I’ve Had the Same Phone Number for a Decade

I always laugh at productivity articles that advise against checking email first thing in the morning. That is the perfect time for me to check my inbox. Because I work for the international relations department of a large, well-known North American country, many of emails that I receive come in before I even begin work in the morning. So I usually start my day by flagging the emails that need immediate action, then sorting the rest by priority. Regardless of what other tasks I have on my plate, my main duty at work is answering emails, and I need to be comfortable with that.

Now, I’ve always identified myself as a technical services librarian. I worked in cataloging for most of my career, and that background helped me get my current job. But I only just realized that I’m now more of a reference librarian. Yes, I manage data collection and yes, I manage electronic resources, but really, what I do for a living is answer questions. If I don’t know the answer, I know where to find it, and if I don’t know where to find it, I know who will.

That may seem like a matter of semantics, but in fact, this realization may help me reframe how I work. I had begun to think that all of those questions were distracting from my main duties at work. Instead, I should think of my data and resource management efforts as the prep work I do so that I can answer all of those questions. So if I can structure my workflow to focus on that, then I should be in good shape from here on out.

It Looks Just Like a Window

I am continuing to dive into my penchant for creative destruction to find more ways to use it to my advantage. I originally got on the subject as I was deleting my rarely used Twitter account and tweaking my website design to get rid of a blogroll populated with rarely updated websites. I’m good at tearing stuff down, but I often don’t replace that stuff with something better.

A lot of my complaints about the tools I use and the websites I visit have nothing to do with those products themselves, but my own vague dissatisfaction with how I am interacting with them. I end up either moving on from potentially useful services too quickly or returning to things I ditched earlier when I realize they’re better than I initially thought or at least better than nothing. That’s because my frustration with technology is a manifestation of broader frustrations that I rarely address.

I think that means I’m having my mid-life crisis right now. Maybe I’ll buy a Porsche.

Or, to be realistic and responsible, maybe I’ll re-evaluate my broader goals and try small changes now that will help me make better decisions later. (That sounds vague, but I am also trying very hard to avoid turning this post into a therapy session.)

The most obvious immediate adjustment is changing my publication schedule from Friday afternoons to Monday afternoons. While I am able to write stuff during the week, I tend to do the bulk of it towards the weekend, so I want to lean into that tendency.

As for all that other stuff I’m working on, I’m sure I’ll post updates on how it’s going. Just not on Twitter.

What You Touch You Don’t Feel

I am fascinated with the term “creative destruction.” Joseph Schumpeter, the economist associated the concept, described it as the way industrial progress destroys the processes that preceded it. But to me, it sums up my approach to project management, for better or worse.

On the worse end of things, I have a tendency to start projects (such as blogs or websites) with a lot of enthusiasm, then tear them down as soon as I am dissatisfied with the direction they are going. But on the better end of things, pulling something apart is the only way I can fully understand how it works. And sometimes, by breaking up the old systems, I can build something more efficient and thoughtful in its place.

When I began to manage my office’s data collection a few years ago, I took a hard look at the software we were using in the collection process. It became very clear that there were a few problems with not only the software as we had set it up, but the process itself. I decided the best way to move forward was to stop using the software and restart the process from scratch.

Obviously, I had to work hard to convince my office’s leadership that this was the right approach, especially because I was creating a massive workload for myself. But I thought that by ditching the old process, we could get a better sense of how our posts collect and manage their data, and we could rebuild from there.

My first step was to ask posts to email me their data in the format that they used themselves. This turned out to be a really interesting endeavor. While we were dictating what we wanted to collect, most posts either already had their own processes in place or had taken their cues from our original requests.

Using all of these reports, I built a stop-gap process involving Google Sheets. It was built around each fiscal year and organized by country-specific tabs, divided by space, and broken down by month. For various reasons, this stop-gap turned out to be our long-term method of data collection. It’s not ideal, because a series of spreadsheets doesn’t really equal a database, but through creative use of Google Sheets formulas like IMPORTRANGE, I built something that was a lot more useful than the elaborate software system that it replaced.

Yes, I am bragging. Just a little bit.

The other aspect to our data collection process that I changed was a bit more simple. We used to grumble in our office that our data was frequently incomplete. When we did training sessions or meetings with staff, we would stress the importance of submitting their reports. I remember one session in which a library director asked if we could set up reminders to input their data. Our response was to remind staff to set up their own reminders. This seemed wholly unsatisfactory, even at the time.

It occurred to me that we should be requesting the data we want from everyone instead of expecting everyone to just send it to us. So after that initial data call, I just started to email everyone reminders on a regular basis. And pretty soon we ended up with as complete a dataset as we could expect. Sometimes if you just ask nicely, you can get what you want.

Yes, I am bragging again. I am proud that I was able to take my destructive nature and turn it into something constructive and ultimately pretty useful. That said, it is time to move into something a bit more sophisticated, because I manage a lot of spreadsheets now. But I may still send out those reminders personally. I kind of like having that connection with everyone from around the world.

