Whatever Works

Things that apparently help in writing a federal job application package (resume and KSA – Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities – statement) for a return client include:

  • Seltzer water
  • Coffee (time for a refill at ten minutes ’til midnight)
  • Lightly snoring dog
  • “Bhangra Smash Hits” on Apple Music
  • Lap blanket for working in disproportionately air-conditioned basement
  • Internet for looking up context on stuff in client’s work history

Things that do not help:

  • Internet for everything else

Rabbit Hole

My boss is on leave. I have a number of tasks to complete. Two of these involve providing instructions about using software to people in the office. The office has installed a video capture/presentation program on my computer to help with exactly this sort of thing. I am inexpert in its use, alas, but the end products genuinely seem to help people understand how to do the stuff they’re being asked to do. One of these tasks is Urgent and Important and potentially complicated; the other is neither, in comparison, but it has fewer moving parts.

I decided to spend a few minutes on the one with fewer moving parts this afternoon – you know, because it would be easier and help me do the other one (Urgent and Important) faster and better. Four hours later, I had a poorly edited video which I will have to totally redo before it will be of much use to anyone.

The Business Management Institute at Muppet Labs ™ is quoting reliable sources as saying that saving work frequently on a computer may prevent wasted effort. They are also reporting that doing the most important work first is more likely to result in faster completion of important work.

In unrelated news, I just spent the last 90 minutes playing Solitaire (with an actual deck of cards) over and over again.

Distractions

All I wanted was to post about reading The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by one of my main brain heroes, David Graeber. (I am reading Utopia in short bursts of delight. It is the only book I have ever pre-ordered.)

Not true: I also wanted to post about the relative merits of attempting to engage with public intellectuals through social media and public comments on their articles and posts. These two topics are not related.*  Watching people attempting to correct each other’s errors on the Internet fills me with a mix of vicarious anxiety, embarrassment, and irritation. I suppose there is no difference between tweeting or commenting and writing letters to the editor except for the element of public performance inherent in social media correspondence. When my great uncle wrote angry letters to politicians back in the day, I didn’t need to bear witness except on the rare occasions that I saw him in person. That’s not the case when someone I follow on Twitter decides to school a more famous stranger about The Way It Ought To Be, The Way Things Are, or What It Really Means. I don’t know why that makes me wince, but it does. I’m embarrassed for them. I’m envious of the conviction that pushes them forward and scornful of it at the same time. What the heck is that about?

But no. I didn’t write about those things. Because it is snowing outside. Instead I spent almost an hour looking for pictures of Elsa from “Frozen” looking like a boss to illustrate my (at that point still non-existent) post. Then I looked for images of Randy from “South Park” channeling Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” I also made Dino Spouse a sandwich.

* I have interacted with Graeber online, which is to say that he has favorited or replied to a couple of my replies to his tweets; I’m sure he has no idea who I am, and that’s reasonable enough. I have no quarrel with his cyber-manners. In honor of Utopia, I have adopted the WordPress “Big Brother” theme for my blog.

Who Owes Who What Now?

There are people who believe that the world owes them fairness, however one defines “fair.” Then there are people who feel sort of queasy and/or irritated at the notion that the world owes one anything. (Then there’s the reality of the people, most of us really, who fall between those extremes. But I digress.)

I’m one of the queasy types. Chalk it up as you will to nihilism, a conviction that true fairness is determined by an ineffable justice which surpasses my understanding, or resentment toward the self-actualization of others. All of these things may be true. Whatever the reason, I find it easier to tally up what I owe to others than to articulate what others owe to me. I also find it easier to be lenient with others than to be lenient with myself. In practice, this doesn’t so much govern my actual behavior as it governs what I feel guilty about.

My psychologist recently challenged me to define what I am owed. I spluttered indignantly about the world not owing anyone anything, then defaulted to access to food/clothing/shelter, then just sat there opening and closing my mouth. I owe it to myself to – to what?

I put the question out on social media, where I learned that I am owed a pedicure, wine, oxygen (please put on your own mask first before assisting others), a chance at happiness, and fresh blood (like the human heart, which must be fed in order to feed the rest of the organism). None of this is wrong (especially if I define the pedicure and vino/blood more broadly as self-nurture) and all of it is agreeable. What it doesn’t tell me is whether I am owed intellectual stimulation or adult companionship on a regular basis more than I karmically owe my physical presence and attention to family members. How much does a debt to myself weigh relative to a debt to my children or my husband? And what is a reasonable debt to oneself?

Let’s say that the purpose of human life is to glorify the Lord and celebrate His works. My faith life ranges between nihilism, a conviction that the mysteries of faith are ineffable and surpass my understanding, and uneasy fear that if I don’t just do what’s in my catechism, I’ll screw everything up for myself and everyone else in my attempts to freestyle. In practice, this doesn’t so much govern my actual behavior as it governs what I feel guilty about. Sound familiar? Well, what would He have me do once the boxes are all checked? He would have me forgive others; would He have me forgive myself when, go as I might though the motions of loving my neighbor as myself or not coveting her ass, I decide to quietly disengage from my neighbor* because she wants to take her side in a community association dispute where she’s wrong and the stress is making me pull my own hair out in my sleep? What about when I mute her on Facebook so as not to see more pictures of her ass patiently giving donkey rides to disadvantaged children while mine is kicking down the fence again?

*Not using this neighbor to represent any actual person, honestly. Really, I swear. If you own a donkey, I am totally happy for you, especially if it is good-natured enough to handle attention from kids. Sure, I would love to own livestock and land, but that is not the point. There is no neighbor. There is no ass. There is no community association.

