One of the Guys

Most of my life, I’ve toiled in male-dominated fields. More than once I’ve been told that a woman should not be (fill in the blank). I know what it’s like to be looked at with suspicion and not taken seriously. I know what it’s like to want to be one of the guys.

I recently witnessed a woman in the earliest stages of trying to fit in under these circumstances. She’s taking the, “I’m every bit as manly as you are,” route. She’s tough. She’s aggressive. She’s territorial. She’s cold as ice. She’s a show off. She’s even condescending to her fellow female coworkers. If this were her natural state, I’d say, “Fine. Go for it. Be your insufferable self.” But it’s so clearly a show that it’s annoying the guys she works with. They find her to be pushy and rude. It’s making her become even more of an outsider.

Don’t get me wrong. I think women have as much right to be pushy and rude as men do. But I think that behaving that way simply because you think it will make you be accepted is the wrong way to go. Nobody likes an obnoxious person, regardless of gender.

Yes, I do things to adapt to my environment. Everyone does. I’m not going to carry a purse up to my bridge, or wear high heels. This is partly because I’d be laughed at, but mostly because these things would be safety issues. I expect to get greasy, and so I dress the part.

I also tend to be a straight shooter. I tell it like it is. But that’s in my nature. I think guys appreciate it, though. They don’t want to waste time having to read between the lines.

I knew I had made it as far in to the inner circle as I ever would when the guys started joking around with me like they do with each other. That is an achievement. I’ll take it.

I never wanted to get so far in there that I had to listen to locker room talk or discuss sports that don’t interest me. They can have that. I don’t want it.

But I think that I crossed my highest hurdle when I came to realize and accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to fit in completely. And that’s okay. Now, instead of feeling like a turd in that punch bowl, I look at myself as an exotic piece of fruit: Never quite blending in, and perhaps unexpected, but adding to the overall flavor in a significant way.

No matter how you look at it, I’m still here. And somewhere along the line, I stopped caring. For the most part, so have they.

Female mechanic

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Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.

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Finding Your Joy

Recently, a friend introduced me to this Youtube video of S. White, a Taiwanese street performer. Now I can’t stop watching it. Not only is she a very talented drummer, but I can’t look away from the pure joy she expresses while she does her awesome thing.

I can’t help but envy her. She’s 23 years old, and she clearly loves what she does. I didn’t find something I loved to do until I was 36. I was meant to be a bridgetender. (It’s not nearly as exciting as what S. White does, but it suits me.)

What shocks me is that so many people never find their joy. I think the mistake people make is focusing on the big money instead of the personal bliss. Yeah, you’ll probably always be sitting pretty, financially, as a lawyer, but what’s the point if you wake up every morning dreading the day ahead?

Life is what is happening day in and day out. You can’t live for the occasional high of the next big purchase. There are too many long stretches in between. And while a Mazerati may make you smile while you’re driving it, it won’t make you smile when you tuck in to bed at night and look back on your day. Things won’t keep you warm. Experiences will.

Instead of finding a career and trying to cram yourself into it, find out what you need in life to be satisfied. THEN find the pastime that will provide you with those things. I guarantee you that if you do that, everything else will fall into place.

S White
S. White. The epitome of joy.

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Feeling Fraught about Kevin Spacey

Sex scandals abound these days, it seems. It feels so much worse to me when it’s someone whose work I always admired, like Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, or Woody Allen. I had built these men up to such heights in my mind, I almost take it personally that they knocked themselves off my pedestals in such warped and heinous ways.

It could be argued that it’s not their problem that I erected those pedestals. They’re only human, after all. But on the other hand, they didn’t hesitate to enjoy the fruits of their fame, and along with that comes a certain amount of responsibility. And I really don’t think “don’t be a pervert” is too much to ask of anyone. I mean, I manage to follow that rule. Mostly. Fair’s fair.

But there’s another layer of complexity with Kevin Spacey, because he decided to pick this scandalous moment in time to come out as being gay. I mean, we all knew it already, didn’t we? It always kind of made me sad that he didn’t come out publicly much earlier, before it was forced out of him like some sort of awful confession. As a public figure, being that obviously closeted kind of sent a message that being gay is something to be ashamed of. I know it’s a career risk, because society is still stupid that way, but I honestly think that he was loved enough that he’d have survived it. It’s his business, of course, but he is a role model. I don’t want gay kids today (or any other day, for that matter) to feel shame for being who they are.

