1. “Research.” The internet is crawling with people who think they have “done research” or “studied” all manner of troubles that have lain undiagnosed by any of the other eight billion or so people on the planet. I mean if there really was a legitimate thread by which vaccinations lead to all developmental problems in human, I have to suppose it would have been uncovered at some point by serious medicos who would be happy to make a name for themselves. We’ve been inoculating people against disease since the early 18th century… and yes there have always been adverse reactions, but since tens of thousands of people aren’t falling down dead from smallpox anymore I’m willing to take my chances because people smarter than me who are credentialed in medicine, biology, and chemistry tell me it’s a good idea. The same is true when the internet lights up with warnings that dinner plates made before 2005 contains toxic levels of lead that sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids – all turning on the “research” conducted by someone using their kitchen counter as a laboratory and going out of their way to avoid presenting actual data, methods, or independent verification. But hey, feel free to go ahead and base your “research” on the rantings of some uncredentialed, ill-informed, and mentally questionable rando on the internet. I’m sure their information is better than the sum total of the knowledge acquired by western medicine over the last thousand years.
2. Questions. I’ve heard it sad that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you really believe that I’ll just have to assume you’ve never actually met people. Ever. Take, for instance, one of the most popular questions I’ve seen swirling around the office this last week. It basically asks “I’m worried that COVID-19 can be transmitted by toilets. We can’t expect people to hold it all day so what’s being done to protect people from the potty?” I can only presume this was an actual question and not, in some way, sent as an effort to find the funny since it was asked at least twice almost verbatim in two different forums. The answer, in case you’re curious, is that restrooms will be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis (as they have been before and during the initial phases of the Great Plague). If you’re wearing your mask, washing your hands, and not touching every surface in the bathroom and then jamming your hands in your mouth, eyes, or nose, your chances of a toilet-related disaster are probably pretty low… although that feels like a pretty big ask for a lot of people.
3. The Great Plague. After three months we’re finally hitting a moment when I’m personally being inconvenienced by the Great Plague. You see, my favorite cut-rate discount used book warehouse is open again, the truly massive barn sale in southern Pennsylvania where I always seem to find some treasure or another is scheduled for this weekend, and I find myself about to be desperately in need of more shelving in the non-fiction section here at Fortress Jeff. Being the proud possessor of “underlying health conditions” and now seeing the ongoing increase in cases and hospitalizations being reported around the country heading out on the search for old and unusual or more books and places to put them is something of a roll of the dice. My local area currently has a respectably low positivity rate despite the increased number of tests being administered. Part of me wants to use the moment to get a few long-delayed items off the to do list before we cycle back towards another spike… while of course the other part wants to just stay comfortably home, avoid any unnecessary exposure, and watch the world burn itself down.
1. Missing appointments. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve deferred my regular medical checkup, a dental cleaning, a crown replacement, and three vet appointments. That’s six things right out of the gate that need rescheduled over the summer – assuming the plague actually gets tamped down. It’s not all down side, of course. Having a full year’s worth of leave to cram into the back half of the year won’t suck. It’s mostly about the number of phone calls I’ll need to make to get everything made up.
2. Research. Reading things on Facebook and then doing a Google don’t make you a researcher. Going down an internet rabbit hole is not research. It just isn’t. Even in the softest of soft sciences, there’s a methodology to research, a way of doing things. Buying whole cloth, the wisdom of egirls selling cleansing tea on Instagram versus the nuanced explanations of actual scientists who have spent a lifetime studying their field makes you look like an idiot. Spewing that mess in public doesn’t make you a researcher. It makes you a clear and present threat to yourself and anyone unfortunate enough not to read your blathering with a critical eye.
3. Shipping. There’s nothing to be done for it, but it feels like we’re back in the olden days of online shopping, or more specifically of shipping those orders. Amazon trained me too well to expect items to tumble onto my porch the day I ordered them or at worst in a day or two. Now that we’re back to items showing up five or seven days later – or weeks later in some cases – it all feels so damned clunky.
If anyone has been following along my “official” Facebook page, they’ve probably seen that I’ve spent the last few nights getting my research on. Conveniently, in the modern world it’s easy enough to research from the comfort of my own home. It’s made even easier because the primary sources I’m interested in are all things I wrote between 2008 and the present day.
If there’s anything I’ve noticed while wading through thousands of my own words it’s that some of the writing has been extraordinarily bad. For those of you who have been with me for a while now, I’m sorry about that. Apparently I really do need an editor to follow me around full time. Fortunately, I’m getting the chance to clean some of those issues up as I go along.
