What Annoys Jeff this Week?

AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 14 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 14 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

The GOP. It’s been a hundred years since a majority party in the House of Representatives failed to elect a Speaker on the first ballot. It’s a level of ineptitude that would be shocking if it weren’t so entirely predictable among members of what passes for the Republican Party. Government is serious business for serious people – and this slimmest of majorities has led off the 118th Congress in the most embarrassing way possible in not being able to conclude the most basic step of leading that chamber without devolving into a useless conglomeration of cockwombles. My level expectation of them being able to do anything else over the next two years is less than nil. 

The rut. Once upon a time, I use to believe that you were supposed to come back to work after time off feeling refreshed and energized. Maybe others do, but I came back from my long Christmas break no more excited or motivated than when I left. If anything, the time away left me even less enthused by the day-to-day after two weeks of doing “not work.” It’s a rut, to be sure. Uncle’s gold-plated fetters make it unlikely that any real changes are in the offing, so getting my head around this just being how I’m going to feel for at least the next 12 years is… troubling.

The dread…

The dread I’m feeling about tomorrow being the end of my 17-day Christmas weekend is palpable. Without any scientific evaluation, it’s precisely why I think most heart attacks happen at the beginning of the work week. 

Despite none of the plans of the last two weeks playing out as expected, the time has been an absolute delight – seemingly endless hours stretching out surrounded by books, and animals, and range time, and generally doing whatever caught my fancy on any given day or hour. I imagine it’s a sample of how I’d spend my days if it wasn’t necessary to work in order to afford those things.

I’m jealous of those people who, it seems, find fulfillment in their jobs. More power to them. I don’t know that I’ll ever find it more than a rude, 8-10 hour interruption, keeping me from doing the things that are actually of interest. For good or bad, I’ve told every boss I’ve ever had that it’s just a job, not some kind of sacred calling – usually in response to their misguided questioning about my desire to move upwards through positions of “increasing responsibility.”

If I were going to embark on some uplifting holy quest, I promise you it wouldn’t be planning the best gosh darn conference ever, or writing the OPORD with the fewest spelling mistakes, or sending out the most taskers in a single day.

It’s job, not in any way to be confused with actual life. If you’re expecting me to be passionate about it, you’re looking in the wrong place and at the wrong guy. I’ll do it well because that’s why I’m getting paid. The minute I’m finished, though, it won’t even be a passing thought during the rest of my day.

I’ll schlep into the office tomorrow because it’s what keeps the lights on and the animals fed. I might even crack some jokes or make a few snarky comments while I’m there. I’ll create the necessary illusion of being interested and engaged. Uncle will get his money’s worth… but it’s never, ever going to be a place or activity I’ll run to with a smile on my face and song in my heart.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 12 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 12 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

2. Cold. Yes, I know it’s winter. There may have been a time when I literally walked uphill in the snow to go to school (thanks FSU), but the intervening decades have left me out of practice and utterly stripped of whatever native ability to embrace this kind of weather that I developed in my youth. I’m not saying I want it to be perennially 75 and sunny like in southern California, but don’t expect me to appreciates lows in the single digits and wind chills plummeting well below that. Winter is absolutely the dumbest season.

3. Perception. Being that it’s now Thursday, I’ve been off for almost a week now. It feels like approximately 37 minutes have elapsed. I’ve done a bit of book hunting, punched holes in big sheets of paper, and tended to a few other odds and ends that needed doing… and the days are just screaming by in a blur. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s a good problem to have, but I wish a week off felt even half as long as the standard week at work. 

Don’t expect a Christmas miracle…

Most parts of life, in my estimation, are about finding the proper amount of motivation. Whatever goofy shit you can’t find a way to avoid doing, requires at least some motivation to get through. For instance, I rarely actually want to do laundry… but I like having clean socks and underwear. See, that’s the motivation. 

As I sit here, with a mere 24 working hours between me and a 17-day weekend, let’s just say that motivation is more than a little hard to come by. Systems not working right? Fuck it. “Urgent” email asking things that have been answered three times already? Don’t care. Computer refusing to download a critical system patch that will result in the machine becoming unusable after Friday? Yup. That sounds like a January problem.

