The Things I Block Out

Every time a car drives over my drawbridge, its tires make a thu-thunk sound as they hit the expansion joint. I must hear it 20,000 times a day. But I don’t, really. Not anymore. It’s as routine to me as the sound of my own breathing, or the squealing of the mini-fridge.

It makes me wonder what else I block out. I sure wish I could block out the sound of my dogs barking when I’m trying to take a nap. And to block out the sound of Trump’s voice, I have to turn off the television or the radio entirely. Otherwise it’s like nails down a chalkboard to me.

I just sat here for a few minutes and tried to listen, really listen, to everything going on around me. It’s not as easy as you’d think. It requires focus, and that’s not something I’m particularly skilled at. It’s sort of like meditation in reverse. Letting everything in.

And jeez, it’s a noisy world we live in! All manner of mechanical humming. Engine noises. Snippets of conversation. The wind and rain. Sirens in the distance. The sounds emanating from my own body. The impatient tapping of my foot. Music. Televisions. Airplanes. Distant train whistles. Joggers’ feet. Seagulls crying.

It occurs to me that much of what we block out is generated by humanity. That’s kind of ironic. The world would be a much quieter place without us.

I think it would be extremely cleansing to take a vow of silence. Cleansing, but impractical. Which is probably why I block so much out in the first place.

It’s all about preserving one’s sanity. Life, only filtered. We may have to live with the impurities, but we don’t have to dwell upon them.

http _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_2_26_Old_brick_wall

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The Post-Holiday Snarkle

Is snarkle even a word? I hope not. Because I’m making it one now. Remember, you heard it here first, dear reader. I wish I could work up the energy to copyright it.

It’s the day after Christmas, and after all that build up, as usual, I feel a bit of a let down. I’m tired. I’m glad it’s over with. I won’t miss Christmas music. I just want to wallow in the fatty leftovers and settle in for a long winter’s nap.

I dread taking down the decorations. I am so over beating myself up for not mailing out Christmas cards. I plan to enjoy some peace and quiet.

I am, indeed, in a snarkle. That’s a sparkle hangover. That’s a desire to be snarky but resisting the urge. It’s also the sound I’m making because I’ve come down with a nasty winter cold, mainly because I’ve had a lot more human interaction than I do the rest of the year. It’s a phlegmy sound, deep within my sinuses. Snarkle.

Now, to just get through New Years Eve. One hurdle at a time.

I think I need some fruitcake. Not.

Post-Holiday Snarkle

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Cautious? Me?

During my wedding ceremony, one of the things I said to my husband-to-be was, “You’re the more cautious one.” Afterward, a friend came up to me and expressed her total shock about that. In a nice way. She’s a pure delight. But the implication was that she found it really hard to imagine that anyone could be more cautious than I am.

That, to me, is really fascinating.

Okay, standing beside that friend, I’m sure I come off as shy and retiring. She’s amazing. She’s colorful. She’s larger than life. Total strangers will stop her on the street to talk to her. (Which is wonderful, unless you’re with her and happen to be in a hurry.) She lights up every room that she enters. She’s got that indescribable “it” factor. Rock on, my friend!

But my being quiet, thoughtful, and ever-so-slightly slower moving does not necessarily equate with caution. Let’s review:

I’ve been to 19 countries.

I lived in Mexico, all alone, when I was 19.

I spent a summer away from home, doing construction work on an Air Force Base, when I was 16.

I used to camp deep in the forests of Appalachia, a week at a time, with only my dogs for company.

I survived a childhood of sexual abuse.

I have met several friends face to face that I had previously only known on line.

I worked graveyard shift, in total isolation, for 13 years.

I sold my house and moved three hours south, where I knew no one, to go back to college.

I started over, yet again, moving 3100 miles from Florida to Seattle, at age 49. It was a place where I had never been, and where I knew no one.

I managed not to have children despite intense societal pressure.

I got married for the first time at age 53.

Have poured my heart and soul out in this daily blog since 2012, revealing things about myself that many people wouldn’t even have told their best friends.

I’ve published a book.

None of this sounds particularly cautious to me.

I may not be flamboyant or loud or outgoing, but does that mean I’m cautious? Hell to the no!

Brave Cat

There Goes the Neighborhood

I’ve been house hunting, and I can tell, almost immediately, if I’d be a good fit for a neighborhood. If there are wide expanses of manicured lawns, I definitely will not fit in. And I would chafe under rules that dictated what color I paint my mailbox. I’m not a “keep up appearances” kind of person, if I can possibly avoid it. I prefer a yard that’s pretty much au naturel, and my tastes can be unorthodox.

