Bridge Woman

Everyone deserves a place where they feel safe.

As you prepare to eat a nice warm meal on this Thanksgiving day (provided you’re are able to overlook the disturbing colonial overtones of this holiday), and whether you’re spending the day with family or friends or all alone, I hope that you remember to count your blessings, dear reader. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions about your circumstances, but the fact that you have access to the internet tells me that, like me, you’re a lot better off than many people are.

I’d like to tell you about someone who doesn’t have it as good as we do. As I write this, she’s sorting through garbage in a ditch, not 20 yards from where I sit. Perspective.

Here at work, I spend a great deal of time watching the comings and goings of the people who cross my drawbridge. After doing this for a while, I began to spot patterns. I’ve learned people’s routines. I’ve created backstories about them in my head, which, admittedly, are quite likely inaccurate, but it helps me feel a certain kinship with these people, even though they probably don’t even know I exist.

In the past month or so, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of someone that I’ll call “Bridge Woman”. I considered calling her “Drainage Ditch Woman”, but that seems undignified.  And she needs all the dignity she can get.

I suspect that this woman is mentally ill and/or homeless. She spends hours on the bridge approaches, sitting on the curb that separates the sidewalk from the bike lane. She is completely engrossed in the detritus that flows down the drainage ditch. It’s as if she is panning for gold. She doesn’t even look up when someone goes past.

She sorts through the gunk, sifting out little bits of God-knows-what, and puts those things in what she deems to be their proper place. Some things are placed on the sidewalk, some on the curb, and apparently some things don’t pass muster and are returned to the ditch. I’ve tried to figure out her method of categorization, but I’ve yet to succeed.

She doesn’t do anyone any harm, and it is, after all, a public sidewalk, and she’s far enough away from the part of the bridge that moves to be safe, so I let her be. And I’m painfully aware that her odds of continuing to “be” are a lot higher when she sits on this bridge and quietly organizes away. Here, she’s relatively safe. No one hassles her. No one influences her or takes advantage of her vulnerability. If anyone tries to hurt her, there are witnesses. I strongly suspect that these things can’t be said about the rest of her days or nights.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, women comprise only 29 percent of the homeless individuals (as opposed to families) in this country. This means they’re greatly outnumbered in most places. Women who are unsheltered have a much higher risk of premature death, mainly due to mental health and chronic health issues. And, “The rates of victimization and assault, including robbery, physical abuse, and sexual assault are much higher for women than men.”

An article entitled, “Rates of violence against the homeless are worse than you think” spells it out in upsetting detail. It also contains a link to a comprehensive report entitled, “Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness which details stats from 2016-2017.”

Here are some of the statistics from the article and that report that jumped out at me:

  • Life expectancy for someone who is homeless is 20-30 years less than the general population.
  • About 13,000 American homeless people die on the streets each year.
  • 1 in 3 homeless people have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence, including having things thrown at them. Some are urinated on, intimidated or threatened, or verbally abused or harassed.
  • While 1-3% of the general youth population report sexual assault, 21-42% of homeless youth have reported sexual assault. 1 in 3 teens are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of living on the street.
  • 1 in 3 homeless youth engage in survival sex.
  • The experience of violence in the lives of homeless women: A research report, showed that 78.3% of homeless women in the study had been subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking. Those who experience such assault while homeless also lack access to legal, medical and mental health services, which can worsen the post traumatic effects of the experience.
  • The report also briefly focused on Seattle, my city, by saying, “many cities do not often provide free public restrooms that are easily accessible. For example, Seattle, which has the third-largest homeless population in the U.S, only had one functional 24-hour restroom, downtown, as of 2015.”

Homelessness is a rough life for anyone, but it’s even more so for women. So when I see Bridge Woman organizing garbage in the ditch, oddly enough I’m happy she’s there. Yes, I would like much more for her, but given the current state of the world, I think that that ditch is probably a safer place than many of her current societal alternatives. It makes me sad, but I genuinely believe that it’s true.

As winter approaches, and the cold, raw, Seattle weather settles in for the duration, I worry about Bridge Woman. I’m relieved to see that she now has warm clothing and good shoes, and she looks clean enough that she would blend in with the general population if only she were not so focused on the task at hand. I assume that she has been in contact with someone who cares, at least, either personally or professionally.

