I started working on one particularly benighted project a year ago this month. It was supposed to be long over by now, but thanks to the Great Plague it lives on. It lives on and goes critical for two days starting tomorrow. It will either go well or it will crash and burn over those two days. I don’t see any obvious path to “it went ok.”
By this time tomorrow we’ll know which path it’s taking… which is why I’m currently sitting here with a gin and tonic staring blankly at the back yard and occasionally tapping in a few words on my phone. We’ve reached the point now where there’s nothing left to do but show up and hope the thing unfolds the way it’s supposed to, that one or more of the key players don’t spaz out, and that the tech doesn’t suddenly, catastrophically fail.
There’s effectively nothing I can do about any of those issues now. Except wait and see how it all falls together or apart.
I hate the wondering. I hate the waiting. Let’s get on with it and get it finished.
1. Having no room for subtlety. If the internet wants to agree that all cops are bastards, then by extension we should also agree that it’s ok to define other populations based on a small percentage of the total. Based on this kind of bizarre internet logic, we can also accept, without further discussion, that all whites are racist, all blacks are lazy, all Jews are greedy or whatever your favorite stereotype happens to be. I just don’t have the time or energy to pretend that the world’s great complexities can be distilled down to snappy sound bites or funny, funny memes. The world is too damned complicated for that abject fuckery.
2. The moment before. I can tell the “big thing” is getting close. The phone has mostly stopped ringing. The torrent of email has turned into a trickle. A year’s effort is poised at the edge of the precipice that we must surely tumble down in just a few more ticks of the clock. I love this part because it means the big thing is almost over. I hate this part because there’s virtually nothing to be done now to change the direction we’re headed or the outcomes we’ll experience.
3. Reduced page count. Being back in the office this week has noticeably reduced my daily page count. Losing that hour in the morning and hour in the afternoon that are the daily commute is drastically cutting into my reading time and honestly I’m not a fan. I can’t help but think getting my nose into a book is, frankly, a better use of the constrained resources that is available time. Going back to doing this every day for real until the next plague comes along is just depressing.
1. The NeverEnding Project. If it weren’t for the Great Plague, I’d have had this particular project behind me for almost a month now. Instead, though, it got delayed, deferred, and then converted to an “online experience.” A better man than me might be laser focused on delivering a world class product – or at least be interested in something beyond the minimum acceptable standard… but honestly, my only objective is for this time-sucking vanity project to reach its long-suffering conclusion, regardless of whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre.
2. The market isn’t the economy. A million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a youth, an obscure southern governor won the presidency on the back of the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid.” Despite the easy money propping up the stock market right now, I have to think that underlying economic conditions driven by our response (or lack thereof) to the Great Plague will be what drives Election 2020 as we draw towards November and people broadly start paying attention to electoral politics. My take, bound to be unpopular in MAGA circles, is that if the Republican Party wants to maintain any relevancy in the next four years, it’s time to focus all our time and money on holding on to the Senate.
3. Complaints. The number of things I do on a weekly basis because “if we don’t, someone might complain” should be disturbing. Doing things just so MaryJane Douchebag doesn’t open her yap just doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. No one (except me) seems to find it disturbing, though. I have no idea when we became a society that spends so much time worrying that someone might complain, but here we are. It’s dumb, I hate it, and it’s just another example of how the 21st century is absolute trash.
1. Wanting it bad. There’s an old saw when it comes to government work that says “If you want it bad, you’ll get it bad.” Put another way, if you want to shove something out the door fast, don’t be surprised when quality suffers. I’ll be the first to say that not every project needs to take months and years to come to fruition, but there are times when you’d be far better off and deliver a far more refined product if you’d just take a few extra days to put just a little bit of polish on the final effort… but if you demand a rush job, don’t be surprised when the result is one ugly-assed example of “good enough.”
2. FCC complainers. I didn’t see the Superbowl halftime show this year, but I did see clips of it. According to complaints received by the FCC it was “a x-rated display like you’d see at a strip club.” All I keep thinking is that the poor person who wrote that complaint couldn’t possible have ever been to a strip club or actually seen porn. I almost feel sorry for these puritanical douche canoes who are clearly too uptight about the human body to ever really enjoy any sexytime.
3. Lack of motivation. By Thursday whatever motivation I could manage to scrape together to kick off the week is well and truly spent. While I’m mostly focused on keeping my ducks more or less in line and getting across the Friday afternoon line of demarcation, there’s always someone rolling into the last third of the week with boundless energy, optimism, the desire to do great things. While I’m sure these people are well intentioned and may even be organizational rock stars, the only thing I really want to do with them is kick them directly in the junk. Because it’s Thursday and I’m expending every ounce of available energy to keep my eyes from rolling out of my skull. If I can put anything more than that on the table at this late stage of the week, it’s a bonus, but really shouldn’t in any way be expected.
1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.
2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.
3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.
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.