And as far as his dalliances with underage boys and his groping of people who did not welcome such behavior, he has pretty much admitted to all of that. Clearly he has a problem. But coming out as gay at this moment in time kind of makes it sound like he thinks that that’s the source of the problem. I have no idea whether he genuinely feels that way, but the timing of all of this makes me sad. I know plenty of gay people who don’t prey on children or put their hands in places where they’re not wanted.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I will never be able to watch the Cosby Show with the same level of joy again. Actually, I doubt I’ll ever be able to watch it, full stop, as I doubt anyone will ever have the courage to air it again. And that’s a pity, because that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Cosby Show taught me what a functional family looked like. Future generations won’t have the pleasure of seeing that.

And I haven’t been able to watch a Woody Allen movie in ages without it feeling tainted. I always kind of feel like I need to shower in bleach afterward. That’s never fun.

Here’s what I fear will happen whenever I see Kevin Spacey’s amazing talent now: He has played so many convincingly creepy bad guys that I can fully imagine what that anonymous guy must have felt, after having spurned Kevin’s attentions earlier in the evening, only to wake up to find Kevin lying on top of him, probably staring at him with those intense eyes. Personally, I’d have screamed. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Thanks for that image, Kevin. Thanks loads.

Kevin Spacey

False Starts

I remembered something last night that I hadn’t thought of in years. I went to travel agency school! I had recently gotten my Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and my Associates in Sociology, and it was becoming increasingly obvious, to my horror, that I was not going to be able to do a thing with either one of them.

So I got it into my head that one of those fly-by-night train-you-for-a-career-in-next-to-no-time schools was the answer to my problems. And hey, I absolutely LOVE to travel. I adore everything about it. And travel agents get cool perks like free trips to Madrid and things like that. Sounded good to me! Sign me up!

What those career schools don’t tell you is that their goal is not to get you a career. Their goal is to prey on your desire for a career in order to separate you from your money. Don’t believe me? Ask the admissions office for placement statistics for their graduates. I guarantee you, they won’t provide them.

Regardless. I attended that school faithfully, graduated with honors and then… never got a job in the travel industry. You see, by the time I showed up, that industry was already dying. Computers were starting to rear their ugly heads, and now everyone makes their own reservations. When’s the last time you even saw a travel agency? They’re as rare as hen’s teeth.

I did get an interview with Eastern Airlines. They even flew me first class to Miami. That was the first, and probably last time I’ll ever fly first class, unfortunately. But it’s a good thing I didn’t get the job, because Eastern Airlines went belly up about 6 months later.

I seem to do that a lot– Hop onto a trend when it’s already on its downhill slide. I got 8 tracks when everyone was already moving on to cassettes, and cassettes when everyone was getting CDs, and now I have all these CDs that I never listen to, taking up space in my closet. I also went to Dental Lab Technology School and got a third degree at a time when labs are starting to automate. I’m off trend in romance, too, falling for guys who are either not ready or no longer interested or were never interested in the first place. I’ve also made a lot of friends who turned out not to be friends. That hurts like hell.

False starts suck. While you are backtracking, you’re also experiencing a sort of mini mourning period. Then you have to gather your strength to start over. That isn’t so bad when you’re young and you think there will always be a new opportunity just waiting for you, but as you get older, you realize that isn’t always the case, and even if it is, you only have so much energy and time and money to start fresh. And you therefore start to get a little gun shy.

Learning when to go for it and when to listen to your voice of reason and give something a pass is a fine art that seems to elude me. I think moving from Florida to Seattle was my last big hurrah. But I don’t want to turn into one of those people who does less and less until one day I wake up on the couch with daytime television blaring in my ear, a room full of cats, and a serious lack of Vitamin D. That would be tragic.

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A Crisis You’re Not Even Aware Of

I just discovered that the last college I attended, Indian River State College, no longer offers the degree I earned there: Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. This is very sad news. It was the last school in Florida to offer that program. Now, if you’re a Floridian and want to study this subject, the closest schools would be in San Antonio, Texas or Detroit, Michigan. In fact, there are only seven colleges left in the country that offer this degree. Seven.

Why should you care?

First of all, let me clarify what Dental Lab Techs do. They are not, repeat, not, dental hygienists. They don’t clean your teeth. Many of them never come in direct contact with another person’s mouth (at least, not in a professional sense). The majority don’t work in a dentist’s office. They usually work in labs, sometimes one man operations, sometimes large assembly line type outfits, to fabricate dentures, retainers, crowns, night guards, bridges and other dental appliances.

There’s a great need for Dental Lab Techs, as 40 percent of them are expected to retire in the next decade. This career has a faster than average job growth projection, as an aging population has a greater need for dental appliances, and baby boomers visit dentists more often than previous generations did.

Many labs are now resorting to on the job training, and there’s no problem with that if it’s done well. But without an educational system, there are no core standards and there will be no uniformity in the field. (Field trained techs are often not taught basic oral anatomy, for example.) It also makes it much harder for these highly skilled individuals to be considered professionals, and therefore demand adequate compensation. This, in turn, will discourage people from pursuing this career.