I hope her situation improves even more.

It probably won’t.

When the ditch is flooded with icy water, she may not enjoy her project quite as much. She’ll most likely choose to pass her time elsewhere. I hope that she continues to find safe places, ideally places that are warm and dry, where she won’t be hassled, even if it’s only for a few hours a day.

Gazing out the window at her, I count my blessings and think that she deserves better. I wonder if people understand how much we have let this woman down, or if they think she gets more than she’s entitled to. I have no idea what she wants or what she can get. I hope she is loved.

At a bare minimum, I’d like to think that all but the most cold-hearted among us can agree that everyone deserves a place where they feel safe. I’m glad my bridge has provided her with that kind of respite, if only for a short time.

I hope, dear reader, that like me, you use this holiday to give thanks for all that is good in your life, rather than thinking back, with pride, on the wholesale theft of this continent and all the bloodshed that was required to rip it from the hands of the people who were already here. If so, then Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude should not require a holiday. But if you’re giving added focus to it on this day, please consider ordering my book, Notes on Gratitude. And happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m so glad you’re here!

Some Scary Statistics

Some dogs don’t let go.

On this, the day before Halloween, I wanted to write something scary. A ghost story. A campfire story that would give all the kiddies a shiver. Fun scary, not scary scary. You get the idea.

But the very moment I had that thought, an article popped up on my computer screen entitled, 2 Children Killed, Mother Hospitalized After Family Pit Bulls Attack Them Outside Tennessee Home. And I realized that this was a topic that is scary/important.

I know this post will ruffle feathers, so I wanted to start off by saying that I love dogs. I really do. I always have. But love brings with it a certain responsibility, and in order to make responsible decisions, one must have information. And all the information I’m providing below can be found if you read all of the links I provide. So here goes.

There are an estimated 90 million pet dogs in America, and they gift us with 4.5 million bites per year. While it’s true that “only” 40-50 Americans die each year from dog attacks, 26% of those fatalities fall in the 0 to 2-year old age range. These children never had a say in what dangers they would be exposed to. And it’s noteworthy that 77% of all maulings come from the family dog or a dog known to the victim.

Between 1982 and 2021, 931 people have been killed by dogs in the U.S. and Canada.

Still, when you consider that we’re talking 90 million dogs in America today, the odds of getting killed by one are startlingly small, almost to the point of insignificance. Unless, of course, you are a victim.

A responsible pet owner makes sure that her/his/their dog, regardless of its temperament, is not put in a position where harming someone is even a possibility. Dogs should be adequately trained, not allowed to roam free, not neglected or abused, and, whenever possible, kept away from situations that might trigger aggression or any type of startle response.

Now, here’s where I get controversial. Let’s delve into pit bulls specifically. I know several people who absolutely love pit bulls, and swear that their dogs are gentle and loving companions that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Yes, the odds are in their favor that this will remain the case. Statistically, it’s true that we humans are 21 times more likely to be killed by a mosquito than we are to be killed by a dog of any breed.

But.

Choosing a pet should be more than just an emotional decision. Yes, I’m willing to concede that pit bull puppies are about as cute as they come. But you are about to allow a creature into your world who, once large enough, is physically capable of killing you or someone you love. (And bear in mind, two 6-month-old pit bull puppies once killed a 7-year-old boy.) Fortunately, most dogs would never make that choice. But it’s something to think about, especially if you have children or other pets.

When choosing a dog, you should consider the disposition of the breed in question. Pit bulls were not bred to be “nanny dogs” as some would have you believe. This article explains the long and complicated history of pit bulls, but the bottom line is that they were originally bred for bull baiting. When that became illegal, they were used in illegal dog fighting. Aggression is what people were seeking when they bred these dogs, and I guarantee that as you read this, pit bulls are fighting in rings all over the world.

