I can say ” I don’t give a shit” a thousand times, but the reality is that when my name is attached to something, I actually do give a shit. I give a shit not really because I have any particular use or affection for the thing itself, but because I care deeply that the thing in some way has my name attached to it… and I prefer that my name not be attached to a big steaming pile of shit.
Sure, it’s the sin of pride or something, but I’ve just never particularly liked the idea of doing half-assed work. You’d think by now it would be an operating condition I would be use to – particularly when people who should know better seem utterly oblivious to the size of the wrenches they regularly throw into the machinery at the last possible moment. Of course then they have the audacity to ask accusingly why the goddamned machinery broke down.
It’s probably for the best that sixteen years of hard won lessons learned have largely tempered my mouth. I can usually manage to choke off the inclination to tell uncomfortable truths to powerful people because I know it won’t do a damned bit of good. Now if I could just learn to control the “you’ve got to be shitting me” look on my face maybe all would be well… but just now, I’m having an awfully hard time disguising the look of complete disgust at knowing that this is really how we do things.
1. The driveway. Actually it’s not the whole driveway I find annoying. It’s the twenty feet or so of it that stays shady and snow covered even when temperatures reach on up past 40 degrees. That would also be known as the part that reaches out and trips unsuspecting people that are just trying to walk to the mailbox. If I ever find myself in a position of needing to replace this driveway, it’s a safe assumption that I’ll be taking a hard look at having heating units installed and just being done with shoveling, blowing, or otherwise dealing with snow in any way.
2. The federal budgeting process. As I write this, we are about 30 hours away from what the media calls a “government shutdown.” The reality of it is the lack of an appropriation could result in what might more legitimately be called a partial shutdown, with many portions of the government carrying on as if it’s just another day at the office. Still, though, it occurs to me that as long as I have worked for Sam, the Congress has failed to actually pass a normal budget on time and in regular order. Yes, in fifteen years I’ve never worked a day under what once upon a time was considered the “normal” federal budget process. I’m not saying we can trace all the problems of government back to their failure to do one of the few things that Constitution specifically expects them to do, but it seems like getting that fixed would be a decent enough place to start doing things the right way.
3. Baltimore. A monument to the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of our country, was desecrated this week. This act took place, in the very city where Francis Scott Key penned the words of what would become our song. It took place in Baltimore, in a city that should be filled with pride at being the home of the anthem and home to the long ago night in which the flag that inspired Key’s pen flew over embattled Fort McHenry. This is actually the second monument related to Key and the anthem that’s been vandalized in the last six months. There’s no geography on earth I love more than my native state, but gods help us, Baltimore is a cesspit.
I had a moment of extreme clarity this afternoon as I was sitting in my cube quietly seething at the inefficacy of things in general – and of the minuscule probability of ever getting my office computer fixed in particular. Like a real living version of Office Space, I realized that I’ve basically achieved every professional goal I’ve ever set for myself and my last real motivating factor is to cut hassle to an absolute minimum wherever possible. I try to do respectable work because that cuts down on the number of people who are going to ask for it to be redone. I cancel meetings when I don’t have anything new to share because a meeting running loose with no agenda will breed more work all on its own. I smile and nod to all manner of ridiculous ideas because fending all of them off would be both exhausting and futile.
It’s not the recipe you would want to use for ginning up someone’s best efforts, but it’s certainly one that works when the overarching objective seems to be reaching “good enough” and proceeding no further. If I were young and impressionable this might have the tendency to being dispiriting. Mercifully I gave up having spirit many years ago. Then I jettisoned professional pride and shortly thereafter personal pride in a job well done. What’s left then, it seems, is the motivation of not being hassled. What happens when that’s no longer a motivating factor, the gods alone know.
I supposed it’s yet one of those cases where I’ll have to burn that bridge when I get to it.
Earlier this morning, while waiting for one of the endless piles of laundry to finish, I gave birth to a third draft. What we have is fully formed, edited, formatted, and copyrighted short story. I’d be lying if I said I was completely happy with it. Then again, you can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever been completely happy with anything, so take that with a healthy dose of salt. I’m happy enough with the content – aside from the inevitable grammar, punctuation, and usage stuff – but my real hang up at the moment is the title; Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds.
