Connections in Neverland

Well, poop.

During my travels down the west coast of the US, seven people were never far from my thoughts. I’ve never met any of them face to face. I’d like to think I know them all well after more than a decade of cyberspace interaction in various forms. Oddly enough, the better I feel I know them, the less I truly know about their real lives.

Some I’ve seen pictures of, and know their names, and have exchanged e-mails and/or addresses and/or I’ve talked to them on the phone. Others, none of the above. I would be passing very close to where these people live, at one time or another, during this journey, and I’d dearly love to meet each and every one of them, but it just wasn’t going to happen for a variety of reasons.

One I knew would be working on the day I was in their area, so I didn’t even reach out, because I’m not one to mess with someone’s livelihood. Others got back to me, but not soon enough for me to alter my plans, or they already had plans, to our mutual disappointment. One I had lost touch with in this COVID era, and it would have been weird to call, wanting to meet, after all this time. Another two don’t seem to feel comfortable meeting me after weekly contact over the course of a decade. Like I’m capable of being anything other than my authentic self and might actually be a serial killer or something. Like I’d hurt a fly. Ouch.

It’s a strange world we live in in these modern times, where we can feel we know people quite intimately and yet not know them at all at the same time.

Regardless of the reasons, and my respect for their various wishes, this journey for me had a slight undercurrent of missed opportunities. It was a disappointing undertone that I did my best to keep to myself so as not to ruin the trip for my spouse. But for each one, when I was in their area, I took a moment to look at all the compass points on the horizon and I thought, “I love you, ______________. I wish you well. I wish we could have crossed paths.”

And for all I know, we did. I passed a lot of people. People that just may have been my good friends, waiting at a stop light during rush hour, or standing in line at a coffee shop. I know I’m a friend worth having, and I know meeting them would have been a meaningful experience. At least I have the comfort of knowing I looked in their general direction at least once. It’s all very bittersweet.

There’s only one thing worse than two ships passing in the night. It’s when both ships know it’s going to happen and yet the sailors never even get a chance wave hello from their mutual poop decks.

Well, poop.

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Spotting Facebook Bots

Don’t inadvertently help these scammers take advantage of your friends.

I am the administrator of four different Facebook groups. There’s The View from a Drawbridge, which I created to promote the posts on this blog; Drawbridge Lovers, which posts pictures of drawbridges from around the world, and has attracted a lot of bridgetenders and enthusiasts; Public Art Lovers which posts a lot of amazing murals and statues and the like from everywhere you can think of; and a group for my little free library which mostly consists of members from the neighborhood.

I really do enjoy these groups. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people thanks to them. I’ve learned a great deal. It’s a pleasure seeing what people come up with to post from one day to the next.

There is one downside. Facebook bots. I hate Facebook bots.

These fake Facebook profiles come from automated software. It will steal pictures and information from outside sources to make it look like a legitimate human being to the untrained eye. In fact, the nefarious person behind this profile is most likely running hundreds of these profiles at once, so they don’t really have time to actually show much human activity on the Facebook page in question.

The way these bots acquire more legitimacy is through those trusting souls on Facebook who are motivated by numbers. Some people running groups want these groups to look as popular as possible, so they’ll accept anyone (or any bot) into the group who asks. And a lot of people also accept any friend request that they receive. When I see people with 2000 friends, I always ponder the absurdity of that, and also think they are taking undue risks with their privacy. And if you friend a bot, and that bot sends a friend request to one of your real friends, that friend may say, “Hey, this is a friend of Barb’s, so they must be okay.”

The more friends and groups these bots acquire, the more “real” they look to people. And that’s evil, because the motivation behind these bots is malicious at the best of times. The more legit these bots seem, the more likely you’ll accept them as a friend, and the more likely they will steal your identity. If they hack into your Facebook page, they can start sending messages to your friends, pretending to be you. One favorite type of message is, “Hey, my car broke down! Can you loan me some money for the repair?” If they’re pulling this caper with 100 bots at the same time, they’re bound to come across a few gullible people.

