The Two Most Obnoxious Communication Habits

I once wrote an email to a work colleague that included a complaint about certain people not doing a very important part of their jobs. I didn’t write this to gossip. I wrote this in the hope that she’d be able to put a stop to it. We work different shifts, and I rarely see her, so I thought email would be the best way to communicate in this instance. Silly me.

Instead, she shared my email, without my permission, with another coworker. And he decided to share it with everyone, including the people I had named, so that he could look good by defending these people. My relationship with pretty much everyone has been damaged by this.

There is nothing as obnoxious and outrageous as sharing someone’s email without their permission. Yes, it’s easy to do, so people who would never think to share personal letters don’t hesitate to forward emails. We seem to have forgotten basic etiquette.

Another thing that drives me absolutely nuts is when I call someone, and they put me on speaker phone so that others can hear, without telling me. Someone in my chain of command does this all the time. That person has broken my trust. It makes me not want to talk to him unless absolutely necessary.

I talk to different people in different ways. I share information with some people that I wouldn’t share with others. I should have the right to choose who hears what in my life. Taking that right away from me is unacceptable. And yet it happens all the time.

If you have either one of these bad habits, I urge you to rethink your communication style. Not violating people’s privacy is common courtesy. Thank you.


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Scarred for Life

I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.

I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”

It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.

You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.

But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.

This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.

In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.


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Tent Life

Every day here in Seattle I drive past little homeless encampments. They seem to be everywhere. They gather under the overpasses, in the little clumps of forest, and even on the sidewalks. Their tents are ragged and dirty, and usually they sit amongst a field of garbage. It’s heartbreaking to witness, especially during a pervasive harsh winter drizzle.

This always stirs up a complex stew of emotions in me because I spent a good portion of my childhood living in a tent. Yes, we were that poor. From an adult perspective it astonishes me that we as a family managed to sink that low. But often you can only deal with the cards with which you have been dealt.

There are many aspects of tent life that people don’t even think about. Here are some.

-You never know when you’ll have “company”. My sister once crawled into her sleeping bag and was hit in the knee by a scorpion. We had to rush her to the hospital. My other sister accidentally stepped into a fire ant hill and had such an allergic reaction that her throat closed. Another hospital visit. Since our tent experience was in Florida, we also had to contend with snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, lizards, mice, and cockroaches.

People will accuse you of being lazy. There was a complicated set of circumstances that caused us to live in a tent, but laziness wasn’t one of them. I have worked since I was 10 years old. There wasn’t a single member of my family that wouldn’t have moved heaven and earth to get out of our situation. It’s just really hard to focus on shelter when you are struggling to obtain adequate food and clothing. This pervasive attitude that poor people need to just snap out of it and get with the program has got to change.

None of your possessions are safe. Ever. I’ve yet to come across an efficient way to lock a tent. I never knew when I was going to come home from school to find that things had been taken from me.

It’s impossible to stay healthy. I had bronchitis for, literally, years. My lungs are permanently scarred. You’ll also be exposed to ringworm, scabies, lice, colds, flu, athlete’s foot, sunburn, heat exhaustion and hypothermia.

There’s this constant state of shame. As a child, you’re self-conscious enough without having to hide the fact that you have substandard living arrangements. You don’t invite friends to visit you. That would be totally out of the question.

It’s nearly impossible to stay clean. Sweep and scrub all you want. You’re going to track in sand and mud and bugs. Think of it as camping times 1000. And your shower and bathroom facilities are going to be 100 yards away if you’re lucky, and that fact isn’t going to change if you’re sick or it’s raining or you have to pee in the middle o the night or the temperatures are in the low 30’s.

You have no privacy. Forget about having a room to yourself. You have nothing to yourself. And you are most likely surrounded by other people who live in tents as well, and just as with the general population, a certain percentage of them are bound to be predators. And again, tents don’t lock.

Nothing in your life will ever be dry. Try storing clothing long term in a tent some time. Now throw in your school books, your food, what few worldly possessions you manage to keep from getting stolen. Then mix that with a thin wall of tent fabric between you and every torrential rain. Toss in humidity for good measure, and the added threat of mold.

