Monday and other inconveniences…

It’s Monday. Again. It feels like Mondays are happening more and more often these days. I know that’s not how time works, of course, but it still feels like they keep showing up all out of proportion to how often we get a Saturday thrown into the mix. Perception is a hell of a thing, and what brings me to my real point today.

If I really dredge the far recesses of my mind, I can still vaguely recall the version of me that was a young, highly motivated professional who wanted to do all the things, go all the places, and generally be in the middle of everything. That version of me is unquestionably dead and gone, replaced by one that isn’t interested in wave making or in any way drawing unnecessary attention to himself or whatever he may be doing.

I can’t really say if one approach is particularly better or worse than the other. Both feel equally valid. Both are based on conditions, circumstances, and past experience. Present me has learned, from hard experience, that there’s no real benefit from getting too far out over my skies. Sure, maybe I could stick the landing, but the more probable result is face planting into the nearest tree.

Right now, experience is screaming in my ear that seeming too eager or too competent will lead to nothing but angst, frustration, and an increased workload. It’s better, then, to keep on quietly, not fouling anything off, but equally determined not to give in to any conspicuous display of more than average competence.

I like to think it’s a reasonable precaution in uncertain times.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Protests. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a sign waving, getting in the way of things protest that I’ve ever knowingly supported. The tactics most protesters employ seem almost perfectly designed to guarantee that I’ll either quietly oppose them or openly mock and deride them. The small “r” republican protestors who have been popping up in London this week aiming to disrupt the most solemn state occasion of the late Queen’s funeral are probably exactly the kind of friendless cranks you might expect to engage in that kind of ill-timed, boorish behavior. I’m not saying the Crown should necessarily haul them off to the tower, but if the rest of the populace got together and heaved them directly into the Thames, I’d likely look the other way and then have a good laugh about it.

2. Lindsey Graham. For the last six months every Republican who could find a TV camera earnestly declared that abortion was an issue that should rightly be resolved by the states. That the federal government has gotten too large and overreaching is a reasonable argument. The remedy, of course, isn’t to hand that misbegotten power to the states, but rather return it directly to the people, who are the font of power under the American system, and allow them each to decide based on their own particular light. But then here comes Lindsey Graham, boldly introducing a bill that not only flies in the face of small government orthodoxy, but which will be wildly unpopular with 60% or more of the electorate. It might buy him some votes from the Republican base in South Carolina, but otherwise it makes him look like a fucking moron.

3. Eyes. My eyes suck and have since I was a kid. Take away my glasses and I could probably squint my way through things at very close range, but forget about telling the difference between a car and a cow more than a couple of dozen yards away. I’m headed off to my annual eye exam tomorrow, where I plan to spend my hour griping and complaining that by 8PM, my eyes are shot. It’s a situation that’s beginning to interfere with my evening reading and that obviously can’t be allowed to stand. With the return of wasting hours of the week commuting to the office for reasons that defy logic, but make perfect sense to management on the near horizon, I can’t afford to lose another hour or two in the evening with my eyes running everything together into lines of black smudge. 

It’s a long list…

It’s new supervisor day at the office. I’d like to pretend raging indifference, but the fact remains that whoever signs your leave requests and timesheets has a tremendous influence on whether the eight hours you rent yourself out for on a daily basis go well or badly.

After almost twenty years in harness, I’ve accumulated a long list of former bosses.  If I feel like being polite, I’ll say that some were better than others. If I’m not, I’d say that some were princes among men and others were oxygen thieving asshats I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. Most were somewhere in between the extremes.

I don’t know the new guy, so I’m withholding judgement until there’s a reasonable basis for deciding where he falls on the spectrum. A lot of that is going to depend on just how “energetic” they decide to be in their new position. All new bosses will inevitably make changes, but the real determinative factor is whether they wants to change the things that need changing or whether they end up chasing wholesale changes just because they want to “leave a mark” or because he knows better than anyone ever before.

The dude has got big shoes to fill… and I’m not just saying that because the old boss is now my senior rater. It’s a hard, thankless job made all the more difficult because echelons higher than reality can never quite agree on what the job is actually supposed to entail. I’ve had two chances now to apply for what would be a respectable promotion and opted against doing so both times. I wouldn’t want the job at twice the pay. I’m happy enough letting others sit in the councils of the great and the good while I tend my widgets and get home at a reasonable hour.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shopping local. There’s a local shop that will remain nameless that I’ve been trying to go to for weeks now. According to the sign on the door and the internet, they open at 10:00 every morning seven days a week. I know they’re not closed as I’ve seen the place open when I’ve been on my way to do other things, but the three times now I’ve tried to go there between 11:00 and noon on Saturday, they’ve been locked up tighter than a drum. Sometimes their “open” light will even be on, but the place is dark and the tumbleweeds roll across the parking lot. I like doing business with this outfit – otherwise I wouldn’t have already given them three chances – but there’s way too much competition out there from other brick and mortar shops and the internet to keep getting met with a dark storefront at the times that are convenient and when you’d think would be some of the most lucrative sales hours of the week.

