Allow Me to Simplify

Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:

  • Nazis? Bad.

  • Texting while driving? Deadly.

  • Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!

  • Violence? Bad.

  • Compassion? Karma, baby.

  • Net neutrality? Crucial.

  • Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.

  • Flossing? Necessary.

  • A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.

  • A right to health care? Obviously.

  • Voting? The most important thing you can do.

  • Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.

  • Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.

  • Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.

  • Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.

  • Education? Critically important.

  • Science? Real.

  • Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.

  • Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.

  • Paying your fair share? Of course.

  • Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.

  • Global warming? HERE. NOW.

  • Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.

  • Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.

  • Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.

None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.

common sense

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Arbitrary Stress

I like to have at least 7 blog entries in queue, waiting to be posted, one per day, when the clock strikes twelve. Right now I’m one behind and it’s stressing me out. I can’t come up with anything to write about.

But for heaven’s sake, what difference does it make if I have 6 or 8? I mean, my adrenaline is pumping (well, a little bit, anyway) because of a random yardstick I’ve chosen to measure myself by. Yeah, it’s good to have goals, but this is truly absurd.

What’s going to happen if I don’t write that 7th entry today? Will Donald Trump jump out of the bushes and grab my nasty bits? (Now, that would be something to write about! Once I was bailed out of jail and he got out of intensive care, that is.)

I think that in some ways, we were better off back in the days when we were chased by saber-toothed tigers. Now that was a legitimate cause for concern. You’d run like hell, and either be killed or survive, and then move on to the next thing. But lacking tigers, we feel the need to make shit up. And in this modern world, the pickings are mighty slim.

I need to practice determining which of my unmet expectations are actually worthy of my anxiety, and which are random constructs that my tiger-craving mind is conjuring up for lack of anything better to do. Perspective. It’s a beautiful thing. But for me, at least, it seems to be fleeting.

But, oh look! I just wrote my 7th blog entry! Yay, me! I deserve a cookie.

Smilodon_Knight

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Continuity

I read something recently that I found very comforting. The same sunrise/sunset has been circling the globe for millions of years. Mind officially blown.

I love the idea that my sunset is someone else’s sunrise. It gives me a sense of connection with the wider world. It links me to all of time, past, present and future.

I also enjoy the perspective this gives me. The thing that is causing me stress and anxiety today is a mere blip on the sun’s radar. Talk about not sweating the small stuff! Here I am, one tiny little person, in one tiny little point in time, worrying about one tiny little thing.

It also makes change seem trivial. That multi-million year sunrise has looked different every single day, for every single person, and it will look different again tomorrow. And yet it still keeps on keeping on.

Despite our mortality, despite the havoc we wreak, on a larger scale there is stability and continuity. Life will go on, in some form or fashion, somewhere, some time. We are each just one thread in a vast, complex tapestry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

ancient-pattern-vector-illustration_M10c0Pid_L.jpg

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You Are Already Enough

Dear You,

I suspect no one has ever told you this, so I figured I would. You are already enough. You were just who you were supposed to be on the day you were born.

I don’t know why people find it so hard to give compliments or encouragement. I really don’t know why so many people delight in being cruel or insulting. But the fact remains. You are enough.

Having ambition and wanting to improve upon yourself isn’t a bad thing, of course. Go for it! But set aside any anxiety you have that is causing you to try to force yourself into a role that makes you uncomfortable. Nobody has the right to pressure you to become someone that you’re not. Deep down, you already know who you are.

Just be yourself. You are one of a kind. Sit in that power. And before you know it (but only if you need to), you will bloom. You have that within you, and chances are, a lot of people already see it, whether they bother to tell you or not.

Now, share this post with someone else who needs to hear it.

Love,

Me

bloom

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Bad Bridge! Bad!

I’d say that working on a drawbridge is a very zen-like experience 95% of the time. Unfortunately, you never know when that 5% of pure chaos is going to rear up and bite you on the patootie. I had one of those days recently.

I went to bed at 3am. No, I’m not a party animal. It’s just that I didn’t have to be to work until 3pm on this particular day, so I tend to sleep in. Way, way in. It’s one of the few joys of being single, and I take full advantage of it.

So imagine my confusion when the phone rang at 7am, right in the middle of a REM cycle. My dream popped like a bubble. I hate when that happens. For a minute I have no idea where I am, or even who I am. It’s like my brain has to reboot.

