My Blog Can Bite Me

I’ve been writing a post for this blog every day since December of 2012. That’s more than 2,400 posts so far. One thing that didn’t occur to me when I started all this is that a great deal of my life experience is now on record. All my opinions and memories and reactions and interests… they’re all out there for the world to see (should the world be extremely bored on, say, a Sunday afternoon).

Any chance of my running for public office has been destroyed. (Not that I have any aspirations along those lines. I’d probably be the first person voted off the island in Survivor.)

This archive of my personal points of view can be convenient if I’m trying to remember something. I’m sure my friends and family get sick of hearing me say, “Oh, yeah! I blogged about that once!”

But it can also bite me in the butt, and has on more than one occasion. Memories can change. Opinions can change. When you write about them, they sort of get cast in stone. “Oh, is that what you think, Barb? Well, that’s not what you said back in May of 2013…”

That certainly makes it hard to waffle, hedge, or equivocate. The more I write, the more my life seems to be black and white. The shades of grey are fading away. That’s great when my memory fades, but not so great when I want to hide in the mist like most people can.

Blogging is a double-edged sword.

And by the way, I’m well aware of the dual meaning of this post’s title. It was intentional. After all these years, sometimes I feel both ways.

Blog image

Like this blog? Then you’ll love this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Heaping Helping of Immortality

At the risk of sounding outrageously egotistical, if you know me or read this blog with any regularity, then you most likely think of me whenever you see a drawbridge. They’re rare enough, and most bridgetenders tend to keep a low profile, so yeah, I am rather rare myself.

I like the concept that even years from now, some poor shmuck will be stuck at an open bridge and will say to his or her passenger, “I used to read a blog by someone who opens a drawbridge…”

That’s the closest I’ll ever get (and indeed the closest I want to get) to immortality. Some people have kids. I blog. If you do anything unique that makes people think of you when you’re not present, then you have that immortality thing going on, too. Feels pretty cool, doesn’t it?

I also get a kick out of the idea that if you’re not thinking of me when you see a drawbridge, maybe you’re thinking of Vincent Van Gogh. Or both of us. For a split second, I get to stand beside an amazing artist. I’m honored.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to cut my ear off. I’m practically blind without my glasses.

Incidentally, if you are into drawbridges, please consider joining my Drawbridge Lovers group on Facebook!

van_gogh_-_die_brücke_von_langlois_in_arles1

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy 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

The Anatomy of a Traumatic Experience

It was an unremarkable day. In retrospect, that was one of the strangest things about it. I was walking across the bridge to get to work, as I’ve done thousands of times. The sun was out. I had no plans, really. Think “status quo.”

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, just in time to see the guy hit the water. He had jumped off the next bridge over. There was this big splash, and that’s when time stopped for me. I think I will always carry with me a static image of him hitting the water, the splash and the waves it caused frozen in place. Because at that instant I knew he was dead. I knew it just as sure as I’m alive.

Needless to say, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the body with my mouth hanging open. My mind started to bargain. “You didn’t really just see that.” “It’s not a body. Someone must have dropped something big and heavy off the bridge.” “This is not happening.” “No. This can’t be happening.”

Then I saw two boats race out from the rowing club. They tried to drag the body out of the water, but they couldn’t. Then the Harbor Patrol came screaming around the bend in the lake, and they were able to pull him out.

Somewhere along in there I had walked woodenly to the drawbridge tower where I work. (The sequence of events is forever hazy in my mind.) I climbed the stairs. “Did you see that?” I said to my coworker.

“See what?” She had been looking the other way. Time had been moving at a normal pace for her. And then I changed that, probably. She went down and talked to the officers on the scene, and then she left, after urging me to call our supervisor.

I talked to the supervisor for a long time. This is not the first time a bridgetender has witnessed a suicide, and it won’t be the last. She offered to let me have the day off, but I didn’t feel up to the commute. I was already there, and I could be traumatized at work just as easily at I could at home. She also strongly encouraged me to contact our Employee Assistance Program and get some counseling, because this was a big deal.

How right she was. I had never seen anyone die before. I’ve seen dozens of people consider jumping, but then get talked out of it. That’s upsetting enough. I’ve seen a few dead bodies, after the fact. But I’ve never seen anyone die before. It changes you.

I spent the rest of the shift feeling stunned and sad and sick to my stomach. I didn’t accomplish much. I kind of stared off into the middle distance a lot of the time. I thought about the jumper, and was heartbroken that he had felt so much pain and despair that he made that irreversible choice. I was heartbroken for the people who love him. I was upset for all the other witnesses, including the ones at the waterfront restaurant who were expecting to have a lovely salmon lunch, as I have on more than one occasion, and instead got an awful memory.

