For most of my adult life I’ve had a somewhat conflicted relationship with sleep. I recognize and accept it as a biological necessity, but I’m not in love with the idea of spending up to a third of each day lying prone when there are likely other, more interesting things to do.
Occasionally, my ambivalence towards sleep catches up with me. Usually it’s on a Sunday afternoon when I’m not otherwise engaged and find myself going chin down. On rare occasions like last night, I’ll nod off before ever making it to bed. That’s not an especially pervasive problem as usually I’m only down for 10 or 15 minutes.
Last night was something different, though. I suspect the last two weeks has really started catching up with me. I went down hard at 8:15 and spent the next two and a half hours drooling on myself in the living room. This was apparently just enough shut eye to completely ruin the chance of getting an actual night’s sleep. Laying abed wide awake isn’t really my style, so I read, did some internet things, watched a surprisingly interesting documentary about the Boeing 747, and then finally “went to bed” a little after 3am.
Thanks to my surprisingly persistent internal alarm clock, I was still up by 5:30 this morning. Thus is the way I begin my designated “down time.” I can only hope this isn’t setting the tone for how the rest of these next few days are going to run.
1. The closest gator. It’s just human nature to try killing the alligator that’s closest to your boat. Just by virtue of its proximity it’s the one that should pose the most danger. Most of the time your natural assumption is probably right. Every now and then, though, that gator that just happens to be closest is just swimming past… and while you’re focused on him the big, ugly sonofabitch swimming up behind you is the one that’s going to take a bite out of your ass.
2. Not being elsewhere. It’s a rare day when I don’t want to be home above all other places. Just this once, though, I wish circumstances would have allowed a bit of leeway so I could have found myself, for a few hours, in Rock Island, Illinois. Today was a live demonstration that that a certain big government agency can manage not to trip all over itself in pursuit of elevating someone eminently qualified into the ranks of senior leadership. I just wish I could have seen that shit in person, you know, just to prove in front of my own two little eyes that such a thing is actually possible.
3. Bordering on exhaustion. It’s not lack of sleep. Thank God my brain disengages as soon as I turn the lights off and lets me drift off to sleep on demand. The problem comes in those 19 intervening hours, when it’s busy jumping from point to point. I usually have a pretty good capacity for leaving the work over on the other side of the river, but for these past few weeks and another few to come, it seems to be following me. Even when I’m not thinking about it, a few ideas are churning in the back of my mind. It’s probably a necessary evil for the time being, but lord it’s wearing my ass out.
It’s always a positive and self-affirming moment when someone comes by your desk, takes a long look at you, and announces, “Damn, Jeff. You look tired.”
The fact is, I am tired. It has nothing to do with how much sleep I got the night before (which was plenty) and everything in the world to do with the volume of information I’m trying to exert some semblance of control or influence over for the next 25 days. There are plenty of people who have a more demanding plate of responsibilities, of course. If my project slips off the rails no one is going to die a terrible flesh wasting death due to toxic chemical exposure. That, at least, I have going for me. Still, between project meetings, sub-team meetings, a never-empty inbox, and a phone that won’t stop ringing, I’m not so much processing information as I am sifting it from one pile to another while hoping I don’t miss something important. Unfortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to know I’m missing stuff.
It’s a piss poor way to operate. It means everything else that’s supposed to be important and on my plate is getting crowded out just because of the volume of material this one particular effort is kicking up. I’ve got some expected leadership beatings lined up later this week, so at least I have that to look forward to. Plus, if I’m this tired now, just imagine how chipper and rested I’ll be in another three and a half weeks. That should be good times for everyone.
This is the first night in a long time I’ve sat down at the blinking cursor and really didn’t feel like writing. Not here. Not any any of the other ongoing projects. Not in a comments section. Not anywhere. Whatever spark drives that compulsion of mine to cover a blank space with small black symbols is well out this evening… so if anything you read hear feels at all forced, it absolutely is, so you’ve got a good sense of things.
There are no particularly tragic circumstances behind the scenes. The office is settling in to its newest flavor of ridiculous. The air conditioner isn’t broken and the summer routine is in full swing. It seems possible that good things are happening on one or two other fronts as well, so it’s far from the worst of times.
