A Telephonic Cultural Shift

When I was little, I went through a period where I’d try to listen in on my big sisters’ conversations on the upstairs telephone. “I can hear you breathing, you little brat! Hang up that phone!”

What can I say? The teen-aged world intrigued me. Not that I learned much from it, if I’m honest.

I have no idea why I was thinking about that today, but from there I remembered how I used to run across the house to pick up the phone when it rang, often shouting “I’m coming! I’m coming!” as if the caller could hear. In those days before cordless phones or answering machines, I never wanted to miss a call, even if it meant twisting my ankle.

Phone calls used to seem so important to me. Now, in this day of cell phones and private messages and all forms of social media, I rarely pick up the phone when it rings. I’m not even sure if my voice mail is set up correctly. And 90 percent of my phone calls are spam. My friends have so many other ways of contacting me that I know that if it’s truly important, they’ll do so.

I no longer heed the siren song of my phone, especially when I’m driving or napping. I just can’t be bothered, unless the caller ID is someone close. 40 years ago, I’d have considered that unspeakably rude. Now it’s status quo.

Funny how culture shifts over time, isn’t it?

Vintage Rotary Phone

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To say I have a really screwed up work schedule is putting it mildly. Part of the week I work swing shift, and then, to make life interesting, I switch over to day shift. That means that there’s one day where I only get about 5 hours of sleep between shifts. Needless to say, by the time I get off work after that quick turnaround, I’m completely worthless. All I want to do is lie around and gaze stupidly at the ceiling.

I’ve had this schedule for 3 ½ years, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. First of all, it’s best if I don’t make any major purchases on exhausto-day. More often than not, I’ll regret them. I also shouldn’t get into Facebook debates. They will only end in tears. (For someone.)

The blog posts I write on that day tend to have a little less meat on the bone, too. And it’s not a good day to reflect upon my past, present, or future, but that’s a challenge since I am a navel-gazer by nature. And if you tell me something important during that time frame, make sure I write it down, or I guarantee I’ll forget.

I’ve also learned that sleep is a luxury that one should never fail to take advantage of. I have no set sleep schedule. Some nights I’m up until 3 am, while other nights I’m already snoring at 6 pm. The most important thing is that when my body says it’s time to sleep, I need to listen.

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my quality control fluctuates from one day to the next. Exhausto-Barb is not nearly as efficient and level-headed as the Barb one encounters during the rest of the week. And that’s understandable. Once I finally stopped beating myself up for this ebb and flow, life became a great deal more tolerable.

One nice thing about my schedule is that my “weekends” (which don’t coincide with the rest of the planet’s, of course,) are 72 hours long. That almost makes the exhaustion worth it. Almost.


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Having What I Need

I had another epiphany last night. (I know. Watch out!)

I can’t afford to adequately heat my home, but I have a warm sleeping bag, a comfortable bed, a roof to keep the rain off my head, and walls to (more or less) block out the wind.

I’m starved for human contact, but my dog spoons with me every night and is an excellent source of unconditional love.

I’m not rich, but I’m not worried about where my next meal is coming from as I sometimes have been in the past.

The epiphany was this: I have everything I need. If I focus on that instead of on all the things that I want but don’t have, I’ll be a lot more content.

Millions of people in this world don’t have what they need. It’s a precious gift that I do. Yes, I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but I have to admit that when all is said and done, I am blessed with good fortune.

Everything is okay.

[Image credit: judithmorgan.com]

Lessons I Should Have Learned Way Before Age 50

This has been a year of great change and great learning for me. I’m starting completely over at 50, and that creates a unique set of challenges. It also allows for a unique set of insights. Here are a few things that I’m finally starting to figure out this year that I wish I had understood a long time ago.

  • Not everyone is going to like your pets as much as you do. This was a hard lesson for me to accept, because I know for a fact that I have the best two dogs on earth, but hey, what are you going to do?
  • You can’t force people to like you. It would be great to get along with everyone, but some people just aren’t going to like you. They may have made that decision before even meeting you. They may genuinely find you irritating. Or there may be some negative chemistry going on that defies explanation that neither of you can do anything about. Oh well.
  • You can’t convince people to love you. People will either love you or they won’t. Behaving differently or trying to act charming won’t change that. So stop worrying about it. Let whatever happens happen.
  • There’s no point in worrying about what other people think. In fact, it’s quite liberating when you stop caring. I’m not saying you should throw the Golden Rule out the window. I’m just saying you shouldn’t twist yourself into a pretzel to obtain some stamp of approval that you may or may not get.
  • You’re most likely not going to radically change in the most fundamental ways. I’ve always had this fantasy that I’d become this person who dressed in artsy clothes and wore a long thick braid over my shoulder. Yeah, I could do that, but the truth is, I’m too lazy to invest in clothes and I’m a wash and wear hair kind of girl. And that’s okay.
  • People may want you to change, but that’s their problem. I have wasted a lot of time feeling guilty that I haven’t lost the weight other people want me to lose, or been this outgoing social butterfly who likes to join groups. But you know, screw it. Screw them. I’m me.
  • Rules are made to be broken. The older you get, the more you can get away with. Take advantage of that. It’s fun.
  • It’s great to learn from other people’s mistakes. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for a change.
  • Just because you’re craving something doesn’t mean you should eat it. As time goes on, more food disagrees with me. I may want that meatball sub, but I know I’ll regret it. That’s not going to change.
  • Take chances. If there is something that can change, and you want it to, you’re going to have to take risks. If you don’t, you’ll gather dust. What a waste of life!
  • Don’t let others decide what is important to you. Your priorities for my life do not automatically constitute my game plan for my life.
  • People love it when you’re curious about their lives. Pull your head out of your behind and ask questions about others. They’ll enjoy being in the place of expertise, and you might just learn something.
  • Never stop learning. Read. Discuss. Travel. Ask questions. Be okay with the fact that you don’t know everything. Then life will always be an adventure.
  • Look in the opposite direction every once in a while. I’ve discovered that when going about my daily routine, I tend to look at the same things. But there’s stuff behind you, and to the left of you, and even overhead, that you may not have noticed before. And often it’s beautiful.
  • Get over yourself. If you’re holding on to old baggage or regrets or disappointments, what does that achieve?
  • You only have so much energy. Don’t waste it on stupid shit. It’s okay to not participate in the drama or tolerate the crap. In fact, when you draw firm boundaries, not only does it reduce your stress, but others usually wind up appreciating it, too.
  • It’s easier to live without secrets. I was living with a doozie for a while there, and when I finally admitted it to my friends and family, it turns out that they didn’t care! I spent so much energy and time guarding that stupid secret that I could have used on something else that was more productive. Just get it out there.
  • It is so much fun to be able to laugh at yourself. Be silly. Delight yourself. Have fun. Don’t take yourself so freakin’ seriously. Life’s too short.