More and more appliances, therefore, are being shipped overseas to be fabricated. This is a problem for you on a number of levels. There is no quality control. There have been reports of appliances in third world countries containing toxic substances. The last place you want to encounter lead or radioactive material, for example, is in your mouth. Also, some of the dental impressions your dentist takes of your mouth are heat sensitive and therefore don’t ship well. This means that the device you get back from some far flung location is quite likely not going to fit as well as one created in a local lab would have. The end result is pain for you and/or an appliance that does not function properly. I strongly suggest you ask your dentist where your appliance will be coming from, and urge him or her to source local labs.

Why are Dental Laboratory Technology schools disappearing? The equipment required to adequately teach this subject is extremely expensive. And in order to be certified by the American Dental Association, schools have to maintain a very low student to teacher ratio. From the standpoint of a college, this means more cost in terms of equipment and salary, and very little return in terms of tuition. Can you blame them for not wanting to shoulder this burden?

To be honest, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. But if you don’t want outrageously expensive dental appliances that are poorly made and potentially dangerous, we had better come up with one, and soon.

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Do you really want some barely trained kid off the street making this for you?

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What Do You Do?

Americans sometimes shock people from other countries by asking them what they do for a living. In many places this is considered rude. Here, it’s almost as if you can’t really decide what to think about a person until you know what’s on their resume.

In Seattle, I often hesitate to tell people I’m a bridgetender. Oh, the initial reaction is the same as it was in Florida. “That’s so cool!” “Wow, I thought bridges were automated.” “I’ve never met a bridgetender. What’s it like?”

These questions make me smile. I am proud of my unique job. I love to talk about it.

But at some point I sense a shift. People are willing to ask me questions, but they’re not going to invite me to their dinner parties. This is a highly successful town, and I’m a blue collar girl. I don’t wear a suit to the office. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a glorified security guard. Fascinating to query, yes, but shouldn’t you be using the service entrance, dear? Be sure and wipe your feet.

I find this intensely frustrating because I have three college degrees, an extremely high IQ, and I’m now a published author. I’m much more than my scruffy work shoes.

I’ve even been passed over for dates because of my job. For example, I can meet a guy and really hit it off. Things can be going well. Then the career thing comes up, and he can’t disappear fast enough. I don’t know if he suddenly thinks I’m a gold digger or if he’s concluded that he couldn’t show me off to his friends, but poof! He’s gone.

I’ve also gotten the impression that once I reveal that I’m in in a traditionally male job, suddenly my sexual orientation comes into question. I get that a lot, actually. I usually don’t care unless I’m looking for romance.

Plain and simple: I am what I am, but that’s not all that I am. But I’m getting a little too old and tired to work up the energy to break through barriers that I myself haven’t erected.

we_can_do_it

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#FirstSevenJobs

I overheard someone talking about a hashtag that was floating around in social media that encouraged people to talk about their first seven jobs. I was immediately intrigued. First of all, what an interesting world we live in now, where it’s a safe bet that most people have had seven jobs. In the past, you might apprentice in a certain job and then do that work until you dropped dead. I don’t know if that would be comforting or stultifying.

But I think you can learn a lot about a person by hearing what their first seven jobs were. How old were they when they started working? How long did they keep various types of jobs? I think it would be interesting to hear from older professionals in particular. Your pediatrician wasn’t always a doctor, you know. Maybe she washed cars in high school.

I’ve had 23 jobs in my life. I don’t know if that’s a lot, or about average. I just know that it was necessary. Some I liked, some I hated. Each one taught me a great deal. I’m glad to say that now that I’m a bridgetender, I’m doing something I truly love.

So, without further ado, here are my first seven jobs:

1.     At the age of 10, I was self-employed. I grew houseplants and sold them at the flea market. I did this for several years, and this allowed me to buy school clothes. I am also proud to say that I treated my mother and my sister to a trip to Disney World. We lived nearby, so it drove me crazy that we couldn’t afford to go. But this will give you an idea of how long ago that was: I only had to raise $20 to get the three of us in. I remember counting it all out in quarters.

2.     The summer I was 15, I worked in the Youth Conservation Corps, doing construction work. We paved pathways, built nature trails, rehabbed a swimming hole, and built a picnic shelter and a barn among other things. I came home brown as a berry for the first and only time in my life, with biceps that would make Michelle Obama proud, and I had a newfound confidence in my ability to work with my hands.

3.     The next summer I worked on an assembly line, making prepackaged school lunches. I’m pretty sure that was the last job I ever had that required I remain on my feet for 8 hours a day. I don’t know how people do it.  That’s where I learned that if you touch enough peaches in the course of a shift, the fuzz burrows under your skin and makes you bleed, and the foil wrappers on juice bottles make you bleed even more. (And yes, we were wearing gloves, but they didn’t protect our wrists.)

