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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The value of time. In the final episode of the HBO series The Tudors, an aging King Henry advised his closest friend that time was the most tragic of all losses, because it “is the most irrecuperable for it can never be redeemed.” So it is… and it would serve as a solid reminder for the great and the good to be mindful to start – and stop – their proceedings in a timely manner. While they may be lord high shits in their own collective minds, you can stake your last greenback dollar that I don’t value their time any more highly than I value my own.

2. Automatic Tire Pressure Sensors. I started driving back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the only way to know the pressure of the air in your tires was to check it manually – which I mostly did consistently each month unless one appeared to be low or otherwise in need of attention. Flash forward to 2014 and I’ve got a handy little sensor in each tire now that blinks a bothersome orange warning light whenever one of the tires has fallen out of standard. To put more of a fine point on it, this event only seems to happen precisely at 6:32AM, in the dark, when it’s 6 degrees with the wind chill making it feel -10. I’m sure that three extra pounds of air I put in the tires this morning was important, but I’m just now starting to feel my fingers again. All things considered, the damned sensors are more trouble than they’re worth.

3. Online Ordering. For the second time in as many weeks I’ve called to check on orders with two separate companies only to find that “oh, there was a problem processing the payment.” That’s not a huge deal, of course, but it would have been useful if they had at least made an effort to contact me and let me know the thing I was expecting to show up wasn’t on the move to its destination. No email. No phone call. Not a word until I went sniffing around wondering why shipping a package out suddenly took almost a week. A little basic customer service is all I expect. Just a touch. The tiniest show of interest would be appreciated… but that’s clearly a bridge too far.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Irons in the fire. If there was ever a recurring them up in this place, it would have to be that time is fleeting. There’s never enough of it and there’s always too much to cram into the hours available. I hit that wall once every five or six months – when it gets to the point when you’ve got to start making uncomfortable decisions about what stays and what goes; what you’re willing to invest time into and what you’re going to toss over the transom. It’s why I don’t golf any more – I loved it, but carving out four or five uninterrupted hours at a time eventually fell into the too hard to do column. It’s getting to be one of those times again and it’s just a matter of racking and stacking the things that are eating up my day and deciding what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I’m absolutely convinced that I can do it all, but I equally sure I can’t do it all at once.

2. Failure to lead. Once upon a time, the United States was the voice of reason on the international stage. Winning two world wars and forging an international economic order, we managed to keep the cold war from turning hot and kept enough of a lid on a dozen other regional conflicts to keep them from boiling over and dragging the rest of the world down with them. Now, with our oldest alliances fraying and our “great power” influence on world events waning, we seem more or less content to let others lead while we fall back. We’re in retreat from the world around us and our responsibilities in it; worse, we’re letting other countries call the tune to which we’re going to have to dance. I see the growing notion at home and abroad that the United States is “just another country.” Philosophically, I’m horrified by the very notion and know full well that the road we’re on doesn’t end well either for us, or for the generations who have looked for us to lead the way.

3. Modern convenience. I have a light on my truck’s dash that is supposed to tell me when one of my tires is low on air. It’s been on for six months because what it’s really telling me is that I have a bad air pressure sensor. When I was informed by Toyota that the pressure sensor was a $300 fix, let’s just say that after laughing at them my next question was whether I could get behind the dash and just take the bulb out of the idiot light. I’m sure some people consider knowing their tire pressure from the pilot’s seat an incredible convenience. I’m not one of them. Back in the dark ages when I got my driver’s license, we had to manually check our tire pressure from time to time with a $.99 handheld analog gage. If it means not spending $299.01, I’m happy going right back to doing that once a week just like I did from 1994-2008. I’m pretty sure this is a case of modern convenience being more trouble than it’s worth.

Routine…

From what I’ve been able to gather from my, admittedly, limited experience, writing is as much a force of habit as anything. Whether it’s blogging, the great American novel, or a run of the mill short story, the only secret I’ve discovered is that the the only way to get words on the page is to sit down and hammer at the keyboard as part of your routine. I’m sure there are methods that work for others, but that’s what works for me. Well, it’s what works all-work-and-no-playfor me until it doesn’t work. If I can be frank, the since Thanksgiving, I’ve had an appalling track record of sitting down and making any more than a cursory effort.

It might not show so much here, but my daily world count is in the pits after months and months of hitting at least 1000 words a day. I don’t know if it’s just the lull between the holidays, some kind of creativity burn out, running out of things to say, or just too much time doing other stuff, but whatever switch turns on when you’re really hitting your stride is nowhere to be found at the moment. That’s not to say that the juice couldn’t magically start flowing tomorrow, but for now it’s missing without a trace.

Tonight I’m going to struggle to get to half of my usual word count. If I happen to hit 600 words, that’s practically a cause for celebration. I’ve often thought that the best writers, the prolific ones, must be creatures of habit – that the must have some kind of internal disipline to churn out words even when they’re not feeling it. The more I write, and the more seriously I take it as a craft, I learn that no two days at the keyboard are alike. There are high points and there are slumps. I know that if I stay with it long enough, I’m going to find my swing again… but for now, I’m going to just try being pleased that I’m hitting 500 words instead of 300 on a regular basis.