Sometimes It’s the Big Things

I arrived at work just as the sun was rising over the Cascade Mountains. That’s the beauty of my quirky work schedule at this time of year. And yet, I was so focused on my morning work routine that I almost overlooked the peach, yellow and gold that was the sky. It happens every day, right? And the mountains… they’ll always be there.

Stop. That’s what I had to tell myself. Look. Take it in. Don’t ever take it for granted. You are only accorded a finite number of sunrises. And while the mountains may always be there in your lifetime, you may not always be able to see them.

And so I sat down and allowed myself to breathe in the peach and breathe out the gold and appreciate how comforted I’ve always been by mountains. Their size and longevity always makes my worries and concerns seem so trivial by comparison.

May I never forget these things. May I always appreciate the gift that is my life.

May your sunrises be many and your worries be few, dear reader.

Sunrise over the Cascades, by Brad Greenlee

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Moving Moments

My friend Jim told me the other day that when he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, he was moved to tears. I totally get that. Sometimes you are just struck by the pure, intense beauty of the moment.

Since, for me, these moments are rare, they seem all the more precious. Because of that, they reside firmly in my memory. I would posit that when you are moved to tears, you are never more firmly in the moment, the now. You are there, man. Totally there, and completely grateful to be alive. It’s the best feeling on earth.

I love both experiencing that and also witnessing it in others. When someone cries while saying their wedding vows, it completely does me in. (And I don’t even like weddings, usually.)

I remember when I took this picture. I had finally gotten my first bridgetending job, after a lifetime of jobs that I absolutely hated. I was standing on the balcony, watching the sunrise, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to witness this miracle, and to be getting paid for something I love to do. I’m glad the camera had automatic focus, because it was hard to see through my tears.

Wishing you moments of absolute and utter joy, dear reader.

25963_4416092000718_1762803552_n

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Making Waterfalls

There’s a certain graceful beauty in a moving drawbridge. It’s awe-inspiring to watch a million pounds of concrete and steel in motion. It says a lot about human ingenuity.

I’m lucky because as a bridgetender I get to make this happen every day. Opening a drawbridge never gets old. A friend of mine likes to say I do so with the power of my index finger. That makes me feel like Superwoman.

I love to watch the wandering shadows that my opening bridge casts when it’s sunny out. I love to feel it sway when a truck crosses over or when the wind gusts. I enjoy watching people stop to take pictures as the bridge rises. I wonder how many thousands of pictures I’ve created for people throughout the years?

But most of all, I love raising my bridge in the rain. When I do that, all the water that has accumulated on the sidewalks comes cascading down. It’s beautiful. It’s clean. (Well, it probably isn’t, but it feels that way.)

How many people get paid to make waterfalls? How lucky am I?

brooklyn-bridge-with-waterfall-2008
Brooklyn Bridge with waterfall. From an art installation in 2008.

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too! http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

The Eye of the Beholder

The other day a dear friend pointed out to me that the bridge tower I work in is basically the aesthetic equivalent of a concrete bunker, and the green and rusted girders make the bridge itself rather ugly.

That really took me by surprise (and even hurt my feelings for a hot second). I had never looked at it that way. To me, my bridge is gorgeous. I suppose this is how mothers of unattractive children feel. Yes, my baby may be butt-ugly to you, but he’s the most beautiful thing on earth to me.

I know every bolt and girder on this bridge intimately. When something goes wrong with it I can feel it in my bones. I climb amongst its greasy moving parts. I know every creak and groan it makes while moving. I sway with it when a heavy truck travels past. At night, the sparks from the passing trolleys cast a silvery glow upon my skin.

And yes, the room I spend the bulk of my time in isn’t particularly large, but its four walls don’t limit me. After gazing at this view for so long, the horizon is my boundary. My sense of place extends from the Cascade Mountains to the far shore of Lake Union. It is the deep blue canal and the dome of the sky. I have the most beautiful workplace in all of Seattle. Fortune 500 companies would pay millions for a view like this.

And I’ll never get over my amazement at how gracefully such a huge object can move. Every drawbridge is a miracle of engineering. Every drawbridge is a work of art.

While I am grateful for the insight that not everyone sees my bridge the way I do, I will always be proud to know that I am this bridge’s protector, its maintainer. I keep it safe.

In exchange it provides me with a way to support myself, literally and figuratively, and a place of blessed solitude where I can muse and write and dream. It’s one of my most intimate relationships. That means it will forever be a thing of beauty to me.

IMG_1276.JPG

 

HWP

Oh, how I hate acronyms. They set people apart. Either you are “in the know” or you aren’t. If you aren’t, is that your fault? Are you supposed to sit around memorizing a list, in the hope that you will hit upon every acronym that crops up in your life, now and forevermore?

