Six or seven years ago, one of my many other duties as assigned was to endure a monthly series of meetings that were barely tangentially related to anything happing in my office. There was the main meeting at the end of the month, prep meetings for that meeting, pre-meetings for the prep meetings, and host of other “pick up” meetings getting called with no notice. In any given month I could be guaranteed that 15-20 hours were going to be wasted staring at the ceiling in the conference room and wondering why people couldn’t just shut the fuck up once they made their point.
Around that time several pink shirts came into my possession. I started wearing these Pepto pink shirts on days when these random pointless meetings were scheduled – a silent protest. I needed a full suit of Pepto because I was well and truly sick of these meetings.
Eventually these meetings evolved into something else and landed on someone else’s desk, relieving me of the burden of enduring them. The pink shirts remained, though. Most of them are long worn out, but there’s one left. It’s a bit tattered and not fit for the office now, but it’s not quite bad enough to throw out.
It’s my first day back in the saddle after a long and restful break… and there was my last remaining Pepto shirt hanging in the closet this morning practically begging to be worn.
So yeah, if you must know, I’m wearing the pink today. I can’t think of anything that better suits today’s mood.
I’ll keep this simple because my 16 day weekend has now dwindled down to just a regular length weekend.
What I learned this week is that when the time comes to hang up all this nonsense with going into the office and pecking away at PowerPoint, I’m really going to be fine. I can spend days on end searching out $1 used book gems, fiddling around with conserving the ones that need a bit of attention, and reading until my eyes go blurred. It feels like something I could keep up indefinitely… and mercifully doesn’t need to be particularly expensive to be satisfying.
A few weeks is a long difference from “forever,” but I feel more confident now than ever that filling the days and keeping to the budget won’t actually be the problems that some insist on making them out to be.
1. The end. As we sit here on Thursday, we’re on the cusp of this ultra-long weekend becoming just a regular sized weekend… and the thought of going back to other people setting the agenda on what I care about or how I spend my time is just about the most depressing thing I can imagine. It’s like the Sunday “blahs” on steroids.
2. Cleaning. There is a down side of basically being home full time… and that’s the surprising amount of extra dirt that gets thrown into the house and the extra cleaning it takes to get rid of. Spending a lot of extra time cleaning definitely didn’t figure prominently in the plan for the week, but here we are.
3. Food. I’ve got a refrigerator full of food. Good food that I went to the trouble of buying and cooking over the last couple of days. I currently want to eat exactly none of it… which means I have to leave the house (because no one in their right mind delivers all the way out to Fortress Jeff). Living in the happy quiet of the woods has its perks, but it makes it awfully hard in those moments of spontaneous desire for Chinese, or pizza, or really anything other than what you’ve already got.
It’s the week before my annual burning off of use-or-lose leave. Sure, plenty of people are festive and jolly because Christmas is coming. They have their priorities and I have mine. I’d be thrilled with idea of sixteen work-free days in a row regardless of whether it was accompanied by a couple of holidays or not. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
So, you ask, what does the week before two weeks off look like? Well, I could say it was a week filled with high motivation and determination to cross all the t’s and make sure nothing is undone… but yeah, let’s not set those kind of unreasonable expectations.
It’s a week where I spent Telework Monday clearing my inbox (that was productive at least). Tomorrow will be a standard Tuesday – random meetings and more email to be sure. The next two afternoons are taken up with my semi-annual checkup and the office non-denominational holiday party. You can make your own assumptions about how productive I’ll manage to make either one of those days. The first four days of the week should be non-events.
Then we come to Friday. The final day of the work week. It’s the wildcard. Hard life lessons in Uncle’s service have taught me that it will either be a vast sweeping sea of nothing at all or it will be an unmitigated shitshow from start to finish. Historically it’s been my experience that there is no middle way. Not on Fridays. And certainly not on Fridays before an an ultra-long weekend.
Personally, I’m planning for the shitshow option. I think the universe likes to give you one last kick in the teeth before it gives you something so valuable as a long stretch of days off. I’d gladly accept a nice, easy Friday, but to stave off the almost inevitable disappointment, planning for the worst feels like a far better use of the limited time I’ve got left.
