It pains me to admit this, but a lot of what drives this blog is the need to talk about the people and situations I find myself dealing with at the office. With working from home mostly being the order of the day, I find myself with a significantly reduced level of angst and agitation. Unfortunately that also leaves me with far fewer topics than I usually have knocking around as things to talk about.
So this is where you come in. As we do from time to time, I’m throwing the doors open and inviting you to ask me anything. Is there something you’re dying to know? Is there a topic you think deserves my personal narrative treatment? Do you just want me to sweat out something I’d never even considered writing about? This is your shot.
I’m not going to get hung up on format or directions. Comment directly on this post, leave a comment on Facebook, tweet me, send an email or direct message. I’ll even keep your identity confidential if you’d like. I’m trying to keep this easy for you and interesting for me after all, an anonymity often makes for a more interesting question.
Fire away. The sooner you tell me what’s on your mind, the sooner I’ll be able to give you some kind of half-assed answer.
1. Surprise. In between reports on Epstein’s guards being arrested, the impeachment hearings, and the weekly report on a random husband who killed his family, there are a few reports this week of China finally cracking skulls in Hong Kong. What coverage it is getting is the standard breathless, hand wringing that we’ve come to expect in reporting on bad things that are happening internationally. Mostly I’m just over here thinking that China is just being China. Given its track record from the late 1980s to today, I have no idea why anyone would be surprised that a student protest would be brought to a sudden, violent halt. There’s a track record there. You don’t have to look a lot further than the formation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution to see how dissent is handled sooner or later. History may not tell you exactly what will happen in the future, but it leaves plenty enough clues if you bother to look.
2. What I can’t say. I can tick off a list of at least five things off the top of my head that I’d desperately like to write about this week. Each and every one of them would be fertile ground for its own post… and all of them remain firmly embargoed indefinitely because there’s no good way to change the names to protect the guilty or obfuscate the origins of the tale. The “maybe someday” file got a bit thicker this week, that’s something, but not something that’s helping me out here and now.
3. Cashless tolls. It’s not the cashless tolls I hate, so much as I hate the other people driving through the cashless toll system. Removing the option for people to stop and fish through their pockets, purse, and ashtray for toll money, the State of Maryland opted to make the Hatem Bridge a E-Z-Pass or video toll only facility. It should have radically sped up the throughput at a particularly constricted stretch of Route 40. What no one took into account, though, is the people who can’t seem to grasp that the tolls are now taken (by overhead scanner and camera) at the west side of the bridge rather than on the east side where the toll booths are being slowly deconstructed. It’s been more than a month and these asshats are still stutter-stepping or doing the slow crawl through the place that’s distinguished by empty brackets where the scanners use to be and where there is currently no reason to slow down below the posted limit. No reason aside from people who wander through life without noticing a goddamned thing happening around them.
1. It’s glaringly obvious to me and maybe to you too if you’re a regular reader, that I’ve slipped back into what I fondly call a stream of consciousness blogging mode. Even when I set out with a target in mind, the narrative sort of zigs and rambles around to a point where it ends kind of wherever rather than where it might find a reasonably logical finish. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing I notice because I spend four or five days a week with my own writing. Maybe it’s less annoying to outside observers than it is to me. I hope so, because not being able to keep to the thread of a previously well thought out line of thinking is pretty goddamned annoying.
2. Jorah. The dog who won’t be housebroken. We’re still mostly hanging out in the kitchen, because as adorable as he is, the little beast is not to be trusted to avoid pissing all over whatever happens to be at hand when the mood strikes. It’s happening with less frequency now to be sure, but since he’s doubled in size the volume involved has also increased dramatically. There’s also the occasional middle of the night accident in his crate, which is doubly agitating since I know he can hold it far longer than the few hours a night I carve out for rest. To counteract that bit, he’s lost his soft bedding and gets no water after 7:30 each night. Who the hell knows if that will make any difference. At ten months old and after three months of consistent lessons on how to be a decent member of the household I’m running out of ideas with this one. The next stop is probably the vet to get a once over and confirm that there are no underlying medical issues involved. After that all that’s left is a turn to a far more Prussian discipline than I usually impose.