Look, I like getting paid on a regular basis. That’ll be all the motivation I need to muddle through the next three days… but it’ll be just that – a good old-fashioned pre-holiday muddle. Don’t waste your time looking for over and above. Disabuse yourself of the idea of it being a zero-defect environment. It’s the time of year when everyone’s just going to need to be satisfied that there’s a warm body here at all. Anything past that truly is a year-end bonus… or perhaps a Christmas miracle.

Four days…

The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years are usually the only time during the year I burn off a really big chunk of vacation time all in one sitting. Planning around the other various federal holidays, I’ll manage to sneak in a few week-long blocks, too, but Christmas is always the big one.

Some of my favorite bits of time off, though, are the stretched long weekends. Either extend a 3-day weekend or slip a day of leave in between a Tuesday or Thursday holiday and its corresponding weekend and hey presto you have yourself a nice mini vacation on the books with very little loss of leave involved. Spread enough of those around through the year and you can almost maintain what few scraps of sanity you’ve got. 

The Thanksgiving 4-day is probably the king of the bunch as far as I’m concerned. Unlike Christmas and its multi-day road stand and immense logistics tail, Thanksgiving politely contains itself to a single day for visiting, enjoying an oversized meal, and getting back home at a reasonable hour to sleep in my own bed. It’s a holiday distilled to its essence.

The three following days of no specified activities are just the sauce on top and I’m 100% here for it.

Long live the 4-day weekend.

Keeping holiday time…

It’s that time of year again. In the last few days of run up to Thanksgiving, it’s obvious that no one’s got their heart in it; Even those that are here aren’t really here. Sure, physically some of us are banging around the office, but everyone is somewhere else in their own mind – tucking in to a proper holiday dinner, Black Friday shopping, or generally being anywhere other than cubicle hell.

Next week everyone will trickle back. There won’t be enough of us to pretend it’s a flood. There’s too much leave to be taken between now and the end of the year. Like dragons, we hoard it just for the joy of seeing that vast pile of time burned in a conflagration roaring across the closing weeks of the year.

Sure, there will still be a few of the bosses who want to pretend that it’s business as usual and everything is getting done. But the rest of us will know better. The five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are a land out of time. To fight against it in any but the most dire circumstances is the height of folly and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

Even now, a few days before Thanksgiving, I can feel the inexorable draw of Holiday Time. And that’s the real magic of the season.

Return from a wasted week off…

After a week off that was decidedly not a vacation, I’m back to work. Admittedly, it’s working from home, so it’s not nearly as onerous as it could be, but I wasn’t in any way ready to come back to the world of answering emails, fighting online systems, and generally being a productive and responsible adult.

Look, there’s nothing inherently bad about my particular job. I’m not out there laying asphalt in 100-degree heat or slinging hay bales into the loft. I’ve got a decent chair, a good desk, and a couple of monitors that bombard me with information for eight hours every day. It’s hardly rocket science. It’s not usually particularly hard work, even if it does demand pretty close attention to detail and some higher order processing skills from time to time. 

I’ve been doing some variation of it since January 2003. By this point, there’s not much new under the sun. Sure, some of the details change. When I started, Iraq was the talk of the town. Now it’s Ukraine. Different players, same game. The broad strokes have changed very little. Do any job long enough and I suppose you’ll find a rhythm in it. 

So, I’m back at the keyboard. I’ll do the work and I’ll do it well, but I won’t pretend to be thrilled or excited or meeting a great new challenge every day. I do my part to keep the gears of the bureaucracy grinding along because I seem to have a, perhaps unfortunate, talent for it. I’m trading my time for their money and will keep after it until I hit my own magic number and don’t have to do it anymore. 

I’m most definitely a creature of habit, but this is one I’ll be happy to break out of at the first financially responsible opportunity. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blame and credit. OK, it’s fashionable to blame Joe Biden for interest rates and inflation and gas prices and whatever else anyone believes is going off the rails at any given time. Fine. Taking the blame is an occupational hazard of being president. I think, though, we’re missing some of the up side of the current economic environment – namely that gas prices and generationally high inflation levels have apparently made backyard fireworks a budget line item that was ripe to dramatically decrease or be cut out completely for people in 2022. With only a few individual outliers, personal fireworks displays within earshot of the homestead were constrained almost exclusively to between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM on Independence Day and were dramatically smaller and less intrusive to the general peace and tranquility of the evening than they have been in previous years… so, thanks, Biden. I mean if we’re going to blame him for global economic forces at work, he might as well get some credit for the good stuff he doesn’t have any control over.

