Same as it ever was…

There are about 16 different online or in person “training modules,” I’m required to take annually. Most take an hour or two of endurance. A few take a bit longer, particularly if you get a live host who likes the sound of their own voice.

This is the time of year when I’m working against the clock to get all of them finished… not because I think I’m going to gain any benefit from them, but because it’s just easier than fighting city hall on why this sort of thing is mandatory in the first place. 

I registered for one of the last two modules I need to knock off for fiscal year 2021 this morning. The registration guide for this particular class noted in bold red text that “the content for FY21 is the same as the content for FY19 and FY20.”

If the content is exactly the same this year as it has been for the last two years, it begs the question of why anyone is expected to cover that ground again – since they presumably passed the training on both previous occasions. I’m not saying it’s all perfectly wasted time, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the kind of thing that will drive you to madness if you dwell on it too long.

If I’ve learned nothing else from almost trips through most of these training opportunities, it’s that sometimes it’s just better to turn your brain off and check the box.  

In our own hands…

I would never have the audacity to claim that I’m in any way attuned to the modern world. I’m generally more comfortable spending time somewhere between the Georgian era and the Eisenhower Administration. What passes for important news of the day mostly leaks in around the margins thanks to social media – and even then it tends to be the salacious bits that make it through to be rank as something to pay attention to.

I say all that only because it seems that over the weekend someone called Little Nasonex (?) set the world on fire. For me, the guy spending most of his current free time wading through the Napoleonic Wars, the whole spectacle more or less defied understanding. 

It’s bewildering, really. I’ve never quite understood people whose world flies off the rails because someone they’ve never met and who has no actual impact on their day-to-day life does something they don’t like. I have, however, gotten very good at ignoring those whose activities annoy me or otherwise make my life less pleasant. 

Giving any attention at all to someone flailing around screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” feels like it would be an exceptionally poor use of whatever limited time I manage to carve out of a day. Like people who don’t enjoy this or that television program or radio personality, the option to change the channel or not watch at all is literally in our own hands. It’s a pity more people don’t avail themselves of that option and let other people enjoy whatever it is they enjoy.

Of elections and lessons learned…

On this day back in 2004, I was attending a week-long “training event” in Portsmouth, Virginia. I remember it clearly because it was the early morning the followed a long night huddled around the television in the hotel’s bar following the results of presidential election pitting George W. Bush against John Kerry.

Every time the instructors called a pause, a small gang of eight or ten of us would skitter across the hall from the meeting room to see the latest changes. As that particular morning dragged on and no winner was declared, we were later and later getting back from breaks. Hey, we were engaged citizens and it was a moment in history.

Eventually, after a particularly lengthy break – maybe after lunch – one of the instructors wandered in and offered the words I like to imagine he lived to regret. To a dozen young-ish bureaucrats he foolishly said, “Well, if you think the election is more important that what we’re doing in class, you should go ahead and stay over here and do that.” Now I’m not a fancy big city lawyer, but even then I was enough of a bureaucrat to recognize a great big, beautiful open door to waltz through when I saw one.

I’m sure he was trying to shame us into compliantly filing back into the meeting room. A few of our little clutch did wither under the instructor’s stink eye and drift back to training, but as far as I, and a few like-minded souls were concerned, we’d just been handed a get out of jail free card. I was sure then, as I’m sure now, that the outcome of the election and the mechanics of how it was decided, were far more important than analyzing our Myers-Briggs type, learning fun facts about our “leadership color,” or any of the other tidbits that could have been gleaned in their entirety from reading the course handouts.

Half a dozen of us opted to stay put that day. Maybe we didn’t learn much out of the official leadership curriculum, but we did learn a bloody fearful lesson about being careful what options you lay out when you have no idea how people will react. In all my long career from then to now, when there was only one “right” direction, I never presented it as an optional activity.

Most of the “leadership training” I’ve been sent to has been laughable in one way or another, but just this once, I feel like there was a solid lesson learned.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Look, it’s increasingly easy to find three things a week in this tired old world that annoy me to no end. Turn on the news, pick the first three stories they cover, and I’m probably annoyed about each and every one of them.

This week, though, is an oddity. Being in the midst of burning off a tranche of vacation time, most of the noise has faded into the deep background. I’m getting up, drinking my coffee, spending quality time with the critters, reading a bit, cooking, and fiddling around with a few minor projects around the house. 

