This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.
Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.
But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.
That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.
One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.
Here we are in mid-October, I’m comfortable saying I’ve mostly adjusted to the diminishing daylight and have started into one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it’s about to be the “holiday season” or whatever, but that’s not really it. Not directly, anyway.
I’ve long made a habit of mostly hoarding vacation time through the first 2/3 of the year. With the arrival of October, though, it’s time to start letting those days spool out. For me, that means the next two and a half months look something like this:
Three-day weekend… Work for two weeks… Five day weekend… Work for a week… Four day weekend… Work for three weeks… and finally the last, glorious Fifteen day weekend capping off the year.
The annual burning off of vacation time is a real thing of beauty. This annual rite of autumn is made easier in my case by not having to burn time during the rest of the year to tend to sick offspring or in accommodating spousal wishes. I sprinkle days through the rest of the year to get a quick breather when necessary, but it’s here in the fall where I really get my head right.
In a few months the new year starts and with it a new round of hoarding time off begins… with the promise of another fall filled with days not spent dwelling under fluorescent lighting. For now, though, I’ll happily celebrate the best ten weeks of the year,
1. At least twice this week, as I drifted off to sleep, I thought of something and noted that it would be a good blog topic. Yep. I’ll write about that tomorrow. Of course by morning the thought had completely evaporated without hope of recovery. All I’m left with is the ghost of an interesting idea and no ink on the page. I’m going to need the ideas to start coming before that instant when consciousness blinks out of the night while I’ve still got a fighting chance of making some notes.
2. There’s a day next week I wasn’t scheduled to be in the office. Now I am. Not because of some bureaucratic fuckery, but because I opened my own stupid mouth and volunteered. After almost 19 years you’d think I would know better. Sure, it’s one of my few “high profile” projects, but there’s absolutely nothing I can add in person that I couldn’t have added in a video call. But there I’ll be, failing to strike a blow for the power or remote work. Let the record show I’m able to annoy myself just as much if not more than other people can manage to achieve.
3. I’ve been using my original Gmail address since back in the olden days when the service was “by invitation only.” Yes, I’m well aware of how much of my “personal information” Google is sweeping up in their net by providing this otherwise free service, but it has been an absolute workhorse over the years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone to check my email and found it unavailable. I’ve been using the account for everything, for so long now, that it’s almost starting to choke on the not-quite-spam – or the random marketing emails sent by companies I legitimately do business with. They’re companies I don’t necessarily want caught in the spam filter because I like getting receipts, bills, and the other bits of information I need,.. but getting 20-30 messages a day that are close to but not quite spam feels like way too much. I could probably spend a little while tightening up my filters, but I definitely wanted to bitch about it first.
Perhaps the very best part of the COVID experience has been the wildly improved parking situation on the days I can’t avoid going to the office. We’re the stereotypical office complex surrounded by acre upon acre of asphalt… and if you didn’t time your arrival just right, or gods forbid, needed to leave to do something and then come back in the middle of the day, you might as well be parked in the next county. I won’t be showing you pictures, but take my word for it, the historic parking situation here is a case of really atrocious environmental, industrial, and human design.
COVID (and wide-scale telework) has mostly freed us from the tyranny of the parking lot. In a few of the far distant sections, there are even respectable sized weeds growing through cracks in the pavement. No one has needed to park way they hell out there in almost two years now.
This morning, I tucked the Jeep into a spot not much worse than the ones reserved for our own lords of creation… and I was far from the earliest arrival for the day. I had to leave for an appointment to get one of my ID cards fiddled with at 9:00. In the olden days, that would have been the kiss of death. Upon my return, I’d have been banished to the furthest reaches of the lot. Today, though, after 45 minutes away, I pulled in to exactly the spot I vacated… and in fact could have gotten a few spaces closer.
Sure, COVID has killed friends and family. It has poisoned the well of social discourse and revealed so many closeted crackpots in our lives. If that’s the price we have to pay for really good parking, though, maybe the struggle and carnage was all worth it. I mean if people can’t be bothered with basic preventative measures, why not start looking at this thing from the bright side, right?
If you’re tuning in on Thursday night, you’d be forgiven for expecting to see this week’s top three list of grievances. In the interest of credit where it’s due, or at least a demonstration that I’m not always in a foul and surly mood, I really have nothing to say on that topic tonight.
It’s been a surprisingly non-annoying week.
I’m just going to assume that’s because it’s a short work week leading into a three-day holiday weekend… to be followed by another short week and long weekend combination. Turns out my mood directly correlates to the ratio of work versus free time. Who would have guessed, right?
I’m going to take it as a (surely temporary) win. I have very little doubt that about the time I hit “publish” on this post, the universe will chuckle, and send flocks of stupid to cross my path. Something about needing everything to be in balance, or whatever.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here enjoying a bit of peace and general satisfaction before it goes inevitably sideways.
One of the great joys of working for my employer is that we’re absolutely comfortable delivering mixed messages. It’s such a regular part of business that I doubt most people even notice. I notice, of course, because it’s exactly the kind of random foible that I enjoy writing about.
I present the following by way of example:
On one hand, the message from the very top is that COVID-19 remains an existential threat to our ability to contest and not lose the nation’s wars. In light of that, every one and all of us must stay masked, be vaccinated, maintain social distance, and keep working from home because it’s dangerous out there.
On the other hand, the same organization is holding its last frenzied meetings about piling people from around the country into a large convention center for three days next week. I’m sure it will be a glittering affair with everyone fully following all published best practices and risk reduction strategies. You just can’t beat the synergistic effects of breathing all over each other to enhance lethality and multi-domain readiness… because it’s not so dangerous out there.