I was being called to come in to work early. How early? 11am. They needed me to work a 12 hour shift. Okay. Crap. I set my alarm for 9:30 and went back to sleep. At least I’d be getting 4 hours of double overtime. (Thanks, union!)

So in to work I went, to find that I had company for the first 4 hours. A Trainee. Actually, I like training people. It’s kind of fun. And this was a pleasant person to talk to, whom I could see would work out nicely. As I’ve written before, I can pretty much tell if someone is fit for this job within the first 5 minutes.

But while he was here, the sidewalk camera shorted out. That’s a problem because it means we can’t see all the pedestrians before we open the bridge, and Seattle pedestrians are horrifyingly non-compliant about staying off of moving bridges, despite flashing lights, loud gongs, and us desperately screaming at them. It’s a wonder no one has been killed. So fixing this camera is a top priority. Which means the electricians had to come out. Now we had 4 people crammed into a tiny little room, and that can be a bit emotionally draining. But they fixed the camera and were gone within an hour.

And then it was time for the trainee to leave. Finally, my usual routine. Peace. Quiet. My own domain.

Then the storm hit. Rain was coming down in sheets. And the next thing I knew, BOOM! Lightning struck just south of the bridge. Now, when I was a bridgetender in Florida, I was used to this. It was a rare day when lightning didn’t strike somewhere in my vicinity. But here in Seattle, I’ve only seen lightning three times in the nearly three years I’ve been here, so I nearly jumped out of my skin this time.

And then alarms started going off. Oh, shit. That’s never good. It turns out that 3 of the 4 drives that operate bridge had shorted out. It was after hours, so I called the supervisor of the electricians, and he told me to walk down to both ends of the bridge and push a specific button to reset the drives. All well and good, but the storm was still raging. I had to walk down with lightning crashing all around me. That was fun.

Then I walked back up to the tower, only to discover that one of the drives had reset, but the other two had not. I made a call again, and was told, again, to go down and push the button. Naturally, the two drives in question were on the far side of the bridge, which meant yet another long walk through the electrified tempest.

I came back to the tower. The two drives were still malfunctioning. Phone call number three. This time he said he’d be right out. So I sat there in the tower, drenched in sweat, waiting, as sailboats stacked up like cordwood on the canal, and I was contacted every five minutes by various boaters and had to explain why I wasn’t opening the drawbridge for them.

Could things possibly get worse? Of course! A traffic accident south of bridge backed up traffic for miles, delaying the arrival of the electrician.

And then the phone went dead. I’m getting calls on the marine radio from a variety of employees, asking if I’m sure that the phone is properly hung up. Do I look like an idiot? Of course the phone is properly hung up. Then the phone fixes itself with no intervention on my part, so of course everyone thinks the phone was not properly hung up. Sigh.

Oh, and the sidewalk camera went out again. Fortunately, it, too, fixed itself. Go figure.

The electrician finally makes it through the traffic snarl, and is able to fix things within 45 minutes, bless him. By now I’m so exhausted from the adrenaline rush that I’m nauseous and practically delirious. I have never been so happy to see 11pm in my life. The next challenge is driving home without falling asleep at the wheel.

When I finally get home, my dog is extremely happy to see me. (I just love dogs, don’t you?) So I feed him, take a shower to get all the sweat off, and dive into bed. I suspect I’ll be asleep within 5 minutes, which is a good thing, because I have to be back to work at 7am the next morning. I’ll be lucky to cram 5 hours of sleep in.

Except, did I mention that my dog is extremely happy to see me? I may be ready for bed, but he is not. He wants to play! He wants to tell me about his day. He wants to know where the hell I’ve been for 12 hours. He wants to warn me about the lightning monsters that come from the sky.

I hug him. I give him kisses. I tell him he’s a good dog. I beg him, I plead with him, to settle down. Finally, he curls up by my hip and…the next thing I know, the alarm goes off, and it’s time to do it all over again.

If I were a cartoon character, I’d have one of those squiggly lines above my head right now. I need a hug.

Facepalm

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Fear of Heights

If you are afraid of heights, the last thing you should do is become a bridgetender. Many people are afraid to even walk or drive across bridges, let alone work on them. I see it every day. Others are fine until they feel the bridge shaking and swaying. But trust me, the last thing you want is a rigid bridge. Those are the ones that buckle and break.

Bridgetenders often find themselves climbing rickety stairs way above the water. They cross open-grated catwalks every day. And when you are standing on a bridge’s street-level grating, it feels like it’s a long way down.

