I spent a lot of the summer of 2000 driving around the state of Maryland interviewing for teaching positions. I had interviews in every corner of the state from the Atlantic coast, to the upper reaches of the Bay, and back down the western shore to southern Maryland. The only place I didn’t have an interview was anywhere close to my home county. No amount of family connections in teaching there could overcome the surplus of fresh young grads wanting to stay close to home that Frostburg turned out every semester.
I signed on with St. Mary’s County for the princely sum of almost $30,000 a year. I could say that it felt like making big money after four years of full time school and part time minimum wage work, but it didn’t. Not after all the bills were paid and $25 out of each check went to a retirement account, untouchable until a day then so far into the future that it didn’t even seem like a real mark on the calendar. Maybe all time feels imaginary when you’re 22 and on your own for the first time. Being three hours away from everything and almost everyone I knew felt like it might as well have had me living on the other side of the moon
I’m not sure what got me thinking about those days in the pre-dawn hours this morning, but something pulled me back there – to thoughts of what passed as a “splurge” in those days. The most unreasonable was probably a set of marble drink coasters from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, purchased on a trip to the “upscale” shopping venues in Waldorf. They might have set me back about $20 at the time.
Now here I sit, plotting large scale home improvement projects – the bathroom renovation about to get underway, the roof that’ll be due for replacement soon, the HVAC system I could squeeze some more efficiency from, the huge oaks that needed to be tended to sooner rather than later, lest they drop thousand pound limbs on the house, and the first twinkling of an idea for a bit of renovation in the kitchen. The scope and scale of what passes for a splurge these days is absolutely staggering – well beyond anything 22 year old me would have even imagined back there and back then.
I guess my point is life really does come at you quick. But I still have those old coasters, so they might turn out to be the best investment of the bunch. They’ve certainly proven to be just about the only tangible proof that I did anything at all in a time so long ago and far away.
1. Masks. Yes, I know they make at least a marginal amount of sense, but that reality just doesn’t make wearing one to conduct day to day business any less annoying. That’s mostly because I can’t social distance while wearing my mask. Despite the various application of dish detergent, shaving cream, and other home remedies, my glasses are fogged over and I literally can’t tell a stationary person apart from a soda machine.
2. Hummingbird feeder. I put out the hummingbird feeders a few days ago. Because I have “less processed” sugar that’s about the color of nice beach sand, it looks for all the world like I’ve hung bottled urine in my backyard. Very soon thereafter I also learned that you should only use normal white sugar for hummingbird feeders, so the whole issue turned out to be a short lived and regrettable test run for actual spring feeder deployment.
3. Maybe the thing that surprised me most about how people are individually responding to the Great Plague is what I’ve started thinking of as the general lack of ability or interest in seeing the long view, opting instead to focus on the next day or week. Maybe I’ve always known people en mass tend to be short sighted pleasure seekers, but I was happily oblivious to how little thought they were putting in to the months and years ahead. So many seem to be bumbling through the day-to-day without any thought at all about what lies beyond that brief horizon. I’m not saying the here and now isn’t important, but hey, maybe cast an eye out towards the future every now and then.
1. Stomach. My stomach has been trying to kill me off and on for the last few days. It’s not debilitating or preventing me from getting on with my day, but it’s made food something of a dice roll, meaning that I traipse through the day mostly hungry in order to avoid workday unpleasantness as much as possible. Of course continuing to pour coffee down my throat probably is doing nothing to mitigate the issue. Realistically, though, if I’m going to be hungry also having me uncaffeinated feels like it’s just asking for more trouble than we’re trying to avoid.
2. Perceived time. We humans have a bit of an odd relationship with time. We struggle mightily to measure it down to the merest fraction of a second, but it’s really how we perceive the movement of time around us that matters most. I’m grown increasingly interested in the perception of time after sitting at my desk for 37 hours on Tuesday, but finding that the most recent Saturday lasted only 192 minutes.
3. Be nice. Someone from time to time will suggest that I should make an effort to be more understanding – to “be nicer.” I’m sure the suggestion is well intentioned, usually implying that I’d be more approachable, less apt to judge, or in some way become a kinder, more sensitive human being. Seriously? Have you met most people? Piss off with “be nice.” I’ll continue to respond and react to people as their actions and attitudes dictate. If you’d like me to be nicer, I’d recommend convincing people at large to be a little less dumb. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Far be it from me to tell anyone who they feel themselves to be on the inside, but it stands to reason if I go about telling everyone that I considered myself to be an African American woman, no one would buy it. That could lead me down into a long, painful discussion about perception, self, and identity, but I don’t want to go there.
The national offices of the NAACP were quick to point out over the weekend that there was no requirement for leaders in their organization to be black. That’s probably true. At the same time, it makes about as much sense as having someone who’s never owned a firearm in their life serving as president of the NRA. Sure, you could do it, but it feels awfully disingenuous.
I’m not saying anyone should give up their calling to campaign for civil rights or any other cause… but I am saying if you’re going to put yourself forward as a poster child, you’d damned well better be doing it from a place of personal authenticity because the truth will out. And Murphy being the ass he is, it will do so at the most inconvenient moment.
I can walk around town all day calling myself the King of the Andals and the First Men, but no matter how strongly I believe, believing doesn’t make it so. Like it or not, identify isn’t just how we feel on the inside, but is also in large part how we are perceived by those around us. It’s perfectly normal for those two identities to be a little different from one another, but generally both are at least tied to some shred of reality… in this latest case, not so much.
