Threat vectors…

American tourists dropping like flies in the Dominican Republic. Squeegie Kids attacking commuters in downtown Baltimore. Random violent acts in shopping malls and on the street. People generally behaving like assholes in every conceivable public space – some dangerous, some simply stupid beyond all comprehension. The average person spends their day surrounded by threat vectors without every really knowing it. It’s probably for the best. If most people really understood what a dangerous place the world was, I’d wonder how they managed to get through the day at all.

There’s a saying that I’ve often heard repeated, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” While I’ll admit this bit of received wisdom isn’t 100% accurate, experience tells me a whole lot of dumb and dangerous stuff happens between midnight and dawn – things that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the full light of day. I long ago adopted a corollary to this Midnight Rule, which says “That’s the kind of dumb shit you can avoid by not leaving the house.”

People look at me cross ways when I say it – perhaps too loudly and often. Yes, yes, I know that most accidental injuries happen in the home. Slicing your finger open with a kitchen knife or falling down in the shower are unfortunate to be sure, but can also largely be avoided by not getting too distracted from whatever task is at hand. The outside threat vectors, though, are far more difficult to control for – the disgruntled coworker, the squeegy kids, and all the great long laundry list of stupid people out there wandering around in the world at large. What all of those vectors have in common is that they are abso-fucking-lutly not in my house.

And that, friends, is in large part why I go places for the most part when it can’t be avoided, but am otherwise entirely happy to pass the time reasonably secure from the kind of jackassery you open yourself up to by going places and doing things. I like to think I’ve done reasonably well by sticking to the ideas that nothing good is happening after midnight and dumb shit can be be avoided by not leaving the house. I don’t suppose it works for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a sound basis for getting by.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bathroom stall phone calls. Yes, you’re sitting down and probably bored, but the shitter in the public restroom really isn’t a conference room. And yet at least once a week I walk into the one down the hall from my little section of cube farm and there’s someone holed up in one of the stalls having a full blown conversation. First, it’s the one room in the building where I can mostly go to escape pointless conversation. Secondly, whoever you’ve got on the other end of the line doesn’t need to hear you dropping the kids off at the pool. Lastly, you can save the stink eye, because every time I walk in there and find you on the phone, I’m going to fart, belch, whistle a jaunty tune, and generally be as loud, obnoxious, and passive aggressive as possible… because I dare you to say something to justify yourself in the eyes of gods and men.

2. City slickers. In Paul Krugman’s recent screed in the New York Times, Getting Real About Rural America, his thesis seemed to be that things could get better if only people in rural America started thinking more like people living in urban America. The catch, of course, is that I’ve made the conscious decision to live in rural America precisely because it doesn’t think (or behave) like urban America. I could have just as easily decided to live in Baltimore, Wilmington, or Philadelphia but none of those places support the kind of lifestyle or the quality of life that’s important to me. If the capital “D” Democratic Party ever wants to make serious inroads into the vast swath of country beyond reliably Democratic voting cities and inner suburbs, they’re going to have to come up with a far better argument than “you should just think like us.” The day I declare I want to give up wide open ground, backyard wildlife, towering oaks, no traffic, and idyllic quiet for “everything the city has to offer,” consider this my written permission to begin proceedings to have me psychologically committed. 

3. Recognition. After spending the better part of six months mixed up in delivering a final product that’s “rolling off” the proverbial line next week, there’s nothing more cheering that sitting in a meeting where one of the Gods on Olympus turns to you quizzically and asks, “Ummm, why are you here?” Oh, no particular reason, I saw a meeting forming up and I didn’t have anything else to do this hour so I thought I’d hang. I don’t ever do things for public credit to see my name in lights – in fact I actively avoid those things. Still, though, sometimes it might be nice to know it’s recognized that I’m not just wandering the halls lacking anything better to do. You can just color my morale well boosted today.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to pay attention. I observe people around me. It’s as much for entertainment as it is out of the general sense that it’s just good policy to know what is or could be happening in my immediate surroundings. It’s the people who have absolutely no interest or regard for anything that extends past their own nose that I find most infuriating. They’re the ones that will pull out in front of you without noticing onrushing traffic, or throw their car in reverse to leave the gas pumps and narrowly avoid hitting the car behind them. They’re the ones who look utterly perplexed when someone asks if they’re ready to order after standing in line for the last fifteen minutes without once glancing at the menu. They’re the ones who stop short in the middle of the sidewalk and somehow look surprised when the next person trips into them. How wonderful it must be to exist in this world without any sense or interest in things happening just beyond arms reach – forget things that happen out of sight. Those might as well be witchcraft. Situational awareness isn’t just keeping an eye open for something in your environment that just doesn’t seem right. Sadly, awareness, whether situational or itherwise if apparently a bridge too goddamned far for 90% of the people living on this beshitted rock of a planet.