A horrific side effect of the history of the aggressive manipulation of this breed is that pit bulls are still the most abused dogs on earth. That certainly doesn’t do anything to improve their disposition, and given that one survey indicates that 41% percent of animal rescue staff would lie about a pit bull’s personal aggressive history in order to find him or her a home, in this instance I would actively discourage dog rescue with regard to pit bulls. There are so many other rescue dogs out there who need your love and attention. I hope you’ll turn your eyes to them.

Pit bulls have a bite force of 235 PSI (pounds of force per square inch). That is similar to a lot of industrial machines that most parents would never let their children play around. There are actually many breeds with a stronger bite force, but pit bulls combine their bite force with an extreme level of tenacity. Some dogs just don’t let go.

Contrary to the persistent myth, a pit bull’s jaws don’t lock. It isn’t that they can’t let go, it’s that they won’t let go once they’re in frenzied attack mode. And to me, that’s even scarier.

When getting a pet, one’s first concern should be public safety, which, of course, includes the safety of you, your loved ones, your friends, and your neighbors. This is why the vast majority of us don’t have lions or tigers or bears curled up on our living room couches. It’s just a bad idea.

So, set aside emotions when making your choice. Look at cold, hard, statistics. They don’t lie. They don’t have an opinion. And below is some pit bull information that I found extremely easy to obtain. I’ll start with the most incontrovertible truth, and the statistic that would be all I’d need to know, personally, in order to give a pit bull a pass:

In the past 16 years, from 2005 to 2020, pit bulls have been responsible for 67%, or 380 dog bite fatalities, in America.

The next most deadly breed is the rottweiler, and they are responsible for 9%, or 51 bite fatalities. All other breeds pale in comparison to those two.

That, to me, is scary. But I hope it doesn’t scare you off dogs in general. The truth is, you have a 1 in 73 chance of getting bit by a dog in the US, and your odds of dying from a dog bite are 1 in 118,776. That’s not bad at all, actually. But from a logical standpoint, you might want to avoid the possibility of greatly improving your chances of being bitten or killed by avoiding the breed that does most of that biting and killing.

Even the Pitbull Federation of South Africa, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the American Pit Bull Terrier in South Africa, an organization that always wishes to portray the breed in a positive light, is realistic about these dogs. They strongly encourage sterilization, and in a public statement, they stressed that they feel that, unfortunately, “99% of pit bull terrier owners should not own a pit bull and that these dogs are owned not because the breed is loved by their owners but because of the standing owning this breed gives the owners in society.”

If you want to read a very detailed statistical breakdown of North America’s scariest encounters with man’s best friend, which includes 9 pages of horrific descriptions of some of the more unusual encounters, I urge you to download this report. Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2021.

In an effort to give you balanced information on this subject, I spent hours looking at several sources, but I tend to rely more on those that provide actual statistical evidence. One such source, which spells out the rarity of dog bite fatalities, but also makes clear the risk factors involved, is the National Canine Research Association of America. They also put out a simple flyer that spells out the most salient points: 15 Year U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Chart – 2005 to 2019

If, after reading all the statistics, you’re still on the fence about pit bulls, then I strongly encourage you to read the many articles listed on a page entitled Voices of pit bull experience. And then, if that isn’t gut-wrenching enough for you, check out this article, entitled Pit bull “nanny dogs” kill three children, two adults, in nine days.

You’re probably wondering if I’m saying you should have your pit bull euthanized if you already own one. I know what it’s like to love a dog. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and my answer would be no, but with a few caveats.

If your dog has displayed worrying signs of aggression, then, sorry, yes, it should be put down. If you have small children, even if your dog has displayed no aggression, your dog should not be allowed around those children unless it is completely under your physical control and supervision. If you are unwilling or unable to provide a pit bull with the continual training and socialization it requires, or if you are not doing everything possible to ensure that your dog isn’t running the streets unsupervised, or if you are neglecting or abusing that dog in any way, then at a bare minimum, your dog should be taken in by someone who is willing to step up to the increased responsibilities that this breed demands.

Keeping your pit bull is potentially a life and death decision. I encourage you to check your emotions at the door and ask yourself if you are doing everything you need to do to ensure the safety of those around you. If you can say yes to that without hesitation, then go for it, but please reassess frequently to make sure you are not becoming complacent.