The weird thing was that I could see that life was going on all around me. Boats were happily floating over the spot, unaware that someone had just died there. People were jogging. Cars hummed their way across the bridge.

The waterway had always been kind of a sacred place for me. Now it had been violated. By the jumper? By the boaters? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

I talked to several people during the course of the shift. My crew chief stopped by. He offered, again, to let me have the day off. He reminded me about the Employee Assistance Program. He told me a few stories about things he’s experienced, and how it made him feel. It was really nice of him to stop by. I kind of felt detached, though.

I also called my sister, who was predictably horrified and sympathetic, and a few friends, who were sorry and tried to be comforting. I even spoke to my therapist. But I felt… it’s hard to explain. I felt like I was in a different reality. A different place, where I couldn’t quite reach them, and they couldn’t quite reach me. I could hear what they were saying, but it was like I was at a high altitude, and my ears had yet to pop. At a remove. Alone.

At the end of the shift I expected to go home and have a really good cry, but the tears never came. As of this writing, they still haven’t come. But I can feel them on the inside.

When I got home, I hugged my dog, and then fell into a deep sleep. I was really afraid I’d have a nightmare and wake up screaming with only my dog to comfort me, but that didn’t happen. I don’t even think I tossed or turned. I barely even wrinkled the sheets. It was like I had been in a coma.

When I woke up, “it” was my first thought. But oddly enough, I felt calm. I felt rested. I was in a good mood. Could I have gotten past this so easily? It felt like I had been given a “get out of jail free” card. What a relief. Tra la la.

Okay, yeah, maybe I’ve gotten past this. Woo! What an adult I am! This is awesome! Just in case, though, I did look into sending a condolence note to the next of kin. I spoke to the Harbor Patrol Chaplain. Naturally, he couldn’t give me a name, but he might be able to forward the note on for me. I thought that would be a nice little bit of closure.

I also spoke to the Employee Assistance Program, and set up some counseling sessions, even though I was feeling great. Way to go for practicing self-care, Barb! I felt really mature and well balanced.

In fact, I spoke to a couple of professionals who thought I was probably over the worst of it. But my therapist told me, cautiously, that I’d probably experience ups and downs for quite some time. There’s a reason she makes the big bucks.

Again, that night, I slept well. I was rested the next day, but a little subdued. Nothing major. Just kind of bleh.

And then that afternoon I started to shake uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold. I was just suddenly overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had several semi-urgent things on my to-do list, but it was painfully obvious that I was in no shape to deal. I just… I shut down.

I kind of checked in with myself, and what I got was: I’m afraid. I feel out of control. Everything feels so fragile, like a soap bubble. I’m so exhausted that the air feels like the consistency of chocolate pudding. Everything takes more effort than normal. I just want to be left alone.

Which is kind of good because after that first day, most people stopped following up with me. They were over it. It was an awkward conversation. Life goes on. But I still felt, and still feel to this day, that I need someone to hold me while I cry, and that someone can’t seem to be found.

Yes, there’s therapy in my future, and yes, I’ll learn to cope with my new reality. I know this because it’s not the first traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope it’s the last, but I kind of doubt it. I am also well aware that things are cyclical. I’ll have good days and bad days.

Perhaps it’s the awareness of the cycles of life that have always prevented me from making the horrible choice that the jumper did. No matter how bad things get, even when the loneliness is so bad it’s physically painful, I know that eventually the pendulum shifts in the other direction.

That, and I could never put someone through what that jumper has put the witnesses, the first responders, and his loved ones through. Never. Not ever.

Having said that, though, I hope he has found the peace that seems to have eluded him in life.

I5_ShipCanal_Web

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

My Run-In with the Random Word Generator

Sometimes I can’t think of a thing to blog about. Today was one of those days. I was getting rather desperate, so I consulted the Random Word Generator. Perhaps it would inspire me to break through this blockage.

The first word it gave me was “lip”. No. I’m sorry. Maybe this was a bad idea. What on earth could I do with the word lip? Nothing. That’s what.

I kind of got irritated. Curse you, Random Word Generator! You were supposed to save me! But I’m not one to give up. (Especially when I can’t think of anything else to do.)