Expect to battle depression. As if the constant anxiety of worrying about where your next meal will come from isn’t enough, now cover yourself with a wet wool blanket of gloom so that everything seems to take ten times as much energy as it should. (And it probably does, because you’re constantly sick.) Then multiply that by years on end and tell me how easy it would be for you to maintain a positive outlook.

Most people drive past these homeless encampments and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Not me. I think, “Please, God, never again.”


The Book in You

I find humans to be fascinating creatures. No two are completely alike, even if they’re identical twins. Each one is shaped by different life experience. Every single one dresses differently, looks unique, reacts to things in his or her own special way. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, people are like boxes of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get.

I have a theory that if I’m finding someone to be boring, either they have an overactive sense of privacy, or I’m not being properly inquisitive. I’m convinced that everyone has at least one story within them. In that way people seem like gifts to me, just waiting to be unwrapped.

More than once in my life I’ve discovered that I had been working closely with someone who had quite an amazing private life, but that fact was only revealed to me after they had left the job or passed away. After getting over the shock of the information, I’m usually left with a sense of profound disappointment and a boatload of unanswered questions. I’ve always had a hard time accepting the fact that not everything is my business.

Writers should be grateful that their talent isn’t universal, or the world would be inundated with autobiographies and they’d be out of a job. But having a story and being able to tell it are two very different things. Then again, I have to remind myself that not everyone wants to tell their story. That’s so foreign to my nature as to be incomprehensible. I suppose that’s why I’m a blogger.


Personal Space

People want to touch my hair all the time. It’s freakishly thick, and at various times in my life it has been quite long. I wouldn’t mind so much if they asked first. But no. They just dive right in there. It feels like a violation.

And one time when I was in 7th grade, this boy I didn’t even know walked up to me, stuck his finger in my mouth and ran it along my gum line. Of course I slapped his hand away, but he may as well have been invading my private parts, it was that upsetting. He laughed and walked away. Maybe if I could understand why someone would do such a thing, I’d stop having such a visceral reaction when I think about it, even 40 years later. Ugh.

And at 5’6”, I’m apparently at just the right height for men to elbow me in the chest. Elevators, in particular, are danger zones for this type of behavior. It happens so often that I sometimes wonder if it’s intentional. If so, it’s not cool. In fact, it really hurts.

I don’t know how pregnant women cope. Having total strangers touching my belly would freak me out. Bald guys get treated to unexpected touches too.

And then there are the cultural differences in personal space. I had a very hard time when I lived in Mexico. People there are right up on you. It made me really uncomfortable, even though they didn’t mean anything aggressive by it. I’m sure I have the same effect on people from places that enjoy an even larger bubble of independence than I do.

Would you enter a stranger’s house without knocking? Do you rummage around in another woman’s purse without permission? Would you walk up to a random diner in a restaurant and help yourself to what’s on his or her plate? No? Then maybe you might want to consider keeping your hands to yourself.

Me in hairier times.
Me in hairier times.

Fence Talking

When the weather is nice here in Seattle, I kind of feel obligated to take advantage of it. I spend a lot more time in my back yard here than I ever did in Florida. What people don’t tell you about the Sunshine State is that the sunshine also comes with 100 percent humidity that presses down on you even at 3 am, as well as 3 inch long cockroaches, fire ants, snakes, and mosquitoes. Here in Seattle the climate, when it’s feeling cooperative, is like paradise.

Times like these, it’s excellent to have nice neighbors. It’s good to be able to fence talk with someone, but it’s a fine art. You have to remember that one’s home is one’s castle, and people do want a certain level of privacy. You don’t want to get all up in each other’s business, but it can be comforting to be able to exchange pleasantries, and feel as though there’s someone you can go to for jumper cables if your car battery dies.