Here’s one I’ve come across quite a bit on the dating website I’ve recently joined: HWP. Thanks to Google, I’ve discovered that it means “Height/Weight Proportionate”. As in, “I only date HWP women.”

This infuriates me on so many levels I hardly know where to begin. Oh, but begin I shall.

Let’s start with that tricky term “proportionate”. Is there some official guide that will indicate whether I’m in proportion, or, heaven forfend, am completely out of proportion? Who gets to decide?

Must I be measured before you ask me out to determine if I fit within your narrow range of acceptability? It reminds me of those rides at the state fair. “You must be at least this height to ride this roller coaster. But what if I don’t want to ride your roller coaster?

And if you consider my body warped in some form or fashion, some other man might still find me quite physically appealing. So without getting into your improperly prioritized brain, how would I know if I meet your qualifications?

If you are a well-meaning but deluded person, here’s some advice. Never use the term HWP. Most women, since practically birth, are trained to be hyper-critical of their bodies. A lot of them will see HWP and self-eliminate, because they can anticipate the potential for rejection. So you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people.

Most of all, here’s what HWP means to me: You are a shallow, egotistical a**hole with values so skewed that I wouldn’t want you in my life. So thank you for revealing that to me from the get go, rather than wasting my time.

american-women-who-all-weigh-154-pounds
All these women weigh the same amount. All these women are beautiful. [Image credit: fozmeadows.wordpress.com]

My Latest Story–My Thoughts on Beauty

I attended the local storytelling group again this month. The theme was “Changes of Heart.” I really struggled with coming up with something for this one, and ironically, I’m the one who suggested the theme! It seems that I rarely change my mind about things once I’ve formed an opinion.

I wrote three different stories for it, and after rehearsing the first two, I was totally unsatisfied. I hated them. And if I didn’t like them, I figured the audience wouldn’t, either.

Finally I settled on the one below. If you can’t, or don’t want to, listen to it (but I promise you, it’s so much better live, with the audience feedback), then below is the transcript I rehearsed. I think I might have left a few things out in the spoken version due to nervousness, but other than that, it was pretty much the same. Let me know what you think! 

My mother always wanted to go to college. But when she was 17, a German u-boat torpedoed her father’s ship in the North Atlantic, and all chances of her furthering her education sank with him.

Because of that she was never confident about her intelligence, but make no mistake, she was extremely smart. She used to go to the library every week and bring home a stack of books this high. Anything she could get her hands on. Our little public library had to start requesting books from other parts of the state because she actually devoured the county’s collection. I wish she had lived to see the internet. She’d have loved it.

One of my earliest memories is the time she took me to get my first library card. I must have been about 4 years old. She squatted down in front of the entrance and said to me, “Whenever you go into a library, you can go anywhere in the universe.” I remember thinking, “Woooooow.” To this day, I always get butterflies in my stomach when I go to the library.

My mom may not have been able to go to college, but one thing she was able to do was reinforce in me that I was an intelligent person. While other mothers were telling their daughters that they were pretty and charming, she was telling me that I was clever and perceptive. And because of that, I never doubted my brains. I knew that if I wanted or needed to learn something, I was perfectly capable of doing so. That’s a pretty valuable tool that she gave me. I’ve used it throughout my life.

But she might have gone a bit overboard. Because while I have a rock hard confidence in my intellectual abilities, when thrust into a realm where appearance is important (and unfortunately there are a lot of those), my esteem has always crumbled like a sand castle in a high wind. I was never even taught the “girly” stuff, like how to wear make-up or what hair products to use. (Although I have to admit I never asked.) But still, that’s pretty amazing, because my mother was absolutely beautiful.

So, during the first part of my life, I spent a great deal of time comparing myself to others, and judging myself to be physically lacking in one way or another. I knew I’d graduate at the top of my class, but I also knew I wouldn’t be prom queen. It was, I believed at the time, a painful fact that I would just have to live with.

Then one day in my early 20’s I went to a job interview. During the meeting it was disclosed that if hired, the guy conducting the interview would become my immediate supervisor. This was a problem, because this guy was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I remember going home that night and thinking that if I got the job, I probably shouldn’t take it, because I’d have a really hard time maintaining my professionalism with him.

Well, I did get the job, and I did take it, because I really needed the money. But I was so nervous about the situation that it makes me laugh in hindsight, because I hadn’t been there more than 5 minutes before he said to me, “You know, you were my third choice. You wouldn’t even be here except that the first two people decided not to take the job. So now I’m stuck with you.”

I mean, what do you say to that? Thank you?

As the weeks wore on, I saw him belittling people in staff meetings, squelching any and all forms of innovation, taking credit for things he hadn’t done, and blaming others for his mistakes. In other words, he was the boss from hell.

But you know what? I’m glad he came into my life because one day he caused me to have an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?) I remembered that at one point I thought this guy was good looking. But now when I looked at him, all I saw was ugliness. I couldn’t even imagine what I used to think was so attractive.

I know it sounds cliché, but it took that guy to teach me that beauty is NOT skin deep. In fact, your skin is the very least of your beauty. Your real beauty comes from who you are, and how you treat others.

Now I see beauty through a completely different lens. If you are a super model and you throw your cell phone at the maid, I’ll find it very hard to see the beauty in you. You can keep your catwalk, honey, because I’d much rather gaze upon the Nelson Mandelas and the Mother Teresas of this world.

And thanks to my mom, I know that I could have held up my end of a conversation with them, too.

 

Untapped Beauty

God, but I love the internet. It introduces me to things I didn’t previously know existed on an almost daily basis. There is so much in this world that can shock or amaze or awe.

Just the other day I happened to go to the Bing website and was presented with this gorgeous picture:

?????????????????????

Whoa. What is that? I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I naturally had to learn more about it. It turns out it’s the Chinese Lantern Fruit, more formally known as Physalis Alkekengi. When the fruit first forms, it’s covered by a papery husk that resembles a Chinese lantern as shown in this picture from Wikipedia:

220px-PhysalisAlkekengi-balloon

Hence the name. Over time, the husk dries out and becomes more filigreed, exposing the fruit to view.

Isn’t nature awesome? Such delicacy, such artistry. Such intense beauty. It leaves me speechless.

Upon further research though, I’ve decided I will never sample this fascinating fruit, because according to that same Wikipedia article, it’s used as a diuretic, antiseptic, liver corrective and sedative.

But I guess my whole reason for babbling on about this beautiful creation is that is makes me wonder what else is out there that is equally stunning that I’ve yet to discover. I get excited just thinking about the possibilities.

I don’t think there’s any better feeling in this world than that of being certain of future awe. (I need to invent a word for that.) It almost makes you look forward to the sound of your alarm clock, doesn’t it?

Way too Freakin’ Perfect

I have a friend who seems flawless. First of all, she’s absolutely gorgeous, and it’s the kind of beauty that will still be stunning in old age. She’s extremely intelligent, has a job that she loves that allows her to travel all over the world, owns a cool house, has an amazing family and a great circle of friends, and she speaks 5 languages fluently. She also lives in a country where there’s universal health care. Not that she’ll ever need it, because she has a perfect body which is in perfect health. She loves her life. Who could ask for more?

Am I jealous? Heck yeah. Absolutely. And I say that with a great deal of chagrin. It took me a long time to admit it out loud, because I truly love her to pieces. When she tells me about one of her achievements, I am genuinely happy for her, really I am. Really. No! Really! But it’s coupled with, dare I say it? A soupçon of resentment. I do not like this about myself.

But here’s the thing. (And as a blogger friend of mine, pouringmyartout likes to say, “there’s always a thing.” Thanks Art, for making me think of THAT every time I say it.) I wouldn’t want her life. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t been in a long term romantic relationship since college. And she says she likes it that way. She lives alone and she has freedom. More power to her. But I think of her sometimes, alone in her wonderful house, looking amazing, and my heart does one of those little squeezy things, because I can’t imagine anything more lonely in the world than having the perfect life but having no one to share it with. I’m glad she’s happy, but I know I wouldn’t be in similar circumstances.

There’s always something, isn’t there?

perfect

A Steady Diet of Estrogen

“Why do you always forget to clean under the toilet seat?”

“Because I grew up in a house full of women. It never occurs to me to lift up the toilet seat.”

Only recently has it crossed my mind that perhaps growing up with two sisters and a single mom has left me with certain deficits. For example, I have never, ever watched a sporting event from start to finish. As a matter of fact, if you tell me the name of a team, I most likely couldn’t say with 100 percent confidence whether they play football or basketball or baseball. And I have never attempted to bar-b-cue anything in my life. I don’t like the taste of beer. Teasing someone unmercifully does not come naturally to me, and I am virtually incapable of not taking things personally. I’m thrilled to say I never learned how to fist fight, and I can’t belch on command.

On the other hand, because I couldn’t fall back on men to do certain things, I actually became more capable in some ways. I can change the oil in my car. I kill my own spiders. I’m very security conscious, and while you may be able to intimidate me, that doesn’t mean I’ll put up with your crap for very long.

