One of the reasons I popped on Casa de Jeff 2.0 is the fact that it had a sun room that seems almost purpose built to be a home office. With the slope of the yard the room is just about eye level with the bottom of the forest canopy. The birds, squirrel, and occasional deer are a bit of a distraction, but otherwise I’ve found it ideal for reading and writing – although at this time of year, the room seems to be basically uninhabitable between the hours of 2:00-5:00 PM. I like that it’s a separate, self contained space, but not jammed in a corner at the far end of the house. When I’m not tinkering around on some other project, it’s usually where you’ll find me.
I only mention it now because I noticed for the first time as I sat down to write this that we’re already starting to lose daylight in the evening. We’re racing towards the end of July, with more of the summer behind us than in front of us. I like the long summer nights maybe more than I thought. Even though they’re still mostly here, I miss them already. That’s not to say that I’ve taken maximum advantage of them in any real way. There haven’t been any epic road trips – no vacation days to speak of that didn’t involve meeting a contractor to talk about some much needed repair or much desired alteration to the new homestead. In fact I’d wager I haven’t been more than 20 straight-line miles away from the house since I bought the place. Me and my 18th century so-called life.
It’s all been necessary, of course, but none of what I’ve been up to feels like what summer should be about. I’m not at all satisfied with that state of affairs, though I’ll grudgingly accept it as the current (and theoretically temporary) cost of doing business.
1. Unintended consequences. I read an article this week decrying the fact that so many fuel efficient cars on the road are causing the federal highway trust fund to go broke. All I could do is sit back and wonder if this is something that should have come as a surprise to anyone when they were laying on tax incentives and pushing people towards higher efficiency standards and cute matchbox car looking vehicles. Less fuel used, but definition will lead to lower revenue if all else is held equal. Now of course the writers of this article lead that into the discussion of whether we should raise the national gas tax or lay an entirely new tax based on miles driven or some other calculus. I noted with much annoyance that prioritizing funds and making due with what’s available, leaning out the highway construction and repair process, or privatizing antiquated infrastructure weren’t even part of the discussion. It troubles me to no end that a goodly proportion of people in this country only ever look at the revenue (and how to increase it) side of the equation rather than first looking at how we reduce costs and gain efficiencies using what should be a massive economy of scale that Uncle could generate if he were spending judiciously rather than just chasing the next dollar. If they didn’t think the problem past the “fuel efficiency is good” phase, why on earth should anyone trust them with even more money?
2. Being wrong. Remember back six months ago when I was complaining about the polar vortex? I have a confession to make. I think I may have gotten that one wrong, because quite frankly putting on another layer felt way better than reaching the point where modesty, social convention, and the county sheriff say you can’t take any more layers off. But don’t worry, wait six months and you can be sure I’ll be right back to complaining about being frozen right down to the bones. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed.
3. The “working lunch.” There’s no such thing. Either I’m working or I’m at lunch. They are, in my mind, mutually exclusive activities that have no business occurring simultaneously. Lunch, for purposes of this discussion is defined as a 30-minute period of not work dividing the four morning hours of work and four afternoon hours of work during a standard business day. Dragooning everyone in the office into a conference room, “asking” them to bring food, and then talking about “work stuff” for an hour is a thinly disguised meeting. The only reason it has a passing resemblance to lunch is that there happened to be food in the room while it happened. As for me, I need my 30 minute break in the middle of the day to help prevent my brain from melting and leaking out my ears. I think we can all agree that’s something we should all try to avoid if we can.
1. Unpredictability. Being a creature of habit, unpredictability makes me nervous. I don’t like it. I can deal with it, but all things considered, I’d rather not. Summer days, and particularly days that end the week are nothing but unpredictable and will send you from running 1000 miles an hour with your hair on fire to a dead stop without so much as a friendly warning. If I were king for life, I’d set them up to have a nice easy flow leading into the weekend. Yeah, that would suit me nicely, thank you.
2. Gay Pride Whopper. Facebook took note this week of a “gay pride” Whopper wrapper. I’m not sure why it’s a thing, but apparently it is. All I can tell you for sure is that the wrapper doesn’t change whats inside. Set a gay pride burger next to a normal burger and I have a sneaking suspicion no one complaining about the wrapper could tell the difference. Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I don’t care about a company’s politics so much. As long as they’re providing me a product or service I want at a price I consider fair, I say God bless and go support whatever cause your heart desires.