I don’t know anyone who is really a fan of Monday. I suppose there is always the odd shift worker whose weekend starts on Monday, but they are clearly the exception. For most other working stiffs, Monday is mostly just the week’s great reminder that our time really isn’t our own.
The day does have one redeeming quality that I’ve found. This singular quality would be that Monday is so significantly different from the two days preceding it that in most cases the morning just seems to fly by once it gets going. Maybe it’s a minor issue of perception, but being the optimist that I am, I thought it worth pointing out. After lunch, of course, the perceived passage of time slows to its standard weekday snail’s pace. At least one this one day of the week it’s nice to look up from whatever I’m doing and be pleasantly surprised that it’s time for lunch rather than looking up and wondering why it’s not even passed 9AM yet.
Perception is a tricky mistress like that. She gives with one hand and punches you in the junk with the other. My advice: Try enjoying the good moments while you’re waiting for the other hand to drop you like a ton of bricks.
I know some people revel in spending as much time in bed as possible. Listening to them talk about a good night’s sleep is like listening to someone describe their deeply held religious convictions. I have a slightly more utilitarian relationship with my bed; it’s a necessary evil that occupies one room on the house and I try to limit my interaction with it as much as possible. I’ve said it before, but I can’t quite shake the idea that sleep is just a enormous time suck that’s trying to eat up a third of the day… and there are always things I’d rather be doing that, you know, just laying around.
I do have to admit, though, that sleep does have one thing going for it; even though it takes up five or six hours, the time goes by fast. By that I mean there’s no sense that time is really passing. You fall asleep and bam, you’re waking up. Even when eight or more hours intervene between Point A and Point B, it feels almost instantaneous.
A good point of comparison is long haul flying, since even on red eye flights, I’ve never been able to get comfortable enough to actually fall asleep… Getting from the East Coast to LA or to London feels like it takes something just short of forever, even though it’s really only five or six hours (which conveniently for this thought exercise is about the amount of time I sleep most nights). Whether I’m flying across the pond or sleeping at home, the same amount of time passes, but one feels much shorter than the other. That’s for the best, of course, because if every night felt like it lasted as long as trans-continental flight, you’d never convince me that going to sleep was a good idea.
There’s not really a “so what” to this post other than time, our perception of it, and what it all means are topics that I currently find fascinating… and since I’m the proprietor of this establishment, it’s what everyone gets to read about today.
The problem with dealing with numbers is that generally there is a single correct answer. If I were to ask how many jelly beans are in a jar or how many cars are in the parking lot, someone could use their fingers and toes and physically calculate the answer. Counting other things, like people or laptops can be done in exactly the same way. All it takes is someone to physically conduct the count rather than give an answer that includes the words “about,” “no more than,” or “somewhere between.” The only thing answers that include those words tells me is whoever was responsible for the counting is pretty much a dipshit who can’t be bothered by pesky things like facts.
We live in resource constrained times, I get it. We’re all coming to grips with what it means to do less with less. Still, though, when the correct answer is somewhere between 1 and 75, I don’t think it’s too much trouble to lock in on the single factual number of widgets in the box. Then again, maybe I just have unrealistic expectations of people not being complete douchenozels. Since my perception is the only thing in this situation that I control, I have no choice but to adjust my expectations accordingly.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
Day after day, we sit at the same terminal behind the same guarded doors, inside a secure compound. Aside from the usual path to the coffee bar or to tend to nature’s call, our professional world is mostly made up of what’s happening in one or two rooms and whatever happens to make it across our computer screens. Other than what’s immediately in front of us, we’re remarkably insulated even though we’re “trusted agents.” Personally, I’m fine with that. The less I know in detail, the less I may have to testify about at some point in the future. I’m happy to leave the firewalls right where they are.
It occurs to me, though, that the people who have the best eyes and ears for what’s going on probably aren’t the ones manning the computer terminals. They’re the ones emptying our garbage. Every day they make their rounds through the building. Into and out of every office on every floor and able to hear whatever conversations are taking place and what everyone has on their monitor. 250-odd days a year. I wonder if they pay attention or if it all become background noise at some point. Since there’s no solitaire, I wonder how many times a day they see Facebook and USAjobs. The voyeuristic part of me would love to walk the rounds just once out of sheer curiosity at seeing how the rest of the cubicle dwellers spend their time.
The way I’ve got it figured, the janitorial staff holds the keys to the kingdom somewhere in their trash cart. Just think on that the next time they wander by to gather up your recycling or run the vacuum.
On the surface the range of issues I deal with in this new job is deceptively similar to the position I ejected from in Tennessee. To be sure, there’s plenty of org chart shuffling, PowerPoints to update, and a metric ton of reports of one stripe or another that need to be completed. The difference, though, is that even when it’s minute, you can still see progressing being made on these projects. There’s plenty of infighting and office politics, but on the whole, projects are handed off between offices more or less seamlessly. There’s even collaboration between different departments… and it’s actually encouraged. It’s like someone has taken reality and tweaked it just a bit. Or maybe more like they’ve smacked it in the side of the head with a 2×4.
My perception is obviously shaded a bit by the recent past, but I can legitimately say that this has been the first time in a long stretch when I didn’t wake up in the morning looking for a reason to take a sick day. That long stretch of early morning parking lot pep talks is, for now, a thing of the past. Does that mean things couldn’t turn into a poop sandwich tomorrow? Not so much. For now, I’ll just appreciate it for what it is.