Best Laid....Plans

Time was our company would let us bank an unlimited amount of vacation days. We were allowed fifteen a year and any days that were not used could be stored and carried over to the following year. Additionally, there was the added benefit of trading in banked days for cash and being paid the equivalent of a day's pay for each day withdrawn. Last year, they announced that they were amending this policy. No longer would there be a cash-out option, nor would the bank capacity be unlimited. We would have a maximum of ten days we could store, and those days could only be withdrawn as days, not money. There was a window before this new policy went in to effect during which we could still trade any banked days for cash, so I withdrew my thirty-plus banked days. Given the raises I'd had during the first three years of my employment, the days I withdrew were actually worth more than when I started. As the end of last year approached I had fifteen days remaining, and could only bank ten of them. Whatever days I didn't use would be lost but, given my tight deadlines and the approaching holidays, I was foolishly prepared to simply lose them. My supervisor had other ideas however, and forced me to take them. I spaced them out and over the course of Christmas and New Year's there wasn't a week that I was at work more than two or three days. The long weekends were great, and allowed me time to finish up my holiday shopping and wrap presents. The days I was at work were more stressful since I now had to accomplish what I did in five days in only two. By some miracle I managed, but it wasn't easy.

I LIKE that my job has a structure. My previous one did not, and on any given day my superiors could shelve a book I was rushing to finish and make another project my priority. It made it very hard to plan my days. Some days there would be nothing to do, but I had to look busy so I wouldn't get fired. Other days presented me with so much work that I'd be rolling my chairs between several different computers and desks like Alex P. Keaton on speed, simultaneously scanning, printing, loading disks, revising layouts, and physically assembling books from color proofs for a trade show by hand using a knife, metal ruler and double-sided tape. I like the structure where I am now, though the volume is challenging. I make all my deadlines, sometimes even early, but the few times our scheduling system generates a dreaded “late notice” e-mail, my supervisor's boss sends me an inquiry, since the system is designed to e-mail her as well when we're late. It's only happened two or three times, and usually I completed my assignment the day it was due but after five o'clock, but still she checks up on me. It's important both physically and mentally to take days off but given these conditions, I probably wouldn't if I wasn't forced to. In the nine years since I graduated college, I don't believe I've had more than four or five consecutive days away from my day job, and many of those days I've been doing other work, usually with one of the myriad bands I'm in. I often think of Homer's sage words, “Don't worry, boy. When you get a job like me, you'll miss EVERY summer.”

With ten days in the bank, I had to use all fifteen of my yearly allowance this year, as well as the two personal days we're given. I've taken a three-day weekend whenever I was caught up or saw an opening in my schedule, and was again grateful to have a structured workload so I could tell a week ahead of time whether or not my not being there on a certain day would affect my stress level in trying to catch up the following day. Some of the days I took during the Summer were for musical engagements, and fell on days when I had things due, forcing me to work harder in the days prior to get the assignments completed early. Other days were taken to simply do nothing, and recover from work by sleeping late and playing video games. It didn't always work out that way though. There was one day when my dad announced he was going over to his property in his old neighborhood to reshingle the back of his garage, “if anyone wanted to help” him. There was no way I was going to let a septuagenarian with a heart condition carry a heavy ladder and work in the hot sun, and had I stayed home I would have felt guilty the whole time, especially if anything happened to him. He said it would only take us an hour or two but it ended up taking five, and he apologized for consuming such a large chunk of my day off.

That's the way it is with work and life though. Every day this week I arrived at my job planning to work on “project b”, but ended up spending time resolving issues with “project a”. Not one day did I get to the things I planned to work on before the day was almost over, because other things took priority. Every automobile my dad has worked on has always presented unseen challenges and taken far longer than he estimated. Last weekend I took off on Friday, planning a three-day session of de-stressing. I decided since it was a nice day to rake all the leaves in our sizable yard and get fresh air since it was a rare warm day and I'm indoors far too much. My dad was installing a water pump in my old music teacher's son's minivan and I could hear it was giving him trouble. I put down my rake, and helped him until it got dark, surprising myself that I was understanding what he was trying to do and seeing better approaches than the ones he was taking. We ended up having to finish the car on Sunday, which took another four or five hours. My ribs were sore and my bruises from leaning on the car are still healing. I started out with gloves but had to abandon them for better dexterity in reaching smaller bolts on an alternator, and my hands were solid black when I was done. I managed to get everything but my nails clean, but those are finally growing out as well.

Today I planned to watch The Magnificent Seven and write an article comparing and contrasting it with The Seven Samurai. The disk didn't arrive in the mail as I was expecting however. Our neighbor was cutting tree branches that extended above our driveway over a shared fence and so instead of watching movies, I found myself outside holding a rope to guide falling tree branches away from the fence, our neighbor, and my father who was holding the ladder. There was one limb he couldn't reach and I looked around his yard, spying his four-year-old son's beat up old Nerf basketball. I tied the rope around the ball and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, threw it up and over the branch. I was able to pull it away when my neighbor's chainsaw was almost through it and it was cracking, and once again spare two noggins and a fence.

Earlier this week my mom received the sad news that her aunt had passed away at the ripe age of ninety-seven. She had been living somewhere down south but since her children all lived on Long Island and her husband is buried up here, the body was being flown up. We'd been waiting to hear what the arrangements were and my uncle finally called today to pass along the news that the funeral would be held Monday morning. Fortunately I was already taking another vacation day Monday so I'll be able to attend. I hadn't seen this woman since I was a small child but liked her from what I can remember, and of course I want to be there for my mom. It's not what I PLANNED, but that's the point. My mom said that her brother was complaining that “everything always gets messed up during these times!”, to which my mom replied that we don't schedule our deaths. I don't think this means we shouldn't make plans. We do have some control over our own lives and need to exercise it as much as possible given all the things outside our control that can pop up and change things in a heartbeat. Earlier this week my friend Curt reminded me of a quote by George Bernard Shaw that applies here: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”


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