When I literally can’t even…

I like to think consistency is one of my better personality traits.  I like plans. I like order. I like having at least a passible ability to know what to expect… not that you’d know it by my fairly fanatical love of routine and schedule. I can get along without being scheduled or maintaining a routine, but I’m hands down better when there’s at least some level of effort put into restraining the forces of chaos.

I’ve long suspected that what seems to me a natural lack of consistency in most people is at least one of the reasons I struggle so much in dealing with them. In general, we’re a wildly inconsistent bunch – running hot and cold, present or distant depending on the day or hour. It’s hard to account for the vagaries of human inconsistency and I don’t always respond well to that.

Yes, I also recognize that expecting other people and the universe to bend to accommodate the way I best function is something of a fool’s errand – and one of my less endearing personality traits. What can I tell you, I’m a pretty uncomplicated guy running on a ridiculously complex operating system. It could be a bug or a feature. It rather depends on your perspective.

I’ve got to remind myself from time to time that I really can’t control the world or the people in it through personal preference. I can, however, mostly hold the chaos at bay here inside the well-defined boundaries of Fortress Jeff. I’ve put a fair amount of blood and treasure into making it “just so.” It’s into this world that I’ll choose to retreat every time, to dwell among the animals and the books, when I literally can’t even with people any more.

On the importance of knowing yourself…

Here’s a secret… at least half the time I sit down to write I have no idea what’s going to come pouring out onto the screen. Sometimes I have a vague idea or a general topic in mind. Other time’s a have a pretty decent outline, but for the most part when it comes to blogging I have no idea what I’m actually doing.

The daily stats WordPress tracks will back me up on that. Posts and topics I think should draw views like files to honey lay quietly while something more mundane climbs up the “most viewed” posts list. I don’t know if I’ll ever crack the code on how all that is supposed to work. I’m not sure it really matters.

I read other blogs – like The Angry Staff Officer and Southern Georgia Bunny – who have a theme and run with it. I’m a little jealous of that kind of consistency. You can count on one hand the number of things I’m interested in three days in a row let alone month after month or year after year. The only thing consistent around here is that I keep showing up – and while that’s decidedly a big part of the battle, I somehow doubt that by itself will ever vault me into the ranks of “elite bloggers.”

Sure, I could change it up and specialize down into one field of focus, but I don’t think that’s something I’m interested in doing even if it would drive a bump in the numbers. As much as I want to think I’m sitting here doing this for validation or applause, I think the platform is more about being able to vent my spleen to the universe before whatever ideas are rattling around my head have the opportunity to make me complete crazy. In fairness, of course, some would argue that ship has most likely sailed.

In a world that seems bent on turning itself into an ever bigger shitshow, I’m afraid tonight’s post doesn’t do much in the way of looking at the big issues. Then again, sometimes not everything has to be about the big stuff. Now and then the small issues, the trying to put some intellectual rigor behind why we do what we do is just as important as the events of the day. If the world really is determined to descend into madness, then maybe knowing your own mind is the most important work any of us can do.

The wee small hours of the morning, or Fueling the beast…

Something strange happened in the wee small hours of the morning today. Just after 2AM I found myself inexplicably awake, in the company of the whirr of the overhead fan and two snoring dogs. It was as peaceful a nighttime scene as one could hope to find, but my subconscious was clearly in an uproar, awake, and was rather insistent that we were going to be awake for a while.

I’m used to having ideas for the blog come at me before drifting off to sleep or maybe as I’m waking up. I make a habit of catching those ideas on my phone’s note pad. It’s jammed full of half formed ideas and concepts I may or may not ever get around to dealing with. Mostly those come in the form of a sentence or phrase I can use later, but last night came at me in a torrent of words. Judging by a daylight look, the grammar, punctuation, stray words, and general tone I can say that my subconscious isn’t much for exerting editorial control on the fly. In a few places things are so jumbled that awake me can’t even deciphered what asleep me might have been going after. Most of the rest, though, is clear enough in its intent.

It seems my subconscious wanted to wait until the dead of night to walk me through the outline of what I’ll only call the most dark, disturbingly introspective assessments of self I’ve ever experienced. I don’t suppose it should be surprising that such a thing would find outlet as one of my old fashioned blog outlines. It’s the method I use most often to give complex ideas form and structure before going on to put them down in the more narrative long form.

What I was left with early this morning was a laundry list of a sort. A list of the accumulated slights, grudges, broken hearts, and disappointments. A list of the battles lost, and lost causes yet to come, and standing stubborn against the running tide. A list of the moments of vanity, and pride, and ego stretching out further than grasp. A list of the times I’ve retreated behind my own battlements, inside myself, and what that’s cost me.

It was an all access pass to the oddities of mind that drive the fusion reactor deep at my core, that piles action upon action, cycle upon cycle, loss upon loss, victory upon victory and the hundred different dreams and fears that make me and that make me question who “me” really is at the heart of things. Is there more? Is this enough?

I’m left today finding the whole thing exhilarating, unsettling, fascinating, and horrifying in turn. Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to feel like when we get an unexpected look at what fuels the beast within… or maybe it’s just a sign of my impending mid-life crisis. If that’s the case, leaving off the heavy handedness and filling my dreams with visions of a new Corvette would have been message enough.