2. The shifting sands of Mondays. One of the big “so whats” about telework is it’s supposed to prepare us for working from alternate locations when our usual place of business is flooded, radioactive, or otherwise unavailable for doing business. When the office closes for a snow day, I’m theoretically supposed to be able to fire up my computer and do my job from home (which is a fine plan in theory, except for the part where even though I’m technically on the clock, the other 3000 people who I occasionally deal with don’t have telework agreements and are home not checking their email and phone messages). The whole theory of being able to do everything you can do in your office from a remote location is a fine one and probably true somewhere. I’ve got a situation next week that is ideal for “proof of concept” of why telework is the right answer. The meeting with high profile people is squarely in the middle of my regularly scheduled day to work from home. The most straightforward approach would be to call in and participate in the meeting as if being somewhere other than in the office didn’t make a difference. The actual approach will be to “just switch your day so you can be here for the meeting.” When we proceed from a place that assumes the quality of my work or advice on a subject is driven by where I am geographically, we’ve already lost the fight to build a 21st century workforce.

3. Accusations. In the American tradition of jurisprudence there are two concepts that we collectively seem to ignore when it’s convenient. One is the idea that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The other is that the accused has a right to confront the witness against them. In a world where the accuser either cannot or will not produce substantive corroborating evidence or identify witnesses to the alleged crime, accusations remain just that. As much as I would like to see certain crimes where punishment is dealt out first and questions asked later, it’s not a framework I’d particularly want to live under. If the mere accusation of wrongdoing is enough to decide guilt, what’s to stop any of us from seeing Lizzie Proctor talking to the devil?

Of onions and people…

It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I keep extensive lists. Everything from books I want to read to what groceries I need ends up on lists I keep on my phone for quick reference and for ease of making additions or deletions. It’s an old fashioned model lightly updated by technology. It is not, however, foolproof.

A few staple items, like rice and potatoes, I usually buy in quantity because so much of what I cook is loosely based around five or so key ingredients. They get used quickly and replenished on a regular basis. Because they get used and replaced so quickly, I occasionally find that the lists haven’t kept up.

It’s on days like that – like today – that I find myself conflicted between two compelling, but mutually exclusive, desires. I can either make a quick run into town to pick up the onion necessary for meatloaf I’ve planned for Sunday dinner or I can stay home avoiding people and use onion powder as a sad substitute.

I deeply love a good meatloaf. I am also appalled by the idea of dealing with the general public when it isn’t strictly necessary. Surely you can see the hooks of the dilemma on which I find myself stuck.

This is obviously what’s meant when they “adulting is hard.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Your iPad is not a video camera. Just because it has that capability doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to whip out your tablet computer and start swinging it around trying to catch the perfect shot. They make small hand held devices specifically for that purpose. In a pinch, catching a quick video clip with your phone is even a perfectly acceptable solution in most cases. The only things that really happen when you hoist your iPad over your head to catch that unmissable moment are: 1) You get bad quality video and audio recording of an event that’s allegedly important to you; 2) People behind you can’t see what’s going on; and 3 (and I can’t stress this one enough) You look like a total douchenozzle. It’s still a relatively free country and I can’t stop you from doing it, but you just shouldn’t want to.

2. I’m not a wizard. As I’ve stated previously and often, I can do it all, but I cannot do it all at once. I like to think that’s more a simple function of the linear nature of time rather than a personal failing on my part. You, of course, are free to disagree with that assessment. With that being said, one of the things you need to know is if you give me something to do, then tell me that I am required to go sit in a four hour long meeting, the thing you wanted me to get done will not be complete 30 minutes after the end of that meeting. I’m many things, but a wizard is not one of them. That’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s unfortunately true. I would love to be all things to all people, but so long as I continue to be given the opportunity to spend half the day in meetings that preclude doing any actual productive work, I’m afraid that’s just not going to be possible. The decisions about where I go or what I’m focused on are largely out of my own control, so sorry I’m not sorry.