I love dandelions, because the bees love them. I don’t know why people object to moss or dollar weed. I mean, it’s green and it’s flat, right? What’s the big deal? Lawns were a French affectation that unfortunately caught on, and have been a nightmare for the environment ever since. I will not, absolutely will NOT fertilize my lawn. That crap gets into the watershed, and it’s one of the reasons that the river in Jacksonville gets choked with green slime every summer.

I like to plant flowers that will attract butterflies and bees and hummingbirds. I love to grow heirloom tomatoes, although I’m not great at it. I dream of having a bat house in my back yard. I think squirrels have as much right to food as any other creature. Possums keep the tick population under control. And if I feel like paining my house hot pink, I’ll do so (although it’s unlikely).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to leave junk cars up on cinder blocks in the yard, or moldy couches that fill with mice and stink after a good rain. I’m not going to plant flowers in an abandoned toilet or cook meth (I hate to cook). But if you can’t handle a neighbor’s yard that suffers from benign neglect, or a neighbor who has an interesting concept of art, then we’re going to have issues.

Having said that, I am quiet, I don’t cause trouble, and the police have never been called to my door. I want to steal an idea from a friend and call my next home “Tranquility Base”. I’ll even hold onto your mail while you’re on vacation if you ask, call 911 if I see someone peeping in your windows, and help you look for your dog if he runs away. So I’d like to think I’m a good neighbor to have. I am house hunting in the Seattle area, so if you are looking to sell, please, please contact me first. More details here.

Urchfont Manor
Urchfont Manor. It’s safe to say I do not live here.

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Bad Bridge! Bad!

I’d say that working on a drawbridge is a very zen-like experience 95% of the time. Unfortunately, you never know when that 5% of pure chaos is going to rear up and bite you on the patootie. I had one of those days recently.

I went to bed at 3am. No, I’m not a party animal. It’s just that I didn’t have to be to work until 3pm on this particular day, so I tend to sleep in. Way, way in. It’s one of the few joys of being single, and I take full advantage of it.

So imagine my confusion when the phone rang at 7am, right in the middle of a REM cycle. My dream popped like a bubble. I hate when that happens. For a minute I have no idea where I am, or even who I am. It’s like my brain has to reboot.

I was being called to come in to work early. How early? 11am. They needed me to work a 12 hour shift. Okay. Crap. I set my alarm for 9:30 and went back to sleep. At least I’d be getting 4 hours of double overtime. (Thanks, union!)

So in to work I went, to find that I had company for the first 4 hours. A Trainee. Actually, I like training people. It’s kind of fun. And this was a pleasant person to talk to, whom I could see would work out nicely. As I’ve written before, I can pretty much tell if someone is fit for this job within the first 5 minutes.

But while he was here, the sidewalk camera shorted out. That’s a problem because it means we can’t see all the pedestrians before we open the bridge, and Seattle pedestrians are horrifyingly non-compliant about staying off of moving bridges, despite flashing lights, loud gongs, and us desperately screaming at them. It’s a wonder no one has been killed. So fixing this camera is a top priority. Which means the electricians had to come out. Now we had 4 people crammed into a tiny little room, and that can be a bit emotionally draining. But they fixed the camera and were gone within an hour.

And then it was time for the trainee to leave. Finally, my usual routine. Peace. Quiet. My own domain.

Then the storm hit. Rain was coming down in sheets. And the next thing I knew, BOOM! Lightning struck just south of the bridge. Now, when I was a bridgetender in Florida, I was used to this. It was a rare day when lightning didn’t strike somewhere in my vicinity. But here in Seattle, I’ve only seen lightning three times in the nearly three years I’ve been here, so I nearly jumped out of my skin this time.

And then alarms started going off. Oh, shit. That’s never good. It turns out that 3 of the 4 drives that operate bridge had shorted out. It was after hours, so I called the supervisor of the electricians, and he told me to walk down to both ends of the bridge and push a specific button to reset the drives. All well and good, but the storm was still raging. I had to walk down with lightning crashing all around me. That was fun.

Then I walked back up to the tower, only to discover that one of the drives had reset, but the other two had not. I made a call again, and was told, again, to go down and push the button. Naturally, the two drives in question were on the far side of the bridge, which meant yet another long walk through the electrified tempest.