4.     Next I was a cook and a cashier at a short-lived game room and restaurant called Go Bananas. I’d go home and still hear the video games in my head, and I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but for a while there it made me sick of ice cream. (Scooping ice cream doesn’t do good things to your wrists, either.)

5.     Then I was a bilingual cashier at a hotel restaurant. I got by with my high school Spanish. But I had been hired when the manager was away, and when he got back, he called me into his office and quizzed me. I was so intimidated I couldn’t speak English, let alone Spanish, and he fired me on the spot. That was a new feeling. I didn’t like the polyester brown uniform they made me wear anyway, so I was a little relieved.

6.     Next I was a cashier at a campground. That was kind of fun. I liked meeting the people who would come in from all over the country. And believe it or not, I enjoyed stocking the grocery shelves. I love being organized. (Which kind of makes me wonder exactly when I lost all control of my living space, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.)

7.     Then I went away to college and worked in the cafeteria. I got sweaty and greasy every day, and then had a class to go to directly afterward, so people refused to sit next to me. But it helped pay for school. I had to transfer out of there when the 40 year old cook got angry because I refused to date him. He advanced on me in a rage and I threw an ice cream scoop at him and ran for my life. He remained employed, which made lunch and dinner time kind of awkward, but at least I then got to work in the secretary’s office, and people would sit next to me in class again.

So there you have it: The beginnings of a blogger. What were your first seven jobs?

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Loving My Thankless Job

A friend of mine recently pointed out that I have a thankless job. As a bridgetender, I’m always shocked to discover the vast number of people who don’t even know I exist. People tend to assume that all drawbridges are automated. They don’t realize how lucky they are that most aren’t. People can easily die on drawbridges. We’re talking about millions of pounds of steel and concrete in motion. You really want someone there who can think independently; someone who actually cares about your safety.

But oddly enough, I’ve never really thought my job was thankless. Actually, thanks has never been something I’ve even considered one way or another. Granted, it’s a rare boater who thanks me for opening the bridge for them. Pedestrians and commuters certainly don’t thank me for slowing them down. In fact, I’ve had things thrown at me more than once.

There was one vessel captain in Florida who would give us gift certificates to Red Lobster every Christmas. That made me feel good, but I looked at it as a delightful surprise. It is nice to be appreciated, but for me it’s not a requirement.

When I think of what I need for job satisfaction, thanks doesn’t enter into it for me. I’m sure the criteria is different for everyone, but for me to be satisfied with my job, the thing I need more than anything else is to be left alone to work within clearly defined parameters. I do not thrive on drama. I don’t go in for office politics. I prefer to work independently. Of course, adequate compensation and benefits are quite nice as well. If I were only able to flourish in a career that gave me frequent opportunities for positive feedback, I wouldn’t have lasted for two days as a bridgetender.

I think one of the best pieces of advice I could give to someone who is making job satisfaction a priority is to find out what you need to feel content in the workplace, and then seek out a career field that will provide those things to you. There’s no right or wrong answer. Only you can answer that question for yourself.

What would make you happy? Being a caregiver? Producing things with your hands? Being creative? Once you know what rocks your world, you’ll know what to do. Ignore what your inner voice is urging you toward at your emotional peril.

the wedding photographer
Some of us actually LIKE working in the shadows.

Failing Forward

The older I get, the less I view failure as the end of the world. Yeah, it’s depressing, or at the very least embarrassing, but I’ve been shown over and over again that things that might seem as though they are a catastrophe while they’re happening are generally happening for a very good reason.

Case in point, back in 2012 I got what turned out to be my third useless college degree, and then made absolutely no progress in trying to change my career. After literally hundreds of attempts to break into the field of Dental Laboratory Technology, I finally had to accept the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen.

It felt like a death. I went into a period of deep mourning for a future that I had been working toward for years that was never going to come to pass. It was like someone yanked the tablecloth out from under my feast.

Fast forward with me a couple of years as I fall down a flight of stairs. I did so much damage to my wrist that it required surgery, and I can tell you right now that there’s no possible way I would currently be able to do the fine repetitive movements required to fabricate dental appliances. So if that career had worked out, I wouldn’t have had it for long, and I’d have been in a world of financial trouble.

And it turns out that I managed to keep a job I love and find a way to actually do it and get a living wage plus benefits. So everything turned out exactly as it should have. My failure propelled me forward.

Thank GOD I failed. In retrospect, that failure is a cause for celebration. I am happier than I have ever been. So take heart! Failure is just another step in your journey, which will always be more complex and exciting than you can possibly imagine.

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