That’s not the first title. It’s not the second or even the fifth. It’s the eighth if I’m counting correctly. I’m just not sold on it yet even though it feels like the best of the bunch. Having said that, I’m not currently in a mode of letting the perfect stand in the way of the good enough.
This little project of mine is moving out. I’ve just launched it into the hands of someone who was there at the beginning to give this draft its first formal read through. Letting other people see one of these things is the most nerve wracking part – especially when that person reads. A lot. It means you’re going to get compared to people who do this for a living. That’s a tough standard to meet when you’ve cobbled the idea together a few hundred words at a time working nights and weekends. Still, it’s my baby and that means I’ll be immensely proud of it even if the rest of the world thinks it’s ugly as sin.
Soon enough you’ll all get the opportunity to make up your own minds on the issue. I just hope I’ve done the work well enough to meet expectations. Everything else is gravy.
1. Bullying. If the media is to be believed, basically every form of social interaction is now considered bullying. Look, I get that we want to protect kids from all the mean, nasty things in the world, but the fact is sometimes the world is just a mean nasty place. There were plenty of bullies around 20 years ago when I was in school. I’m sure there were plenty 50 years ago, too. It’s not exactly like this is some new danger society has never faced before. Is bullying wrong? Of course it is. Should we be aware of it and try to reduce it? Of course. Once upon a time, if you stood up to a typical bully they went away. From the news coverage of those who choose to off themselves or shoot up the place in response to a bully’s taunts, I wonder if we’ve collectively raised a generation that simply doesn’t know how to actually stand up for themselves rather than immediately lurching to the extremes.
2. Healthcare.gov. I’m pretty sure if my boss gave me three years and $500 million and told me to build a website, he might have some actual expectations that at the end of three years I’d have at least a working prototype. Sure, it might need some of the rough edges smoothed out over time, but the damn thing would have at least the basic functionalities built in – like being able to register as a user. If at some point in the process, I realized things weren’t working out, I’d at least have the stones to fire off a red star cluster and call for assistance. Instead, we have a dysfunction website that no one is willing to be accountable for screwing up. Maybe I’m just doing the whole work thing wrong. It could be time to go see what jobs Health and Human Services has available. An employer with no actual expectations would have to be a pretty relaxing gig.
3. Buying off the rack. I’m not now, nor have I ever been a small guy. A side effect of this is my neck has to be correspondingly thick to support the giant gourd that sits atop it. While I’m not and will never be known as a clothes horse, I do from time to time, have to find something to wear that isn’t a polo/khaki combination. Let’s just say finding a collar that fits around my pillar of a neck with sleeves that don’t stop halfway up my forearms is something just shy of seeking the holy grail. Of course when you do find one of these mythical shirts, they’re never on the $19.99 sale rack, they’re always way in the back on the $75-full-price-thank-you-very-much section of the store… and that’s a real pisser for something I’m going to wear once and then relegate to the back of the closet because I hate wearing a tie.
I applied for unemployment with the State of Maryland this morning. That’s a proud moment for this career civil servant, let me tell you. It’s hard to believe that there was a time in this country when being a part of the professional, non-partisan cadre of federal employees was considered an honorable (and stable) career. Now that our elected masters have figured out how to politicize the bureaucracy, well, it’s a safe bet that those days are long gone. I suppose if I were a bloviating asshat in love with the sound of my own voice (i.e. a typical member of Congress), federal employees would make a convenient scapegoat of opportunity.
The thing to remember is that under the American Plan, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” What that means for those of you who don’t speak 18th century is that every action taken by a federal employee is in response to a law passed by the Congress of the United States and signed by the president. Blaming the average federal employee for the intransigence of our political masters is like blaming the guy cooking your fries when the price of McDonald’s stock goes down. Sure, it’s easy to do, but it just doesn’t pass the objectivity test.
Trust me when I say that we have more reason than most to hate the douchebags in Washington who make the laws and set the priorities.
I suck at holding my tongue. It runs counter to my natural inclination to get loud and rowdy when points of personal pride are involved. I can only hope that my silence is never mistaken for assent. I have a long memory, particularly when it comes to keeping tabs on those who think I’ll stand idle while they malign my integrity. If I don’t react it’s because I’ve opted to respond in a time and a place of my own choosing rather than based on someone else’s timeline.