I came back to the tower. The two drives were still malfunctioning. Phone call number three. This time he said he’d be right out. So I sat there in the tower, drenched in sweat, waiting, as sailboats stacked up like cordwood on the canal, and I was contacted every five minutes by various boaters and had to explain why I wasn’t opening the drawbridge for them.

Could things possibly get worse? Of course! A traffic accident south of bridge backed up traffic for miles, delaying the arrival of the electrician.

And then the phone went dead. I’m getting calls on the marine radio from a variety of employees, asking if I’m sure that the phone is properly hung up. Do I look like an idiot? Of course the phone is properly hung up. Then the phone fixes itself with no intervention on my part, so of course everyone thinks the phone was not properly hung up. Sigh.

Oh, and the sidewalk camera went out again. Fortunately, it, too, fixed itself. Go figure.

The electrician finally makes it through the traffic snarl, and is able to fix things within 45 minutes, bless him. By now I’m so exhausted from the adrenaline rush that I’m nauseous and practically delirious. I have never been so happy to see 11pm in my life. The next challenge is driving home without falling asleep at the wheel.

When I finally get home, my dog is extremely happy to see me. (I just love dogs, don’t you?) So I feed him, take a shower to get all the sweat off, and dive into bed. I suspect I’ll be asleep within 5 minutes, which is a good thing, because I have to be back to work at 7am the next morning. I’ll be lucky to cram 5 hours of sleep in.

Except, did I mention that my dog is extremely happy to see me? I may be ready for bed, but he is not. He wants to play! He wants to tell me about his day. He wants to know where the hell I’ve been for 12 hours. He wants to warn me about the lightning monsters that come from the sky.

I hug him. I give him kisses. I tell him he’s a good dog. I beg him, I plead with him, to settle down. Finally, he curls up by my hip and…the next thing I know, the alarm goes off, and it’s time to do it all over again.

If I were a cartoon character, I’d have one of those squiggly lines above my head right now. I need a hug.


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Becoming Part of the Silence

A friend of mine recently posted this quote on her Facebook page:

In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Lynd

What a lovely sentiment. But it’s harder to do than it seems at first glance. Most of us live in a world full of noise without even realizing it. I know I block out the traffic sounds when I’m at work, and I can’t even remember the last time I took note of the hum of my refrigerator.

I can only recall experiencing total silence once. It was at Mesa Verde National Park. That complete absence of sound was really brought home to me when I saw a raven fly past. I could hear the beating of his wings. I’ll never forget that feeling of awe.

This summer, I’ll be spending several days camping with a friend in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m really looking forward to it. I suspect we’ll not only be off the grid but also off the beaten path. I look forward to gazing at the stars with no light pollution, but more than anything else, I can’t wait to be immersed in the silence. It will be like entering a warm bath on a cold, raw day.

Some people are made uncomfortable by silence. I adore it. It embraces me like an old friend. I only wish it were a little less elusive.


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Gotta Be This or That

My ex-boyfriend used to quote that song whenever he thought I was being indecisive. While I did enjoy the Ella Fitzgerald version that would then run through my head, I still found it to be an annoying habit. The man always did lack subtlety. He saw the world as nothing but black and white. I just happened to see the many shades of gray  as well as a range of colors, which is probably why it takes me a bit longer to make a decision.

I was reminded of this recently when I was talking to a friend about my ever-increasing cyber-presence. She was saying that in my blog in particular I’m wide open. I don’t keep any secrets. And it’s true. This blog is basically me on a page. I’d be easy to find, easy to recognize, easy to talk to as if you’d known me all my life.

But oddly enough, I simultaneously feel like a background person. In my day to day life, I still work in my isolated little bridge tower and most people pass by without even knowing I exist. I go home to my dogs, and only they watch as I reveal my soft underbelly in cyberspace. Or so it seems to me. Often it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m simply talking to myself. I can’t see you guys, after all.

Mine is actually a quiet existence at ground zero. It’s just when you pull back and look at the big picture that you see the buzz of activity and the publicity and the worldwide webbiness that is my life these days.

So which am I? Public or private? Quiet or outspoken? Behind the scenes or in the spotlight? It’s gotta be this or that, right?

Actually, no. Somehow I manage to blend both the black and the white into a varied spectrum of light and shade that seems quite colorful indeed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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Rife with Possibilities

Some mornings I’ll come to work at my drawbridge and it’s quiet. No traffic on the road, no boats in the water. The joggers keep their own counsel. The only sound you hear is the occasional seagull shouting, “Keow! Keow! Keow!”