3. Climbing over people in the middle of a ceremony is not acceptable. If you arrive late to a ceremony or event and things are already underway when you wander in, there really are only two acceptable courses of action: 1) Stand quietly in the back and wait for an intermission or other pause in the action to take your seat; 2) Find an open seat somewhere on the periphery and put your ass in it. What you shouldn’t do is show up two thirds the way through the event and climb over top of people who have been sitting respectfully like decent fucking human beings to get to a spot “your people” have been “saving” for you since twenty minutes before things started. What you really, really shouldn’t do is then climb back out over top of these same people after your special snowflake has been recognized and interrupt everyone within earshot for the second time in ten minutes. You my dear, inconsiderate woman, like your friend with the iPad, are a total douchenozzle.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Accusations of negativity. I don’t think of myself as a person who dwells on the negative. I certainly recognize that negativity abounds, but I don’t dwell on it. I feel like there may be some that have the impression that I walk around in a black cloud, but I find that to be far from the truth. Just because I find the world to largely be a shitshow, I still manage to take my pleasures where I find them. Cold beer and a dozen steamed crabs on a Friday night? Bliss. The 6AM sun cracking through the leaves and the forest sounds of early morning? Heaven. Quiet night with a good book and two snoring beasts at my feet? Nirvana. The vast majority of my troubles begin and end with people… or rather because I have expectations of people. You might think that my expectations would be low, but the opposite is the case. I have no higher expectations of the man in the street than I have of myself – that the work I perform is mostly right the first time, that when I say something will happen at a given date and time it will happen, or that as a grown adult I know how to behave and speak while indoors or in a public forum. It’s setting the bar higher than “capable of walking slowly while chewing gum” that seems to get me in trouble, because despite relentless disappointment at the hands of the public at large, I still have my expectations and my standard. And those are not up for debate or compromise. So fear not, for what you perceive as negativity is simply a day’s worth of disappointment seeping out of my brain and back out into the universe.

2. When in charge, take charge. The number of people wandering around in the wild incapable or unwilling to make even the simplest of decisions is, quite frankly disturbing on almost every level. Anything from “where do you want to eat tonight” to “what should we do in Syria” seems to be out of the grasp of so very many. I will never promise that I’m going to make all the right decisions all the time, but I will, by God, make a decision based on the best information I have at hand and move out smartly in what I think is the right direction. I’m not the least bit bothered by having to change course when more or better information becomes available… and I’m damned well not going to sit quietly and wait for perfect enlightenment when there are things that need doing.

3. Social media. Social media gives us all a platform to rail against whatever issue is hottest on our minds on any given moment of any given day. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that gives even the lone voice in the wilderness the ability to reach out to the planet in simulcast. Beyond the cat memes and spam bots, it really is a remarkable feat of engineering. That being said, when you take to social media to rant about how other people are using social media I’m not entirely sure you get the point of it being a tool for all of us to express opinions and ideas when they are unpopular – maybe even especially when they are unpopular. From time to time I find it helpful to step back and remind myself that social media is entirely optional. No one is forcing me (or any of us) to use it. When I read something with which I violently disagree I don’t have to engage. In fact, sometimes the most powerful thing I can do is get up, walk away, and terminate the discussion before I give it the power to annoy me further.

30 hours and counting…

It’s been about 30 hours since I’ve had any direct, face-to-face contact with anyone. Some people might find that unnerving, but It’s been pretty much dreamy. Sure, I’ve been pretty much in regular contact with the The Hermitworld through email, text, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, but if you can avoid all of the awkward, annoying, and generally tiresome interacting with the general public, why wouldn’t you?

I have no idea of the furthest extent of my capability for hermiting. I think the longest stretch I can remember was four days. Generally I’m forced out of the house in search of fresh tortoise food or the need to work for a living long before the desire to actually leave ever crops up. If sustenance for the critters living under this roof weren’t a factor, I dare say I could hole up for months without incurring any significant trauma or anguish.

Alas, all good things must come to an end so if anyone needs me I’ll be over here getting myself into a mental space where I can pretend to be an engaged and productive member of society. Wish me luck.