With the arrival of two new members of the household, it’s been a busy two weeks. One thing I noticed across these last 14 days is that when shit gets busy or my stress level cranks up, my time on social media plummets. In fact, it seems like it was the first thing to go as my mindless doom scrolling of Twitter or TikTok shrank to almost nothing. The time spent trying to get a decent photograph of a bad eye in a poorly lit room also rose exponentially, so it’s something of a tradeoff.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, in fact it’s probably just the opposite. For all of its entertainment value, there’s no denying that social media is, by its nature and design, a complete time suck… and the fact that I’ve largely avoided it is something I really noticed as I sat down here on Friday evening to start putting the week behind me.
I don’t necessarily miss the mindless scrolling, but I definitely miss having the unallocated free time with which to do so. In any case, if you’re one of those people who has sent me funny, funny memes or clips in the last few days, just know that I’m not avoiding you personally and I’ll eventually get back to those DMs and laugh along with you… probably. Unless I decide to just “delete unread” and start fresh. Could go either way.
1. Failure to plan. I’ve rented you the hall. I’ve provided the stage. I’ve laid on the cameras and the furniture. I’ve blocked off all the time in the world for people to rehearse, dry run, and generally get to feel comfortable with their part. What I can’t make people do, of course, is actually show up and do any of those things. Mostly I put in the effort because I want people to be successful – or at least I want to set the conditions for their success. What I’ll be intensely intolerant of, however, is when those same people who have displayed conspicuous indifference in planning find themselves in a panic five minutes before things go live next week… Because that’s almost inevitable while also being nearly 100% avoidable.
2. Work clothes. Having spent the majority of the last two years working from home, it hasn’t been necessary to keep much in the way of a “work” wardrobe. I mean mine almost exclusively consists of khakis and polos, anyway, but that’s all stuff I’d wear day-to-day in my real life. After two years of little exposure to the general public some, perhaps most of it, is starting to look a little tatty around the edges. That’s an issue I hadn’t noticed until I realized I needed something more or less presentable for five days this week instead of my normal one or two. If you think the idea of needing to buy clothes specifically so I can drive 40 minutes to sit in a cubicle isn’t grinding my gears, you must be new here.
3. The end of April. The back half of April is my hardest two weeks of the year. The only thing holding my temper just barely in check is not wanting to be unemployed. Stress is up because I’m supposed to be delivering a product that no one else gives a shit about until the day it goes live. My blood pressure is through the roof. I can track it year over year and it consistently spikes during these two weeks. I’m eating like shit, tossing and turning through the night, and generally just not taking the time to do the normal things that more or less keep me on an even keel the rest of the year. All in all, it’s not a great time when your general outlook is often described in such glowing terms as “bleak” and “kind of dark” on the good days.
It may not always be obvious, but I’ve spent a lot of time simplifying my life. With the exception of time spent working for wages, I do what I want, when I want to do it. I know my own mind and have things here ordered in just the way I like them. There’s very little now that catches me by surprise or off my guard. It is a remarkably peaceful way to get through life.
If you’re trying to fit into this little world of mine, though, there’s a singular catch: The amount of drama you bring can’t outweigh the overall level of improvement your presence brings to my life. Having spent two decades putting the bits and pieces in order, if your presence causes more stress than happiness, I don’t have time for it.
I’ve become something of an expert at excising the extraneous stress and drama from my life every bit as completely as the surgeon cutting out cancer. It is, to borrow a phrase, the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.
I’ll freely admit where I’ve been wrong. I’ll apologize for whatever shortcomings there may have been. I won’t, however, go about wearing eternal ashes and sackcloth. If that’s not sufficient, good luck on your journey and you go with my blessing.
There’s no way to put it that isn’t disgusting on some level, so I’ll just say it – I woke up puking my guts out on Sunday morning. By noon, I was feeling fine and even managed to have an egg and some toast for dinner with no ill effects.
Although I spent yesterday feeling more or less ok – no fever or chills, not really feeling sick in any way, my stomach was what you might describe as “in a delicate state.” A shot of Maalox every few hours and two antacid tablets an hour were managing to hold everything together.
By this morning I was feeling good enough that I dispensed with the Maalox and had some actual breakfast. Therein is where I made a terrible mistake – a detail that my body chose not to make central planning aware of until I was walking to my truck at lunchtime and promptly doubled over right there beside the back tire.
I remember a million years ago as a young student, nerves would occasionally get the better of me. As stress, whatever that was to a prepubescent Jeff, ramped up I could almost count on the arrival of an upset stomach – although back then it never showed itself as vomiting. I had the marvelous ability to worry myself sick. Maybe history is repeating itself and I’m headed for whatever the 41 year old equivalent for my childhood nemesis is. Then again, maybe I’ve just come down with the Great Chinese Flu of 2020. Either way, something is working on my digestive system at the moment.
If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not feeling great – not really feeling sick – just less than fine. I should probably be more concerned than I am, but right now it just seems like more of an occasional inconvenience than an existential threat. We’ll see what the morning looks like and go from there.
I haven’t had access to one of our internal networks in over two months. I haven’t been able to print since Friday morning. For the last week, Outlook demands that I enter my pin three times before allowing me to send an email. My workload is spiraling upwards at an exponential rate while I’m being told that I can’t use the resources that have been successfully brought to bear on the exact same issues for the better part of the last decade.
I am, however, being given as much “assistance” as I can drink from echelons higher than reality who have at long last decided to pay attention now, versus six months ago when their participation might have in some way proven useful.