Help me, imaginary friends on the internet.

I feel good about taking my biology class because I feel like it has practical value above and beyond my own pleasure in learning and because I feel like it does not unreasonably deprive my people of attention. I can’t find it in me to feel good about doing things that I know would significantly help my physical and emotional health without providing any tangible benefits to my helmets at home. How much personal growth and satisfaction do they owe me? It’s hardly as if they try to stop me from seeking it out, it’s just that they don’t actively want them on my behalf. (“And why should they?” chides a voice in my head.) In the case of the biology class, it took me telling Dino Spouse that I needed him to want it for me before I finally got off my duff and registered for the class. I’ve been wanting to take it for six or seven years now. Why did I need him to intervene before I could give myself permission to do it?

Nails On A Chalkboard

My poor oldest son: the first victim of every parenting theory I carried into motherhood, the primary beneficiary of my blindness to my own quirks and how just how weird my own youth actually was! He told me middle school was bad; I didn’t believe him until his brother went to middle school. He needed my active involvement in his schooling; I didn’t see it because I was so certain that I was teaching him self-reliance by not checking his homework. He needed social help as a kid; I didn’t understand until his siblings started developing friendships.

He’s a senior in high school now. He has always hated Blackboard. I assumed he just hated school. Then I resumed my studies after a 24-year hiatus.

Oh my Lord. Blackboard! The all-in-one IT “solution” for classroom communications and institutional information sharing. It’s the worst whatever-it-is that I have seen! It makes me nostalgic for custom-developed federal government software. I can’t believe this thing has established such a stranglehold on public schools and colleges in the U.S. It’s hard to tell what I hate most. Is it the way that it insists you create a new, institution-specific e-mail account to interface with it? The database set-up that logs you out after 10 minutes? The multiple levels you have to click through to find an assignment? I will grant you that I like the whole concept of being able to apply for admission, register for classes, and pay my tuition without having to spend five hours in a line with thousands of other people. I like the idea that I can submit assignments remotely and communicate with my instructor and fellow students without them actually having my real personal contact information. But I can’t imagine how the kids in school now – who have spent their whole lives surrounded by user-friendly information technology – don’t simply riot. The only possible reason I can think of is that they don’t really use e-mail or blogs these days, so they don’t realize that long-form electronic communication doesn’t have to suck.

The other thing about the modern academy that I hate, at least so far, is the fact that the “homework” for my classroom-based class is a quiz posted to Blackboard that I have to complete and submit to my instructor in hard-copy on a Scantron form. Specifically, a Scantron form that I have to purchase. It was one thing to have to take exams in Blue Books back in the day, but I was on campus all the time, and I only had to use them once or twice per semester. But having to pay for a special, magic piece of paper in order to submit homework seems unfair – especially since the student book store closes at 7 PM and isn’t open on weekends. Oh, and they don’t sell the Scantron sheets online, either. I can buy them in packages of 500 online from the Scantron store for $60, or I can try my luck with the allegedly “Scantron-compatible” sheets sold on Amazon. You’d think, since this is the future and all, that there might a .pdf of the damned things out there for me to download, but no.

My instructor seems well-intentioned and knowledgeable. His English is sophisticated and he obviously knows the language well. My only beef is that he talks faster than he can fully articulate the words he’s trying to pronounce. It’s not that he has a bad accent, he just needs to slow down. Because “chemical attraction” and “Kim Kardashian” are sounding a lot more alike than I think he means them too. This isn’t as bad as the engineer I met at a meeting who used to mean “floorplan” and say “foreplay,” though.

Alienation

This whole “branding” thing just isn’t working for my blog. For one thing, I don’t post often enough. I haven’t figured out a way to blog in a timely and career-enhancing manner about the professional topics dearest to my heart, namely employee relations and supervisor-craft in large organizations. This is largely because I find blog-worthy inspiration on these topics primarily at work and forget what I wanted to say by the time I am home. When I do post, it’s usually the kind of personal stuff I posted on my old blog, only less of it.

One problem common to large organizations is the way that individuals find themselves feeling far removed from core functions. I can reasonably argue that that the work I do frees up people who do perform those core functions from worrying about adminstrativia, and that’s neat. But it’s not the same as really owning a piece of the action. When I blogged regularly about personal stuff, I felt uniquely entitled to speak about it because it was my life. I can’t summon the same feeling about my professional interests, and it shows.

Marx would describe the organizational issue as “alienation.” (Nothing says “finger on the pulse of today’s workplace” quite like name-checking Karl Marx.) I’m reading a book about alienation now to try and figure out what it is I’m alienated from that keeps me from wholeheartedly writing about professional topics. Is it the David Graeber factor?  A lack of professional confidence on my part? I shall have to ask my alienist.

 

Mother Of The Year

I called in sick today because I did not feel well. Then I fled my house before the kids got home so I could mope convalesce without interruption loving attention from my children. My professional personal brand today is Schleprock and my personal personal brand today is Peggy Bundy-meets-Amy from “Big Bang Theory.”

(My blogging brand today is Too Lazy To Post Pix Of Pop Culture References In Post.)

(I was recently trapped in a hotel room overnight with the TV tuned to TBS reruns of “Big Bang Theory,” which I had never watched at any length. I feel about it kind of like I feel about the Harry Potter novels – I recognize its merit on its own terms, but I do not need to read/watch further. And why must all the brainiac girls in these things be such uptight strivers, anyway?)