It takes a bit of effort not to cross the line when fence talking. You want to know each other’s names, of course, and the names of each other’s pets. Pets, in fact, are a nice safe topic. You can talk about your dog’s antics and stay comfortably within the fence talk realm. The weather is a good subject, too. And perhaps what you plan to plant in your back yard. Cordial, but not intrusive, is what you’re aiming for. And when both parties know those rules, it can be a wonderful place to be indeed.

I can tell that there won’t be much fence talking with my neighbor on the other side. He always looks like he’s sucking on crab apples, and the few times I’ve attempted to say hello, he has responded with a grunt. This leaves me wondering if I’ve done something to irritate him, and it makes me quite uncomfortable. When I sit outside I tend to turn my back on his yard. I suppose stand-offish indifference beats outright hostility, but it does seem a bit of a shame, because some day it might be his turn to come asking for jumper cables. You just never know.

Neighbors greeting each other over fence

[Image credit:]

Is it a Seattle Thing?

Since moving to the Emerald City, I’ve noticed a few odd things. I don’t know if they are pure coincidence, or if they’re some form of Pacific Northwest culture that I’m finding hard to comprehend.

The first is eye contact. It seems that you get one of two extremes from people here. Either you get no eye contact at all, or you get someone who pins you down with this non-blinking, inescapable stare that makes you want to hide behind something large. Even if you bob and weave those staring eyes follow you.

I tested the no eye contact type of person today. I wore antlers to work. I had a 10 minute shift change with my supervisor in a small room, and sure enough, she didn’t even notice. No, she wasn’t ignoring it. She never even looked up. How do you overlook antlers?

Another thing is either a strong sense of privacy or a total lack of curiosity. I’ve been wearing this big brace on my wrist for several weeks now. It makes it hard to sign credit card receipts or put on jackets or carry groceries. And yet not one single person has said, “What happened to you?” In Florida, total strangers would have been stopping me in the street to inquire. Every cashier would have wanted to know. I’d have gotten sick of hearing, “Well, bless your heart” after telling the story.

The third thing kind of makes sense. It’s a total lack of acknowledgement of rain in any form. I’ve seen people gardening in the rain. Jogging, rowing, playing sports… they’re not going to let a little rain slow them down. This is probably coupled with the fact that not once since I’ve been out here have I heard a crash of thunder or seen a flash of lightning. In Florida when it rains we take cover. Storms in Florida can kill you. Here they just benevolently drive you crazy.

The final thing I find kind of hard to describe. It’s like… nice, but not. You meet someone, and they’re so incredibly friendly that you start thinking you’ve really hit it off with this person. It seems like you’re making a friend. You get all happy. And then they say, “Nice meeting you! Bye!” and off they go. Are friendships a dime a dozen here, where you can just dismiss someone you click with like that? Or is the friendliness insincere? It’s very disconcerting, and makes me question every connection I think I make.

Half the time I have no idea what the cultural subtext is in this amazing city. But I’m looking forward to getting to the bottom of it. If I figure these things out I’ll be sure to let you know.


[Image credit:]

Secret Squirrel

I know several people who have a very strong sense of privacy. They don’t reveal anything to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary. They are listeners, not talkers. They observe the world, and keep their opinions about it to themselves.

On more than one occasion I have been shocked to my very core when I’ve found out something about one of these Secret Squirrel types after having known them for years. Often it’s pretty major stuff, too. Not necessarily anything sinister, but usually it’s something that fundamentally alters my view of that person.

Part of me wishes I could be that self-protective. But on the other hand, these people seem kind of tense to me. They’re a bit paranoid and suspicious. And to be honest, even though I know I shouldn’t take their behavior personally, it’s hard not to get my feelings hurt because it makes me feel untrusted, and if you can’t figure out after decades of friendship that I’m trustworthy, that just makes me sad.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m way too wide open. Because of that, I’ve been taken advantage of. On the privacy spectrum I’m at the opposite end. There has to be a happy medium out there, where you’re open to love and friendship and closed to swindlers and scumbags. I think with time I’m slowly working my way toward it. It’s a process.

secret squirrel

The Thin Veil of Fame

I just had a rather surreal experience. I was bored and in need of something to do while I procrastinated, so I went on Youtube and stumbled upon a short series called Celebrity Big Brother UK 2002. I’ve always been a Big Brother fan, and this series was only 10 days long, much shorter than a typical Big Brother season, which usually lasts for an entire summer, so I thought, why not? Here was an opportunity to be a voyeur but without the long term commitment.