The good news is that even though I’m less than two years into the material, there’s also some really good, cheeky stuff in there. Way, way more than enough to build on. Way more than I thought I’d find. When I kicked this off I assumed the research was going to be the hard part. The more I get though I’m realizing that the hardest bit is actually going to be deciding what stays in and what fades back into the mists of the last half decade. Admittedly, that’s not the worst problem I’ve ever faced.
If I had to guess, optimistically I probably have a month’s worth of material left to go through. More realistically it will take me closer to two months after you allow for all manner of what conspires to distract me from making forward progress. After that it’s back to the grind of 300-500 words a night until something that reads like a first draft magically appears on the screen.
Reading back over that last bit, this would be one of those times when I wonder whether I’ve lost every bit of sense I ever had.
There’s always a fine line when a project starts between wanting to just do the work quietly and wanting to blog about every step along the way. In the interest of not giving away the store before it’s even written, I’ll try to keep my discussion points fairly general in terms of the next product in the jeffreytharp.com pipeline. Suffice to say it’s not going to be quite like any of my previous efforts.
I haven’t set down to a writing effort yet that didn’t start off with research… and that’s where the lion’s share of my self-imposed writing time is allocated at the moment. I’m doing my best to spend an hour a day sourcing background information in the hope that once I have a stack of notes, I’ll actually be ready to sit down and put words on the page.
What I supposed you need to know now is there is a fresh work in progress. What I hope you’re going to see at the end of this trail is a deeply personnel (and intensely sarcastic) look at my relationship with life, work, and social media. It may not be of interest to anyone. It may not sell a single copy. But from the preliminary research I’ve done so far, I’m wholly fascinated by the ground this effort will end up covering.
1. Unpredictability. Know what? I’m a creature of habit. I like it that way. I take great comfort that things are going to happen at a regular time, in their regular way, and go more or less like clockwork. Most of you have never experienced my Saturday routine, but if you’re a fan of the German railroads, you’d love it, because if nothing else, I keep life running on time. The foreseeable future, including my personal budget, work schedule, and general attitude is going to be highly unpredictable and mostly beyond my control. We spend our lives dancing to a tune someone else calls, but at least most of the time we have the illusion of charting our own course. These are unpredictable times and that annoys me to no end.
2. Market research. One of the great pains in the ass when it comes to electronic publishing has been doing the market research on the competition. This is especially true as I’ve started really digging through the “management and leadership” section at Amazon. As far as I can tell, everyone over there seems to think the secret to work can be distilled into “5 Rules” or “21 Steps” or be based on releasing your inner office ninja. Aside from Scott Adams and Dilbert, mine might actually be the only voice of sanity in this world gone mad.
3. Unknown callers. Look, if you’ve called the phone number that I’ve had since sometime in 2003, leave a message for someone named Christy regarding buying a new car, and I don’t call back, the solution isn’t to then call three times a day for the next two weeks. I know the simple solution is just to answer, take a few minutes, and explain that you’ve gotten something completely jacked up, but the more passive aggressive option is to go ahead and let you continue to waste time calling someone who will never, ever answer.
Almost a decade ago a colleague who will remain unnamed started conducting a groundbreaking, though slightly less than scientific study into how large a ball of paper he could make using only class handouts. As this research effort got underway at a time before cell phone cameras, I don’t have any physical documentation, but as I recall it ended up being slightly smaller than a basketball and packed enough weight to be deadly when flung in the direction of your head. Trust me, in the far back rows of a dark, musty auditorium this is what passed for in class entertainment.
In the spirit of the upcoming anniversary of this Big Ball of Paper Test, I seem to have unwittingly begun my own research project into how many (mostly) empty plastic water bottles I can stow in the various compartments of my cubicle before remembering to take them down the hall to the recycling bin. As you can see from the photographic evidence, apparently that number is at least four, which given my usual level of OCD about random crap just sitting around is actually more impressive than you’re thinking it is right now.
And that’s where the test begins… to see how many (mostly) empty water bottles I can fit into my cubicle without freaking out and going on a mad cleaning spree or before one of my coworkers notices and asks WTF I’m doing with a metric crapload of plastic bottles sitting around… and yes, before someone asks, that’s what passed for entertainment this afternoon.
In retrospect, maybe I should have gone ahead and bought the desktop pingpong ball trebuchet when it was on sale yesterday. Now that would have been a productive use of time.