The biggest takeaway from this post, I suppose, it that, when it comes time to adopt your next dog, I hope you’ll consider all the other breeds out there who need your love and care, and choose one of those. Why throw the potential kill factor into the mix? Pit bulls just aren’t worth the risk.

In the interests of full disclosure, I currently have two dogs. Nelly is a mixed breed old couch potato who leaves the room when anyone approaches. Quagmire, the dachshund, can be aggressive. I discovered that when he bit a neighbor. (And I did the right thing and paid her doctors bills. I also make sure that my pets have all the necessary inoculations to prevent the spread of disease.)

Quagmire has also bitten me and Dear Husband more than once. Usually blood isn’t involved, but not always. I’m not going to lie. It does hurt.

Some people have encouraged me to euthanize Quagmire because of this. Instead, I choose to take the occasional risk, knowing that dachshunds have one of the weakest bite forces of any breed. In addition, Quagmire is an old, 15-pound dog who is missing more than half his teeth, and is therefore not capable of killing us.

However, it’s my responsibility to make sure he can never bite a visitor again. We keep him in our house. We don’t take him to public places. Our back yard is completely and utterly dog-proofed. And if we do have visitors, we have a soft muzzle on hand that we can put on him, which basically causes him to stand still and stare balefully at us.

Quagmire will never kill anyone. And he’ll never hurt anyone who hasn’t volunteered for such treatment (and that’s a short list). I feel we’ve done our due diligence.

In contrast, in the course of my life, I’ve been lunged at by several pit bulls whose owners were walking them on leash on busy urban sidewalks, and I’m sure those owners think that their dogs wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s not responsible pet ownership.

But one pit bull encounter, in particular, stands out for me. I was in a convenience store, prepaying for gas. There was a van parked right at the front door, and I had to walk past it to get to the pump. I wasn’t paying much attention. I certainly didn’t hear any barking. There was no one in the driver’s seat, and the window was wide open. As I walked past, a pit bull came through that window and lunged at my face. I saw it all in slow motion. I felt his hot breath on my eyelashes. I was able to jump out of the way in time, but it was a near thing. I could have been disfigured for life.

And here’s the kicker: the pit bull owner came running out of the store and started yelling at me.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable.

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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What’s Your Idea of Safety?

What does it look like? How does it smell, feel, and sound?

I heard an interesting discussion on NPR recently. A man was conducting a seminar, and he asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine what safety looks like. How does it smell, feel, and sound? Audience members were then asked to share their thoughts.

Someone said safety was making waffles on a Saturday morning for his kids. The smell of the melting butter. The sounds of the kids chattering away while sitting on stools at the kitchen counter.

Other people might think of safety as their warm bed, with its weighted blanket. The room is dimly lit. Everything is quiet.

It could be lying in your husband’s arms in a hammock. The smell of his aftershave. The sound of his snore.

Safety might be listening to Motown music during a backyard bar-b-cue with friends. The sound of burgers sizzling on the grill. The sun on your shoulders.

It might be lying in a field and gazing up at the stars. That feeling of the planet cradling you as it moves through space. Crickets chirping.

I’d probably say it was spooning with my dog. His warm, furry little body against mine. That moment when the day is done and you get to drift off to sleep.

The interesting thing is that the man was conducting his seminar with police officers. They had a variety of responses, along the lines of the above. After they shared, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Isn’t it interesting that none of you said that safety was being with a police officer? And most people, regardless of their occupation, wouldn’t think of a police officer when answering this question. Why is that?”

That’s a very good question. Police officers are supposed to be there to ensure the safety of the public. Yet at some point many of them started viewing us as the enemy, and we have responded in kind. Why? Until we can answer that question, we can’t fix things.

Just something to think about while you make your waffles.

waffles

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At Least I Sometimes Feel Safe

There’s always an oasis somewhere, if I need one.

Believe it or not, I’m glad that things are so racially tense right now. It means that those of us who have been lucky enough to feel comfortable are being forced to look at the awkward bits of life. We can no longer rest as easy in our white privilege. We’re forced to walk in other people’s shoes, at least for brief periods of time.