3. Winston. I love the little furry bastard, but for the love of all things good and holy it would be nice if he could stay healthy for more than 7-10 days at a time. More trips to the vet, more shorts, more sprays, more pills, ad infinitum. A middle aged bulldog isn’t so much a force of nature as it is a sucking black hole into which you will throw all manner of money. Bulldog people must be different by nature and temperament, because no sane person would willingly subject themselves to the trials and tribulations of life with a smush-nosed beasties.
1. Summer. I can’t help but notice in the last week or so that we’ve entered the part of the year when I drive by the local high school twice a day and find its parking lot absolutely empty. I’m not even going to try getting into a discussion about teaching, whether it’s an over paid or under paid profession, or even whether it should be open for business year round. For good or ill, we’re still using the 10-on, 2-off schedule of the agrarian age… and as long as we are I will continue to be insanely jealous of our nation’s teachers whenever I drive past on a beautiful summer morning and find them not there. June, July, and August are truly the only three things I miss about teaching… and if I’m perfectly honest with everyone, I’m already looking forward just a little bit to that day in August when they’re stuck back in the grind with the rest of us.
2. “Working families”-based legislation. I’ve noticed this week that the administration is trotting out the whole “working parents” discussion again. Look, I get that having a job and balancing everything else in your life is at best a challenge and at worst an exercise in futility. For working parents, I can understand that taking care of your kids is your first priority. That’s good. That’s how it should be. On the other hand, since I’ve opted not to go that route, I think it needs said that I don’t consider my own top priority items any less important to me than yours are to you. Every time I hear a politician spout something about making life easier for working families, my middle finger gives a little twitch. How about we come up with a few programs that makes life easier for employees in general rather than just a subset of the group? Trust me, I don’t value paid time off or a more flexible schedule any less than you do just because my dependents have four legs and fur (or scales).
3. Lack of focus. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling that law enforcement could not unilaterally search your cell phone without a warrant or in the most extreme of emergency situations. Read that again. It was a unanimous opinion of the court. A win for personal privacy doesn’t get much more decisive than that. But we’re collectively paying more attention to grown men kicking a ball or whatever celebri-skank did something whoretastic this week. Whether you agree with my assessments of daily events or not, I’d consider it hugely helpful if we could all at least try to pay a little attention to something beyond what’s “reported” on TMZ or ESPN.
It’s the end of July. The part of me that spent two years checking off classes good for a teaching degree and then spent 28 months actually teaching still rebels this time of year. Some people go into teaching because they have a passion for their field. Some do it because they like kids and want to “touch the future.” That always seemed like a particularly pervy phrase to me, but I digress. The point is, I mostly went into teaching because it seemed like a great way to maximize time not working.
By now the average teacher is probably yelling at me about all the time they spend prepping, planning, grading, collaborating, talking to parents, and taking refreshed training after class, on weekends, and over the summer. My solution to that was to simply not do those things. I was usually in my room 30 minutes before the first bell only because that gave me time to eat whatever breakfast I picked up on my way in from the house and the busses barely cleared the parking lot before I was headed for the doors at the end of the day. As for grading on the weekends, at night, or at some other time when I wasn’t getting paid for it? Yeah. Forget about it. I guess someone people work for love, but I’ve always been more a “work for money” type of guy. Maybe that’s another reason the whole teaching career never took off, but again I digress.
What I seem to have at the moment is a distinct lack of motivation and the deep seated wish that all manner of jobs came with a 45-day chunk of free time right around the middle of summer. Sure, I’m making sure the paper shuffles from here to there, but in my head isn’t even in the same city as the ballpark where the game’s being played. That’s not a good long-term plan. Once the days start getting shorter and the nights cooler, I’ll snap back to reality. Right now I feel like a car running in the wrong gear – still moving forward, but doing it in a monumentally inefficient way… and you just can’t fix that shit with more cowbell.
I’ve been outside for a grand total of thirty minutes today… and that’s only because the dogs insist on it from time to time. Other than that, I’ve been hiding inside with two window air conditioners cranked all the way over to 11 and the blinds drawn in an effort to lessen the effects of the giant ball of fire in the sky. Maybe it was the 40 straight days of rain we’ve just had, but I’d forgotten just how uncomfortable July can be when you’re acclimated to it. George seems to be enjoying it, but the mammals in the house are officially over the part of the year where we hide inside during the daylight hours.
In addition to the 185 work-related emails yesterday, one of the hardest parts of being away is that I fell way, way behind on my blog reading last week. As much as I like to think of blogging as a solitary activity, the reality is that that the community of bloggers is surprisingly interactive. Instead of just a spectator sport, you end up in a round robin of reading, commenting, responding, and repeating. If you follow a dozen blogs and even half of them post every day, after a week you end up with a backlog of something close to literary tonnage. Now that the daily routine is getting back to a semblance of normalcy, I’m wading into the backlog. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that I like to read, because this is going to take a while.