2. Good help. As the master bathroom limped towards completion, I began turning my attention towards a few minor projects I wanted to have knocked out before the cold weather arrived. The first, getting the exterior trim scraped and painted, was lined up. It would have been a quick hit, $1,000 “fill in” project. Something one painter could have knocked out in half a day when they had down time between other, larger projects. I thought we were set to go, but the painters have gone radio silent. The second, an upgraded and improved whole-house water filter was also on the drawing board. Water tests were done and the design was supposed to be in progress. And now the plumber has stopped replying to calls and messages. Don’t get me started on the gutter people who said they’ve been here but weren’t (as evidenced by the lack of them being on camera and the fact that they never sent me a bill).  I’ve got jobs to do and cash money to spend, but finding someone who wants to do the former to get the latter is like pushing shit uphill. I absolutely get why people say “no one wants to work anymore.” So instead of hiring a local company, I’ll go out and spend twice as much with the big national or regional outfits that have consistently showed up when I’ve called.

3. Free shit. In the last fifteen years we’ve been given every kind of handout you can imagine. From the days of the 2008 financial crisis to student loan forgiveness, there’s cash flowing for everyone. Well, as long as you’re the right kind of everyone, I suppose; one that checks the box on whatever social, demographic, or political group our elected representatives are trying to curry favor with at the time. My key take away is that I don’t fit into any of those groups. I apparently fall into a separate category that’s always the billpayer and never the beneficiary of the largess that’s poured out the Treasury’s back door. A million years ago when a group of us asked our high school principal to schedule an expanded slate of AP classes, he waived us off by explaining “You smart kids will do okay no matter what we do to you.” I think he even believed that was some kind of compliment. It’s different lyrics, but the same old song.

Nothing gold can stay…

The Great Plague era, for me at least, will always be remembered as a golden age. 

I estimate that I avoided driving about 40,000 miles over the last two and a half years – saving on fuel, maintenance, and general wear and tear both on the vehicles and on me too if we’re being honest. 

It was perhaps the first time in my life when being an introvert positioned me uniquely to thrive in a world that is normally built to service and reward extroversion. Staying home, hanging out with the animals, reading as many books as I could get my hands on, and doing almost all of my own cooking is almost entirely the life I was really built for. 

Most weeks for the last 30 months, I got to spend four workdays out of every five working from home. No commute, no small talk or interruptions, and not listening to the guy two cubicles over hack up a lung while suffering from “just allergies.” It was a chance to knock down whatever work was thrown my way using a brave, new approach. It feels like, for a while there, we almost embraced it. 

I’m enough of a student of history to know that no golden age ever lasts. Eventually the conditions that fuel them gives out and the world then tends to revert to the mean. I’m told that my own personal golden age now has an official expiration date… so now all that’s left is to take a few weeks and mourn the future that almost was. 

The world has been and continues to be in a rush to “get back to normal.” You’ll have to forgive me, because I just don’t see the appeal. 

The open bay petri dish…

Since March 2020, I’ve taken the reasonably prescribed precautions against the Great Plague. The regular advice to avoid crowded spaces didn’t feel particularly onerous to me. After all, avoiding crowded places has been my stock in trade for most of my adult life. It’s the kind of crisis situation I was built for.

When the bosses prioritize asses in seats, though, there’s no way to avoid the office, which is how you get a poor schlub coming in when he’s not feeling 100% and only hours later popping hot on a rapid test. That, of course, leads to the rest of us sitting around wondering if that brief conversation we had in the early hours of the morning was enough to swing us from exposed to infected. There’s no way to tell until something does or doesn’t happen, so we all just keep on keeping on.

I miss the front half of the plague experience. A positive test like this would have triggered an immediate quarantine and deep cleaning of the physical space. Anyone in the room would have been declared “exposed” and sent home to quarantine for as long as 14 days. Now guidance from the top is “Well, we just have to tell you that you may have been exposed” and an accompanying shrug.

Having been vaccinated and boosted, it’s reasonable to assume the plague isn’t going to be my cause of death. That shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s an experience I particularly want to have. Given the couple of underlying conditions I enjoy that don’t necessarily play nicely with the plague, it’s in my best interest to avoid it. If I catch this bug after two and a half years only because someone at echelons higher than reality is mired in the misguided notion that there’s anything at all I can do sitting at my desk in cubicle hell that I can’t do from my desk in the sunroom at home, there’s a fair chance I’ll absolutely lose my shit the very next time someone mentions some absolute tripe like “synergy, collaboration, and innovation” and the importance of having all the warm bodies back in an open bay petri dish.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Busses. I spent more of the week than I want to admit thinking about busses. One of the “other duties as assigned” that landed on my desk years ago for reasons that still defy logic, is facilitating a couple of charter busses to haul people from the office down to DC for an annual trade show every fall. It’s a boondoggle that was happily suspended due to the Great Plague for the last two years. It’s back with a vengeance for 2022, though, so now I’m in a great paper chase to figure out what hoops must be cleared to reserve, pay for, and fill up a couple of busses for people who are mostly interested in walking the exhibit floor and filling their bags up with cheap giveaway swag. 