LinkedOut…

In an ongoing effort to un-muddle my digital footprint, I deleted my LinkedIn account over the weekend. I talked about doing it a year or two ago but didn’t get around to it. A spate of emails from the service this week drug it back onto my list of things to do. I wanted to like LinkedIn – and maybe if I worked in a universe that traded on creating a massive professional network I would have. But for what I do, and the scope of people I need to interact with, it just wasn’t doing much for me other than sending a dozen emails a week to my inbox. I don’t need that kind of help.

I have to think LinkedIn is so popular because it creates a benefit for people in a sales environment, or those interested in building their professional network, or those who have any kind of professional ambition left. Since I don’t fall into any of those categories it was just one more extraneous feed of information I wasn’t using.

The simple fact is I don’t really identify, even “professionally,” with my 9-5 self. If someone wants me in their network it should be as a sometimes writer, a blogger, an opinionated blowhard, a reader, and hopefully, in some small way, as a thinker. That other stuff, how I whore myself out to pay the bills, is entirely secondary to what I consider the “real” me.

It’s just the most recent bit of transition from a guy who long ago thought what he did for a living defined who he was to a man who’s trying to define himself in some other – if far less tangible – way. What that definition is, what it will become, remains to be seen.

Whatever the definition, I know with certainty that future self doesn’t require an account with LinkedIn.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Priorities. I never expect to be anyone’s top priority – except my own of course. All I’ve ever wanted is to know, definitively where I fall on the spectrum of importance. My projects don’t tend to be flashy, they’re not always the high visibility ones, they’re the ones that tend to go along unnoticed and unremarked (unless something goes horribly wrong). They’re the workhorse projects that just need to get done with a minimum of trouble. They’re sort of a personal specialty of mine. While most of them motor along without much intervention, that doesn’t mean they always will. Occasionally I’m going to fire off a red star cluster. I like to think my track record shows that I’m not just doing it to get attention – but because there’s an honest to God problem somewhere in the works. But if I’m going to be dumped into the “yeah, yeah, we’ll get to you later” pile, I will plan and execute accordingly.

2. I am not the decider. Call as often as you want. Try to drop names to intimidate or influence me. Have your boss “follow-up.” See, the thing is I’m not the decider. In fact you’d be alarmed if you knew how little authority I had to do anything at all. My job is to provide analysis, advice, and recommendations. What people do with those once I provide them, I can’t and won’t answer for. I’ve gotten very adept at standing like a stone wall in the face of bitching and complaints. I can do it all day every day and not so much as raise my voice. If you need to talk to someone who’s going to “feel your pain,” you called the wrong number… but feel free to have your boss call and I’ll tell him the same thing.

3. Working lunch. No, I’m not going to consider a pack of crackers and a Coke scarfed down at my desk at 2:00 in the afternoon while trying to catch up on email “taking my lunch.” I’ll take lunch during socially agreed time of day for the mid-day meal or I’ll take it off the end of the day. It’s not optional and not a topic open to debate. In neither case will it be a “working” lunch. If people can’t figure out not to schedule meetings back to back or let them run 45 minutes over in the middle of the day, other, eminently practical provisions will be made, as rest assured I value nothing so highly as my own time.

Identity…

Far be it from me to tell anyone who they feel themselves to be on the inside, but it stands to reason if I go about telling everyone that I considered myself to be an African American woman, no one would buy it. That could lead me down into a long, painful discussion about perception, self, and identity, but I don’t want to go there.

The national offices of the NAACP were quick to point out over the weekend that there was no requirement for leaders in their organization to be black. That’s probably true. At the same time, it makes about as much sense as having someone who’s never owned a firearm in their life serving as president of the NRA. Sure, you could do it, but it feels awfully disingenuous.

I’m not saying anyone should give up their calling to campaign for civil rights or any other cause… but I am saying if you’re going to put yourself forward as a poster child, you’d damned well better be doing it from a place of personal authenticity because the truth will out. And Murphy being the ass he is, it will do so at the most inconvenient moment.

I can walk around town all day calling myself the King of the Andals and the First Men, but no matter how strongly I believe, believing doesn’t make it so. Like it or not, identify isn’t just how we feel on the inside, but is also in large part how we are perceived by those around us. It’s perfectly normal for those two identities to be a little different from one another, but generally both are at least tied to some shred of reality… in this latest case, not so much.

Flat out thinking…

There are always stories circulating about people who retire with thousands of hours of sick leave on the books. That’s good for them. 3000 hours of sick leave gives you a hell of a lot of credit towards your total years of service. As great as that sounds, I know I’m not going to be one of those people. I’m not an iron man. I don’t play hurt when I can avoid it and I don’t go in when I’m hacking up a lung. For one thing, I know that I don’t bring my A-game when I’m sick or hurt and for another it only seems decent not to wander in and infect everyone else with whatever crud I happen to have come down with. This week has been an object lesson in the former; a great primer for why I avoid playing hurt.

It really boils down to a matter of concentration and focus. When part of my brain is focused on just how damned uncomfortable I am, I’m not doing my best work. Chances are, I’m not even doing good work. I’ll probably never get nominated for employee of the quarter with that attitude, but it is what it is. One of the key lessons I’ve learned on the job is if you don’t look out for yourself, there’s no one else going to take the time to look out for you either. Long story short, yesterday’s post talked about the inevitable guilt that goes along with the sick day. I had plenty of time after writing that post to put some real thought into it – since laying flat on the floor isn’t good for much else than giving you time to think. It’s safe to say that after really reflecting on the last decade, I’m utterly cured of whatever misguided guilt I was feeling for staying put and taking care of me.

The job is happy enough to chew you up and grind you down. It’s your job to do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen. Here endeth the lesson.