I find summer in general to be the hardest time for a person who wants to spend time reading and writing. Writing in winter is easy – it’s dark by 5PM, it’s cold, and you just don’t feel like you’re missing much while you’re up to your earlobes in words. Summer is a different story, for me at least. It always feels like there is more to do – and those competing interests seem to win out at least as often as they lose. Maybe that’ll change now that we’re reaching the time of the season when hiding out in the cool embrace of the air conditioner is the order of the day.
I’ll catch up on my backlog soon enough… now if I can just shoehorn some quality time for writing back into the schedule, all will be right with the world.
Apparently I missed summer this year. I know I stayed busy and got plenty of things done, but I can’t quite put my finger on where the last four months went. The last thing I remember clearly is having birthday dinner and then suddenly waking up in September. And somehow I managed to let the time sail by without making it to the beach yet this year… which is made all the more ridiculous because it’s only an hour from the house. Sadly, that makes getting my toes in the sand just another victim of the list of things I had good intentions of getting done this summer but just didn’t get around to actually doing.
I like to think I spent the summer being highly productive, but it’s a bit of a stretch since I can’t point at anything concrete and say “Look what I did” while the warm weather got away from me. Maybe I should go ahead and start taking weekly pictures of cleaned rooms and a well turned out lawn. At least then I wouldn’t be so surprised when ninety or a hundred days blow by without even the common courtesy of a heads up.
As I’m sitting here writing this on Friday afternoon, I know it’s going to be Monday before I know it. I’ll do my best to cram as much into these two days as possible, but if someone has any tips on how to slow this ride down before it’s all water under the bridge, you’ve got my undivided attention.
1. Stop complaining about the heat. It’s summer in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s hot. If you don’t like hot weather, consider moving to Maine or volunteering for an expedition to the South Pole. Here in this part of the country, the weather can be pretty much relied on to be somewhere between warm and scorching in June, July, and August. Those months come around at more or less the same time every year which means temperatures in the 90s shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.
2. Unrealistic expectations. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t bend the knee at every opportunity. By nature, I’m an inquisitive person and when someone says something stupid I’m as apt to ask for their logic as I am to just accept it and move on. Occasionally you run into the kind of person who’s not use to being questioned or needing to explain himself. They tend to be the the most fun to play with because they turn a delightful shade of red when they realize you’re not going to hop to and dance to the tune they’ve called. It never fails to amaze me how much trouble everyone could avoid by having reasonable expectations to begin with rather than relying on bluster and the beliefe that everyone will do what they say “just because”.
3. Pretty much everything else. There’s a good chance I need to go to bed and get a good nights sleep, because it would be easier this week to write about what hasn’t annoyed me on some level. That, of course is much less interesting for all of us. Some might say I’ve even “in a mood,” though if we’re honest I’m mostly in a mood because people make me want to bludgeon myself around the head and neck with a blunt object. If tomorrow weren’t Friday and the weekend didn’t promise sweet, sweet quiet time, I’d probably be on the lookout for a nice bell tower or possibly a school book depository. Not really. That would require way more interaction that I’m really feeling up to.
No one reading this is going to be surprised to hear me say that I’m a creature of habit. That’s one of the problems I’ve always had with writing. As long as I make a conscious effort to carve out time to do it every day, all is right with the world. Unfortunately, it’s perilously easy to quickly slide into the habit of not writing. For the record, being a not writer is far, far easier than being a writer. Because I’m fundamentally hardwired to seek the path of least resistance, not writing anything on Saturday quickly turned into letting it slide for the next two days as well. It would be a simple thing to let it slide for the rest of the week, for another month, a year maybe, all because it stopped being part of my routine for a few days. Whether it’s blogging, churning out pulp fiction, or the great American novel, writing is an act of self discipline, which is another skill I have yet to fully realize.
When the sun’s out, a few dozen odds and ends need doing, the television, a list of books you’ve been meaning to read, and rum punch on the deck rear their heads, it’s hard to overcome the sheer number of things competing for your time and attention. For me at least, it’s easy to write in the winter. It’s gray and cold and frankly there’s not nearly as much competing for attention. With a cold rain falling, it’s nothing to churn out a couple thousand words in an afternoon. Once the weather turns, I’m lucky to muddle through two or three hundred, before my incredible shrinking attention span hurls me off in another direction. At least I can admit I have a problem. That’s the first step, right?