Despite that, I’m just a certain kind of deep down bone tired tonight. If the beginning half of the week is any indication it’s not the kind of tired I can solve by allowing for more than my usual five or six solid hours of sleep. It’s the type I feel when I need to just turn my brain off for a while. Even though the sure fire cure is a few days laid up somewhere with palm trees and a rum economy, summer is slipping away without a vacation plan in sight, so I’ll just have to do my best to treat the ailment as best I can with small doses.
I know from experience that in a few days this too shall pass and in the meantime the only thing for it is to slug through to the other side. It’s not the elegant solution I usually like to find, but it does the trick.
I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’ve reached the end of having interesting things to say. These posts get harder and harder to finish. In truth they get harder and harder to start too. For a guy who generally likes to use his words, that’s something of a problem.
Fact is, you’d probably be surprised by the sheer amount of energy that goes into dreaming up a fresh new post five times a week, trying to be at least marginally entertaining (or at least informative), and do it before my eyes go hopelessly crossed from too much staring at a monitor over the course of a typical weekday. Add in the mostly undeniable fact that I’ve been mentally and intellectual bankrupt by the time I back up the driveway these last few weeks and you’ve got a healthy part of the recipe for really bad writing… or at least really forced writing. Those two things don’t always arrive together, but they’re often found as two sides of the same coin.
I take great solace in the fact that the shitshow at the center of my current state of mental decrepitude will be at an end by this time next week. At which time I’m quite confident I’ll “lay me down and bleed a while, and then rise up to fight again.” Until then, I’m almost certain to remain nearly unable to string two reasonably coherent sentences together or really make a decent point of any kind.
The hardest days aren’t necessarily the longest ones. They’re not necessarily the ones where the most important decisions are made. There not even the one where there is a crisis around every turn.
The days that cause me the most trouble are the ones where you never manage to come up for air. Nothing I’m doing is especially hard – I’m not unlocking the secrets of the atom. Nothing I touch on a daily basis could even remotely be considered a matter of life or death. Even so, that doesn’t mean that it’s not without its pitfalls.
The pitfall today was a simple matter of volume – of too many people wanting too much information compounded by the fact that it’s utterly impossible to really concentrate while sitting in a cube farm. The layout simply isn’t designed for that. In fact, they’re designed precisely to encourage “collaboration” (read, idle chatter). As wonderful as a team may be, there’s no greater killer of focused concentration, in my considered opinion, than cramming as many people as possible into a given area and telling them then to go forth and do great work.
Today was mentally exhausting even though I have precious little to show for it. Tomorrow will be mentally exhausting too. So will the day after that. It’s possible that every time you see me my brain is just a little more exhausted than it was the day before.
Even on the mundane days, I think all I need is a couple of minutes to breathe between the endless rounds of pointless questions and unstoppable conversation. It’s the kind of wish only a fairy godmother could grant, because there isn’t a chance of it happening in the real world.
1. Bikers. Not the ones on motorcycles. The ones who put on brightly colored spandex and take their peddle bikes for a ride at 6:30 AM. On a narrow, winding country road. When the rest of us are trying to get to work and do something productive with our day. Yeah. Those guys are a real pain in the ass. Sure, technically they’re legally entitled to use the road, but really if your vehicle of choice can’t manage to make at least the posted speed limit I think your decision to do so is suspect at best. Someone driving their car uphill at six miles an hour would be considered a hazard to traffic, I don’t have any earthly idea why peddle pushers doing exactly that aren’t lumped into the same category.
2. The week. I can’t remember the last week that has left me so utterly tired as it draws towards its conclusion. Suddenly everything is busy. Quitting time sneaks up on me at work, catching me unaware – that almost never happens. The nights at home stream away like we were dealing with minutes instead of hours. Despite all the motion, there isn’t feel like there’s all that much to show for it. Maybe that’s the real source of frustration. I don’t mind being bone tired when I know what I’m getting for the trouble, but when there’s no apparent reason, well, that’s just obnoxious.
3. Presidential politics. Here it is, more than a year before the next president is elected and the two hardest charging candidates are an avowed socialist and Donald Trump. Do I even need to explain why this might be considered annoying in some circles? It’s also why I try not to pay much attention to what’s going on this early in primary season… But Sanders and Trump. Sweet lord, this can’t be real life can it?