Things I Hope I Never Forget

The shock of having the person I loved most in the world die unexpectedly two weeks ago has taught me much.

  • Life is as fragile as a soap bubble. It could pop at any moment and that’s it. You’re done.
  • Because life is so fragile, it’s precious. You only get a little bit of it, so savor every single second.
  • Because it’s so precious, it is absurd to waste your time worrying about the little things over which you have absolutely no control.
  • Everything is a little thing, except for the people you love and the people who love you. Nothing else matters.
  • Nothing. Else. Matters.

I vaguely remember learning these same lessons when my mother died 23 years ago, but somewhere along the way I got caught back up in the minutiae of life and forgot these things. I hope I never do again. They’re important. They are the only things that really are important.

Once you start viewing life through this particular lens, all the petty crap and drama tends to fall by the wayside and things become really simple. Don’t take the people you love for granted. Appreciate everything and everyone that comes your way. But most of all, stop wasting time.



[Image credit: marian16rox.tumblr.com]

Contemplating Suicide? What I’d Say to a Jumper

Recently someone I love very much told me that she had attempted suicide a couple of times in the past year. This broke my heart because I had no idea she was suffering in silence. Having struggled with depression my whole life, I know what it’s like to want to throw off that thick blanket of despair, and I know that sometimes it seems like there is only one irreversible way to do so. But that’s the thing. Once you’ve made that choice, you can never make any other choices, ever. How can you be sure there aren’t better times just around the corner?

I can also speak with a little bit of authority on this subject because as a bridgetender I cross paths with people attempting suicide several times a year. I’ve never actually spoken to one of these people. Either the police rescue them before they jump or they make good on their attempt.

I’ve often thought about what I’d say if I came upon a jumper on my bridge and no one else was there. I’m not trained in any way so I’m probably the last person that should be thrust into that situation, and I’d avoid it if I could, but if I had no other choice, what would I do to try to convince them not to take that last irreversible step?

First I’d introduce myself and ask for his or her name. Then I would say, “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why you want to jump. I’m sure you have your reasons, and they’re none of my business. But I’d like to tell you that this is probably the most important conversation I’ve ever had in my life, because I think you are important in this world. I think you have value. I really believe that every day you impact and influence people and you probably don’t even realize it. Some day, a month, a year, a decade from now, someone will cross your path who will need your influence. If you’re not there to do so, that person may never have the future he or she deserves.”

“I also think that things can change on a dime. You never know what tomorrow will bring. But if you jump, you’ll never get to find out. One thing tomorrow can bring for you is help. Someone to talk to. People who will take you seriously. And they are out there. I promise. We’ll make sure you get a chance to talk to those people, if only you stick around to do so.

“The fact that you’re still listening to me means that you are having second thoughts. That’s good. That means you still have choices. You can still not jump, and then you have a whole world of possibilities. I can tell you this. Every single jumper, without exception, screams on the way down. That means they regret their decision the minute they step into thin air. But by then it’s too late. And that sentiment has been universally confirmed by the rare people who survive jumping off a bridge. They say they wish they had never done it. Can you imagine that feeling of terror? Wanting desperately to take something back but not being able to do so? Would you want that to be the last feeling you have? I don’t want that for you.

“I can also tell you that it’s not as easy a way to go as you might think. See that concrete and wooden fender system down there? I’ve heard jumpers hit that thing, and you can hear their bones break all the way up here. That sound will haunt me for the rest of my life, and now that I know your name, it would be even worse. But even if you miss the fender system it’s bad. Your organs are lighter than your skeleton, so when you hit the water, your skeleton rushes past your organs, forcing them all to move up into your chest cavity. I can’t imagine that type of pain. It’s a horrible, horrible way to go.

“I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my life is pretty messed up. But I really do believe there’s more out there for you than this. You wouldn’t be feeling so hurt or scared or depressed or angry about your situation if you didn’t believe you deserved more, too. Don’t take away your chance to find out what’s out there. Right now you can go in any direction you want. Left, right, forward, backward, up or down. If you jump, all you’ll be left with is down. If you feel like you have no hope now, imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve only got one direction left to go.”

I don’t know. Maybe that would be the wrong thing to say to a jumper. Maybe it would do no good. But that’s what I’d want to say.

looking down