I noticed that the generator allows one to choose the number of words that get generated at a time. What would be good? Three, I decided. And this was what I got:

unfortunate memory cancer

Okay, granted, that’s a bit bleak, but really, when you think about it, it ought to be a thing. Because who among us doesn’t have memories that they wish they could forget? The sound of Trump’s voice springs to mind.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind erasing some of my past relationships, from beginning to end. I’d also like to apply chemotherapy to some of the idiotic choices I’ve made in the past. And those bell bottoms that I wore in the 70’s? Blot them out of existence. Please. I’m begging you.

True confession: I’ve been getting more forgetful lately, and it’s scaring me half to death. But on second thought, it might have its advantages. Who knows what unfortunate memory cancers I’ve already been cured of?

Brain_memory

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Becoming Forgetful

When I was young and I’d hear an older person say they were getting old and forgetful, I used to smile and say I couldn’t wait to have that excuse for my absentmindedness. I’ve always been easily distracted. Flaky, even.

But now I’m starting to get it. As I age, it’s getting much, much worse. And that’s terrifying. It is no fun, no fun at all, to know you can no longer rely on your own brain. Especially when you live alone.

Today I accidentally left my to-do list at home, and I’m a bit freaked out. I’m fairly certain that I’m forgetting to do something that’s time-sensitive and important, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what it is. That’s a helpless feeling. I don’t like it. That’s why I created the to-do list in the first place.

And I’m starting to forget words. I know what I want to say conceptually. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t always verbalize it. “Please pass me the… the… you know. That thing.”

Do you have any idea how scary it is for a writer not to be able to come up with a word? And since I’m not currently in a nice comfortable relationship where the other person can finish my sentences for me, odds are that the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what thing I’m referring to.

The older I get, the more I feel like I’m traveling in a land where I don’t speak the language and I don’t have a map or an itinerary. And while I do love to travel, I love to be able to communicate even more. This is a confusing place. I’d like to go home now.

Forgetful

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

My Happy Easter Memory

Since I’m not a kid or a Christian, Easter tends to go by without my taking too much notice these days. Like Halloween, it’s kind of a non-holiday holiday for me. But when I was little, I absolutely loved coloring eggs. (Come to think of it, I’d probably still find that fun. Therapeutic, even. )

My mother would put fuzzy pussy willow sprigs in a vase, and we’d glue pastel ribbons onto the eggs and then hang the eggs from the sprigs, so it would sort of be like a spring Christmas tree, with just as many Pagan connotations. I wish we had taken pictures, but I don’t think there is one anywhere in my boxes of photos. It would have been in black and white anyway, so it would have lost much of its charm. I’ll just have to rely on my memories, as long as they last.

I have another amazing memory that always makes me smile at this time of year. One Easter morning I woke up and there was an Easter basket beside my bed. It was empty, except for a note. It was a little poem, along the lines of “roses are red, violets are blue…” and it gave me a clue as to where to go next. At that location, there was a chocolate egg or something, and another note with another clue sending me off on another tangent.

It was all really exciting. It led me throughout the house and yard, and took me ages to work out. At the end my basket was full of peeps and candy. But the best part about it was that my sister Andrea had done this for me. I recognized her handwriting.

It was clear that she put a great deal of effort into this. She’s 9 years older than me, so she must have been about 16 at the time. That made me feel really, really special. It’s that warm feeling that I remember most whenever I think about that day.

The funny thing about it is that Andrea doesn’t remember it at all. All that work, and all the joy it gave me, and it seems not to have remained in her memory banks. That always surprises me. And it kind of makes me sad, because I’d love to thank her, but when I’ve attempted to do so, I think it stressed her out that the memory is lost.

So these days I just smile to myself, and think, “Violets are blue, red is a rose, go to the place where we dry the clothes.”

Thanks, Andrea. I love you.

egg tree

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Sound Memories

This coming June, I’ll have officially lived longer without my mother in my life than I did with her. What a concept. I can no longer remember her voice, except for the sound of one painfully high note she would hit when we’d sing a particular song. “Ain’t gonna GRIEEEEEVE my Lord no more!”

I think she did that on purpose to make me laugh. At least I hope she did. No one in my family is known for singing, but that… that was excruciating.

I miss it.

It’s funny, the things you remember and the things you don’t. Sounds, smells, songs… Sounds particularly stick with me.

I remember the sound of cowbells on a distant slope in Switzerland when I was 19 and more in love than I had ever been before or since.

Travel sounds, in particular, seem to stick with me. Coqui frogs chirping on one swelteringly hot evening in Puerto Rico. A fog horn on the coast of Canada. The call to prayer in Istanbul. Mariachis in Mexico. Flamenco dancers in Spain.

