Wednesday, November 20 2019

corporate wisdom, phineas gage, and communist jenga

1315 words

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! Hope you’re feeling good this morning. I woke up with just a touch of queasiness, and I’m not sure where it came from. After eating a bloomin’ onion on Sunday and going a bit hog-wild at D&B’s on Monday, I intentionally tried to take things easy yesterday, but I did reward my efforts with a bag of popcorn. Who knows what I’m working through right now. In between the sentences of this paragraph, I nibbled on a stroopwaffel, and I’m already starting to feel better. Maybe I just needed something to coat my stomach.

Sip. Yesterday was a pretty good day. I had a quiet day reading and working on things, wandering around the office and setting up shop at different soft spaces. Lately my favorite place to work is the seventh floor in the cafeteria. The broad windows overlook the corner of the city square, and the capital dominates the scenery. Even on gloomy days, it’s still inspirational to see the capital standing strong through it all. Not to mention, it looks pretty great when it’s dusted with snow. The ninth floor cafeteria has the same effect, but being higher up the building, it tends to be a little more popular for sight seeing. Working on the seventh floor also minimizes distractions and interruptions, since it’s all salespeople and marketing.

As I was working, someone sent me a document around conducting code screens for internship candidates. I perked up, and immediately shifted my attention to reading and commenting. It mildly derailed what I was already working on, but interviews and code screens are one of those things which I have a lot of opinions around, and lately at work I’m trying to get better at disseminating my opinion. I left comments, but not too in excess. Something else I also spoke with my boss about was the importance of letting people make their own mistakes. Not to say that you should treat everyone around you like a bunch of screw-ups. Just keep in mind that no matter what you tell people, they will always trust their own experiences more, so if you meet resistance and you don’t want the rest of your feedback to fall on deaf ears, just let it go.

Against my better judgment, I finished the day by attending a meeting that I totally forgot about. I didn’t even remember why I was there. I usually skip those meetings, because I don’t like to just roll up to a meeting and be a warm body in the corner, but I don’t like to be a complete intellectual burden on everybody and make everyone bring me up to speed. I read somewhere that there is never an excuse for boredom in a meeting. Instead, you should either be a source of energy, or you should leave - which is kind of a corporate jedi mind-trick spin on “I left because I was bored.”

I guess I’m in a corporate wisdom mood this morning. Usually I don’t gravitate to that kind of subject matter. Maybe whatever is festering in my stomach has also reached my brain and has started pulling cables that normally don’t get any action. Wait - yep - there it is. I suddenly have the urge to make a Pinterest page. I feel like buying nick-nacks on etsy. I feel like golf - not playing golf, just watching it on TV.

I kid, but sometimes I think of how fragile a personality is, and I think about Phineas Gage - that horrible story about that railroad worker who accidentally got a spike in his head. And he became famous - not for surviving the accident - but for becoming a total crab afterwards. It’s one of those stories that somehow made it into every elementary school history book, as if Phineas Gage was one of America’s founding fathers. In our home life, the story of Phineas Gage lives on as a joke between me and Marissa - usually when one of us is making the other shlep things around the house. Marissa will hand me something sharp, or difficult to store and carry, then out of a sense of conscientiousness add, “… and don’t Phineas Gage me with that.”

After work, we all went to Hy-Vee to pick up some groceries. Marissa tagged along to mail some packages, and I leveraged her availability to also pick me up a new 10-ride. The Hy-Vee counter is convenient, but risky if you are trying to get in and out of the store very quickly. Sometimes there is no wait at all, and the person behind the counter greets you warmly with pride and professionalism, and the transaction is over so fast that Rodney didn’t even have time to find something to spill on the floor. Other times, there are numerous people in line, and the person at the counter is sweating through their red polo trying to answer two phone lines while arguing with some weirdo trying to return juice because it’s defective.

Marissa joined us later in the store, somewhere around the milk aisle. We checked out, then I started dinner as soon as we got home. In the spirit of breaking the weekend junk food cycle, I cooked two chicken breasts with some baked brussel’s sprouts and mashed potatoes. Despite all the practice I’ve had in the kitchen, I still get raw-chicken paranoia. As we sat down to eat, I didn’t feel certain about it until I sliced and inspected every piece of chicken on the plate. I even popped some of them in the microwave. What is the remedy for raw chicken paranoia? Maybe I need to spend a month meditating about the randomness in the universe with a bunch of monks in the mountains. Maybe I need to get salmonella just once.

After dinner, Rodney, Marissa and I played a game of Jenga as we enjoyed a bowl of ice cream. Rodney is now skillful enough to hold his own, although we never let it get competitive. “It’s communist Jenga,” I joked. “Whether the tower gets higher or crumbles, we distribute the pride and blame equally.” Neither of us are competitive people, and we’d prefer to keep it that way. Life already pretty complicated, and sometimes you just want to check out, eat some ice cream and play Jenga with your toddler without having to explain why people who like each other sometimes try to beat each other at things that don’t matter in the long run.

After putting Rodney to bed, I talked to my dad on the phone for a bit. About two days ago, he extended an invite to go to a tailgate and a Bears game, and everything just fell into place. We had some more details to figure out before he turned in for the night. “You guys have almost the same bedtime as Rodney,” I teased. So December 5th, it looks like I’ll be attending my first NFL game at beautiful Soldier Field, and though I’m sure we’re going to get murdered by the Cowboys and publicly humiliated with some kind of coaching blunder, I’m excited to have the opportunity to share in the live saltiness with other bitter, like-minded Bears fans. And what a way to cap off my first season as - I like how my dad put it - “[someone] who is suddenly and inexplicably fascinated with the Bears.”

Hope you have a great day, everyone. To sum up, leave meetings when you’re bored, commemorate Phineas Gage when shlepping things for your spouse, and work as a team when you play Jenga.