1. System access. There’s a system at work that I nominally need access to in order to do my job. The last time I’ve had access to this system is on the 25th of November. A few help desk phone calls, a few opened and closed help tickets, and I’m still no closer to being able to use it. That’s fine, though. I suppose when Uncle wants me to be able to do that part of my job someone, somewhere, will figure out what’s supposed to happen. Until then, it’s shrugs and pursed lips all around when I mention it, so whatever, yo.
2. I told you so. There really aught to be a unmitigated right in every employee’s conditions of employment document that allows them to kick in the door of senior leaders and scream “I TOLD YOU SO!” while gesticulating wildly and pointing accusatory fingers whenever such a display is made appropriate. This would generally be because advice was ignored, actions were delayed, and “somehow” a nine month planning window suddenly condensed into three months. Maybe that’s too specific circumstance. Still, I’d like to “I told you so” a whole bunch of people right now, but no, that’s not “a professional attitude.” Bugger that. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll see it here.
3. Scheduling. I’ve got a pretty substantial stretch of non-work days coming up. This week I’ve started laying out what I want to do against the amount of time available. Before the vacation has even started, I’ve got slightly more than half of the days accounted for by at least one appointment, task, or “to do” item. Some of those activities will be more entertaining than others, of course, but what’s really chaffing right now is how little of this long awaited down time is legitimately going to be restful or relaxing.
It’s Monday, but it’s a short three-day week and there’s at least one telework day between me and the start of the weekend on Wednesday afternoon. Summer and fall are my favorite times of year to be in Uncle’s employ. Unlike the interminable, holiday-free stretch from February to May, the holidays flow with reasonable regularity in 4-6 week intervals. They’re always something to look forward to on the horizon – a minor way-station on the long trip to 2035.
I make a point of pride out of making sure I’ve burnt off all my leave by the end of the year. I generally aim to carry precisely the maximum amount of leave across from year to year… not an hour more or an hour less. Keeping a big honking pile of leave available is a safety blanket of sorts – an insurance policy – against the idea that something catastrophic could happen at any time, but I have a cushion of paid time off owed to me to help mitigate whatever the problem might be.
Life experience has also taught me that I appreciate time off more in small doses than I do en block. With the exception of maybe a week or ten days across Christmas and New Years, I take most of my leave a day or two at a time. A four day weekend seems to hit some sort of neurological sweet spot for me – enough to feel rested, like it’s been something more than a regular weekend, but not so long that the very act of coming back to work feels torturous. Coming back after a long stretch – like the “Christmas break,” has a funny way of leaving me more annoyed and dispirited than I was before I left. For me that’s the real danger of taking too much time in one run.
So, here I am, my projected leave schedule covering the calendar like shot from a scattergun. Most aren’t random strikes, though. I try to set them to maximize preexisting holidays or to compliment the few days of the year I know I like being somewhere other than work. Throw in four or five more days held in reserve for the inevitable mornings I just can’t face eight hours in the cube farm, and it’s my own special, patent pending formula for dragging my carcass through another year while preserving some semblance of sanity.
1. Running out of time. Even as I grudgingly accept the fact that it’s necessary to work in exchange for money which I can then exchange for goods and services, I cannot quite shake off the feeling that I’d rather be safely tucked into Fortress Jeff with an endless supply of hot coffee and a mountain of books to read. Mentally preparing myself to go out and rejoin the world is, in a word, traumatic. It’s times like this I can see how one might just get suckered into the fool’s gold appeal of something like a “universal basic income” scheme.
2. January finances. As a professional adult head of household, January has always been a budget buster of a month for me. It’s the month when my biggest bills come due for the year – car insurance, home owner’s association dues, paying off Christmas gifts and travel expenses, the start of the winter heating season, and a few others. No matter how well the year is budgeted, January always comes around like a swift kick in the teeth and throw in one more large dollar item than I was projecting. It’s like the new year giving you a rabbit punch just to remind you that just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s anything more than business as usual.
3. Congress and the president. If you thought having the executive and legislative branches run by the same party put the “fun” in dysfunctional, just wait until you see the magnificent shitshow that Washington devolves into this afternoon when Democrats assume power in the House of Representatives. To all those who scream “false equivalency” or who want to blame one side or the other, I’ll simply say go fuck yourself. A pox on both their houses. No one sitting in our hallowed halls of power is an innocent.