Don’t Jump Early If You’re Not Ready

In January, I made a resolution to write four posts a month. To achieve that end, I spent time working on ideas that could be spread across a number of posts. I figured having a couple of series I could draw on would help me get through any bouts of writer’s block that would surely arise. For the most part, that has worked out.

But I’ve had to shift those original plans to fit into… well, the world as it is right now. That means revamping some ideas to address what’s going on, and it also means abandoning some threads that don’t really jibe with what I want to write about these days (i.e. The Falco Project).

It’s easy to make plans, but it’s hard to adjust them when you realize they aren’t going to work out. That is pretty much the theme of 2020, isn’t it? We’re all just trying to figure out how we can manage in the short term in lieu of having long-term plans. But I can’t think of a better time to learn about resiliency and to rethink how things have always been done. Onward.

You Made Me Feel So Good Inside

Denizens Brewing Company opened in Silver Spring in 2014, well after I had left my cataloger job at NOAA Central Library. It’s walking distance from there, dang it! Although maybe it’s not a good idea to construct original authority records after a pint.

Like Union, Denizens is very versatile. For example, I’m a fan of breweries who take on the American macro style, so I snagged their PGC Premium Lager as soon as it came out. Playfully referencing PBR, PGC is named after Prince George’s County, home of Denizens’ second location in Riverdale Park. It pops open with an orange zest aroma that reminds me of how Disney likes to use smells to enhance its E-ticket rides. It has hints of honey and malt with a sweet citrus finish. It’s really everything I would want out of, say, Natty Boh. I happen to like Natty Boh and will not speak ill against it. But I also think this does Natty Boh one better.

From watery domestic to monastic tradition, Third Party is Denizens’ take on a Belgian tripel. It has a strong yeast flavor with hints of vanilla, cardamom, and orange and a touch of burnt caramel at the end. If I’m looking for a beer to help me indulge my fantasy of downing a metric ton of moules-frites at a bar in Brussels, I could grab an imported beer crafted by an obscure monastery with an eye for international monetization. Or I could just drink local, because Third Party is a credible take on a style of beer I adore.

If you were to ask me which Denizen’s beer is my favorite, I would hem and haw a bit. Lowest Lord and Born Bohemian both hold special places in my heart. The latter, as you might expect from the name, is a Czech-style Pilsner. It has a yeasty nose and a refreshing malt flavor that lingers. Born Bohemian just tastes like a classic Pilsner in every way and it is super delicious. In fact, Czechs would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and their native, local beer. And they would probably like this more and feel so guilty about it they would cry into their next three pints of it.

That said, I am deeply in love with Lowest Lord. It has a rich body and  a hoppy tang to it without being stupidly hoppy. It tickles the back of my throat and leaves a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. I can nurse it for an hour and it holds up the entire time.

There are a whole bunch of other awesome Denizens beers. Liz Murphy of the erstwhile Naptown Pint column in the Annapolis Capital Gazette is a proponent of Southside Rye IPA and Big Red Norm, for example. But for me, it always comes back to these four. When I placed my Denizens’ delivery order during the quarantine, these are the four I ordered. They’re all special to me.

Searching the Earth Like a Lost Worker Bee

My bureau started to telework full-time back in March. We are formulating and adjusting our plans to go back into the office. We have been receiving updates and guidelines on how our buildings will be set up to help us practice social distancing and to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This has gotten me to think about what’s going to change about work as we open back up. I want to look beyond the obvious immediate stuff like wiping down my workstation, wearing a mask when I walk the halls, and maybe even extended enclosures on cubicles. That’s going to be commonplace for the foreseeable future, even if I still can’t foresee the day when I return to the office.

I am thinking more about how we reconnect with each other after spending months only seeing each other through webcams and chatting through Slack. How do we regain camaraderie and support each other as we transition back? How will my place of work bridge all of the digital gaps exposed by the extended building closures? How will the metrics we use to measure success be adjusted now that our traditional model of doing business has been disrupted?

Will we have less meetings? Because I would like to have less meetings.

Those are the type of questions I want to explore on this site in the coming weeks. I plan to write about the tools we’re using and the ones we need, the data we collect and data we should, and all of the issues we face. I want to document how I work now and see how that changes as our situation evolves. We all believe that work will be permanently altered by our response to COVID-19. How will that belief bear out?

Egon and Wally Embrace and Say Farewell

In the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide look into the mirror to see how our systems are designed to shut people out, it feels selfish to focus on personal matters. And yet, while all of this external tumult swirls around, personal struggles and tragedies continue and gain more poignancy.

I have lost a family member this year, and I know that I could lose more. Not because of COVID-19, but because of more mundane calamities like heart disease and cancer.

My co-workers and I have lost quite a few of our colleagues to cancer in the past couple of years. I don’t think I’ve ever really allowed myself to mourn all that loss, brief eulogies posted on Facebook notwithstanding. I realized over the last month that all of that pent-up grief is dragging like a heavy chain tied around my waist.