To summarize, 6 celebrities entered a house where cameras watched them 24 hours a day, and the public voted them off one by one. It was all to raise money for charity. But what made the experience so strange for me was that I didn’t know any of these people. They are celebrities from a different country, and removed by more than a decade. If I passed one of them on the street, I wouldn’t even look up, most likely.

Some of them desperately wanted the world to see what they were really like, while others were more interested in closely guarding their personal character. They were all very conscious of public perception. Several of them talked about how they didn’t have a private life.

But I can’t emphasize this enough: I did not know these people at all. So really, it was pretty much like watching a regular Big Brother season, only at an accelerated pace. To me, they were just people on a reality show.

That must be a really strange feeling. It is all to one extreme or another. Everyone they meet is either a fan or a total stranger. How do you live your life when you’re constantly crossing that border from celebrity to anonymity? What does that do to your ego? How do you approach people when you don’t know which side of the spectrum they will fall on? What’s more shocking, being recognized or being ignored?

If I didn’t know it already, this experience convinced me of the artificial nature of fame. It must be awfully stressful to spend so much time trying to cling to something that is as insubstantial as smoke. It also reinforced the fact that there’s really no need to worry about what people think of you. In the overall scheme of things, we as individuals aren’t really that important, and we need to get over ourselves.

Next time I cross paths with a celebrity I won’t be nearly as intimidated. Actually, I’ll probably feel kind of sorry for them. I may not have much, but I do have a stable sense of my own identity, and can rely on the fact that most people won’t remember me three minutes after I’ve left the room. To be honest, that sure beats the alternative, as far as I can tell.


Famous people or total strangers?

[Image credit:]

Palliative Measures for Fame

When Diana married Prince Charles, I was a junior in high school. All the girls around me were starry eyed and envious of her. Not me. I couldn’t imagine a worse fate than being thrust headlong into the public eye with no respite for the rest of your life. No privacy. No quiet. No way to know who your friends really are. Constant commitment and obligation and expectations and criticism. Continually being told how you must behave. This, to me, is not a happily ever after scenario. It’s more like the definition of hell. I don’t care how gilded your cage is, it’s still a cage.

I wouldn’t want to be famous. I often wonder what I would do if I found myself in that situation, though. I think I’d make a lot of effort to have some type of anonymity.

I’d spend a lot of time in the virtual world of Second Life. No one can know who you are there, unless you tell them. I’ve made a lot of really good friends there, but in truth I have no idea who they are in the real world. Sometimes I’ll sit at a party, talking to people that have been friends for years who I’ve gotten to know based purely on their character, without judging them based on their appearance or skin color or notoriety or possessions, and I’ll think, “One of these people could be Paul McCartney.” If so, then good for him. For a brief shining moment he gets to be treated like everyone else. That must be a huge relief.

I’d also probably start an anonymous blog so that I could express my opinions and get honest feedback from people. For all you know, I am Paul McCartney.

I suppose there are people out there who thrive on fame, but I can’t imagine how. Nothing and no one around you is real. Everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants to be seen with you. Not because you’re you, but because you’re the brand that you’ve become.

I think the reason child actors so often self-destruct is that they’ve never ever had a taste of reality. It’s hard enough going through puberty and trying to figure out who you are and what you should do with your life without being surrounded by a bunch of plastic yes-men who are willing to tell you absolutely anything in order to keep the money rolling in. At a time in your life when you need all the good advice you can get, it must be terrifying to know that you are completely on your own.

So even though I know I’m irresistible, I’ll have to ask you to try to control yourself. I can do without your adulation. Thanks anyway.