Bots can also hack into your account and start advertising the sale of sunglasses or whatever. Or, another popular one is posting on your page: “Hey, I just got a free gift card from Starbucks! Click here and you can, too!” Then your friends fill out the information and their identity is stolen. They can also post links that will send you to sites that will give your computer malware.

So, how do you spot a bot? It’s really not that hard if you’re paying attention. If someone sends you a friend request or asks to join your group, look at their profile page. Some things that many bots have in common are:

  • If they post a picture on their profile, it’s almost always someone who is very attractive.
  • They also often seem to have an exotic name.
  • They rarely list a job, but they almost always post what school they claim to have attended.
  • The only posts they have on their page are either updates of their profile pictures and nothing else, or a whole lot of posts on one theme (for example, artwork if they’re targeting art groups and artists) with zero comments from friends or family.
  • The rare, sophisticated bot has comments, but they often have nothing to do with the post, or they make no sense at all.

Do not get used. Don’t prop up the credibility of these bots by friending them or allowing them to be a member of your group. If you spot one on your list that snuck past you on a more trusting day, remove them. Trust me, you won’t be hurting their feelings. They have no feelings to hurt.

Also, if you are operating a group, definitely take advantage of the ability to ask people questions before granting membership. Make them questions that require more than a yes/no response. Ask them what one plus seven plus three equals. A bot can’t answer that. (Yet.) Have a strict no response/no admittance policy.

In these increasingly desperate times, scammers abound. Don’t help them take advantage of people. Be safe and savvy. The picture below is of a typical bot. Attractive, with friendly looking posts, but no real signs of life. Join me in kicking this bot to the curb!

I’m not a bot. I wrote a book. Check it out! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

There’s More to You Than Sexy

Nurture the beauty within.

In another place and time, I had a friend whom I saw almost daily for two years. I liked her a lot, but we never got super close. I’m 30 years older than she is. And we only had the one daily thing in common.

I’m sure she’d have given me a ride to the bus stop if it was raining, but I doubt she’d invite me out to lunch. That kind of friend. You know the kind. We all have them.

We’ve kept in touch over Facebook, but I don’t think it would occur to either one of us to pay a visit if traveling through the other’s town. Which is fine. Best wishes all around, no doubt about it.

But sometimes I wish we had gotten closer so I could give her some advice. Did I mention she’s a gorgeous girl? Absolutely stunning. And her Facebook page is full of sexy pictures of her in leggy evening gowns and bathing suits and negligees.

It kind of makes me sad. Part of me thinks, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. She certainly has it. But I know her to be so much more than that. She is intelligent, funny, hard-working, dedicated to family, and extremely kind and capable. I have no doubt that she’ll be a success at whatever she chooses to take on.

But if you don’t know her and you look at the pictures she presents to the world, all that you see is sexy. And she has well over 2000 Facebook friends. I doubt most of them are there because they think she’s a brilliant conversationalist.

I hate the idea that she thinks that sexy is her most valuable commodity, because trust me, beauty fades. She most likely won’t have that slammin’ body for that much longer. If you consider your looks to be your trump card, your success will be fleeting. It’s important to nurture the beauty within.

I fear that with her primary focus being all about her surface, she’ll let her substance atrophy. The older she gets, and the more she has to rely on her character, her charm, her wits, and her life experience, I worry that she’ll be out of practice.

I look at her sexy pictures and what I see, first and foremost, is an extremely rough mid-life crisis in her future. And that’s so unnecessary. It’s hard to watch.

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Great Tapestry

We are all connected.

Recently, I’ve discovered that several of my friends have connected in unexpected ways. It really makes me happy. In some cases, I have been the catalyst in these connections, and in others, the situation has been completely random. It makes me feel like we are all a part of a beautiful, colorful, complex tapestry.

I met one friend through my grief support group. Eventually, we became Facebook friends. That’s how we discovered that we have a mutual Facebook friend, who also happens to be the cousin of one of my closest friends in Florida. These two Facebook friends work together. I know very few people in this city, so the odds of my knowing two coworkers, who I met in random, distinct ways, is pretty amazing.

