged bubba with a lifted F-150. That’s fine outside, I suppose, but it’s current on him, the floors, a couple of walls, and a bit of the ceiling from when he had a good shake. 

Back in the world…

I know plenty of people have been far more risk tolerant than I’ve been over the last year. Some have been far less risk tolerant than me. I hope, as usual, I managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the curve – not too indifferent, but not too paranoid. 

Even when the Great Plague started, I didn’t fully sequester myself. I managed to complete regular trips out for groceries, carryout, and whatever I couldn’t live without from Lowe’s. I largely made sure to do those things at times other people would consider “inconvenient.” As often as not, I had entire stores almost completely to myself. 

In making my first trip back into the broader world this weekend, I’m not sure what I was expecting beyond it feeling somehow “different.”

As it turns out, the world is still as full of people as it was in the Before Time… and that makes everything just awful. 

I managed to lose the crowd, or most of it, while I was wandering the stacks peering at books, but as soon as I popped out the end of a row, there they were, slack jawed and milling around aimlessly in the aisles, in the parking lots, and on the roads.

I’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you now in complete sincerity, the absence of large groups of people in my daily, weekly, and monthly routine has not made me any more fond of them in any way. If anything, the absence of people has had the exact opposite effect on me. 

As the world schlepps on towards returning to “normal,” I’ll be over here coming up with new and creative ways to keep on avoiding the other returnees.  

A full plague year…

A year ago tomorrow the World Health Organization proclaimed COVID-19 a global pandemic. With more rapidity than I would have imagined possible, the global economy ground to a near standstill as those who were able hunkered down amidst the uncertainty of a suddenly unfamiliar world.

As this anniversary approaches, news sites and blogs are filling with posts about the loss, suffering, disruption, and dramatically changed lives of the plague era. Some of the stories are quite dramatic. Many others focus on tales of boredom and isolation.

For as much of a traditionalist as I am, I’m the first to note that many of my life choices lean towards vaguely unconventional. I like the part of the American Dream with the house in the distant exurbs, a stretch of lawn, the dog, and the cat. The wife and 2.4 kids was never a bit I felt particularly dawn to. Where others have spent a year missing social engagement, I’ve barely realized it was missing. I assume it’s this non-standard approach to ordering my life that hasn’t left me feeling as if I missed much of anything over the last 365 days. I’m also aware that my situation is reasonably unique and not likely shared by most people who have been riding out the plague with a spouse and a couple of kids knocking around the house with them. As with most things, individual experiences may vary, subject to personal choices and a bit of pure dumb luck.

Shopping for groceries and other in-person essentials at times when shops are least occupied, having meals packaged for carryout, maximizing Amazon for delivery of a wide range of things I can’t find locally, and spending the lion’s share of my time tinkering about the yard or in the house weren’t concessions to the Great Plague so much as how I’ve conducted business for most of my adult life. Add in the unexpected bonus of working mostly from home and making only periodic forays to an actual office and the whole thing seems almost idyllic… if you don’t let the idea of random death spread through the air bother you too much.

Spending Christmas and other holidays apart and not schlepping through every book store I pass by were the only pronounced changes in how I do things, though in both cases those were conditions I imposed on myself rather than ones imposed by others. Both will likewise be resolved (probably) a week or two after I’ve gotten my second jab. 

We’re a year into the Great Plague of 2020 and with vaccinations ramping up and states slowly (or not so slowly) rolling back their plague restrictions. The new battle cry is becoming “return to normal.” History will decide if we’ve been judicious or if it’s simply a case of people deciding they’ve had enough and wanting to go their own way. Personally, I wouldn’t shed a tear if many aspects of this new normal stuck around well past whatever date we select to string up a banner and declare Mission Accomplished. 

Something better…

While parents across the country are lamenting going “back to school” at home today, I got the unbridled joy of spending the day in the office. It’s not the first time I’ve been back since the Great Plague kicked off. Over the course of the last six months I’m probably averaging a day a week actually sitting in cubicle hell. Frankly, I don’t recommend it.

The only saving grace of being in the office right now is that most of your colleagues won’t be there with you. Sure it’s not as conducive to peaceful reflection and deep thought as the quiet of your home office might be, but you aren’t being afflicted with 20 simultaneous and overlapping conversations like you were in the before time. Still, I envy little Bobby and Suzy for their new online existence.

Everyone is awaiting the moment when the world goes back to normal. When their little darlings are back to school and when cube farms are once again filled elbow to asshole. I can’t help but think it’s a case of being careful with your wishes. A school or office full of potential plague carriers, mouth breathers, and assorted oxygen thieves was our collective normal. I’d like to think our new normal could, and should, be something better.