This is a rare treat. At times like this I wonder if I really am in the middle of Seattle. Maybe everyone is vacationing in Hawaii, and I have the whole place to myself. Maybe everyone finally realized the city has gotten too expensive and relocated en masse, and as per usual I was left out of the loop.

And then I decide that I don’t really care what the reason is. I’m going to take advantage of it. I prop my feet up on the window sill, drink my green tea, and watch the sun rise over Portage Bay. I notice that a light breeze is making gentle ripples on the glass-like surface of the water. Occasionally a fish jumps. I wonder if it’s a salmon. The starlings hop along the sidewalk, eating the spiders out of their webs.

There are no signs of life from the floating homes that line the shore. But then there hardly ever is. If I had the good fortune to live in one of them, I’d be sitting out on the deck every chance I got. But apparently that just isn’t done.

A rowing crew goes by, looking like a water strider skating across the surface of a pond. Suddenly a feeling of excitement washes over me. The day rises up with the sun. What will it bring? The world seems rife with possibilities. I can hardly wait for it to begin.

Then the I-5 bridge starts to hum. Traffic is picking up. Soon I’ll hear my first boat whistle of the day and I’ll need to raise the bridge. But I’ll do my best to maintain that feeling of inner peace, that gift of calm the morning brought to me.


Peace and Quiet

As I write this, a construction crew is tearing up the pavement on my bridge. It’s long overdue, and I’m really looking forward to not having potholes in my parking space anymore, but still, they are making an ungodly racket. I’ve actually had to resort to wearing earplugs, which is making it quite a challenge to hear boats when they request a bridge opening.

Peace is closely linked to quiet for a very good reason. I’m finding it really hard to concentrate due to this hullabaloo, and even harder to write. I’ve noticed I’m shaking my leg again, just like I did throughout my teen years. That’s evidence of an unsettled spirit.

If you don’t have quiet, you can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you make poor decisions. Poor decisions rarely lead to peaceful outcomes. At least that’s been my experience. If you ever want to see me contemplate violence, just let a neighborhood car alarm go off at 3 a.m., and let it continue to blare until the battery runs out. That’s pitchfork and torch time, as far as I’m concerned.

I always used to think that big cities were more crime-ridden than small towns because of the concentrated population. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in the country you can actually hear yourself think. Thinking people are less apt to break laws.

You’ll never see anyone meditating on a construction site. It’s not an ideal place to practice Tai Chi, either. Maybe if I calmly repeat, “Bye-bye, potholes,” as if it’s a mantra, while taking deep cleansing breaths, I’ll exit this experience with my sanity intact.


But I Don’t WANT the Ball in My Court!

One of the things I love most about working on a drawbridge is that usually you have peace and quiet. You plan your day, and for the most part all your ducks remain in an orderly little row. This appeals to my Capricornian sense of organization and my general disdain for hubbub.

Last week, on the other hand, was hellish.

No sooner had I walked in the door when the phone rang. It was someone who barely spoke English, and he was asking for Sebastian. “There’s no one here by that name,” I said politely. He hung up. Five minutes later, a girl called for Sebastian. Same story. Then another guy. I was starting to get irritated.

Finally, after about the 15th call, I got someone who spoke sufficient English to tell me that Sebastian was the director of a tennis club, and that this was the number posted on the contact page of his website. After a quick search on Google, I discovered that sure enough, there was our number in all its glory, amongst the tennis graphics.

Oh, and did I mention there was a tennis tournament coming up? No? Well, there was a tennis tournament coming up, and apparently this required a great deal of communication of the telephonic type.

After about the 30th call, I was finally able to track down their real number, and it turned out that they had gotten one digit wrong on the website. I called them and explained the situation, and they didn’t seem particularly worried about it. They said their computer guy would fix it, but he wouldn’t be back in for a few days.

Seriously? “You guys are missing out on a lot of business,” I said.

By day two and the 50th call, I had come up with a strategy. If the person on the other end of the line spoke English I’d explain the situation, give him or her the correct number, and beg that person to point out that the website needs fixing. I was hoping that if they got even half as pestered as I had, they’d be moved to act.

It took three days. Three days in which I was reminded why I never want an office job again. Three days in which I had more human contact at work than I’d had in the past decade. Three days in which I was sorely tempted to pull out my hair by the handfuls.

Now if I even see so much as a tennis ball I’ll be tempted to take a Xanax.