2. Duplicate names. I do my best when it comes to naming posts not to repeat myself. After 3,715 posts, though, some dupes slip through. It makes me absolutely buggy when I catch the site address reading something like jeffreytharp.com/duplicate-name-2. If I’d have had any idea that I’d be almost 4,000 posts deep all these years later, I’d have probably kept better track of titles as I went along, but it seems that ship has probably sailed. I’m certainly not going to go back and try to track it all at this late date. Just know, when you see a duplicate name it’s just a small thing that makes me want to burn down the whole internet. 

3. Reality avoidance. So, we have stubbornly high inflation, two quarter decline in gross domestic product, and a midterm election barely three months away. The president has released a statement saying, in part “we are on the right path.” It’s hard to imagine a more tone-deaf thing to say minutes after the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases their quarterly report indicating that we’re now in an economic environment that’s commonly called recessionary. In 1988, George H.W. Bush got throttled at the polls because he was out of touch with the domestic economy. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was turned out of office largely on the back of high inflation and negligible economic growth. I get that most people like to forget history, but if I’m a Democrat running in a competitive race in 2022, I’m scared to death that my party’s leaders are determined to avoid reality.

The last week wasn’t great…

So, the last week wasn’t great times. Personally and professionally there were a lot of moving parts that never quite meshed among themselves or with each other.

Monday and Tuesday I worked from home and all was well, or at least it was well until the storms rolled through, trees fell over, and grid power crapped out and took my access to the internet along with it. No internet means no working from home. Which was a problem because Wednesday was a day where the general contractor was making a big push to get a lot of work done and I needed to be home. Chalk it up to an unplanned day off while the bathroom contractors did their work using generator power. At least someone was getting some work done.

By Thursday morning power and internet were back, but I couldn’t log in to my work computer. After six hours of sitting around waiting for the help desk to get back to me, I was duly informed of the reason why I couldn’t sign in. It seems I was delinquent at completing mandatory annual cyber security training and had been unceremoniously expelled from the network until I took the class, sent in my certificate, and genuflected six times in the direction of the IT office.

Under normal circumstances none of those things would be more than an inconvenience, but there’s a catch. Because of course there’s a catch. Because of reasons, this training can’t be completed from a personal computer. I had to be on the official network, which means I had to schlep in to the office and use someone else’s machine. That’s great, of course, except last week was a steady parade of general contractors and painters trying to wrap up my bathroom remodel. They had full days scheduled on Friday and Monday. With so many more or less unknown elements coming and going at different hours, leaving the house for any length of time just wasn’t something I was willing to do.

The net result between weather and home improvement was burning off three unplanned days of vacation time last week. Adding another 24 hours to the 64 hours of leave I’ve already burned this year to mostly hang out at the house while other people do work. It doesn’t feel like a great way to take the lion’s share of your yearly vacation days.

Yes, I still have a mountain of combined annual and sick leave on the books. If I don’t take any more vacation time, other than what’s already have scheduled, I’ll still carry over the maximum amount allowed, but also means facing the next five months with no impromptu days off. That feels… stifling. I have grave doubts about whether I’ll be able to pull it off no matter how my good intentions.

Bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten…

For my money, there’s no bigger official waste of working time than the dozen or so yearly online training courses that we’re required to take. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m actually a big fan of online education. It’s what allowed me to get a master’s degree while I was traveling around the country for work. When properly designed and executed, online learning can be and is an effective strategy to reach people who otherwise would find that educational opportunity unavailable. 

That being said, the way it’s implemented matters. The “classes” I tool this week were exactly the classes I’ve taken every year for the better part of the last decade. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Clicking through the exact same information every year isn’t “continuing education.” It’s not education of any kind. 

I can only assume that the people who control these online classes expect that the average person is too stupid to retain information for more than 365 days. That’s probably true for some segment of the population. If you want them to remember something you have to beat them over the head with it at every opportunity. Even so, it’s farcical to call a program like that “training.”

All I’m saying is that if the intent is just to check a box and say you’ve provided training on whatever topic to your employees, but don’t want to take the time and effort to make it meaningful in any way, how about not making it 95 separate screens to click though before I can print the certificate. If the instructional designers and leaders who approve that mess aren’t going to even pretend that content and engagement are important, you’d better believe that my only goal is to click though as quickly as possible so I can get on with my day.

I’m all for education. I’m a big advocate for getting more knowledge. I am, however, also violently opposed to time-sucking, procedural nonsense that has no purpose other than satisfying some obscure regulation. If that’s what passes for education, no one should pretend to be shocked when anything that follows is equally bland, uninspired, and quickly forgotten.

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.