3. Mosquitos. I’m out in the yard at night so often with these hoodlum dogs that my legs currently look like I’ve got some kind of damn scabby plague trying eat me from the ankles up. I live in the woods. I know there are going to be bugs. The number of winged bloodsuckers inhabiting my little slice of the forest is absolutely out of hand though. So it’s either spend all evening smelling like Deep Woods Off or end up West Nile Virus and methed out legs. I don’t usually celebrate the end of summer but this year I’m looking forward to a good killing frost.
Let me be among the very first to say I can admit bad decisions when I make them. My idea to kick off an August AMA was met with a resounding silence followed by the distant womp womp of a sad trombone. Level of interest: Zero point zero. That’s ok. The sheer volumes of topics around here that never get past the idea stage is staggering so it’s just one more aborted notion on the pile.
Of course if there’s no one out there feeding me ideas, that means I’m back to relying on my own devices. After compiling a couple of thousand posts, I guess you can say that I’m ok with that. It’s not exactly a new thing. I’m just going to proceed from the assumption in this case that silence implies consent and that I should continue doing what I’m doing.
So, you may be asking, what does that mean? Well, it means you’ll be sure to see more stupid things that happened at the office, a bit of commentary about the news of the day, and whatever else happens to catch my interest in the moment. After so many posts I’m finding it’s nearly impossible not to tread some of the same ground, but I’m finding it entertaining to look at how my thinking has evolved over time. All things considered it’s not a bad way to run a joint.
About once a year, but on no actual specific schedule I like to throw open the doors here at jeffreytharp.com and let you tell me what’s on your mind. No, I’m not asking you to click, or share, or forward to 10 friends to prevent the ghost in the machine from deleting all your porn links, but I am offering up the chance for each and every one of you to set the agenda for a little while. I usually do this kind of thing when it feels like my own topics are getting a little stale and it’s safe to say looking back over the last few months’ worth of posts, I get the distinct impression that the day job is getting way too much time inside my head. Thanks to the power of social media and the vast reach of this blog (you know, 20-60 people per day), I’ve got a chance to set out of my head for a little while and stretch my legs – or more aptly, my fingers.
So, you may be asking yourself, what are the ground rules? There really aren’t any. Want to know my thoughts on a topic I haven’t talked about? Ask. Want a deeper dive on something I’ve only tangentially touched upon? Let me know. Want to hear more about dogs and less about work? Tell me. Have an unanswered question about that one time I did “this” when I clearly should have done “that?” It’s your chance to get the straight dope from the horse’s mouth… or horse’s ass, I suppose, depending on your particular point of view.
Now for the fine print: While I will provide an answer to every question asked, I do reserve the right to “vague up” some details that could be incriminating for me or embarrassing for others. I will, however, provide the straight dope answer directly to the questioner in these cases. All questions will be answered in the order in which they were received, or the order in which I feel like answering them. Scheduling really depends on the day. I will lead off each AMA response by crediting the asker, by name, link to their blog, twitter, etc as appropriate unless they have requested to ask anonymously.
If you’re clicking over to jeffreytharp.com and it’s Thursday, there’s a better than average chance that you’re looking for What Annoys Jeff this Week. It’s the only weekly feature I offer here and it remains almost without exception my high water mark for readers each and every week. If you’re here to read the next installment of the top three major or minor annoyances this week, though, I’m afraid I’m about to disappoint you. That’s because I’m going to use the platform this afternoon to go down a much more self-congratulatory path… I think.
If you look closely at the web address up at the top of the page you’ll see that it’s showing WAJTW/301. For those not following along that means it’s the 301st time “What Annoys Jeff this Week” is being used as a title. Given the occasional missed Thursday (although there have been damned few of those) WAJTW has been showing up regularly here for six years. In that time there have been about 900 documented annoyances. I’m still trying to wrap my head around those numbers. Even I have to admit that’s more grievances than I expected… and I’m the one who took the time to write them all out. I refuse to even do the math on how much time got poured into that (but it rhymes with funhundred and fifty hours and that assumes it only took 30 minutes to bang out each post).
