Believe it or not, there was a time when I was (slightly) less judgmental. I was mostly happy to let people go on about their business while I went about mine. That arrangement is perfectly serviceable until “their business” starts to conflict with what’s going on over here in my lane. Once that happens, I’m all too happy to act as a jealous guardian of my own interests.
I like to think that over the years I’ve managed to excise most of the truly stupid people from my life. Not being a particularly social creature, my circle has always been relatively small. Following a season of elections, protests, and plagues, though, that circle has grown smaller still… though I wonder if it’s not about to get culled even further.
See, the thing is, I’m starting to see people who I always assumed were reasonably intelligent unpacking whole steamer trunks of batshit crazy. That’s ok, I guess, when done in the privacy of their own home where no one can see their ass showing, but when you’re doing it loudly and in public, well, that’s a different animal altogether.
I could say it’s something I’m just seeing from my right wing friends, but it’s not. Some of the lefties are absolutely determined to get themselves out there on the lunatic fringe too. If the last 18 months has taught me anything it’s that I’m just not sure I’ve got the patience or the temperament to be tolerant of people saying or doing patently dumb shit on a regular basis.
I’m self-aware enough to know I’m not the smartest guy in the room. I’m certainly able to my fair share of dumb shit… but I try to make it a limited experience rather than basing my entire personality around it. It turns out that’s not universally true.
Books have always had a sort of power over me. I spent my formative years in elementary school reading books about orphans who live in the woods in an old boxcar. Later, I found a nice shady spot on the cafeteria loading dock to read about MacArthur and Patton. That’s probably where my never-slaked thirst for history was really born. It was infinitely more interesting than kickball or whatever else younglings were expected to do during recess back in the mid-1980s.
In middle school, I devoured books about Nixon, Kennedy, and, yes, even Trump. That was back before he was a politician and even before he was a TV personality, of course. I was deep into historical biography and assorted non-fiction.
Finding a tatty copy of Atlas Shrugged on a shelf in my junior year English classroom changed my life, setting me on a course to ask questions about the proper role of the state – what government can do versus what it should do.
Down all the years from then to now, books have been just about as formative to who I am as a person as it’s possible to be. I take comfort in their presence, even if they’re a towering reminder of how little I know even about subjects I know well. It would be absolutely impossible to do without them.
I like to think consistency is one of my better personality traits. I like plans. I like order. I like having at least a passible ability to know what to expect… not that you’d know it by my fairly fanatical love of routine and schedule. I can get along without being scheduled or maintaining a routine, but I’m hands down better when there’s at least some level of effort put into restraining the forces of chaos.
I’ve long suspected that what seems to me a natural lack of consistency in most people is at least one of the reasons I struggle so much in dealing with them. In general, we’re a wildly inconsistent bunch – running hot and cold, present or distant depending on the day or hour. It’s hard to account for the vagaries of human inconsistency and I don’t always respond well to that.
Yes, I also recognize that expecting other people and the universe to bend to accommodate the way I best function is something of a fool’s errand – and one of my less endearing personality traits. What can I tell you, I’m a pretty uncomplicated guy running on a ridiculously complex operating system. It could be a bug or a feature. It rather depends on your perspective.
I’ve got to remind myself from time to time that I really can’t control the world or the people in it through personal preference. I can, however, mostly hold the chaos at bay here inside the well-defined boundaries of Fortress Jeff. I’ve put a fair amount of blood and treasure into making it “just so.” It’s into this world that I’ll choose to retreat every time, to dwell among the animals and the books, when I literally can’t even with people any more.
It’s fair to assume that my outlook on most things runs somewhere between cynical and completely jaded. I like to think it comes from a lifetime of watching the world around me… or more spificially, the people who inhabit that world. I’ve rarely been disappointed when I ratchet my expectations for them way, way down.