Have you ever thought about what it might feel like to never feel safe, ever? I mean, I have issues due to past trauma that cause me to feel unsafe much of the time. But even then, I can usually find a place where I can shut the door and make all the monsters go away. I can pull the blankets over my head and rest. I know I can find an oasis somewhere, if I desperately need one. Many people are not that lucky.

Once again, I’ve found a past blog post of mine that deals with this very subject. I hope you’ll read it. It’s entitled, “Be safe going home.”

Let me know what you think.

Driving-While-Black-500x305

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Immortalizing a Fool

Writing immortalizes the subject in question. That’s pretty powerful.

I fell in love with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer when I was introduced to it in high school. It’s a satire of 14th century England, and it lampoons a whole series of character types. The characters are fictional, but some people link them to actual people living at the time. Either way, it’s brilliant.

What I love about writing is it immortalizes the subject in question. No mater what that person does after that time, his or her behavior is trapped, like a fly in amber, forevermore on the page, all at the whim of the author. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Chaucer has shown us buffoons that, if living, would now be 700 years old. If you’re an idiot, beware, because a writer could be watching you, and you will be forever linked with your muddleheaded behavior. Take that.

Although I’m no Chaucer, in memory of him I’ll now immortalize a fool that I encountered once in my bridgetending career. I’ll call him the Hot Pink Glasses Guy. He shall wear those tacky glasses forever more within this blog, long after his taste in fashion has (hopefully) improved.

One day I was at work, and I began a bridge opening for a very large gravel barge that was making its way to a concrete processing plant. This barge passes back and forth on a daily basis. I’ve probably opened the bridge for him a thousand times. I could do it in my sleep if I didn’t care so much about minor things like not getting people killed.

It was a beautiful day, so I had the windows open. Because of that, I could hear someone shouting as he walked down the sidewalk. “Too soon! Too soon!” he screamed.

Oh, great.

I had the bridge completely open by then and the barge was slowly passing through, so I looked out the window at the shouter. It was a skinny white guy, in his early 20’s, jumping up and down in extreme agitation, causing his hot pink glasses to fairly dance on his tense little face. “Too soon!”

Then he crawled under the gate and approached the bridge, which at this point is about 1 million pounds of lurching, swaying concrete and steel.

“Uh, sir, you need to get back behind the gate for your safety.”

“Safety? What do you know about safety? You’re an idiot! You don’t know how to do your job! You opened the bridge way too soon! I studied engineering at the University of Washington. I know what’s safe and what’s not! How is this not safe?”

I could have talked about the fact that the barge weighs more than 3000 gross tons, and can’t exactly slam on his brakes or do a u-turn in the narrow channel, and therefore needs a lot of lead time for safe passage. I could have listed all the people who have died on drawbridges while doing stupid things. I could have talked about my 18 years of experience. But what would be the point? Sigh.

“Well, sir, for starters, you’re behaving irrationally and I don’t know what you’re going to do next. I can’t close this bridge until you get back behind the gate.”

He sat down on the concrete, looking smug. So I added, “Sir, do you see all these other people? You’re holding them up. I could call 911 and wait for them to arrive, but you’re going to have a very angry crowd to deal with until then.”

And sure enough, people started shouting at him. (There’s nothing like public humiliation to get a bridgetender’s desired results.) He slinked back under the gate, but not before one more petulant retort. “Idiot,” he grumbled.

I closed the bridge, but before it was completely seated, this genius walked across the street, crawled under that gate, and crossed the still-closing bridge. Because that’s safe. Because he’s an engineer. He can do anything.

Hot Pink Glasses

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A Different Perspective on Immigration

This poem moved me to the very marrow of my bones.

Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.

The majority of  Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.

This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.

warsan-shire
Warsan Shire

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On Being Good at Your Job When No One Is Watching

I was feeling proud and all in the zone…

In order to be a bridgetender, you have to be able to function well with little or no supervision. You have to be the type of person who takes a job seriously, believes in maintaining standards, and is very self-motivated. I am that person. And I happen to consider being left alone to be its own reward.

The downside is that praise is very thin on the ground. If you thrive on attaboys and kudos, this is not the job for you. Taking pride in having done the job well has to be enough.