Management is always going to be management. There’s no hope to reform it.
But expecting basic office technology to do something that approximates working doesn’t feel like it should be a goddamned bridge too far. It is, of course. It’s a bridge way, way too far.
It’s during these moments I can absolutely understand some people’s impulse to live life inside a bottle or pop every pill. If anyone needs me I’ll be over here trying not to have a stroke, a nervous breakdown, or possibly both simultaneously.
Some people mount animal heads on their wall as trophies. Other people fill their walls with art as artifacts of their travels. Me? Well, I tend to acquire books at a prodigious rate. I seem to be acquiring them now at a far faster rate than I can actually read them, which leads me to my current troubles.
While the books I’ve read are happily filed and displayed on shelves in nearly every room, the growing “to read” stack has become something more like a “pile.” When doing most of your shopping at Goodwill or flea markets or used books shops, the time to buy is when you have it in your hand for $.50 or $1. The troublesome part, at the moment, is just what to do with this excess before allocating them “trophy” status on the display shelves.
The only logical thing to do, of course, is go out and find some inexpensive shelving that I can install in one of the spare bedrooms to serve as my own in-house book shop. Yes, I realize the far more reasonable option would to be get over my completely ridiculous desire to physically own the books I read and start drawing reading material from the local public library… but that doesn’t feel like something that’s actually going to happen. So, really using some of my newly found time off this week to rig some shelves and un-cluster the home library feels like something I can reasonably expect to accomplish without adding undue stress.
Stress is a funny thing. Actually, that’s not right at all. Stress is a pain in the ass thing, but what it does to people can certainly be funny. Based on my observations, there are two basic types of people: 1) Those who “externalize” stress and fly off the handle with little or no notice when put under pressure and 2) Those who internalize stress and let it seep into their pores and really fester. I tend largely to fall into the latter category. I’ve learned through hard experience that almost nothing good happens when you fly off the handle. I do my best to respond accordingly. Some people, though, they just let it blow. To each his own, I guess.
Cracking jokes on your way out the door when you’re seething inside is something of an art form. Conveniently, it’s also less detrimental to your career than putting your fist through the nearest available sheet of drywall, so there’s that too. Sure, it helps you better align yourself for he inevitable middle-age heart attack, but it beats all hell out of letting anyone know they’ve gotten under your skin. The cardinal sin in the animal kingdom is showing weakness. Experience tells me that we’re all just about a step up from our primate cousins under the best of circumstances – just a better dressed version of the animal kingdom. Therefore, I try to keep weakness showing to a bare minimum.
I walked away today without twitching, sneering, or picking a fight. I should get a goddamned medal for that, though I won’t dare hold my breath. Just one time it would feel incredible to let myself go off like a rocket. It would be bad on every other level imaginable, but God it would be so cathartic.
If you read any books about writing, they’re chalk full of good ideas about what to do when the ideas aren’t flowing like “just sit down and write anything, it doesn’t matter if it’s just the same word over and over again.” Those books are clearly written by jerkoffs. Sometimes no matter how hard you smash your fingers against the keyboard, absolutely nothing useful ends up on the screen. Given that most evenings I’m usually more or less successful at stringing at least a few words together into a coherent thought, I should probably just accept a few days like this as one of the costs of doing business. It’s also an incredibly helpful reminder about why I never seriously consider one of these batshit crazy writing projects where you take a deep and personal oath to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Even if I could manage it, I have a sinking feeling that the last 20,000 words might come out like ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JEFF A DULL BOY. And honest to God, for me writing is supposed to be a stress free, relaxing hobby. I just don’t need that level of self-generated pressure.
I’ve slowly come to identify a condition in one of my new colleagues. Apparently when working on short timelines or under stress, this individual’s default setting is “talk, nonstop.” It doesn’t seem to make much difference that if one is on a demanding timeline usually that means we are all plugging away on our own similarly pressing issues. I’ve tried the usual “polite” responses of keeping my responses short, answering while continuing to peck away at the keyboard, not making eye contact, etc. Next we’ll be moving along to the less gentle “look, I’ve got a lot of work, let’s pick this up later” or the even more blatant listening to my iPod at my desk routine although that’s usually just me sitting at my desk with earbuds in not actually listening to anything. If that fails, it’s possible that I’ll have to bludgeon this person to death with a hole punch and hide the body in the “protected wetland” (aka swamp) behind the building.
I have no earthly idea what would give someone the impression that I’m a good listener and even less of an idea why they think anyone at all would care about the inane prattle that dribbles out of their filthy sewers. Let’s be honest, I’m here to do a job and get paid. If I want to talk about something that’s not work, I’ll call one of my actual friends. While I’m here, all I need you to do is STFU and let me do a day’s work, ok?
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
Between stressing out over getting a job (and getting away from the one I have now), packing, getting a property manager/tenant, actually moving, finding someplace new to live, and not sliding into bankruptcy in the process, I’m going to need a vacation before I even think about being productive somewhere new and different. Then again, being officially productive will be such a different experience than I’ve had lately that it might be a tonic all by itself.
The one thing that I didn’t expect about finally getting what I’ve been after for the better part of a year was that I’d be absolutely exhausted when it happened. I’m not complaining, mind you – Just observing that at some point, I’m going to sit down and sleep for three days straight. Hopefully not in the middle of a 900 mile drive… but it won’t be long after that.
This isn’t the weekend for rest. By Sunday night, everything not in a box will be in a Hefty bag at the curb. It’s time to get gone.