I can hear those things like they are happening right this minute. I also remember hurtful things that have been said to me. I wish I didn’t.

I remember heading out for work one day, just like any other day, except my dog Sugar ran up to the fence and threw back her head and howled like her heart was going to break in two. Before I could leave, I had to run over and give her a hug.

I remember being told I’d never leave the little redneck Florida town where I grew up. Ha! You got that wrong. But you’re still there. And you voted for Trump, too.

I remember a loved one beside me, snoring. I was irritated at the time. Now I’d give anything to have someone beside me, snoring.

“I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more…”

coqui

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Are We the Stories We Tell Ourselves?

It’s always rather disconcerting when someone else has a different version of a memory that I’ve been invested in my whole life long. Which version is correct? And if my version is wrong, how did it change over time?

This is particularly unsettling when I’ve told a story time and time again to explain why it is that I’ve come to be the way I am. Have I been molding myself out of pure fantasy? But it feels so real…

Memories, it seems, can take on lives of their own. That kind of makes me feel as though I have nothing on which to hang my hat. The solid foundation I thought I had, as poorly constructed as it may have been, now seems to be built on quicksand. Scary.

And here’s the kicker: the older you get, the more memories you have. And the more they tend to fade. And yet you’re still you. Aren’t you?

Or are you?

Quicksand

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Helping People with Dementia Purely by Accident

When I wrote my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, I had hoped that it would be uplifting, and that it would help people to look at situations from a different angle and appreciate various aspects of their lives. I want to be a positive force in the world. I want to have left this world ever-so-slightly better than I found it.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that my dear friend Amy Sassenberg, whose amazing photographs are included in the book, had been able to use it as a way to stimulate conversations and memories with people who are struggling with dementia. This actually brought tears to my eyes, because I can think of nothing more terrifying than losing one’s memories. So the thought that my book might be making a difference in that way, even if it’s just for a moment, means so much to me.

It’s a rare occasion when I allow someone to be a “guest writer” on my blog, but what follows is Amy’s description of how my book, our book, has made an impact. If you know anyone who is a caregiver or has a family member who suffers from memory loss, please share this blog entry with them. It would be amazing if my book could make such an impact in ways I hadn’t anticipated. If you are able to use it in this way as well, please let me know. I’d be honored to hear about it.

——————————–

Recently I got the awesome opportunity to participate in the creation of Barb Abelhauser’s wonderful book, A Bridgetender’s View by adding some of my photographs to her excellent collection of contemplations on gratitude. It has been a pleasure and an honor to be associated with such a fine person and such a fine work.

 Of course I ordered a couple copies right away, and carried one around in my car in case I ran into friends I photographed who were in the book. I brought it to a senior center where I had captured a few friends having fun at a bingo game. (In addition to writing and photographing, I also spend time caregiving, volunteering and helping out with activities for seniors receiving memory care.) I read the excerpt nearest their photo and they seemed truly charmed and interested.

 Shortly thereafter I decided to share it with a client who was experiencing the decline into dementia. Her image was not in the book but she did like me to read to her. We had done this less and less recently because it was increasingly difficult for her to concentrate or follow a story. But she was sufficiently interested because I was involved, so I began reading the same passage about accomplishing goals well into old age.

 Her brow lifted and a smile came across her face. She then shared an anecdote about her elder sister. I read another entry, and again was met with smiles and the sharing of memories. We read several pages together as I asked her questions like, “Have you ever felt that way?” And she responded with enthusiasm and even asked me to re-read lines she especially liked.

 I brought the book to an adult family home and shared a few excerpts with clients there. Again it was a great conversation catalyst. I began bringing it with me whenever I would go into a caregiving situation, as well as visiting folks in the hospital.

The entries are usually little more than a page long and so are easily followed, sometimes even by someone with memory lapses. Most have an uplifting message or lesson, which is also helpful when caring for someone with dementia because often there seems to be a tendency toward fear or frustration, which can easily lead to anger.

Barb, the author, is very clear and sensory in her descriptions of what’s happened and how it made her feel. Some of the situations and thoughts are common and relatable, while some of the vignettes describe a singular or unique experience.  With either one, Barb usually guides us to some universal truth or allows us to nod in agreement, exclaiming, “Me too!”

I’m always looking for teaching tools or activities to share with my clients in memory care and to stimulate positive feelings and interaction. Sharing the book has been a fun, easy and beautiful experience, allowing me a new doorway to communication and a way for my clients and me to enjoy our times together. I can’t wait for the new edition.

a-bridgetenders-view-_-front-cover-only