So I am in a quiet place right now, taking some time to meditate and maybe just to finally bawl my eyes out. Then I can take time to remind myself that I was lucky to have the time I had with everyone. I am a better person because of them all, and I hope I can live up to their legacies. I feel like I still have a lot of work to do, so I need to give myself permission to move on first.

With a Strange Enchantment In My Heart

True Respite is sort of the big player in the Rockville beer scene. Even though they opened after 7 Locks and Saints Row, they’ve established themselves here pretty quickly through their knack for promotion. As mentioned, they were ahead of the curve during the quarantine by having their Bierme app cued up before Maryland’s stay at home order was put into place. But they also made a big splash when they opened because Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cut the ribbon at their opening.

True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary said during the opening ceremony that he was inspired to invite Gov. Hogan to the ribbon cutting after the governor’s speech at the 2016 HomebrewCon in Baltimore. For his part, the governor said that his popularity at HomebrewCon may have had a lot to do with his chugging a beer onstage before his remarks.

I mean, know how to play to your audience, right?

Hogan at True Respite

Of course I went to the opening. Didn’t stay long enough to see if Gov. Hogan chugged another beer, though.

Early on, True Respite had focused a lot on IPA variations. Their signature beer for me is Week Away India Pale Ale. It is the type of IPA that made me fall in love with the style in the first place. It has a red grapefruit aroma, and that carries through to the mildly bitter flavor. But there are also hints of cedar and bitter melon. All the flavors are subtle and they leave a pleasantly astringent taste in my mouth. It also has a sweetness to it, and it develops a faint candy shell finish as the beer comes to room temp. It’s lovely.

But True Respite also aren’t shy about experimenting. One of their boldest creations is Tiki Bula, a mai tai-inspired New England India Pale Ale. It takes the harsh citrus flavor that NEIPAs often have and infuses it with maraschino cherry and rum notes. The tangy pineapple finish makes it quite delightful.

And they are trying out unusual-for-America styles, too. For example, last month they came out with Bear Helles. Helles is the Bavarian style of beer that is popular in Austria. In fact, the house beer at my favorite place in the whole wide world, Fischer Bräu, is a Helles. So True Respite has a lot to live up to.

And it does the trick! Bear Helles has a yeasty, funky nose and a bright, barely opaque gold color. It’s light-bodied, almost ephemeral, and it’s sweet with a bitter, lemony tang in the back. I could judge it harshly based on Fischer Bräu, but honestly, being able to get a good Helles delivered to my house helps me get over my faint desire to fly out to Vienna the first chance I get.

As it is with 7 Locks, I don’t go to True Respite all that often. But the silver lining to 2020 is that a new option to drink local opened up, and I’m hoping that sensible heads will take charge and make sure that this option sticks around.

I Believe that Someday We Will Rise

We had a discussion at work this week about unconscious bias. It could have been one of those bland, safe bureaucratic webinars that would let us check off a box saying we addressed a problem. But the moderator let it become a discussion of what kind of biases we all see at work every day. Some of my colleagues talked about their direct experiences with biases against race, gender, age, and even job status. It was a good discussion and follow-up discussions are planned. The lines of communication are meant to stay open.

Talking about these biases, slights, and aggressions acknowledge that they exist. But acknowledgement is not enough now. Vague statements, new task forces or working groups, or any of the other watered down tropes Jenica Rogers shared on Attempting Elegance are not enough now. We need to call out all of those biases, slights, and aggressions when we see them. Our minds need to be open enough to recognize our own biases when we are called out on them.  Not just now when we are hyper-aware, but in the future, when we think things have returned to “normal.”

Will I be brave enough to stick my neck out when the time calls for it?

I don’t like getting my hopes up. A lot of things that I hoped for have been dashed apart before. I foresee a lot of companies (say, the NFL) not following up on their lip service with any real plans to right their past wrongs. And the message will always be ignored by those willfully acting deaf.

We have been brought up on the prejudices of our forebears, and those prejudices are pernicious, even in those of us who think we know better. But they can be overcome. And right now, I have hope that fundamental problems in the United States are going to be addressed.

Maybe we’ll even make quick progress on resolving them too. Maybe.

The final line of Angels In America has been resonating in my mind a lot lately. It feels apropos right now:

“We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

– Prior in “Epilogue: Bethesda”
Angels In America by Tony Kushner

To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances

I understand that the nationwide demonstrations to protest the murder of George Floyd and every death caused by policy brutality towards African Americans could spread COVID-19. That doesn’t mean the time isn’t right to hold the demonstrations. There is never a perfect moment to stand up and be heard. People risked more than their health in the Civil Rights Movement.

We have the right to protest. It is a right protected by the Constitution, a legal document that the current President is clearly not familiar with. And discussions of the health implications of the demonstrations or the law and order implications of demonstrations that turn into riots or the subtle nuances of what is and what is not tear gas only serve to distract from the reason why the protests are happening. Don’t change the subject. Listen, then change the algorithms.