Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.
But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.
I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.
So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)
The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.
Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.
Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.
After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.
But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.
I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.
Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.
By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.
Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.
When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.
The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.
After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.
And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.
I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!
Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.
For most of my life, I’ve had jobs with very set schedules. Granted, they’ve not always been the best schedules. For example, I worked graveyard shift for 13 years. But at least I could count on when I was coming and going. I could plan my leisure activities and make appointments. I’m someone who thrives on stability and routine.
Several of my coworkers have no set schedule. They fill in for people on vacation, or for those who call in sick. They never know what day or shift or location they’ll be in from one week to the next. They can’t even count on the amount of income they’ll bring in at any given time. That would drive me absolutely nuts.
I’ve seen many people, who are not in their position, display a distressing lack of sympathy for such workers when they hear them complain. To them I say that it’s impossible to understand the situation unless you experience it yourself.
In essence, when you work a flex schedule, you have no life. It’s impossible to maintain a social life under those circumstances. People lose patience when you cancel on them too often. You can’t really make plans. How do you buy non-refundable concert tickets when you can’t even be sure if you’ll have to work? And even if you’re not “officially” on call, you’re never off the clock psychologically. You’re basically a slave to your employer’s whims.
I know a lot of people who work jobs of these types. Nurses, waitresses, security guards, taxi drivers, and the self-employed. It takes an incredible amount of self-discipline, patience, budgeting, and the ability to maintain your sanity on constantly changing sleep schedules.
I admire these people. I am grateful that I don’t count myself among their number. But the next time you are tempted to be dismissive of their hard work, remember that without them, our world would cease to function.
The alarm was set. I swear to God. But the volume was turned down.
I rolled over and looked at the clock an hour later. “Oh, Sh**!!!!!!”
“You’re here???” dear husband said. He had just been thinking how impressed he was that I’d managed to get ready for work and leave without waking him up.
I ran around the house, leaping over dogs and trying to figure out what to do. I did a fairly accurate imitation of one of those squirrels who sees a car bearing down on him, and can’t decide which way to run. At one point I was wearing my husband’s glasses, and wondering why I couldn’t see. I vaguely recall running into several rooms for no apparent reason.
I couldn’t figure out how to use my phone. My brain does not thrive on these abrupt transitions. I knew I had to call someone, but who?
I called my coworker as I rushed into the bathroom. “How long will it take you to get here?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know! I’m on my way! Less than an hour. I’m so sorry! Sh**!”
I was out of the bathroom and changing my clothes and out the door, shouting goodbye over my shoulder, in less than 6 minutes.
Thank goodness I have a hairbrush in my car. Unfortunately, I don’t have a toothbrush. And I hadn’t taken my morning meds. This is not the first time I’ve been grateful that I don’t do makeup.
I got to work, only 9 minutes late, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I refuse to incriminate myself regarding how many traffic violations I committed to do so, and how many times I questioned myself along the way to make sure I was driving to the correct drawbridge.
Upon arrival, I looked in the mirror and realized I still had marks on my face from my CPAP mask. I’d gladly pay someone $500 to let me go back to bed. That offer is still on the table.
As I write this, I’m sitting here feeling gross because of skipping so many steps in my morning hygiene regimen, and kind of resentful of the fact that even though I got an extra hour of sleep, I didn’t get to enjoy it. And I’m doing that leg shaking thing that I thought I got over in my 20’s.
The other day I said to my husband, “Do you think we’ll ever settle down to a nice, quiet routine, or do you think we’ll always be in a state of barely controlled chaos?”
His response was, “Well, we are five…”
Indeed we are. Two adults, three dogs, all with different needs and desires. And while having dogs may not be as complex as having children, they do make an impact.
There are things we do because I’m suffering from a bad cold. There are things we do because our car was recently totaled. There are things we do because one dog is deaf and going blind. There are things we do because one dog is prone to biting and generally showing his a**. There are things we do because one dog is easily frightened.
We are still working on transferring my possessions from one location to another. We’re learning everybody’s sleep habits. We’re adjusting to various energy levels. There are work schedules to consider, and doctor/vet appointments, and errands. There are birthdays and anniversaries and relatives and friends. There are walks to be taken and cars to be repaired and a never-ending pile of clothes to be washed. There are meals to plan and prepare and eat.
When I was single, I could blow a lot of this stuff off. But now we are five, and things are exponentially more complex, chaotic… and delightful.
I spend about 4 hours a day working on this blog. I’m fortunate in that I have the kind of job that allows me to do much of this while on the clock. If I had to dedicate this much of my free time to keep this engine chugging along, trust me, you’d be staring at a blank page.
The truth is, though, I don’t blog every day. Actually, I write two posts a day, four days a week. At least, that’s my goal. The nice thing about WordPress is it allows me to postpone my publishing date, so I can have them come out one a day, one minute past midnight, Pacific time.
