Some days you feel like you may have actually contributed something – made a difference to someone, somewhere. More often, in my experience, the average work day is more a haze of answered emails, unavoidable phone conversations, and shuffling papers from one side of the desk to another. At best, maybe you manage to shuffle some of the papers from your desk to someone else’s. As often as not, that’s as good as it gets.
Maybe there will come a time when I look back on these 35-ish years of professional “life” fondly, though sitting in the middle of it, I current can’t imagine why. I accept it, grudgingly, as a means to a desired end. I’m lucky to be good enough at the work that I don’t get hectored too much by the bosses and the pay is reasonably good. It’s got that much going for it – but ginning up spectacular PowerPoints, enduring meetings that never quite seem to end, and the inevitable zero-sum bureaucratic infighting isn’t the kind of thing I can imagine anyone getting passionate about. I’ve met a few who find it their true calling, though. That’s something that convinces me more than ever that we can never really hope to know what evil lurks in the hearts of man.
There’s not really a point to all this beyond saying that today I felt like a particularly ineffective cog in a uniquely inefficient machine creating marginal products for an apathetic audience. At least such feelings only occupy 40/168ths of an average week so that’s a bit of a mercy.
Look, I’m glad I’m not out there passing around resumes and all… but lord almighty am I glad I have other other interests that round out the “personally fulfilling” side of life’s ledger.
1. “Blood in the street”. The first financial news I consciously remember hearing was during the great bull run of the 1980s. In January 1987 the Dow cracked 2000 for the first time. I was eight years old and heard the news that day in my grandparent’s living room. Today, 30+ years later, after a two plunge, the Dow stands at 25,052.83. I’m not a financial expert by any stretch. I’m not a stock picker. I pay a limited about of attention to broad trends because I do have a vested interest in being able to retire at some point in the middle-ranged future. What I’ve learned from keeping an occasional eye on these trends over the last 20-years of having a small dog in the fight, is just this: prices go up, prices go down, prices go up again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Yes, I hate seeing account balances bleeding away as much as anyone, but the blood in the streets reporting from major news outlets feels completely overblown.
2. “California is underrepresented.” I’ve seen it a few times now – the “infographic” that shows California has only 2 senators while the 7 least populous states in the west have 14. The conclusion is that Californians, therefore, are underrepresented. They conveniently fail to mention that the same seven states are represented by only 13 representatives in the House while California weighs in with 53 members of that august body. Such posts, of course, neglect to discuss the intricate system of checks and balances designed into the Constitution – where the House of Representatives was designed as the direct representatives of the people and senators were elected by the state legislatures for purposes of representing individual state interests within the federal framework. You could almost be forgiven for believing that the United States was a democracy and not a federal republic. After all we so regularly and incorrectly use the words republic and democracy interchangeably. It’s safe to say that the founders knew a little something about mob rule and its dangers to good order and civil society. The whole massive machinery of federal government was designed, in part, to ensure that radical change couldn’t be rolled out across the country at the whim of the mob. Rest assured I’ll be at least one consistent vote against dismantling any such bulwark restraining the passions of a would-be mobocracy.
3. Reply All. Sometimes an email gets out by accident, launched across the ether using a distribution list that sweeps up all people, everywhere regardless of whether they need the information contained in the message or not. Here’s a helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff: If you receive an email message via distribution that’s obviously not meant for you, you can literally just delete it and the offending email goes away. Or you and 27 of your closest friends can “reply all,” ask to be removed from the offending distribution, and be revealed as the enormous twatwaffles that you are. I mean I know from personal experience that people barely read the email that’s addressed to them for action. Why in seven hells the reply all is the one they choose to engage with is just simply beyond the limits of human understanding.
Today was weird. Unfortunately it was almost certainly the kind of weird that should probably stay embargoed for blogging purposes. It’s a shame, really, because those usually make the most interesting stories. Sigh. Maybe someday when I don’t have to at least be minimally concerned with not throwing too large a wake all over everything. For tonight, though, you’re just going to have to accept my pronouncement that it was, indeed, weird on all counts.
Instead of that, let’s focus instead on the glorious news that Amazon has started shipping my “Fall release” preorder books. I buy a lot of second hand reads, but for some authors I’m willing for fork out the premium to have them brand spanking new. Plus, it feels good buying from a source where a living author, who is presumably making a living from his writing, is going to get a cut of the proceeds. There are million good books out there you can have access to for next to nothing, but helping to make sure new material stays in the pipeline feels like the right thing to do now and then.
When I’ve already got 100+ books sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up, you could be forgiven for thinking adding two more to the stack wouldn’t make me unduly happy. In this case, you would be exactly wrong. I get a little sparkle in my eye every time one of these little gems walks through the door. Now if I could just make more time for reading and require less time for weird, I think we’d be all set.