At least for the last few days, I’ve created a happy little bubble here and thoroughly enjoyed staying in it while whatever is going on “out there” stays out there. For these few moments, I’m not annoyed by a single damned thing in the world… except the certain knowledge that this particular idyll will soon enough come to a tragic finish.

And that’s far worse than the combination than any other three things I can imagine.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

What I learned this week…

Ok, do you want to know the truth? I didn’t learn a damned thing worth mentioning this week. I did the work, I read some books, made some meals, played with the critters, and mostly avoided anything related to thinking deep thoughts.

Some weeks are like that. Maybe I could have made more of an effort – maybe I even should have, just for the sake of putting on a good show, but as they say the juice didn’t feel worth the squeeze. And that leads us directly to where we are now, with me sitting here pecking at the keyboard without much of anything at all to talk about.

I’ve been reading some solid books though – terrorists and silver mining and roman legions taking on American Indians. That’s some happy-making shit right there. Maybe this week that was far more valuable than learning something. Even if it’s not, I’m well satisfied.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

I have a confession to make.

While the world burns, the Great Plague continues to cut a swath through the populace, and business remains buttoned up, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been less annoyed over a seven-day period. That probably makes me some kind of sociopath – or at the very least marks me as out of step with the age.

Realistically, though, what do I have to bitch about this week? I’m still drawing a check, mostly working from home, picked up two extra free hours a day that use to be commuting, have a wall of books to read, and a bunch of critters to tend. Unless I catch the bug making sure the tortoise is flush with spring mix, the scope and scale of things available to annoy me has decreased dramatically as each week passes.

If you insist on knowing, though, I’ll tell you what’s managed to get under my skin this week. I have an increasingly pressing craving for a giant chicken burrito from Chipotle. The last five weeks are probably the longest I’ve gone without bringing one home. Doing that now means either breaking quarantine and heading across state lines into a county with 10x the number of confirmed cases that we have here or making a 22-mile drive down 95 to the closest spot in Maryland. Neither of those is a particularly enchanting option. 

But I really want a giant burrito, damnit. Assuming that the plague keeps on running for another week or two it’s entirely possible that the craving will overpower common sense and any marginal concern I may have about getting sick and dropping dead. 

Fifty days…

There are a grand total of 50 working days between me and kicking off a what I affectionately think of as The Greatest Shitshow on Earth. Fifty days sounds like a fair amount of time. Maybe it should. The reality, in the belly of the one of the world’s great bureaucratic organizations, though, is that 50 days is almost nothing. It’s closer to the time it takes to order and receive supplies than it is to what it takes to deliver a major project.

It’s fifty days to start, two more to do the thing, and a grand total of fifty two more days before this particular piece of work slips astern. It means I’m going to wake up every morning for the next fifty two days a little bit more annoyed than I was on the previous morning. It’s possible that at some point during this endless march of days, my eyes will physically roll right out of my skull.

I’d love to tell you it’s all for a good cause or that the return on investment makes the sheer weight of aggravation somehow worth it. I can’t and it isn’t. The whole thing is a fucking vanity exercise devised and propagated by echelons higher than reality. Look, I’ll go whatever way someone points me, and deliver whatever they ask for as best I can, but don’t ever expect me to pretend it’s an exciting opportunity to do great things. It’s just one more dumbass thing I’m doing to stay off the breadline.

There be plague here…

There’s some kind of plague in the office that seems to be slowly afflicting everyone in the place. One of the people I interact with most on a current project has the good sense to stay home today. The other crawled from bed like a corpse hacking and wheezing its way through a day of meetings.

I’m feeling fine. But given the current prevailing circumstances I’m feeling confident this bug will take me down sooner or later. You won’t find mock heroics here. Hard life lessons have taught me that no one cares if you drag you’re near-dead carcass from your sickbed to make sure that one meeting gets covered.

Even if someone did care, the meeting and giant bureaucratic organization for which it stands, will roll along forever with or without you… So if it truly couldn’t matter less, you might as well stay in bed and make an effort to recover – or at least make the effort not to spread the plague to everyone who has to work with you.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here dipping my whole self in lysol.

Against the tyranny of the cubicle…

I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.

Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.

Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.

What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.

In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.