Here’s my dirty little secret. (Promise not to tell.) I’m afraid of heights. I think anyone with a healthy sense of self-preservation ought to be.

The first bridge I worked on, the tenderhouse was suspended 25 feet above the road, and 35 feet above the river. To get to it, you had to climb a set of open-grated stairs from sidewalk level, right on the water’s edge, and then take another flight that extended above the traffic. And that bridge swayed more than any other I’ve been on.

I used to have to fight panic attacks every single time I came to work. And I couldn’t reveal that to any of my coworkers, because I’d have lost their respect. Some people would get hired, walk up the bridge, take one look at the stairs, and quit right on the spot.

I have gotten used to things to a certain extent, but I still feel a spike of anxiety on catwalks. And when I’m on the bridge grating, I just remind myself, over and over again, that if it can support the weight of a truck, it can support me. And I don’t look down.

So why do I do it? I love so many things about this job that those little stress bubbles seem worth it to me. In addition, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’m not one of those unfortunate people who are afraid of heights even inside a multi-story building.

No. I’ve examined my fear closely, and it only seems to come about when I could possibly die due to my own clumsiness. If there are stairs for me to fall down, or railings low enough for me to plunge over to my death, then I’m scared. But if I’m harnessed in, or there’s a chest-high railing or something of that nature that would prevent my own klutziness, or if I’m taking in the view from inside a nice solid building, I’m fine.

It’s always been a bad habit of mine to have more faith in others, and even in inanimate objects, than I do in myself. Because of this, I think I could go zip lining. Jumping out of an airplane might pose a greater challenge. I might even be able to do that, if harnessed in tandem with a professional. But don’t ask me to shimmy along a narrow ledge. I want to live.

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I took this picture of my coworkers, who were standing on sidewalk level. I was only halfway up to the tenderhouse.

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Godzilla in the Amygdala

 Unless you are an unfeeling psychopath, you are occasionally going to experience that slightly creepy feeling that something just isn’t right. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck are giving you your marching orders. You might not even be able to figure out why you’re feeling this way. All you know is that it’s time to go on the defense.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to walk down this particular alley at midnight. (It usually is.) Maybe that person is behaving unpredictably. It could be that you’re just tired, or you’re experiencing a reduced level of control. Or that strange drawing is giving you the willies. And it was probably not the best idea to watch Psycho all alone in that shabby little motel, just before it was time to take a shower.

Sometimes we actively seek out that eerie feeling. It can be fun. But it’s those times when it sneaks up on you that are the worst. There’s nothing more unsettling than an unscheduled visit to Uncanny Valley. For whatever reason, your body has decided that you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Run!

 Oddly enough, I haven’t felt that way in a while. It’s almost as if my receptors have burned out. My own personal mental Godzilla seems to be on vacation.

The only plausible reason for this that I can come up with is that we’ve been force-fed fear for well over a year now. Political fear. Environmental fear. Financial fear. Insecurity. Unpredictability. Terrorism, real or imagined.

I guess even Godzilla needs down time. Maybe he’s renting a nice cabin in the Berkshires. At the very least, he seems to be someplace without skyscrapers or the need for rampages. I hope he’s having a good time. I can’t say that I miss him, but I probably do need him.

(Thanks, Jen, for coming up with this great title for me!)

godzilla

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EVERY American Deserves a Political Apology

No, I’m not talking about who won or didn’t win this election (believe it or not). As a matter of fact, I wrote the first draft of this entry well before election day. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I think we can all agree that this whole campaign experience has been stressful beyond belief.

There is absolutely NO reason why a campaign should drag on for more than 4 months. If you can’t learn enough about a candidate in that length of time, someone isn’t doing his or her journalistic homework. And shorter campaigns would be less expensive, and therefore donors wouldn’t have the opportunity to burrow so deeply inside the candidates’ pockets.

We need to make this a law. No political ads, annoying phone calls, back biting, in-fighting, junk mail, interviews, yard signs, drama or stupidity prior to the day after Independence Day. This would also allow us a shorter period to argue with friends and family, and less hard feelings and bitterness as a country.

This campaign was cruel and unusual punishment. I’m not the only one who was impacted physically and emotionally by this. It seems to be the general consensus amongst all the people I’ve talked to. There’s no need for it. We don’t deserve this. After all this torture, we are all left with a sour taste in our mouths, and a level of cynicism that makes it very difficult to function.