If I don’t have at least 10 posts in queue at the end of my four day writing week, I’m very uncomfortable. My world doesn’t feel quite right. I genuinely believe that this weekly routine has improved my writing greatly over the years.
Sometimes I plan even farther ahead. For example, if I have a vacation coming up, I try to get enough posts in queue that I don’t have to mess with it during that time. (I love you guys, but sometimes I need a break.)
But who am I kidding? Even on holiday, the first thing I do when I wake up is check my statistics to see how many people have been reading my musings, and try to get a sense of what brought them here. I also post a link to the day’s publication on my Facebook group, The View from a Drawbridge. Then I run back over to my statistics and watch them spike, because a lot of my readers find me through Facebook. I’m averaging 106 views a day, now. What a rush.
I also try to respond to all comments the moment I see them. I figure if someone has taken the time to read what I write and respond to it, the very least I can do is reply. And I love the comments most of all, because it makes me feel like we have a community, here. And often that feedback from what I call Drawbridge Nation inspires other writing topics, which is wonderful.
Every day, I also reread and edit every single post that’s in queue. That means that if you see a typo, I’ve likely overlooked it as many as 10 times. Shame on me. (I really do appreciate it when you guys point errors out to me, though, so I hope you’ll keep it up.) Often the final draft is so different from the original as to be unrecognizable.
But that also means that I don’t want to get too much more ahead than 10 days. More than that and I feel so removed from the topic in question as to have become bored with it. I’m so over my writing after the 10th edit.
Another thing I try to do is link back to other posts that have something to do with the one you’re reading. After 6 years, I have quite the backlog to draw upon. New readers seem to appreciate this the most.
And after more than 2,200 posts, I’ve found it useful to keep a spreadsheet with the titles, the date published, and a short sentence as to what each post was about. In alphabetical order. With a link to the post. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to find anything, and since the ultimate goal is writing anthologies, this is a tool well worth maintaining.
I also link to other sources of information whenever possible. I’m humble enough to realize that there are others out there with more expertise and insight than I have. It is my hope that my posts are starting points for people, not dead ends.
And I enjoy finding really interesting pictures to include in each post. I’ve discovered that a lot of search engines have a way to filter their photographs so you can choose one that is “free to use or share.” If ever I were to be approached by someone who said that I didn’t have permission to use a photograph, I’d take it down immediately. I really do take copyright seriously. But I love the fact that it’s often the photo that draws the reader in.
One thing I do every waking moment is think in terms of blog fodder. Things I see or do. Conversations I have. The news of the day. Suggestions from you, dear reader. All can inspire a post. I have a long list of ideas for future posts. Some have been on the list for so long that I can barely remember what I was talking about. I’ve come to view everything through the filter of my blog. It’s second nature to me now. Like breathing out and breathing in. (I also tend to think in terms of song lyrics.)
This blog came to life because it occurred to me that I spend a great deal of time all alone in my little bridge tower, staring at the same view day in and day out, and because of that I notice minute details that most people overlook. I figured this blog would last 6 months, if that. But now I can’t imagine life without it, and without all of you. It’s such a big part of my routine, and such a source of joy for me.
What a gift. What a gift. And your reading of my writing is what makes it come alive. You are the nuts and bolts of this blog. So thank you, dear reader. Thank you for taking this journey with me.
(And a big thank you to Ray for suggesting this topic!)
Most of us have routines that allow us to go on autopilot from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning. (Some people even wake up seconds before the alarm. I can’t decide if I envy them or not.)
We all have our ways of getting ready to face the day. The thing is, no two people’s ways are exactly alike. Which means that routines aren’t really that routine after all, when you think about it.
One of the hardest things to get used to when you’re in a new relationship (if I am remembering correctly from what seems like an eternity ago) is your partner’s way of doing things. It takes some adjustment. (Don’t believe me? How many people have either said or heard, “Would you please put the toilet seat down!” at least once in their lives?)
I used to live with someone who would cover the kitchen counter with washcloths, to keep it from being scratched. It used to drive me absolutely nuts. When he was out of town, those stupid washcloths would disappear, believe you me. But when he got back, out they’d come again. Sigh. I suppose if that’s the worst thing I had to complain about, I was doing rather well. But still. You know?
I also know someone who pulls out about a foot and a half of dental floss every time she flosses. Why? I don’t know. She probably doesn’t even know at this juncture.
The point is, there are billions of different ways to live life. I find that equally amazing and daunting. We have so many choices. The world is full of possibilities.
I’m starting to wonder if I could adjust to someone else’s routine after 53 years of doing my thing. I’m not sure I have the energy. As my memory gets worse, I even find that I sometimes surprise and/or irritate myself. So, yeah, there’s that.
I go to work. I come home. I start dinner. I sit on my back porch in my fifteen dollar red plastic Adirondack chair, and put my feet up on my brown plastic thrift shop stool.
My dog Quagmire jumps on my lap. Sometimes I ask him to tell me about his day. He’s never very forthcoming.
