It staves off the madness…

Spend enough days in a row sitting through meetings where nothing is ever decided, writing emails that no one ever reads, and dreaming up good ideas that will never see the light of day and one might be forgiven for tending to adopt a healthy cynicism about their profession. In a bureaucracy where every cog has its own agenda and can through even the best laid plans off the rails, frankly I’m surprised when anything gets done at all. It’s practically a cause for celebration.

I suspect that’s why I spend so much of my “off” time doing things that can demonstrate a tangible result. Reading and writing are easy. Finish the book, draft a new chapter, and either way at the end point you have something to show for the effort. It’s measurable. I suspect it’s also why I throughly enjoy mowing the grass, running string trimmer, and cutting back another few feet of encroaching saplings. Adding two hours of physical work after eight hours of repeatedly banging your head against you desk probably isn’t everyone’s idea of good times… but it makes me unreasonably happy, even as it leads to increasing exhaustion.

In that one small way, I’ve carved a bit of order away from chaos. It’s not making the world safe for democracy, or curing polio, but it helps stave off the madness and that contribution shouldn’t be undervalued.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Waking up angry. There’s something about going to bed an hour earlier than usual. It’s a hope that the extra hour of down time might drive away some of the serious exhaustion that’s got to be showing in your eyes as the end of the week draws in. But then you wake up feeling even more strung out than you did when you went to bed – still exhausted, still mad at the world, where every little obstacle is a potential tripwire. Then it’s drag out of bed, shave, hope you can paint a convincing image of not loathing everyone and everything you come in contact with, and muddle through the day until it’s time for bed again. Even then you know the next morning won’t feel rested, that extra hour won’t matter, and you’ll be right back in the shit before the day even gets started. Yeah. That’s the kind of week it’s been.

2. Do “X” then “Y”. It’s a simple formula. Do one thing and then the next. It’s the logical progression of things. Problem is, no one seems to understand that there are potentially hundreds of discrete sub-steps between X and Y. All of them need doing before you can make progress. All of them need attention… and in many cases they are all actions that someone else needs to take. So you end up waiting for someone to do X-1, X-7, X-32, and X-1,245,334 before you can get to Y. That’s good enough when everyone knows what they supposed to be doing, wants to do it, and actually does it in a timely manner. Reality, being the thankless bitch that she is, of course, means that those small steps are rarely taken when they should be – so you end up sitting, waiting, cajoling, pestering, ranting, raving, and losing whatever slight grip you still have on sanity while other people get around to placing their one small piece of the puzzle.

3. My “privilege.” The next person who wanders by and recommends that I “check my privilege” might just get a well-worn size 12 Doc Marten planted directly in their crotch. There’s not a lot of generational privilege when your grandfathers worked the deep mines and heavy manufacturing in Appalachia and your parents took the next step, becoming a teacher and a cop, but only wearing the badge after serving some quality enlisted time in Uncle Sam’s green suit. So then there’s me. The grandson of a coal miner and a factory worker. Son of a public school teacher and a state trooper. I worked my ass off to make the grade in school, earned some scholarships, then worked my ass off in college to graduate magna. Then I went to work, didn’t like what I was doing and changed jobs, changed geographic locations, shoehorned myself into a program that would pay for grad school, and generally made myself available for whatever crap assignment would look good on my resume. I moved six times in ten years to improve myself and chase better opportunities instead of staying put and expecting the opportunities to come to me – or worse, expecting someone to deliver them because I have “privilege.” So when you tell me to check myself, it’s very clear you don’t know me or mine and I’m sure I don’t have a clue what the hell you’re talking about.

Another helpful tip from Uncle Jeff…

I’m sure there are harder things than closing on a house sale from 900 miles away, but just now, in the middle of it, I’d be hard pressed to think of what those harder things might be. Everything that needs signed hurtles across the country via FedEx overnight, questions always take three days to answer, and you’re never entirely sure if what people say they’re doing is what’s getting done. It’s infuriating. It’s like trying to do business by telegram. Sure, it works in theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

At this point, I’m utterly convinced I would have ended this process a more sane human being if I had shackled a briefcase full of money to by wrist, flown to Memphis, dumped it on the closing table, signed my name in blood, and then flown back to Maryland for a good night’s sleep. I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit.

I’m beyond caring about costs. I just want this master class in asshattery to be over and done with. So there’s tonight’s helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff – if you’re planning on engaging in any cross-continental real estate transactions, don’t. Just don’t. Take a day and a bucket full of cash and go handle things yourself. By the time it’s over maybe you’ll emerge with at least some of your sanity left.

Deception…

In the universe of the bureaucratic underling, few things are more highly sought after than a cubicle next to a window. Generally assigned based on seniority in rank or time in service, it’s one of the small things that can make a cube feel less like a 5×8 coffin and more like an actual productive work area.

Sometimes, of course, appearances are deceiving. When you show up in a new office and there’s a prime window seat with your name on it, tread carefully. In any normal office, this seat would have been fought over and allocated long before you showed up. If it’s sitting empty, consider it a warning sign… Like the beautiful house on the tree lined street never quite seems to stay sold, there’s a fair chance this cube has problems. Someone might have died there in harness and it’s haunted or at a minimum it’s cursed by one or more of the myriad problems that tend plague a cubicle and all those who dwell in them.

If there’s any good news to be had it’s that not much in life is permanent. You’ll probably get a chance to move into something more attuned to your needs (eventually). Of course you’ll be leaving behind the window, but if a career in service has taught me anything, it’s that windows are easy enough to come by, but you only get a finite amount of sanity to shepherd you through 30+ years of toil. If you ever had to pick between the window and some sanity, it’s what you’d call no contest.

For more helpful tips someone really should have mentioned before letting you go to work as an office drone, don’t forget to get your very own copy of Nobody Told Me: The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees.