On July 24, 2019, with the help of my husband, I fulfilled a dream that I had had for many years. I was able to place a little free library in front of my house. It was an exciting moment, because books mean a great deal to me, and literacy means even more. By providing this service, I felt as though I was doing something very significant for my community.
For the uninitiated, little free libraries are boxes placed in communities and filled with books. You take a book, but you don’t necessarily have to return it (which is often the case in my library). You can also donate books for others to enjoy.
These libraries are great for those who don’t have the time or ability to go to a public library. They’re particularly effective in areas of high foot traffic. In my neighborhood, they seem to be used most by parents who are taking their children for a walk. It’s hard to keep children’s books in my library. And that gratifies me a great deal, because children who read become adults who read, and adults who read are more intelligent, and develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to have a positive impact on society at large.
I don’t think I quite realized how much fun I would have in this endeavor. We have no neighbors right next door. It’s not a pop-in-and-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of community. So I wasn’t expecting this magical little box to do so much to make me feel connected to the people in my area.
Now, when people see me watering the plants in the front yard, they say hello. If they are walking down the street and they see me pulling out of my driveway, they point at the library and shout a thank you. I have a log book in my library, and they leave the most gratifying notes. They talk about how much they enjoyed this or that book. They ask for books of a certain genre, and I do my best for them. They tell me about the books they’ve donated. They thank me for being an easy source of reading material for people who don’t have cars and can’t easily get to the public library. All these things bring tears to my eyes.
Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, I felt it was necessary to temporarily shut down my library. I didn’t want to. I really struggled with the concept. But in the end, I knew that doing the responsible thing takes precedence over doing what feels good.
This, for me, has been the hardest part of this pandemic. And I’ve been told by more than one passerby that it has been hard for them, too. In fact, they have begged me to reopen.
So we’ve decided to do so on a trial basis, with certain precautions. We have added a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign asking patrons to use it before touching anything. We’ve also removed the logbook, pens, rubber duckies, and bookmark giveaways. This breaks our hearts, but safety first.
I worry about the health of everyone in the neighborhood, but as tensions and boredom and temperatures are rising, and morale is at an all time low, I feel as though our little library is needed now more than ever. I hope that all of us have learned enough about safe behavior during this pandemic to treat the library safely and responsibly.
So there you have it. Today was supposed to be an anniversary celebration. I was thinking balloons and bookmark giveaways and cookies and a table with an even wider selection of titles. Instead, it has turned into an un-iversary, because we were closed for about 1/4th of the year, and we really can’t have a big fete.
All of this has me longing for better, healthier days. But it reminds me that it really is possible to make a difference. And that, in these chaotic, unpredictable times, is something to hold onto.
One of the recurring themes in this blog is gratitude. I write about this topic so often because I genuinely believe that attitude is everything. I think that even in our darkest hours, there are things to appreciate if you look hard enough. Even bitter lessons are worthy of gratitude because they help you grow and survive.
There is so much in this world that we take for granted. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and taking a breath and appreciating the sun on your face and the wind in the trees. It’s such a gift to be alive and able to think and reason and exercise free will and create beauty and give and receive love.
I think the unhappiest people are those who focus on the negative in their lives. They may be unhappy because of their negative focus, or negative experiences may have made them unhappy, but either way, until that cycle is broken, nothing will change. It makes me sad to see people trapped in that way.
I’m not saying we should all wander around like Stepford Wives. And yes, bad things happen to us all. It’s just that the way you frame things matters. It takes practice. Some days will be a lot harder than others. But there’s good out there, if you only look.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s fast approaching. I wish we didn’t need a holiday to remember to give thanks. I think gratitude should be part of our daily lives.
I feel so strongly about this topic that I published an anthology of my essays on gratitude. It’s called A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. I’m really proud of it. I think it would make a great Thanksgiving gift, or, for that matter, a gift any time of the year for a loved one who could use a little positivity. And can’t we all use some of that? Think about it.
As always, I’m grateful that you take the time to read my blog. As a little bonus, below is one of the short and to the point essays that you can find in the book. This one was originally posted on this blog on November 29, 2015.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my rib cage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.
I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.
But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.
In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I just sent an e-mail to the director of the University of Washington Press. I’m more nervous about it than I thought I would be, so I decided to blog about it, because all of you in Drawbridge Nation have always been a source of support and encouragement for me.
Whatever happens, I firmly believe that you can’t have great experiences without taking great risks. So wish me luck.
This is the body of the e-mail that I sent:
You don’t know me, but I’ve probably made you late to work on more than one occasion. I am a bridgetender for the City of Seattle. I operate the University Bridge on Roosevelt, but have operated 4 others in town as well. In fact, in my 17 ½ years as a bridgetender, I’ve worked on 9 different bridges in 3 different states, which is better statistics than any other bridge operator that I know of in this country. I’m rather proud of that, especially as a female in a male-dominated profession.
On my commute to work the other day, I was listening to NPR and I heard them do a book review of Life Between the Levees: America’s Riverboat Pilots. It occurred to me that there needs to be a book about drawbridges. People are fascinated by my job. I was even once asked for an autograph, to my shock and mortification.
After that book review, I rushed home to see who the publisher of the levee book was, and it turns out to be the University Press of Mississippi. Needless to say, my book probably wouldn’t be an ideal fit for them, but I think it would be for the University of Washington Press.
The good news is, the bulk of the material is already written. I’ve written a daily blog for more than 6 years. It’s called The View from a Drawbridge, which is “the random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.” I have more than 600 followers and I average 105 views a day.
Is this blog all about drawbridges? No. It really is as random as I claim. However, there is a drawbridge subcategory in there, and if you look at that, you’ll see that I have more than enough fascinating bridge stories to fill a book.
In addition, I’ve already self-published one anthology from the blog. A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It did not treat the subject of drawbridges, but it was number one on the Amazon best seller list for its subcategory for, oh, about three days.
One of my stories has also been featured in a StoryCorps anthology entitled Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, which caused me to be on NPR’s Morning Edition, and in O Magazine and Parade Magazine.
I realize that this is probably a rather unorthodox way to submit a book proposal, but I’ve lived a rather unorthodox life. I hope you’ll consider my idea. I certainly look forward to hearing from you.
When I come to the end of a really good book, I feel myself becoming slightly sad. A truly good story invites you in and makes you feel as though you’ve gotten to know the characters on a personal level. At the end of that experience, it’s understandable to go through a period of mourning. You’re saying goodbye to friends, and odds are good that you’re never going to see them again. (Even Sue Grafton’s alphabet series ended at Y.)
It’s the same way I feel at the end of a trip. There’s too much to see in this world for me to repeat my outings, so if I’ve had a wonderful time, I gaze at the landscape knowing it’s not going to be part of my world anymore. I’m very grateful that I had a chance to be there, but life is short, and I have miles to go before I sleep.
This is why “epilogue” is one of my least favorite words. While I appreciate an author’s instinct to wrap things up and kind of send the reader one last postcard, that word is the moment when I can no longer deny that this particular journey is coming to an end.
Nooooooo! Don’t leave me! But at the same time, it was wonderful to meet you, and I’m excited to meet the next character in the next book.
I consider myself a strong, intelligent woman who is equally left- and right-brained. By this I mean that I’m analytical and fascinated by all things scientific, but I’m also creative and love to write. So it was gratifying to come across the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, because she can be described in the exact same way.
Hope is a professor of geobiology at the University of Oslo. Science is her passion as well as her bread and butter. Because of that, you’d think that any book she wrote about her life and career would be dry and pedantic. But no.
This book is a work of art. Read it. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did.
This is not just a book about plants, although if you read it you’ll learn all sorts of amazing things about them, and you’ll never look at a tree in the same way again. For me, though, what it is about, more than anything, is friendship.
Woven throughout this book is her relationship with her senior research laboratory manager, Bill. They have worked together in various labs around the world for 25 years. Theirs is not a romance. It’s something better. It’s unconditional, platonic love and respect. It’s dedication. It’s mutual support. It’s the kind of relationship that all of us aspire to, and most of us only dream about.
The book also talks about being a woman who chooses a career in a male-dominated field, which is something to which I can definitely relate. It’s also about mental health, and finding your place in this world, and never quite feeling like you fit in. It’s about being misunderstood by many, except for the most important people in your life. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
And it is amazingly well written. I keep a quote book where I save passages from books that really resonate with me. Here are some of the ones I plan to save from Lab Girl.
“He (her father) taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”
“Each beginning is the end of a waiting.”
“In Georgia, when someone walks up to you wearing overalls with no shirt underneath them, it is unlikely that something good is about to happen.”
“A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.”
“Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.”
Because of this author, I went out and planted ten trees. How many people have gotten you to do that? And hey, she has inspired me to write a future posts about Stuckie the Mummified Dog and about Anomalocaris, “a segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” that, thanks be to God, no longer exists. Now if that doesn’t intrigue you, nothing will.
I have been missing the luxurious act of cuddling up with a good book. I think doing this is important for my mental health. So instead of waiting for an opportune time, I decided to make time. And as with potato chips, I couldn’t stop. That first day I read for about 5 straight hours. It was wonderful. (For those bibliophiles out there, I’m reading The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson. Highly recommended!)
It was wonderful, that is, until the eye strain kicked in. Ugh, what a miserable feeling. I finally had to stop and rest my eyes for several hours. I wouldn’t have had this problem if I had bothered to look at something in the distance every once in a while. But I was too busy book-binging to even consider that.
You’d think my eyes would be used to this brutal treatment. I’m constantly staring at a computer screen or at my phone. Looking up and away every now and again should come naturally. It used to. In fact, I started writing this blog based on the things I would see while gazing out the window at work.
When did I stop looking around? When did my world become so compact? What have I been missing, just a few yards away from the end of my nose?
More and more, we all walk past each other, our tiny little horizons barely intersecting. There’s so much out there that we no longer see. Our world has shrunk, and yet we are under the illusion that it has expanded as we zoom through cyberspace. But when’s the last time you fed a bird? How many rainbows have you missed?
Look up, dear reader, look up! (Well, finish checking out my blog first. But then, look up!)
Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too!http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s my favorite holiday. No gift buying. Just good food and good people. It’s a time when we all focus on what we are thankful for. What’s not to love about that?
I have long maintained that an attitude of gratitude is what we need to get along, And I think that attitude should be maintained all year round, not just on Thanksgiving day. There’s much in this life that we can be thankful for.
I’ve written a great deal about gratitude. So much, in fact, that I’ve published an anthology entitled, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It’s available on Amazon, and I guarantee you that I’ll be grateful if you purchase it! It would make a great gift for the ones you are most grateful for. (Especially if you do want to give someone a gift for cooking all that great food for you on the big day.)
Having said that, check out one of my favorite posts from the book, entitled Congratulations, You’re Alive! and know that I’m grateful for you, dear reader, every single day.
The alarm woke me out of REM sleep again. I hate when that happens. It takes me forever to shake the fog out of my head.
But it also allows me to take a peek into my subconscious, because I’m often still in a dream, and can actually hear what’s going through my mind for a split second. That was the case this morning, and it was so surreal I immediately wrote it down.
What the voice in my head was saying was, “No owl should ask its name: Crawford Hoarding”.
Um…What am I supposed to do with that? Who, or what, is Crawford Hoarding?
It almost sounds like the name of a mansion in one of those fascinating places where people name their mansions. If so, I suspect the place is jam packed with stuff. “Welcome to Crawford Hoarding! Please watch your step.”
And why shouldn’t an owl inquire about the place? (Or person. Or thing.) What would the consequences be for said owl? And since when can owls talk, anyway? Where were we? Narnia?
I think this would make a great book title. I should suggest it to J. K. Rowling. She could work her magic on it. And I could get a free ticket to the premier of the movie version.
Until then, warn any owls that you might encounter to mind their own business. Just in case.
During my last trip to Canada, I stopped in to visit the Vancouver Women’s Library. I’ve blogged about this great organization before, and I remain very impressed with their mission. Because of that, I was really excited to add my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, to their collection. They’ve invited me to do a book reading at some point. I am waiting until my second book is finished. (And I’m making slow and steady progress on it, so please bear with me!)
So now my book is officially in two different library systems in two different countries. I happen to know it’s in other countries as well, including Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. People have also sent me pictures of my book on their nightstands, vacation cabins, and various book shelves, and it always makes me smile.
One person even donated my book to a Little Free Library, so I’m sure it’s been on some interesting adventures. I also gave one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, a copy. I’m sure it got abandoned in either his hotel room or the airport, but still… he touched it!!! Another interesting adventure.
Here’s a recent pic of me visiting my book in the Renton branch, just south of Seattle, in the King County Library system. (Because, yeah, I do that. More often than I care to admit.) I would be really honored if you added one to your bookshelf or requested that my book be included in your library system as well. You’d have much more influence with your library than I would. Just sayin’.
Well, holy moly! When I started this daily blog back on December 1, 2012, I would have never guessed that I’d still be going strong 2000 posts later. It’s hard to believe I’ve had 2000 things to say, and that I’m rapidly approaching 200,000 views by 110,000 visitors. A conservative estimate suggests I’ve written over 830,000 words.
I couldn’t have done it without you, dear reader. What has kept this blog so vibrant and interesting for me, especially on days when writer’s block was crushing me like a bug, is your feedback and suggestions. Without that input, I’d feel as though I were typing into a void.
I’ve also made quite a few friends on this forum; people from all over the world. Drawbridge Nation feels like a small, friendly town to me, one that I get to walk through every day. I even think that reading my blog is what finally convinced my boyfriend that I was relationship-worthy, so, yay, there’s that, too!
Because of this blog, I’ve written a book, and am working on a second one. I’m very proud of that. It feels like a tiny bit of immortality for someone who chose not to have children.
I’ve even been recognized on the street a few times, which astounds me. I’m used to thinking of myself as relatively invisible, not, as one reader once described me, “a sort of famous person”.
So I just wanted to thank you for indulging in my random musings, and I hope you’ll stick around for my 4000th post! Meanwhile, I think I deserve a cookie.