The other day, I had five different vessels headed toward my bridge from both directions, and at different rates of speed. I also had vehicle traffic backed up for miles, and dozens of pedestrians and cyclists in a wide array of moods. Some were being cooperative, and some were not.

On days like that, opening the bridge is like being the conductor of a very unruly orchestra. There are a variety of moving parts to consider. When do you start your opening so as to back up the minimum amount of traffic? How do you keep all of the traveling public safe? How do you time it so all the vessels get through at once without crashing into each other or damaging the bridge?

Communication is key. You need to make sure all the vessels know what the plan is. Sometimes you have to be firm and tell a captain that he’ll have to wait for the next opening. (We try to keep our openings less than 10 minutes long to avoid traffic delays.)

That particular opening went off without a hitch. Everyone was appreciative and all went well. At the end of it, I did a little dance and thought, “DAMN, I’m good!!!”

I was feeling proud and all in the zone, and mighty pleased with myself. I was thinking that it was a shame that no supervisors were around to see the pure artistry that was that opening. I felt great.

And then the phone rang.

It was my supervisor, saying someone just called and complained because I had made him wait because I was trying to avoid a long opening that would back up traffic for miles.

Sigh. And just like that, my head shrank back down to normal size.

But it was good while it lasted.

proudcupcake

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

What Makes Home?

It’s a dense topic.

The other day, I was settling down for an afternoon nap. My dog Quagmire was curled up beside me, and I could hear my husband doing something or other on the opposite side of the house. The sounds of home. How lucky am I?

I do feel at home in my home, thank goodness, and with my husband and my dogs, and at work… but to be honest, I still don’t feel at home in the Pacific Northwest, even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years. People confuse me out here. I don’t understand them. And the weather is strange. And I still don’t know my way around. When people talk about small towns in another part of the state, I don’t know where they are. All these things make me feel like an outcast.

So the question is, what makes home? What follows are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. (Special thanks to Cris, Ray, and Martin for ideas.) It’s a dense topic. And, spoiler alert, I don’t think I’ve managed to fully define it, but here goes…

Home is familiarity. It’s knowing where everything is, and also knowing alternate routes to that place. I think GPS has punked me in this regard. I no longer have a full map in my head. I don’t know where places are in relationship to other places anymore.

To help me with this, my husband has hung a local map in the garage for me. It has made a difference. But I really need to stop being lazy by relying on a mechanical voice to get me to my destination. I need to get some sense of context.

Home is also being able to make your way around in the dark without stubbing your toe.

But it’s not just familiarity, because I knew my way around Jacksonville, Florida, and there was a sense of relief there, a sense of predictability, but I don’t miss it, and if I never go back again it wouldn’t upset me overmuch. I miss my friends, I miss the fried chicken, I miss bodies of water that are warm enough to swim in, and I miss a few other places, but I don’t miss the city at all.

Home is what you’re used to. I’m used to flat land and straight roads that are on a grid pattern. If that’s what I need to feel at home, I’ll never feel that way in the curvy, hilly, mountainous state of Washington.

Home is knowing what neighborhoods you can walk through after dark. Back to familiarity again. But maybe there’s a feeling of safety wrapped up in it.

It’s recognizing the priorities, the politics, and the culture of the place where you are. Is it where everyone shares your politics? If so, we’re all screwed these days. But I must say I feel a lot more politically at ease in Seattle than I ever did in Florida.

Home is knowing the history of your location. I’m working on that.

Home is what makes you feel normal. It’s what you expect. I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt completely normal.

What is so un-homelike about where one is living that so many people are willing to leave everything they’ve ever known and relocate to another part of the planet? What’s missing? Why do they think they’ll find it elsewhere?

Do nomads ever feel at home? Is home where your yurt is? Does home reside in the people you love? I’m loved out here. And I’m at home in my house. But then I drive away from it, and I’m back to feeling like I’m in a foreign country again.

Is it a sense of belonging? Is it being made to feel welcome? Is it having a restaurant where you can say, “I’ll have the regular,” and they know what you mean? Is it being worthy of the gossip of your neighbors? (God, I hope not.)