After the break…

I took a break this long Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t watch a bit of news. I didn’t write a word. The only bit of information leaking through came to me via social media… and that wasn’t utterly intolerable after last week when I silenced the dozen or so most ridiculously ill-informed and/or confrontational of the people in my various feeds. It was a few days where I mostly lost myself in the books, and futzing around the house, and tending to the critters. Aside from needing the mask for my early morning grocery run on Saturday, it was exactly the kind of weekend I’d have had been gunning for even in the absence of the Great Plague. 

As it turns out, finding a “new normal” isn’t particularly difficult when it’s nearly indistinguishable from the old normal. 

That sense of normalcy will, of course, fade when I have to start rescheduling doctor, dentist, and vet appointments that shouldn’t be deferred too much longer. It will be rattled to its core once Uncle decides we should all pile back into Cubicle Hell. With beaches crowded, hosts of businesses reopening, 

I’m living my own little Golden Age over here… and know with certainty that it’s drawing to an end. No matter how much we’ve proven can be done while remote, regardless of the best scientific advice, people who have what I’ve always considered an inexplicable need to see and be seen will call the shots. Because surely if no one sees you doing the things, there’s nothing getting done. As if visual confirmation is all that measures output.

So now all that’s left is to enjoy as much of this brief golden age that remains. The new normal can’t last forever… but if the old normal makes a comeback soon, at least I can go ahead and start looking forward piling up some leave around Independence Day and making a last stand.

The problem with Goodreads…

A few weeks ago I wrote about going “all in” with Goodreads.com as the means and method of keeping tabs on what I’ve read, what I want to read, and generally keeping me from buying the same thing twice. Yes, that happened more than once.

Now that I’ve been living with it for a few weeks, I’ve discovered what I’ve come to think of as its major problem… that would be the fact that every time I log in it forces me to face the ever growing list of books I’ve purchased, but not yet taken the time to read. It’s a problem I was vaguely aware of in the past, but now I’ve got this marvelous automated tool to remind me constantly that there are 31 books just sitting on various shelves and flat surfaces at home waiting for my attention. It wasn’t nearly so much of a problem when all they did was sit there quietly.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ll simply resolve this problem by delaying the purchase of any new reading material until I’ve cycled through what’s already here. I think we both know that’s not going to happen, though. What I’ll probably end up doing, in the interest of freeing up more shelf space for books I’ve actually read, is order yet another bookcase and set up all of my eventually-to-be-read collection in the spare bedroom. That’s how normal people do it, right?

Unsettled…

One of the undeniable perks of working from home once a week is getting outside with the dogs at lunch time. Usually it’s about as close to a mid-day moment of zen as you’re ever likely to find around my place. Today, though, the only way I can describe it is that the whole outside felt unsettled.

It’s not that there was anything wrong with me, or the dogs, or the house but it felt very much like this little patch of woods was holding its breath – and waiting for something. There were no birds chirping and no small fuzzy creatures – or even large fuzzy ones for that matter. Aside from the steady wind in the upper reaches of the oaks, it was unnaturally quiet. I can’t say it made me nervous, but it definitely had the feeling of being something other than normal.

I’m not a fancy big city scientist, but if I had lay down a guess, it would have something to do with rapid changes in barometric pressure and “big weather” moving in. If it can make the old timer’s arthritis act up, I don’t see any reason not to believe the other creatures of the forest can sense the same thing since they’re the ones really living out in that mess. At least that’s my meager effort to explain today’s brush with the strange and unusual.

In any case, I’ll be happier when it all feels normal again. Like that’s a surprise.

Incantation…

My entire life, I’ve been searching for just the right combination of words. I’ve always been convinced that words are important. They have meaning. I’m convinced that the right word and the right time can save your soul. In the right hands, words are a real thing of beauty. In the wrong ones you wonder if we all weren’t better off huddled around a paleolithic fire grunting and pointing to make our will known.

Maybe I’m biased because words are the gift I got. Other people got chiseled good looks and a full head of hair. I got words. That’s not a complaint. If I had to pick, I wouldn’t have had it differently. Words are my big gun. They’re the thing in my arsenal that make me think if I look just hard enough, put them in the right order, speak the incantation just so, I can turn the tide. It might not always seem this way, but when the moment calls for it I can be one seriously articulate sonofabitch.

I can count the times words let me down on one hand – maybe two if I really stretch way back. Those moments stand out mostly because they’ve almost always come as a complete shock. Words move people when you get them in the proper order and everything is supposed to follow from there. Except sometimes they don’t follow. Much to my chagrin I’ve had to learn repeatedly that you hit every syllable dead on and still fail to make a mark or carry your point. They’re not moments I like to dwell on, even though I’ve been doing that quite a bit these last few days.

It’s one of those unfortunate instances when best effort doesn’t stack up to good enough. It’s humbling and paves the way to all manner of self-doubt. It’s a bad head space to be in, but you can’t fight it – not directly, anyway. The best I’ve ever been able to manage is to drop my shoulder and shove through while hoping it doesn’t take too long to blunder through to a point where the world feels normally again.