1. Failure to pay attention. I observe people around me. It’s as much for entertainment as it is out of the general sense that it’s just good policy to know what is or could be happening in my immediate surroundings. It’s the people who have absolutely no interest or regard for anything that extends past their own nose that I find most infuriating. They’re the ones that will pull out in front of you without noticing onrushing traffic, or throw their car in reverse to leave the gas pumps and narrowly avoid hitting the car behind them. They’re the ones who look utterly perplexed when someone asks if they’re ready to order after standing in line for the last fifteen minutes without once glancing at the menu. They’re the ones who stop short in the middle of the sidewalk and somehow look surprised when the next person trips into them. How wonderful it must be to exist in this world without any sense or interest in things happening just beyond arms reach – forget things that happen out of sight. Those might as well be witchcraft. Situational awareness isn’t just keeping an eye open for something in your environment that just doesn’t seem right. Sadly, awareness, whether situational or itherwise if apparently a bridge too goddamned far for 90% of the people living on this beshitted rock of a planet.
2. The shifting sands of Mondays. One of the big “so whats” about telework is it’s supposed to prepare us for working from alternate locations when our usual place of business is flooded, radioactive, or otherwise unavailable for doing business. When the office closes for a snow day, I’m theoretically supposed to be able to fire up my computer and do my job from home (which is a fine plan in theory, except for the part where even though I’m technically on the clock, the other 3000 people who I occasionally deal with don’t have telework agreements and are home not checking their email and phone messages). The whole theory of being able to do everything you can do in your office from a remote location is a fine one and probably true somewhere. I’ve got a situation next week that is ideal for “proof of concept” of why telework is the right answer. The meeting with high profile people is squarely in the middle of my regularly scheduled day to work from home. The most straightforward approach would be to call in and participate in the meeting as if being somewhere other than in the office didn’t make a difference. The actual approach will be to “just switch your day so you can be here for the meeting.” When we proceed from a place that assumes the quality of my work or advice on a subject is driven by where I am geographically, we’ve already lost the fight to build a 21st century workforce.
3. Accusations. In the American tradition of jurisprudence there are two concepts that we collectively seem to ignore when it’s convenient. One is the idea that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The other is that the accused has a right to confront the witness against them. In a world where the accuser either cannot or will not produce substantive corroborating evidence or identify witnesses to the alleged crime, accusations remain just that. As much as I would like to see certain crimes where punishment is dealt out first and questions asked later, it’s not a framework I’d particularly want to live under. If the mere accusation of wrongdoing is enough to decide guilt, what’s to stop any of us from seeing Lizzie Proctor talking to the devil?
Based on years of experience I’ve developed a pretty finely honed sense of when a shitstorm is brewing and about to unleash it’s sewer-tinged fury about my little part of the world. I walked out the office with my storm flags flying yesterday afternoon and fully expected to arrive back today to a feces coated disaster.
I was braced for it. I was ready. And then nothing happened. There wasn’t even a ripple. I don’t have any particular problem with being wrong. I’ve often enough turned left when I should have turned right. It happens.
It’s not so much that I’m upset that I was wrong today as it is that I know someday soon I’m going to be “not wrong” and the lid is going to come flying off the thunderpot. I’m not wrong that there’s a shitstorm brewing, just expected it to hit sooner rather than later. Now all I can do is hunker down and wait.
I’ve been tired, and irritable, and struggling to concentrate all day today. I’d usually write it off to one of the six different projects sitting on my desk in some condition of “not done yet,” but that’s mostly situation normal. Hardly cause for the two spontaneous nose bleeds that left me with chunks of tissue jammed up not nose so I could get on with whatever it was that I was doing while stanching the flow hands free.
Other than conditions as described, I don’t feel bad. My blood pressure isn’t out of whack. All appears to be as well as you could expect.
It wasn’t until I got home this evening that I realized that I was carrying around the probable culprit of at least some of my ills on my back. It seems in the mad rush to try getting some of those unfinished projects nudged towards the finished stack, I neglected to maintain a regular level of coffee intake. I can’t begin to tell you the last time I came home with a perfectly full thermos at the end of the day. Usually I’m finishing up the last of it while pulling into the driveway.
I’m just going to assume that today’s low state of affairs was triggered entirely by the shameful lack of caffein in my system and commit myself to doing better tomorrow… Because going through the day wholly uncaffeinated is no way to live.
I’ve been working one day a week from home for a little over a year now. There are many reasons I’d recommend it to anyone who is even marginally a self-directed individual. It does, however, feature two distinct problems that I’ve found so far.
The first is that in those rare moments when you actually need to talk to someone immediately you’re limited to phone, email, or text. If you happened to be sitting in a cube farm in those moments you could at least add “wander over to wherever that person is supposed to be” to the list of ways to get in touch with them. Needing someone right-the-hell-now, though, is such a rare occurrence in my experience that the issue is hardly worth considering.
The second, and more problematic issue, is that doing the work from the comfort of your own home establishes in clear terms just how utterly unnecessary sitting in one specified desk in one specified room of one specified building really is in the course of day to day activities. It makes then going to sit at that desk, in that room, in that building on the four other days of the work week even more difficult than it would be otherwise. Sure, I suppose there are a handful of good and legitimate reasons for needing to spend time in an actual office, but for all other times I have not one single clue why anyone would want to endure more time in cubicle hell than is absolutely necessary to getting the job done.