So, what do you do when you realize you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time cataloging and bitching about the myriad things that have agitated you over the last six years? Since it’s the start of a long weekend, you mostly shrug your shoulders, order up a pizza, and wonder what jackassery the world is going to throw at you over the next six years. Say what you will about my chosen theme, but if you trade in people who do stupid things and what pisses you off, the well is just about bottomless. In my own utterly jaded way, I’m actually thankful for that.
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.
Some days, like yesterday, the words flow out like water from a geyser – pressurized and seemingly inexhaustible. Then there are the other days, when nothing at all fits; the words aren’t there. Not even the topics are there. It doesn’t matter how much backup material you’re sitting on when you can’t manage to string the narrative together. If I felt like being honest, I’d admit that those are usual the evenings when I pull out a canned post – one that’s not time sensitive – that I have pre-written and occasionally use for filler when life intervenes in the writing process. As it is, though, the cupboard on those is currently bare so in the absence of good options, this is what you get.
Sometimes writing is an art. Other times it’s more like a fist fight. The fact that tonight is the latter doesn’t mean that it’s bad, just that it’s harder than it would be otherwise. That can make for good writing or it can make everything feel more than a little forced. That’s mostly the luck of the draw on any given night.
I’d like to tell you I had a better formula for how this is supposed to work, but writing, even these simple small posts, is a lot more like breathing than I want to admit even to myself. It’s just something that happens naturally without too much intervention. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s labored, but mostly it’s outside your direct control.
Even with the world on fire and a hundred possible things to write about, occasionally you get nothing. Since I’m not on a deadline and I’m not doing this for the money, the occasional bout of getting nothing isn’t really so bad… and since no one is asking you to pay for it, you’re mostly stuck reading it until I find something more interesting to say.
In the meantime, if you find yourself sitting in a cubicle and feel like chuckling at the fact workplaces everywhere are quite possibly filled with asshats of every conceivable form and style, click over and read a few posts at http://www.askamanager.org. They’re not all funny, but most of them are damned entertaining.
I keep a running list of topics, random ideas, and factoids I think might be useful when faced with a moment of indecision over what to blog about on any given night. Looking at the list it’s a pretty well rounded selection of stuff from work, news items, and the just plain ridiculous things you see on a day-to-day basis when you’re paying attention to your surroundings. After looking at this list tonight, all I can tell you is there was nothing there that moved me to type. After 15 minutes of looking at the list, that’s precisely all I accomplished.
So what’s coming to you tonight is once again, just a blog about how damned hard it is to blog on a regular basis. Most of the time if you sit down and go at it, the words will flow eventually. Occasionally, though, all you end up doing is sitting there wondering where the words are that should theoretically be on the page already. It happens. I’ve been blogging for six years and writing for a lot longer than that in one form or another, but I’m just starting to come to terms with the idea that sometimes the words just aren’t going to be there when you summon them. It’s apparently an occupational hazard.
The worst part, of course, is that it’s an occupational hazard I then get to inflict on you by way of rambling 248 word posts that don’t really say anything at all. You’re Welcome.
So that wraps up the first installment of From the Mailbag. I don’t know if it was good for you, but I enjoyed getting away from my normal ranting and raving for a bit. So thanks to those who sent requests, questions, and suggestions. You guys always hear whatever happens to be on my mind, so it’s been interesting gleaning a little insight into what you’re thinking about too. I think the mailbag is probably something that I’ll revive from time to time since the metrics are telling me that people liked reading it as much as I liked writing it.
As far as what’s on tap for the rest of the week, I don’t have any really firm ideas yet. Thursday I’ll try to flesh out What Annoys Jeff this Week, but other than that it’s a wide open canvas. From the Common Market hovering on the edge of the abyss, to the President Clinton poking President Obama with a sharp stick, to dingoes finally getting the credit they deserve for eating babies, there’s plenty going on in the world that should keep me occupied for a few days… and if none of that interests you, well, tough. You had your opportunity to decide what topics show up around here and now it’s back to whatever warped version of reality pops into my slightly addled brain. Smell ya later.