One of the great lessons I’ve learned during my career is that we are very serious about following rules and procedures, unless, of course, those rules and procedures are in any way inconvenient or interfere with what the gods on Olympus want to do. Then, it helps if you just think of them as suggestions and don’t take them seriously in any way. If you came looking for consistency, boy did you come to the wrong place.
1. Enterprise Service Desk. I waited on hold for 24 minutes after my laptop flashed all sorts of warnings about the impending doom of expiring certificates, to be told, oh no, just call back about two weeks before it expires. I mean if that’s the standard, maybe sync up the automatic warning message to not start flashing red with 41 days to go. But hey, at least I can look forward to pissing away another half hour on hold in the very near future… when I’m entirely confident I’ll be told I should have requested the new certificates at least 30 days in advance.
2. USPS. I’ve largely abandoned the US Postal Service to the extent possible. Some of the places I order from still regularly use them, but for most anything originating here, I look for other options first. The delivery inconsistencies, delays, and downright failures from last winter still rankle. Now I see the USPS has a grand plan to improve itself… by intentionally slowing down deliveries and increasing prices. Yep. I’m sure that will bring people flocking in to their local post office.
3. Celebrity. The amount of time we collectively spend pondering the opinion of celebrities is kind of remarkable. I’m not entirely sure why anyone cares whether a man who’s very good at throwing a ball through a hoop thinks vaccines work. Don’t get me wrong here. I have plenty of favorite celebs. Some are funny, others insightful, and a few are just a pleasure to look at… but what I don’t generally look to them for is subject matter expertise in a field that demands decades of study and practice in which to gain proficiency.
A few years ago, my employer adopted a new pay system. Say what you want about the old General Schedule, but it was nothing If not predictable. Stay alive and employed for X number of years and you knew precisely where your salary would fall. This new system, riddled with administrative complexity and ostensibly based on the “pay for performance” concept, makes any such projection somewhere between impossible and useless.
The cornerstone of our new pay system is our individual written narrative – an annual self-assessment of what we’ve done and why it theoretically matters. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that kind of introspection… although by definition, the better you are at writing and telling your own story, the better you’re apt to do in the face of the committees charged with reviewing these self-assessments. Fortunately, in this system, as in NSPS before it, I do a reasonably good job of detailing why I’m absolutely wonderful. It’s not a system you’d want to work under if you’re in any way self-deprecating.
The theory here is that if pay is somehow tied to the value of individual contributions, people will be more engaged and work harder. I suppose it’s true up to a point. Once you’ve crashed into the upper limit of your designated “pay band,” the remunerative reward for working harder is pretty limited. Sure, you can qualify for a year-end bonus calculated using one of the more Byzantine formulas devised by the mind of man, but in raw percentage terms it’s not much… and 40% of not much is going to be immediately taxed back to the Treasury.
I’m only pondering the system at all, because I recently received the annual notice from the boss that it was time to send in my self-assessment. With so little at stake, it’s hard to imagine sweating too long or hard over the words than end up on the page. It’ll get done and I’m sure the writing will be lovely. I’ll assess myself as the ideal employee doing great work for God and country… and then the various committees and formulas will drive my scores towards the median and an appropriately middle of the road bonus will be awarded.
I’ll be forgiven, I hope, if I don’t find the process particularly motivational or apt to improve my performance in any meaningful way.
1. Bureaucracy. Wednesday morning I received an email from the Office of Personnel Management. The sole purpose of that email was asking me to forward the email, a request to take a survey, to my supervisor. Yes, before anyone asks, it was a legitimate email versus some kind of elaborate and badly executed fishing expedition. Every time I start to think that maybe we have reached peak bureaucracy, Uncle goes ahead and sets the bar just a little bit higher.
2. Meetings that wouldn’t even justify being an email. The bosses called a global “all hands” meeting for our corner of the great green machine this week. There were 80 invitees in person or online. Squarely in the middle of when I’d generally be breaking for lunch. Surely, you’d think, this would be for the transmission of important information or critical organizational changes. No. It was 30 seconds of regurgitated talking points and 14 minutes of birthday cake for one of the top line managers. He’s a good enough guy and all, but if you’re ever wondering why morale has moved on from being in the shitter to being in the septic tank, I’ll present exactly this sort of asshattery as evidence.
3. Pants. I had to stop what I was doing in the middle of the day today and put on pants. Between the rain and the plummeting ambient air temperature, it was just plain uncomfortable. I’m not mentally ready to concede that the long summer is over. I’ve obviously spent too much time growing accustomed to conducting the business of the day in tee shirts and shorts. Making the transition back to actual pants feels… onerous.
Most weeks, by the time Friday rolls around, I’ve simply had it. I try to eat a big enough lunch that dinner can be a piece of fruit, some cheese, and, if I’ve remember to pick one up, a soft pretzel with good mustard. By Friday evening the thought of the time and effort involved in actual cooking is a bridge too far – and you might as well forget about taking the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to find decent carryout. Delivery? Right. I live far enough into the wilds that nothing I’d want delivered even comes close to me with their drivers – Those that do, arrive with a stone cold meal.
This wasn’t most weeks, though. This week was special. I skipped the fruit. I skipped the cheese. I even skipped the pretzel and mustard. Moving straight on to the gin and tonic portion of the evening felt like a far better use of the small motivation I was able to dredge up. Maybe in a bit, once the juniper and botanicals have worked their magic, I’ll feel up for a trip to the kitchen to raid the peanut jar or open a can of something. Maybe. If not, that’s fine too. At the moment I’m perfectly fine and happy sitting here with no bells ringing, no email, and no one asking for a damned thing.
Three cheers for the bloody weekend.