I always felt at home in Western North Carolina. Even the very first time I stepped foot in the area when I was 17. Whenever I am there, it feels like I can exhale. Like I can breathe. The mountains embrace me. I can sleep, knowing the crickets and fire flies mean me no harm. But why? Why that place?

If all you ever knew was prison, would you consider that home? Is home where you’re resigned to your fate?

How can one person’s home be someone else’s hell?

Home is a feeling, more than a place. Because you can feel at home in more than one place.

Is it an emotion? It’s not happiness. Because you can be sad at home. Is it contentment? Contentment is fleeting for me, albeit highly appreciated when it comes around.

And I think home takes time. I never feel at home at first. I can’t even sleep the first night in a hotel room. But jeez, how much time does it take?

The craziest thing about home is that everyone will have a different definition of what that is.

I know it’s more than the house you live in. It’s your community, your region, your environment, your loved ones. It’s the place where you’re accepted as you are. It the place you can find your way back to.

Home is your comfort zone. But what causes you to feel like you’re in that zone?

I love to travel, but I can never 100 percent relax while I’m doing it, and after a few weeks, I want to go home. Home is where you can rest. I can’t completely rest here. And I want to be able to. So I need to figure out what makes home for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear reader.

Home

Home is where you can curl up with a good book. Like this one: http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

What Mother Does This?

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and wonder how I ever made it to adulthood.

I have zero desire to be a parent. I have no idea what it’s like, and I don’t want to. But I do know that if I had become a parent, there are certain things that I would have never done.

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. My mother was an amazing human being. You’d have loved her. Everybody did. I’d never be writing this post if she were still alive. But I have to say that some of the choices she made with regard to my upbringing leave me absolutely speechless now that I’m looking back at them as an adult.

I won’t even get into the whole looking-the-other-way-while-I-was-sexually-abused thing. That’s a subject for another day. I’m just too worn out to even tackle that topic.

No. Today I remembered something that makes my adult eyes widen in horror, and sorry, I need to vent. So here goes.

When I was about 8 years old, my mother, my stepfather and I went camping. We had a little trailer and we stayed in a very nice campground. So far, so good.

But after we got there, the campground manager approached us and said that a violent offender had escaped the local prison and police would be searching the area, so we should probably stay in our trailer and lock the door. No sooner had he said that when we saw a helicopter fly overhead with a spotlight. The guy was close.

So we sat in the locked trailer. I don’t know how long we were in there. I was 8, so it seemed like an eternity. My mother was content. You have never seen anyone get lost in a book the way that woman could. My stepfather, too, was content. He fell asleep sitting up, as he was wont to do. The man spent very little time conscious, which suited me right down to the ground. I, on the other hand, was bored silly.

I guess my mother finally got sick and tired of my whining, so she let me sit outside at the picnic table. She kept the door open, but locked the screen door. Safety first, I suppose. For them, at least.

It was pitch black outside. I saw police flashlights in the woods in the distance. I was fascinated by the helicopter.

Then, out of the darkness, I saw a scruffy man approaching. Suddenly I was aware of my vulnerability. I went to the screen door and whispered, “Mom…”

I didn’t want to draw his attention, in case he was the bad guy and he wasn’t heading specifically to our site. I didn’t want him to notice me. And being the respectful child that I was, I also didn’t want to insult him with my fear if it turned out he was one of the good guys. I whispered again. “Ma…”

She was lost in her book. And her parental radar, which was feeble at the best of times, was apparently switched off. My stepfather slept on.

The guy was getting closer. I was terrified. Even after all these years, I can feel my heart beating a little faster just thinking about it. “Maaaaaaaa…” I hissed.

When she finally looked up, I was clawing at the screen door and the man was looming over me.

“You should get your kid inside, Ma’am. It’s not safe out here.”

So she unlocked the screen door and let me in.

And then she yelled at me for not saying something.

It was awful then, but I didn’t grasp how outrageous the situation was, because stuff like that happened all the time to me. I still have a hard time feeling safe to this day.

But from an adult perspective… damn! Who does that? What mother does that?

Jeez. My inner child needs a hug.

Vulnerable by Julia Galemire

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5