I also met my husband through that same grief support group. It’s a group that I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for the fact that two other friends, separately, during the same time period, recommended that I attend. So they both take credit for my marriage.

I met Bob through my Drawbridge Lovers Facebook group. I met Linda through my View from a Drawbridge Facebook group. One day Linda asked me how I knew Bob. Awesome coincidence: they’re on the brink of getting married. I’m thrilled to be a vicarious witness to that love story, which is happening in another state, to two people I’ve never met face to face, but respect very highly.

I introduced another dear friend who is in Canada to someone who is in Kentucky, and they’ve been in a supportive, happy, internet relationship for about a decade now. More power to them.

I met two other people in the exact same week about 12 years ago, and they’ve also been together ever since. (Not that I had anything to do with that, but it is a delightful synchronicity.)

I met one friend through a story telling group that I used to attend. She became the editor of my first book. I met another friend through that same group, but on a different day. She was actually just passing through town, and lives on the other side of the continent. She wrote the introduction to my first book. And it turns out that now the two of them work for the same organization, which the first friend wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for my introducing her to the second friend. What a mazel!

I also have a friend in Argentina who introduced me to a friend in Georgia, who I had the opportunity to hear in concert in Florida. So even borders cannot prevent connections. Borders, in fact, are artificial constructs.

I guess my point is that we’re all threads in the great tapestry of the universe. Whether we are the warp or the weft, the long or the short, the coarse or the smooth, we all play our part. We may not even know we are connected, but somehow, rest assured, we are.

http _img00.deviantart.net_5162_i_2017_129_5_5_hand_woven_tapestry__beloved_lover_by_maximo_laura_by_maximo_laura-db8nfcw

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The Depth and Breadth of a Virtual Life

When you meet someone in a virtual world, you really, really meet them.

It’s rare that a news article brings tears to my eyes, but My disabled son – ‘the nobleman, the philanderer, the detective’ did just that. It’s about a young man named Mats Steen, who spent most of his life bound to a wheelchair, until his death, all too soon, at age 25.

His family expected a quiet, uneventful funeral, but an amazing thing happened. Friends started coming out of the woodwork, expressing their condolences. Some flew from other countries to attend his funeral. But how did the homebound Mats have so many loyal and loving friends?

The answer to that is World of Warcraft. He had been spending much of the last decade of his life in that virtual world, not just playing games, but forming relationships. And these people, to this very day, remember Mats, and speak of him often. There is even a memorial to him in there, where candles remain forever lit. Mats touched many lives from that wheelchair of his.

People who don’t spend time in virtual worlds don’t understand them at all. As a long-time resident of the virtual world of Second Life, I do. All too well.

These places aren’t games, where you fight with cartoons, all alone. There are people behind these avatars. Living, breathing people, whose personalities shine through. In Second Life in particular, the gaming aspect is practically nonexistent. It’s a social place, where you can attend live concerts, go dancing, explore wonderful alternate worlds, build outlandish and beautiful houses, go to church, meet people, make friends, fall in love… you name it, it’s possible.

For another interesting insight about what virtual worlds feel like, check out season 3, episode 4 of the series Black Mirror. It’s called San Junipero. You can find it on Netflix. It’s well worth the watch.

When you meet someone in a virtual world, you really, really meet them. Because avatars are the great equalizers. All of them are good looking and young and strong and healthy. What sets you apart is how you communicate and how you treat people. And that truth about you rises to the surface immediately. Liars don’t last long in virtual worlds, even though they are capable of doing a great deal of emotional damage during their short stays.

What I love about these places is that they expand your horizons. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can run and dance. If you’re agoraphobic, you can explore the world. If you’re unhappy with the way you look, you can look different. No one is poor or rich or tall or short. You aren’t judged by the external stuff. All of those things are stripped away.

I have made many friends in Second Life. There has been a lot of love in there for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others. I’ve learned the value of trust. Being there has given me the confidence to be an artist.

I’ve also had people I care about very much in cyberspace simply disappear. It’s heartbreaking, not knowing if someone is alive or dead. It’s cruel, depriving someone of closure, if that’s intentional. But there’s no way to know for sure.

