Seven Things I Learned from Being Furloughed

1. I don’t have the tolerance of a 21-year old. Sure, alcohol can entertain for a while. But at some point, it morphs into that obnoxious college buddy who crashes on your couch, beats you up for money, and refuses to shower.

2. My internal alarm clock is always on. Apparently, my body doesn’t like to sleep in — even when given the opportunity. I woke up earlier while furloughed than I did when I was working. I look forward to when getting up early becomes useful: To watch the sunrise, to buy the freshest donuts, and to escape the zombie apocalypse, which I’m pretty sure will happen at dawn.

3. Netflix has a lot of crap movies and TV shows. And I watched them.

4. I didn’t realize how much of my personal identity is tied to my work identity as a SME in higher ed. Good to figure this out now than a decade later when I have my mid-life crisis:

TJ: But all you do is work!
Archie: But this is all I know to do! (sobbing hysterically while drowning my identity crisis in a pint of frozen yogurt)

5. That said, it was refreshing to remind myself of my other skill sets — those I would need to exploit for pleasure or livelihood when the sequel to the shutdown happens in January. So, lesson learned: I’m not completely useless.

6. I can’t grow a beard. 😦 When is puberty supposed to hit? I’m in my mid-thirties, damn it.

7. I’m officially over it. I’m a big fan of civic engagement, but my eight years in DC have eroded my patience for political theater. I’m trying to figure out whether the maddening vitriol/rhetoric/grandstanding stems from ignorance or just good old-fashioned megalomania. If, as Mulder said, all the nuts roll down to Florida, they sure seem to have an extended layover here.

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Shutdown, Day 1: 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.

I didn’t set out to chronicle my furlough escapades (furlescapades?) hour by hour today. But since my brain’s been momentarily freed from thinking about federal higher education policy and research, I had time (!) to reflect on how I feel about this debacle.

I think my 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. entry pretty much sums it up.

Having lived in this town for over eight years — and literally breathing its exhilarating, intoxicating air — it’s very easy to be cynical about politics. Here, it’s not just soundbites and headlines. Here, power is traded as a commodity. As a result, a certain atmosphere envelopes the city. It’s like living in a windowless warehouse full of used car salesmen.

But I don’t want to end the evening with a sense of hopelessness, because that’s exactly what we don’t need in times like this.

What we need are hopeful, realistic people who will work together (i.e., across all aisles) to address the tough issues that our country faces. What we need are educated, reasonable people who will talk solutions, not soundbites. What we need are people who never forget that they are Americans first, and X/Y/Z/whatever later.

I look back at the mental picture I took of that crowd 10 years ago, their right hands raised, their eyes full of hope. In that moment, it didn’t matter where we came from or what we looked like. We took an oath to make this country our home. With each vote we cast and each tax dollar we contribute, we make our home a better place.

Cliched as it may seem, it’s apt: We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.

That’s why I haven’t lost hope.

Shutdown, Day 1: 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.

After gallivanting the District for a few hours (and spending a mere $28 — a bargain by any metropolitan standard), I came back home to a sleepy puppy.

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And I reminded myself why I’m doing this, i.e., chronicling my first day as a furloughed federal worker.

Full disclosure: I’m an immigrant. I was born and raised overseas and a decade ago became a naturalized U.S. citizen. When I was growing up, I bought the promise of the “American Dream” hook, line, and sinker. Even though I was yet to be one at the time, I grew up wanting to be nothing else but American.

When I stood in that courtroom 10 years ago with a crowd as diverse as all get out  — men and women of every skin color who wore every conceivable attire and who likely gave up much more than I did to pursue the American Dream — we promised:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

So I may be taking this government shutdown business more seriously than others. I left my former home country behind, and did so willingly, so I could be part of the greatest democratic experiment in the world — as a public servant, no less.

I’m a believer in American Exceptionalism. I think we have a unique governance structure that makes sense for the kind of paradoxical “rugged individual who needs the help of a village” kind of people that we are.

But what’s going on right now isn’t democracy. It’s anarchy. And it’s being perpetuated by a handful of people who don’t seem to grasp the basic tenets of democracy. And it’s being perpetuated as others stand idly by while lie after lie — not even slight fibs, but actual non-facts — is used to justify those people’s actions.

And it pains me. I know democracy is messy. I know that what makes this grand experiment work is every citizen rolling up his or her sleeves and having honest conversations that lead to well-reasoned compromise.

But what we’re experiencing is a tantrum, at a national scale, by people who were rightfully elected but who have shown that they cannot govern.

I think back to my wide-eyed optimism in 2003 as I raised my right hand and took that oath. I took it to heart.

I ask my 2013 self how he feels about America, and at this moment in time, all he feels is disappointment.

Shutdown, Day 1: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Enjoyed good convo with equally furloughed coworkers re: whether House rabble rousers are merely mindlessly puppeting TPs or if they actually believe their own doctrines. (Personally, I’m torn. The former is unconscionable, the very definition of evil selfishness. The latter, however, scares the crap out of me.)

Trying to figure out if the issue is socialization of elected public servants (i.e., bubble vs. enviro where questioning is encouraged) or just inherent personalities.

Are those attracted to positions of power in it ultimately for the public good, or are they in it for the good of self?

Elphaba said it best: “Was I really good, or just seeking attention?”

If it turns out these people just weren’t hugged enough as kids, I’m passing a Hug Your Kid law. As soon as I get elected to Congress.

Shutdown, Day 1: 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Again, I am a responsible citizen, so I’ve switched to water.
20131001-180840.jpg Water is a refreshing commodity, a critical source of life, precipitated by the coming together of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. See, Congress? Even atoms (whose kids probably go to different private schools) can work together to give life.

I’ve also taken advantage of the District’s cheap happy hour specials on food. Y’all should go to Perry’s in Adams Morgan for great deals! Yay small business!20131001-180911.jpg