Paddling around in that sea of estrogen as I did means that I am a loving, compassionate, sympathetic, intelligent listener. You’d think that I would also have turned out to be some make-up wearing, high heel tolerating flirty girl. In fact, I have never worn make up and wouldn’t know how, I am the poster child for sensible shoes, and…well, yeah, I guess I do flirt, come to think of it.

My mother, may she rest in peace, emphasized intelligence and the importance of an education over beauty and the need to find a spouse, and because of that I have an unwavering confidence in my ability to learn whatever I need to learn in order to survive.

I may not be stereotypical, but I guess I turned out all right after all.

Happy Mother’s Day!

women can

The Destruction of Women

Today I came across this picture on Facebook.

 deform

A friend of mine rightly commented, “And this was before Photoshop.” Women used to aspire to have wasp waists. To heck with breathing, we wanted to be desirable! These contraptions caused deformities in ribs and internal organs, weak muscles, and respiratory problems. It also increased the rate of miscarriages and death in childbirth. How many women had to faint before this became less fashionable?

This got me thinking of other ways we women have allowed ourselves to be altered, to our detriment, all in the name of “beauty” or cultural norms. Foot binding springs to mind.

Foot Binding

We’d like to think this particular form of mutilation was isolated, but it’s estimated that one billion Chinese women were put through this over a period of 1000 years. Yes, you read that correctly. People thought this was a good idea for 1000 years. One’s toes were bent into the soles of the feet until they broke, and then the arch was broken. Needless to say, this caused infections, especially if the nails weren’t clipped short enough and they grew into the soles. The solution for that would be to remove the toenails altogether. Sometimes the toes would drop off completely, but that, apparently, was seen as a good thing because then you could bind the feet even more tightly. And then you had the continual breaking of other bones because it’s impossible to balance on bound feet, and falls were quite common. Does reading this make you uncomfortable? Well, it sure beats the lifetime of agonizing pain that these women suffered.

The two horrendous body mutilations mentioned above are, fortunately, a thing of the past. I wish I could say that this was the end of this blog entry, and there is nothing new to report. But no.

In some Asian and African cultures, women wear neck rings to make their necks seem longer. Actually, their necks aren’t elongated. What a relief, right? No, what happens is their shoulder blades become deformed, giving the illusion of a long neck. Their collar bones and rib cages also get pushed down. This is done so they will appear more attractive.

neck-rings-1

Even more horrific, in my opinion, is female genital mutilation, which, according to the world health organization, is still practiced in 28 countries throughout the world.

281851582_221142755001_100723FGM-3622281

About 120 million women have been subjected to this abuse. I won’t fully describe the procedure in all its grizzly variations. You can look it up yourself if you want to lose your appetite, but I will say that it is known to cause fatal hemorrhaging, cysts, recurring infections, a lifetime of pain, incontinence, fistulae, and problems during intercourse and childbirth.

Ah, but we western cultures don’t have to worry about these things, right? We honor our women! We would never cause them harm in the name of beauty, right? We’d never mutilate them, right? Well? Right?

breast-augmentation

Augmented breasts are supposed to make you more attractive and more successful. What they don’t tell you is these implants can make the breasts sore to the touch or numb and can decrease your sexual response. They also make it harder to detect breast cancer. Ruptures of the implants can cause pain and deformity. And your immune system can reject the implant and build a wall around it, causing pain, distortion and rupture.

And then there’s high heels.

high heels fallon 6 inch black patent stilletto

According to an article in the Washington Post, wearing heels places pressure on the inside of the knee, a common location for arthritis in women. It also causes your hips and spine to go out of alignment. It increases pressure on the forefoot, and shortens the length of the calf muscles. It can cause numbness in the toes, bunions, hammer toes, and ankle injuries. But hey! It’s attractive! That’s all that matters!

Since I’ve started viewing heels in this context, I’ve stopped wearing them entirely, and when I see others wearing them, I shudder.

What frustrates me most about all these horrors I’ve mentioned above is that we women are almost always complicit in these acts. If we don’t choose it ourselves, our mothers allow it or encourage it. So why are we so surprised when this happens?

 anorexia-nervosa

Eating disorders are more prevalent in women than men for a reason, and before we get all culturally superior, they are much more prevalent in Western cultures. We are raised to think that it’s important to be beautiful, but sadly we are often not warned that many standards of beauty are sick and twisted.

Eating disorders cause a whole host of side effects, including acne, constipation, osteoporosis, scurvy, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, tooth loss, brain atrophy, suicide and death.

Ladies, ladies, what are we doing to ourselves? I weep for my gender. And I’m also very, very pissed off.