Still, as much of a cynic as I am, I can’t help but understand the allure of finding yourself inside the orbit of the local chieftain or other center of power. Power, even petty power, or someone else’s power, can be intoxicating. I’d be lying if I told you I couldn’t see what might make people give up their personal life and join the cult of personality.
Look, I’m admitting I can see the draw. The attraction is understandable. I’m also 100% sure that there are no circumstances where I’d ever be that guy. Subsuming my own ideas and ways of doing things in the name of some great and powerful Oz-like figure just isn’t me. It isn’t me, but there are occasional moments where I feel the pull and realize how easy it might be to fall into that trap if conditions were otherwise.
I spent more of the day applying some academic rigor to food trucks, cake cuttings, and feel good opportunities that one might think was strictly reasonable under normal circumstances.
Personally, if I were making decisions on who should be involved in this kind of information gathering, I wouldn’t pick me. I’m not in any way sure what would make someone look at me, a guy who by nature loathes parties, events, or large gatherings of people, and decide that he’s the one who needs to play a significant role in party planning writ large. It’s a skill set to be sure, but I have to think that you’d be far better off giving the role to someone who has better instincts for what people might enjoy.
Believe me when I tell you that what sounds perfectly nice to me generally doesn’t come close to passing muster as being good enough for the gods of Olympus. It’s just a difference of tastes and perspective. To me, a good party mostly involves a fire pit, a half dozen or fewer people, and plenty of liquid refreshment. Once we cross into the realm of crab puffs, linen tablecloths, and mood lighting I’m 100% making shit up as I go along.
My best time imaginable is finding somewhere comfortable to sit, cracking open a book about the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era, and enjoying a well-made whiskey drink. Trying to convert me into a producer of something that feels like it could give the Ice Capades a run for its money seems like square pegs and round holes territory, really.
On days like this it really is helpful to remind myself that no matter what happens, whether the final product is loved or loathed, the clock is ticking and this iteration of the greatest show on earth will be here and over sooner rather than later.
One of the many wonderful things I’ve found myself able to do while working from home is to set up my personal computer to do some of the tedious update activities so that I can click “next” and “ok” in the background while hammering out the next great PowerPoint briefing or staff memo on my work laptop. It’s become an awfully convenient method of making sure I’m running the latest version of applications, everything is backed up, and my tired old Mac Mini is in as good an operational condition as possible. Up until today the process had been a happy and productive one.
Today, though, some combination of changes in iTunes and on my phone conspired to delete all of my hard built playlists from both the computer and the phone simultaneously. The music files are still sitting safely in iTunes, thank God, but such playlists as “Angry,” “V. Angry,” “Sleepy,” and “Depress me,” are nowhere to be found. I’m left with just the main list of everything from Music for the Royal Fireworks to songs that are so filled with pop goodness that I’m not even going to mention their names here.
I know I should just get with the program and stream my music like a normal person. You see, although I live among the millennials, I’ll never quite be one of them. My music habits were formed at a time when you went to a store for your music – and you came home with a shiny new jewel case filled with liner notes (and you got the privilege of slicing the hell out of your finger trying to get all of the security packaging off the product). Even though I don’t buy music on physical media much anymore, I do like the idea of knowing that I have all the correct files sitting on my hard drive waiting to be served up to me instead of just expecting them to live forever on someone else’s cloud. Maybe it’s the last vestigial piece of my analog self in the digital age.
So now I need to rebuild my playlists. It’s daunting, but perhaps guided by the spirit of WinAMP it won’t take five years to get things sorted and back in service just the way I like them. I know listening to music doesn’t need to be this hard… it’s just another fine example of liking what I like with all logic and simplicity cast aside. If that doesn’t give you a deep look into who I am as a person, I don’t know what will.
Over the last couple of months I’d rather gotten use to Monday being my transition day between weekend and work week. Finding myself spun directly back into the office this week has been something of a shock to the system. Even with the extra day off tagged on to the front end, I wasn’t prepared for the arrival of an unwelcome weekday. I don’t suppose anyone ever is, of course, except maybe those happy few who seem to have been born to do whatever It is they find themselves doing. Then again, I’ve long been of the opinion those people are inherently dangerous and not to be trusted.
