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.

Gratification…

I know my sense of how the universe works is probably a little off by “normal” standards, but I find something deeply gratifying about telling Outlook to turn on my out-of-office message. It’s one of those rare bits of the day that feel like I really got something accomplished, namely that I’ve officially told anyone trying to track me down that I won’t be checking voice messages or email for the next seven days.

That’s not strictly true, of course. I’ll still be tethered as tightly as ever to my own electronics, but for these next few days anyone looking for me at my desk or eagerly awaiting a response is going to have to cool their jets while I go do other, more interesting things.

Because there are no free lunches in this life, I know all this means is the pile of things on my desk, jammed into my inbox, and waiting on me to “push three to hear your messages now” will be immense by the time I get back next week. That’s just going to have to be next week’s problem. I’ve only got the RAM onboard to be concerned with so many things at one time and frankly none of the issues on or around my 50 square feet of cubicle are even close to making the cut.

185 emails…

There’s nothing quite as effective as 185 emails in your inbox to drag you back to reality. Three hours later, at least it’s a relief to know that 10% of them were discussing printer and network-related outages, 80% of them were crap you have no actual interest in, 5% were email from friends, and the remaining 5% are issues you actually need to do something about. It’s possible that I might have sat down and cried if there were actually 185 issues that needed my attention this morning. Even though I was physically present today, clearly my brain is still dragging in from somewhere on the Eastern Shore. Unless something ridiculous happens, it should be a day or two yet before the post-vacation afterglow wears off. I’d like to think that it could last until the 4-day Independence Day weekend, but I think we all know that’s more of a pipe dream than a plan.

Aside from the usual complaints about being back in the saddle, the routine is the routine. That’s probably good and bad. It’s comforting because it’s normal, but it still leaves me with a slightly sick feeling that it’s not what I really want to be doing with the day. Reality. 185 emails. Being a responsible adult is a real bitch.

Bright points in an otherwise craptastic week…

This week has sucked. There’s no nicer way to say it. I can think of plenty of more colorful ways to put it, but I won’t since you know we run a nice family establishment here. Right. The thing about craptastic weeks is that the smallest bit of good news can pretty much make your day. I mean when they bar is basically set at ground level, you even the most trivial of things can bring a momentary smile to your face. Personally, I’ll take all the small mercies that come my way.

I heard a rumor that the Tundra should actually be ready to come home tomorrow. That’s bit of good news #1. After three “should be finished” dates have come and gone, though, you won’t find this guy holding his breath. Strange as it sounds, getting back in the truck feels like at least something of a step back towards normal. I like normal. Bit of good news #2, showed up in my inbox just a few minutes ago. As you can see from the picture I conveniently attached, it’s the “Your iPad is ready to be picked up on Friday” message that I’ve been eagerly awaiting.

If anyone is interest, curious, or just plain bored on Friday morning, I’ll be doing the usual launch day live blogging posts. Doors open at 8AM, so I’m looking at a 6:00 line up time unless I start getting indications that lines are going to be longer than the usual Apple launch day lines. Unless something ridiculous happens, which almost seems guaranteed at this point, I should have my shiny new Precious by around 10:00. I haven’t done a launch day event at this location before, so it should be an adventure for everyone. If you find yourself in Delaware and wandering around aimlessly on Friday morning, feel free to stop by Christiana Mall with coffee, danish, or a board game.