I’m really glad that Mats was able to make lemonade out of the lemons of his life. He created his virtual life from scratch, as one does, and it sounds like he surrounded himself with lots of wonderful, amazing people, just as I have in Second Life. That, to me, is a life well-lived. May he rest in peace, knowing he still lives on in the hearts of so many.

(Thanks Jen, for introducing me to that amazing article!)

Virtual Me
The virtual me, standing in front of one of my fractals, with one of my fractals around my neck as well.

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Coupledom

Who knew?

Buy one, get one free. Everybody knows that’s a screamin’ deal. That is, if you want two. But who doesn’t want two? Two is always better than one!

Similarly, good things come to those who pair up, it seems. The second we got married, my husband’s auto insurance rates went way down. As did our health insurance rates.

And of course, we now have two incomes to pay for one set of utilities, one mortgage, one wifi bill, etc., etc., etc.

One family AAA membership costs less than two individual ones. The same can be said of the family plan for one’s phone. And hey, now we can shop at Costco! (I didn’t do that when I was single because the portion sizes were way too big for one person.)

And then there’s the social aspect of coupledom. Suddenly you have twice as many friends, and twice as many opportunities to have fun. You have twice as much family, too, which fortunately is turning out to be a wonderful thing in my case. (Your results may vary.)

You don’t really think of the implications of all this when you’re single. The world is really set up for us to go two by two, as if it’s one big Noah’s Ark. When you get married, you give yourself an instant raise, and you join a much wider support system.

I hope I’m not turning into one of those obnoxious people who try to force relationships upon everyone. I’m just pointing out that it’s really a completely different world on so many levels. Who knew?

king penguins

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My 2000th Blog Post

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.

THANK-YOU-Computer

Just the Right Amount of Strange

Have you ever met someone and clicked with them instantly because they’re the same kind of weird that you are? Isn’t it great? It’s such a relief to feel understood and accepted.

Recently someone pointed out to me that there’s really no such thing as normal. Good point. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t felt at least a little bit “out there”.

Personally, I’d find it rather creepy if we were all alike. The implication would be that we had no free will or independent thought. I can think of no better definition of hell.

That’s why I’m instantly repulsed by people who tell me that the only way to get to heaven is by subscribing to a specific creed. That sure doesn’t sound like heaven to me. I don’t want to agree with everyone all the time. I don’t want to check my brains and my personality at the door. I would die of boredom. You keep your Stepford Wife Heaven to yourself. I’ll have no part of it.

I like to let my freak flag fly, and enjoy having it fly with plenty of crazy company!

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Nature’s Personality

When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)

Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.

It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.

Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.

Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.

Four_Seasons_1208_(A,B,C,D)_copy

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My Voice

I had a fascinating conversation with some old friends recently. I’ve known them for 10 years in the virtual world of Second Life. We hang out a couple times a week, but in all that time I’ve never heard their actual voices. All our communication is via text.

Am I alone in this? When I read something, I “hear” what I’m reading inside my head. I’ve always done that.

But the other day, for the first time, it occurred to me that when I read what these two friends type, I have different inner voices for each of them. Based on their personalities, my mind has created a kind and gentle voice for one, and a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense voice for the other. Fascinating.

So naturally, I asked what my “voice” sounds like to them. I was really surprised by the answer. They said it doesn’t sound like my blog.

That’s intriguing. I think of this blog as me on a screen. I’ve taken pride in laying myself bare and being honest and vulnerable here. But my friends say that in my blog I sound like a strong positive woman, and when I talk to them, I’m more fragile.

Hmm… Yeah, I can see that. Since I write my entries several days in advance, I have plenty of time for multiple revisions. That means by the time my posts reach you, I’ve edited out a lot of the craziness, impulsiveness, negativity, and basic hysteria. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) I think that makes the blog infinitely more readable, but perhaps it also makes it less “me”.

But when all is said and done, that’s the definition of true friendship, isn’t it? Someone who sees the unedited version of you, warts and all, and loves you anyway.

I’m a very lucky person.

voice

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