This week is something of a scheduling oddity due to a confluence of unrelated events. It features a federal holiday, a telework day, half a day off for a dental appointment, and day of annual leave “just because.” That leaves exactly 1.5 days of time physically spent in the office. On one hand, of course, that feels like 1.5 days too many, but on the other it feels like just about right amount.
Of all the things I bitch about you’ll very rarely find the amount of time off I have in my hip pocket making the top 50, let alone the top ten. I know exactly how lucky I am to have that big beautiful stack of vacation days and sick leave sitting there waiting for me to use them.
Right now I’m making up lost ground to tend to appointments I didn’t have time to make in the first four months of the year and burning off days here and there to do things that are just more easily accomplished on weekdays than weekends. After the planned 5-day 4th of July weekend, the burn rate will settled down to a more sustainable rate for a few months. I suppose every week can’t be exceptionally short.
Those full, 5-day work weeks through the height of summer are going to make for a difficult adjustment. Sigh. I need to do something exceptional and get myself a nice time off award in order to stave off the madness just a little longer.
Well, it’s been nice pretending that I have all the time in the world to dink around the yard, troll every junk shop in three counties, and put my feet up to read whatever happened to strike my fancy. However, due to the completely unreasonable need to generate income in order to continue to provide food, shelter, and medical care for myself and my four-legged dependents, time is about to return to its usual status as my most precious commodity. Maybe that means I appreciate it more, but it’s a theory I’d be perfectly happy to put to the test as early as practicable.
I’ll be back at it tomorrow, making the devil’s bargain of time for money. I know I needed the down time, but I’m equally sure that whatever restive effects I’ve earned will be reduced to near zero sometime before the clock strikes noon tomorrow. It’s about as unavoidable as the rising sun. At least that first roll of the eyes won’t arrive as a shock. I know it’s coming.
Until then, I’ll make the most of the peace and quiet and enjoy one last afternoon unfilled with total asshattery. If there’s anything that long stretches of free time teaches me it’s that I can’t value those highly enough.
This is the first time in about a month that my laptop hasn’t followed me home. It’s the first time I’ve even attempted to restore the hard earned balance between the quiet, peaceful, sustaining world of the homestead and world across the river that would happily eat up all the free and easy moments if given half a chance.
Already in just these few minutes I’m feeling less submerged in the deep water – far happier for being now surrounded by my animals, my books, and no hint of a self-inflicted crisis with which to be dealt. I won’t pretend that this is anything approaching a controlled environment, but the common problems are swiftly put right and order, such as it is, reigns. Those problems that rightly dwell on the other side of the river, are less apt to be corrected no matter the time and resources brought to bear against them.
No one knows better than I that control is an illusion. Even if it is a fiction, it’s a happy fiction, and one that I’m pleased to let have its way here inside my own four walls. I’m in a slow recovery from the week and months that were. I feel better now than I did ten short hours ago, so that’s something – a good sign perhaps. Throw in a few days of real down time and I might have a fighting chance of really feeling like myself again. A boy can dare to dream.
1. Late breaking winter. I had a passing thought that I might get through this winter unscathed in the landscaping department. It would have been the first winter since buying the place that was the case. Clearly that’s the kind of thing that’s a homeowner pipe dream. In the bright light of afternoon – and now that a lot of yesterday’s snow has melted off, I can see at least three boxwoods that appear to be broken at the stem, several other shrubs that may have been bent and twisted beyond recovery, and a reasonably good sized maple limb that landed squarely on top of a forsythia that was just starting to take off. Some people love nature for what it is. Me? Aside from the adorableness of the fuzzy animals, I find nature to be something to be pushed back against at every opportunity. Seems like I’ll have reason to break out the chainsaw after all.
2. Six hour days. I use to enjoy two hour delays. That’s until I ran into a short day that felt like it lasted at least 2,476 hours instead of just the six that the “clock” says passed.
3. Congress (again). These asshats literally only have a handful of things specifically named in the Constitution as part and parcel of their responsibilities as elected representatives. The fact that they fail so spectacularly to get those few things done even when one party controls all the levers of government speaks to both their uselessness and our stupidity for continuing to elect 90% plus of the same 535 people time after time after time. Truly democracy has given us the kind of governance we so richly deserve.
When serving the staff there’s something that you need to remember always. Everyone is always going to think that whatever they happen to have you working on is the most important thing that anyone is working on. They will have a tendency to want their project to take up all available oxygen in the room, every moment of discussion time, and every bit of available manpower. That leads to the typical day being a maelstrom of competing priorities and people who want something done right-the-hell-now.
The reality is, good as I may be, I am but one man with one keyboard and a finite amount of time to allocate in pursuit of whatever harebrained scheme has priority at the moment. As often as not, I determine the priority of effort among the universe of possible projects that need action with minimal outside input. I like it better that way, really.
From time to time, though, something comes along that someone wants and yet it still never bubbles to the top of the list of things to do. Eventually, though, someone high enough in the food chain gets it in their teeth and starts gently nudging you towards whatever this favored need may be. When they nudge hard enough, no matter what else is churning, it gets some attention.
That’s all my long way of saying that it’s remarkable what can get done in two hours when you lock yourself in a room, turn off Outlook, don’t answer the phone and just start writing. It’s remarkable and might even get you off the naughty list of the person who’s been asking for that bit of information for three or four weeks… but of course it lands you squarely in hot water with the 37 other people who think their projects also deserve special attention.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this place is marginally easier to contend with once you realize that falling behind is the norm and the best possible day is one where you manage to break even because with the time and resources authorized there is literally no way to ever get ahead of the volume of things that need doing. Trying to have a little bit of perspective is awfully important.
After some thought today it occurs to me that I spend upwards of 60 hours a week doing things that by definition I don’t want to do. How do I know I don’t want to do them? Well, because someone has to pay me reasonably well to convince me that it’s how I should spend my time.
That thought leads to the corollary that I’m so completely resistant to doing things that I don’t want to do in the 44 or so waking hours that I haven’t sold off because I spend so much time doing shit that I really don’t want to do in the first place.
When you spend 60 hours a week doing that which you do not naturally want to do, the calls of “you should go to the gym,” or “you should stop eating red meat,” or “do you really need that second whiskey sour” tend to fall on deaf ears. Honest to God, I don’t even hear “you’re cutting years off your life” anymore because I just assuming a good portion of what I’m cutting off are the years at the end when you sit around a nursing home shitting yourself. That’s way up there on the list of things that I don’t want to do.
The 40 or so hours that I’m awake and not being paid, are for the things that I want to do. It’s a freedom that certain life decisions have afforded me and I intend to take advantage. I’m going to drink the good whiskey. I’m going to eat the steak. I’m going to sit in the comfy chair with a book. I’m not going to spend what is currently my most limited resource on the damned stair master or learning how to make tofu “taste good.”
I just don’t want to… and that’s not a statement I get to use nearly often enough.
1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.
2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.
3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.