There is, however, a long weekend on the horizon… which is important because just now I’m not sure I’m of a mind to have the goal posts set much further away than the next weekend. If I can hit the small targets, the big ones should generally take care of themselves. That’s the theory I’m operating under at any rate if only because they’ll have to tend to themselves until I’ve managed to gin up enough energy to do something else with them.
I’m never quite sure if it’s some general funk in the air or if it’s just me slipping into a periodic low energy mode. In any case these moments rarely make for the best of times as they usually further sour a mood that’s usually less than sunny even on my very best days. That old ebb and flow can be a real bitch sometimes, but after all these years of living inside my own head I know the malaise never lasts long. In a few days at most something will come along to catch my interest and reset the “introspection” switch to neutral. Until then it’s just a matter of selecting the rabbit holes I choose to fall through a bit more selectively than usual.
I’m what most people would consider an early riser. I’d be hard pressed to remember the last time I slept past 6:00. More often my days, even the ones at the end of the week, start no later than 5:30. Sometimes they start much earlier. It seems the years of well before dawn alarm ringing have exacted their penalty. I don’t mind it, though. I’ve gotten to like the early morning routine, the quiet, and general lack of people.
Much as it may sound it, this isn’t my ode to the morning. I like to think I’m more subtle than that. Instead, what I’m grappling with now is how it’s possible for me to claw out of bed at 5am on a typical Saturday, Sunday, or holiday Monday, hit the ground running, and keep myself mentally engaged until it’s time to turn the light off that night. I only wonder because on the usual weekday I spend most of that time feeling nearly comatose at worst and merely addled at best. The only discernible difference between those days and today are where I’m spending the hours.
There’s something telling about that. Now if I didn’t have a shit ton of bills to pay I could probably do something about it. The more likely course of action is that I’ll just go ahead and trudge through five days a week in a situationally induced torpor and feeling like a real person on the other days.
I’ve known for most of my life that there are two Jeffs. They share physical characteristics and personality traits, of course, but that’s largely where the similarities end.
One Jeff is the “trusted professional,” if I can appropriate the phrase. He’s quiet, quick with a pithy comment, and has something of a reputation for getting the job done no matter how tall and order it happens to be. He can bring a surprising amount of charm to bear when he’s determined to get his way and the people around him like and respect him for it. He possesses plenty of leadership potential, but very little in the way of leadership ambition.
The other Jeff is guarded and far more stubborn than his alter ego. He’s governed by perennial trust issues, but builds fierce personal loyalties often to his eventual regret. He’s resistant to change, colored with a streaks of perfectionism, and subject to a near fanatical devotion to order and schedule. This Jeff can be charming too, but he mostly excels at drawing people close only to shove them away if they threaten to orbit too near.
Which one is “real?” Probably both. I have my doubts if the two Jeffs are severable at all – and even less confidence that either one would be successful or effective on his own.
There are four little words that have caused no end to the amount of grief in my life. Those words: Yes sir. Can do. Four words. Eleven letters. And almost every single pain in the ass soup sandwich starts off with them flying out of my mouth in response to some vague, but ridiculous request for something that has to happen on a vertical timeline.
Maybe the real problem here is making the mistake of showing too much – or any – competence. The minute anyone figures out that you have a knack for turning a big steaming pile into something more palatable, your fate is more or less sealed. You’re going to be a fixer for the rest of your career or until you jump to a different organization where you might win yourself the ability to play dumb for a few months before you accidentally do too much, too fast and out yourself again. Then the whole vicious cycle repeats itself.
If you happen to have a certain personality type, there’s no way to avoid it really. You’re going to be pulled in by the siren’s song of getting shit done and those four little words will jack you all sorts of up.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.