And let’s get rid of this electoral college BS and Gerrymandering while we’re at it. We have reached a level of sophistication in this country where we can count above ten, and election results aren’t being delivered by horse and buggy. (I swear I’m writing this without having a clue whether the popular vote will fall in line with the electoral college vote. It usually does, but not always.) Every single solitary vote should carry equal weight.

Democracy should not be equivalent to abuse. If this is the shape of things to come, I absolutely, positively cannot take this every four years. I just can’t.

democracy

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It Takes All Kinds

I used to work with someone whose anxiety came out in the form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). On really bad nights, she’d actually walk up to the bridge on the roadway, on the dotted yellow line, because to her way of thinking, encountering a 4,000 pound vehicle was vastly preferable to walking on the germs of the sidewalk, or stepping on the places where tires had touched the roadway (because, she reasoned, most tires had gone over road kill at some point).

I felt sorry for her. I really did. It must be exhausting to live under the weight of such stress. Her world was full of illogical rules that she absolutely had to follow, or disaster would surely strike. For example, under no circumstances could she wear her glasses into the bathroom. And all her dirty dishes must soak in bleach for at least 12 hours.

I also worked with someone who was a compulsive hoarder, which is also considered by many to be part of the OCD spectrum. To see the way he lived was heartbreaking. I’d say 90 percent of his home was full of garbage and useless junk. And he’d come to work and just take the place over. He wasn’t comfortable unless he was surrounded by possessions. In fairness, though, he’d take all his stuff with him at the end of his shift. That must have been tiring, too.

It was always scary to see him walk into the roadway to retrieve something that had fallen off a passing vehicle. It didn’t have to be anything of value. It just had to exist. If it existed, he had to have it. That bridge had the cleanest roadway on the face of the earth, despite what the OCD lady thought.

Actually, that’s probably not true, because for some reason I’ve worked with quite a few bridgetenders who were OCD and/or hoarders in my career, so there are probably quite a few picked-over bridges out there. I have no idea why these types of individuals are attracted to this job, but it seems to be very much the case.

Maybe it’s because as a bridgetender you tend to have more control over your environment than you do in a lot of other jobs. You work alone. You have your own way of doing things within a narrow field of requirements. And the job is, for the most part, predictable. (Except, of course, when it isn’t. But those are stories for other days.)

And maybe there’s another way of looking at this. You actually want bridgetenders to be all about the rules. The safety of the traveling public depends upon bridgetenders not cutting corners or getting too complacent. And if you have an anxiety disorder and yet still have to earn a living, it’s probably better for all concerned that you work alone.

I’ve never met a bridgetender who wasn’t unique in one way or another. The same could definitely be said about me. As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make a world.

diversity

Body Signals

When I got the news that my mother had cancer, I was at work. Prior to the phone call, my skin was clear. After the phone call, my face was covered with deep, painful, cystic acne. I went from looking fresh-faced to looking like pepperoni pizza in the space of just a few minutes. A coworker said he’d never seen anything like that in his entire life. It was if my skin erupted. It was first for me, too. For several months I had to sleep on my back, because even touching my cheek to the pillow was so painful I couldn’t get any rest.

That was the moment when it dawned on me that my subconscious was pretty darned powerful. When it wants to send me a message, I tend to get it, loud and clear. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but when it does… wow.

When the sheriff’s office called to tell me that they’d found my boyfriend’s body in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, it sent me a similar message. This time, prior to the phone call, I wasn’t feeling bad at all. Afterward, Bam! I had the full-blown flu. Fever, aching, and my head and chest were so congested that when I took the plane to fly back home my ears became so blocked that I couldn’t hear a thing for two days. Which was convenient, because I didn’t want to hear at that moment in time.

Another time, the complete opposite happened. I had a bad cold, advanced enough for me to be longing for death, and then I received really good news, and my congestion instantly disappeared as if it had never been there. I can’t even remember what the good news was. (Funny how the positive stuff doesn’t stick with you.)

To this day, when I experience stress I’ll get blisters on my ankles. That area has so many scars after all these years that I find it unpleasant to gaze upon my feet. My doctor is completely befuddled.

I wish I could sit down and have a chat with my subconscious and tell it that less is more. Subtlety would be greatly appreciated. But my subconscious would probably reply, “I would, but you have this annoying habit of being totally oblivious.”

Message received. At least until the next time I need reminding. “Be gentle with yourself during times of crisis or I’ll take you down.”

Pepperoni Pizza Slice
My post-traumatic face. [Image credit: graphicriver.net]