2. Time. The standard work week lasts approximately 375 hours. A week of vacation time wraps up in just short of one hour and 26 minutes. I know here are psychological reasons why we perceive the passage of time differently under various conditions, but that doesn’t make the fact any less annoying – particularly when your most recent batch of days off is quickly diminishing. It this case, perception is stupid and I hate it.

3. Religion. I’ve covered it before, but it bears repeating: I’m under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to follow the tenants of your religion. I don’t care if you follow the old gods, the new gods, the Greek pantheon, Sol Invictus, Vishnu, Buddha, or Jesus Christ himself. Your beliefs govern the way you live your life. The minute you turn your faith into a belaying pin to cudgel others about the head and neck, no matter what peace and love you preach, I’ll oppose you loudly, at length, and with whatever force is necessary to get you to cease pummeling others with your interpretation of faith and goodness. You’d think in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two we might have left some of this medieval fuckery in the rear view, and yet here we are. 

Men plan and the gods laugh…

My annual birthday week book buying spree was interrupted, as you know, by the long-awaited master bathroom remodeling project. At the time, I pinned my hopes to get back to the world of dusty, mote filled shops during the next block of leave I usually take during the first week of July. Then, of course, there was the repeated county inspection fiasco that set us back by a matter of weeks. 

That sad story brings us to where we are now – the first week of July – when I once again have vast sweeps of unallocated time that I planned to use for chasing books. Here, I am, though, tethered to the house while work in the bathroom continues.

This summer won’t go down in my personal history as the best use of vacation time I’ve ever experienced. Given how many small change decisions it’s helpful to be able to discuss and make on the spot, the only real alternative was to cancel out my leave this week and log in for another session of working from home. That thought was even less enticing than just pissing away 4 days of leave doing piddling odds and ends around the house. 

After last week’s water system blowout, I’d be wildly uncomfortable being away for any real length of time. I’ve snuck away for a few appointments during this process – those that have taken months to get and that changing ranked as too hard to do – but otherwise I’ve been able to be here throughout. As this effort drags on, though, I increasingly wonder about the sanity of anyone who stays in their home through a more involved renovation that isn’t just contained to one room.

I’m sure at some point this week, I’ll scour a few of the online shops I frequent, just to scratch the acquisition itch. Otherwise, it looks like a week of reprising those distant times of puppy training when all the creatures of the household piled into the kitchen. I suppose, spending a few days huddled up with books, tea, and furry critters isn’t really the worst bit of vacation time I’ve ever spent… but it wasn’t at all what I had planned.

A trip to Disney it ain’t…

The first week of June is usually the point in the year where I start taking time off in bulk. The first half of the year is for slogging through. The back half is for maximizing days not tethered to a desk or laptop. Historically, this is a week allocated for sweeping through antique and book shops ranging from Philadelphia to DC. After two years of Plague measures, 2022 was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Except, of course, that’s not how it has turned out. At least not for this week.

With a team of plumbers, carpenters, and electricians crawling around and under the house, stretching my legs like that is off the table this year. Sure, they’re bonded and insured and I’ve got cameras keeping an unblinking eye on everything, so I don’t strictly need to be here. Still, it looks like I’ll mostly be spending the week knocking around the house if only to answer random questions as they come up.

It’s not an ideal week of vacation, but after seven months of waiting to start, I certainly wasn’t going to delay further in the name of saving a cherished early summer tradition. Besides, I’ve got another tranche of time off coming up for the first week of July. This whole thing has been a bit of an exercise in delayed gratification. Why shouldn’t this be as well?

Fortunately, I’ve got a wall full of books I’ve been meaning to read and a list of odds and ends that need doing but never quite make it to the top of the list. There’s no time like the present to get after those things. Quite a few of those items got lined through today. If it all gets too tedious, I can always forgo a few vacation days, log in for telework during the tail end of the week. That feels like he worst possible option, but one never knows.

We’ll see how everything looks after a few days of just hanging out while other people stream in and out doing the heavy lifting for the week.