My very first instinct when something stupid happens is to think about it as a “blogable” moment. Occasionally, despite how pitch perfect the post would be, a cooler head eventually prevails and I realize that now is not the time to shift my career dissipation light into overdrive. Instead, I bite my tongue, and file the original post away for future reference or for inclusion in Jeff’s Great Big Book of Asshattery, currently scheduled for publication in Fall 2036.
I may be keeping my own counsel. For now. But I urge you not to make the unfortunate mistake of thinking that I’ll ever allow myself to be backed into a corner – Especially by someone whose quiver is only filled with tersely-worded emails.
I pride myself on a whole host of things, but one of the most important has been being able to keep a precision focus on whatever task happened to be at hand despite multitasking to keep up with emails, text messages, and the six dozen other things that crop up to distract us in the course of the day. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but being able to hold multiple irons in the fire is a point of personal pride. Or it has been until the last couple of days.
I don’t know where that part of my brain that usually handles multiple relatively complex tasks at once, but it’s well and truly out of service at the moment. Focusing in on just one thing at a time has been more of a challenge than I really want to admit. Thank God it’s winter. If the weather was better every bird or squirrel passing the window would be cause to send me off on a wild tangent. Just keeping my focus with the myriad of conversations going on around me has proved to be something close to a full time effort. Quite frankly, work is traumatic enough without also dealing with the attention span of the average fruit fly.
It’s one of those inconveniences that I’m sure will sort itself out in a few days or a week, but in the meantime, I’m driving myself bloody crazy over here. The number of Post It notes now decorating my desk at work and the kitchen table is bordering on ridiculous. Getting back to an even keel where I can remember to pick up dog food or make a phone call without a reminder would be most appreciated. Until then, if I’ve told you I’m going to do something, feel free to remind me often, because there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to forget about it completely before it actually gets done. I really hadn’t planned on hitting the “always forgetting stuff” part of my life until much later, so hopefully this is just a temporary sneak preview of the impending joys of much later middle age.
Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday. Say what you want about Independence Day or Columbus Day, but for my money, Thanksgiving is that one most quintessentially American holiday. Basing a major national holiday around a table laden with high fat, high carb, loaded with sugar foods is just about the perfect celebration of gluttony. I have to think that no one could pull off that kind of holiday quite as well as America can and does year in and year out.
After our high calorie meal, the vast majority of us are going to spend a good part of the evening lying about the house inspecting inside of our eyelids. Score one for sloth. After we’ve sufficiently recuperated from our meal, as a nation we’ll waddle off into the cold November darkness to our retailers of choice. Once there, we’ll spend billions of dollars on trinkets and baubles of every type. If someone is unfortunate enough to get in our way, we’ll trample them in a rush to the shelves piled high with merchandise. We’ve taken a bite out of wrath, greed, and envy right there.
Now, while we’re waiting in the checkout line or once we finally get our precious haul back to the nominal safety of our respective places of residence, we’ll post on Facebook about what deals we were able to scavenge. Our friends and family will be so jealous! Nice to see you there, pride.
The only thing missing is lust, but look on the bright side… This four-day splurge-a-thon is just getting warmed up.
From the writer, editor, and publisher of jeffreytharp.com to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving!
As a matter of policy, we want a well trained and highly educated workforce to carry out the agency’s business. One of the great military-as-management-philosophy aphorisms is that an organization should “train as it fights.” That is to say, it should build its training program based on situations and circumstances it will encounter in the real world. Of course that’s not the standard we train against.
Our training is driven by a “points” system. Each of several hundred real world and online courses are valued as a specific number of training points. Once you reach the prescribed number of points for the year, you are, by definition, “well trained.” This is great if your objective is to be well trained in as short a time as possible; not so much if you actually want to learn something. Then again, learning something isn’t actually part of the training requirement so if it happens, that’s mostly just a bonus.
On a recent morning I had a few hours of unplanned free time, I racked up more than half of my required yearly points after about three hours of clicking through various PowerPoint slides and Flash presentations… while also having discussions with other staffers, answering the phone, sending email, and monitoring breaking news on Charlie Sheen. I don’t think that was necessarily the kind of quality learning the training office hoped to achieve, but that’s what happens when you base the requirement on earning a fixed number of points rather than on actual knowledge gained or skills needed to stay current in your career field. This is doubly true when you write off professional pride as a motivating factor.
Fortunately, I’m now officially “well trained” for 2011… so I can put this sad, sad experience out of my mind for another 11 months.
Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.