Well. Here we are again. I should probably have something controversial or heart felt to plug in here today. I don’t know, maybe the apathy here at the moment is a nice punctuation mark following yesterday’s post on motivation and the lack thereof. That’s probably how I’ll end up justifying it to myself, anyway. You, of course, are free to make your own determination.
The reality is that I’m just looking for a night where I don’t spend at least a portion of the time railing about some fuckery that’s happened at the office. There’s something to be said about not giving them free space in the evening after letting them rent out my brain for eight hours during the day. So much as I’m tempted to rant and rave as usual, I’m just not feeling up to it tonight.
I found myself in a bit of a lull today anyway… I’m not saying that it wasn’t the kind of hot mess you’ve come to expect. I’m in a position for the moment where everything is pushed out and waiting for other people to do their bit – a review, a signature, and bit of bureaucratic hand-waiving. As Gandalf would say, “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.”
It’s the deep breath before the next plunge, anyway. But then there’s the next one. And the one after that. And the one that follows that one right out through the next couple of months. Maybe I should be thankful for the momentary pause… though all it’s really done is ratchet up the anxiety level that it’s not a pause at all and the ominous silence means something has flown wildly off the rails.
Yeah, living in my brain is a laugh riot sometimes.
For the last five years I’ve had the odious distinction of being the lead planner for an event that brings upwards of 1000 people from across the country into buildings, tents, bars, restaurants, and pool halls of our little part of the world. I’ve been fortunate in each of those five years to assemble a team the least of whom could be described as acceptable. Most were easily best in class. We got along with a few nudges from leadership and delivered each year’s product on time, to standard, and on budget.
This year, for reasons surpassing any kind of human logic, “help” as poured in from each and every one of four management layers above me. “Help” poured in from the lawyers. “Help” poured in from the people who manage the contracts. “Help” poured in from quarters that have been otherwise silent for years. Which is nice since we really have no idea what the time, standard, or current budget are supposed to be anyway.
All of this magnanimous help has made properly certain that every god damned thing that gets touched comes flying violently off the rails at every available opportunity… and especially on Friday afternoon. Which is tremendously helpful for both my mood and blood pressure.
What did I learn today? Ha. Well, if there’s any possible way that we can fuck this up, but still blindly stumble on without even considering whether it’s a thing we should do, that’a exactly the direction we’ll follow.
As I was Frankensteining together another PowerPoint slide deck from lightly used and discarded pieces of other briefings, it really started to sink in that I’m working on the 6th yearly iteration of this project. It’s a project that was originally slated to be part of my life for “a year or two max” and then get handed off to the next lucky victim. It’s another in Uncle’s long train of bright, shiny promises that may or may not in any way be reflected in eventual reality. It’s something you get use to after enough years have sheered away.
I’m really only stuck on this topic today because it set me thinking about the various ways that whoever is sitting in the big chair influences all sorts of relatively minor details that can make life an unmitigated shitshow. What I’ll call “leadership personality” appears to be the only driving difference between a small, no frills, meeting the requirement sort of job, and one that has all the stops pulled out and all safeties disarmed.
For a moment there this afternoon, I was stuck with the towering reality of just how little years of collective expertise and experience count against a single moment of “Yeah, but I want to do it this other way.” It’s probably best that I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that. I’m sure I’d be told that’s a feature of the system rather than a bug. It’s a reasonable assessment that some people would even believe that.
The fact is, I’m very nearly agnostic when it comes to what decisions are made – especially if they’re only made just that one time and not jiggered about every six days thereafter until the inevitable heat death of the universe. I’ll provide the best insight and information I have, but once someone points out the approved direction of travel, I’ll head that way and keep moving until apprehended.
We’re maybe, possibly, somewhere in the general vicinity of a decision that may or may not have a large impact on something I’ve spent months out of the last five years tinkering around with. I’m just going to assume that level of interest in anything goin on in my sandbox is what has my nerves set to “on edge.”
I’ve spent more of the last three months engaged in the pursuit of one single line of effort than is strictly healthy for someone. That’s fine. Someone has to be the institutional memory – even if only to remind you of why something sounds good on paper but goes to hell in a handbasket in practice.
The bigger trouble comes when people who haven’t been paying meticulously close attention realize a Big Thing is about to happen. Then they want to get focused on it. They want to deep dive it and know all that there is to know. That, too, is fine… as long as one remembers that the more often you have to tell the backstory and provide months worth of details, the more limited the time remaining to actually do the work becomes. It’s a corollary to Tharp’s Maxim #1 – I can either go to meetings about the work or I can do the work. I cannot, however, do both simultaneously.
In any case, we’re racing from fire to fire, from crisis to crisis, in hopes that somehow we manage to deliver a final product that isn’t ridiculous in the eyes of gods and men. It’s a tall order – especially when we keep inflicting wounds on ourselves.
I console myself with knowing that good, bad, or otherwise, in short order a Big Thing is going to happen no matter how hard we try to fuck it up in the closing hours. One way or another we limp across the finish line a week from tomorrow.