I enjoy the sunshine when I have it. I enjoy the rain, too. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just sit and think about the fact that I’m not spending any money at this exact moment, and that’s a relief.
When dinner’s ready, I eat it, in my Adirondack chair, this time sans Quagmire, unless you count his baleful stare from the back stoop. (He’s been fed, but to hear him tell it, it’s never enough.)
I look at the lawn and tell myself I really ought to mow. I water my flowers. I do that much.
I go inside and put my dirty dishes on the growing pile in the sink. Maybe I take a bath. Maybe not. If I have a pimple, I pop it. Etc.
I change into a tank top and climb into bed. Maybe I watch Hulu. Maybe I check Facebook. Maybe I text a friend. Sooner or later I just spoon with Quagmire and go to sleep. As I drift off, I think about how lucky I am.
The next day, I wake up, get dressed, poach myself an egg, feed the dog and go to work. My life isn’t exciting. But it’s enough for me.
I used to know someone who would tell the same jokes and bad puns over and over and over again. They were funny the first time or two. But as the years went by they kind of got irritating. Then I started feeling sorry for him, because I’d see the looks on people’s faces when he’d trot out the same hackneyed quips.
I guess he figured that if they worked once, it was best to stick to the tried and true. But trust me: humor has an expiration date. Especially topical humor. I’m sure there were jokes about Abraham Lincoln, for example, but who would laugh at them now? And some humor stops being socially acceptable with time. (“I beat my wife up every morning. Ha!”)
The most annoying thing is that I can still hear him telling these stupid jokes in my head when the circumstances are right. That makes me grit my teeth. It’s like I’m stuck in a bad joke feedback loop and I can’t get free no matter how hard I try.
So here’s my advice for people who like to make others laugh: change your material frequently. The funniest people have creative minds. They are in the moment. They adapt to circumstances. If you stick to one never-changing routine, people will get sick of hearing it, whether they admit it to you or not. Predictable isn’t funny. Just saying.
I kill quite a bit of time playing Magic Jigsaw Puzzles on my laptop. It keeps me out of trouble. And it allows me to stop mind grinding on things. Sometimes it just feels good to allow yourself to go on automatic pilot, you know?
The app provides you with a free puzzle of the day, and you never know what it’s going to be. To add to the excitement, they do not allow you to preview the image. It’s like completing a real life puzzle without having the benefit of the picture on the box.
Most of the time that’s not a problem. I can figure out what I’m assembling, more or less, rather quickly. Obviously that’s the sky. And there’s water. Or a building. Or the fur of some animal or other. The more I’ve completed, the easier it becomes. I wish all of life were like that.
But sometimes they’ll choose an image that is so abstract that I don’t know what I’m creating until the very last minute. Those days drive me crazy. I like to plan ahead. I like to see where I’m going. I prefer to apply a certain amount of logic to my actions. How else do you figure out what to do next?
I don’t know why those particular puzzles push me so far out of my comfort zone, because they’re actually a metaphor for life. The idea that we can anticipate what’s coming is pure illusion. Most of us like to stick to our routines, but those routines can be shattered in an instant. We think there’s a plan, made by us or by some spiritual entity, but really it’s all pretty freakin’ random.
I don’t like thinking about this very often, but life is truly a puzzle without the box.
I was just the right age to be tortured by the Watergate hearings. I was 8 years old in 1973 and those hearings pre-empted daytime television for weeks. At that age, it felt like years. I had no idea that a gripping piece of political history was unfolding before my eyes. I thought I would lose my mind, since television was one of my primary forms of after school entertainment back then. I remember wailing, “I’m bored!!!” to my mother, and she’d reply wearily, “Read a book.” Usually I’d just sit on my swing and cry. I was such a brat.
I have no idea where I got the idea that I should be entertained at all times. It’s insane, when you think about it. Saying you’re bored is like saying you are entitled to constant pleasure. I don’t know anyone who enjoys that level of privilege. Even the super-rich have to suffer through board meetings and long flights to Australia. Boredom visits us all.
I suspect that Generation Z will have an even harder time coping with boredom, because they have so many different ways to avoid it. If they’re treated to presidential investigations (fingers crossed, here), well, there’s always Netflix. I would have killed to binge watch something, anything, I Love Lucy, whatever, back in 1973.
Nowadays I’m kind of grateful for boredom. Please, God, give me a routine, predictable day with no surprises. Because the older you get, the more you experience those moments of “un-boredom” that are exciting little tastes of hell. The death of loved ones. Waiting for medical test results. Those times when your kid drops off the radar. Political shenanigans. Work SNAFUs. That strange noise in the back yard when you’re home alone.
You’re not bored at those moments, believe you me! Not even a little bit! That’s when you realize that boredom is actually a luxury.
So boredom can visit me any time it wants. I’m always grateful for an excuse to take a nap. And yeah, okay, my mother was right. You can never read too many books.