Flexible Schedules

I’m someone who thrives on stability and routine. This would not be for me.

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.

o-FLEXIBILITY-facebook

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Dear New Tenants

When you rent a place that you know has been a rental property for many years, you tend to think of it as having no emotional history whatsoever. It’s easy to assume that it’s just a space that has been occupied by a long line of non-owners who came, paid their rent, and then moved on. Maybe I’m unique in this way, but I like to think that the house I am in has been a home, and I’m just continuing that tradition. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a letter to the people who are about to move into the place I’ve just vacated.

Dear New Tenants:

Welcome to your new home. My name is Barb, and I have lived here with my dogs for the past 3 years. It’s hard for me to leave this place. I’ve loved every minute of my stay here.

I came here from Florida, and I didn’t know a soul. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before, and it was all very new to me. It’s kind of scary to start over when you’re in your 50’s, but that’s what I did.

As I struggled to get used to a new job and make new friends, and as I attempted to grasp a completely different culture, this house was my stability. I looked forward to coming home each day. In the warmer months I would sit in this wonderful back yard and eat my dinner while my dogs played, and the wind blew gently through the trees. I’d watch the birds and bask in the peaceful solitude.

When feeling sad or lonely, I’d take a nice long bath. And I’ve always felt safe here, so I was able to sleep better in this place than I have anywhere in my entire life. I’ll miss cooking in the kitchen and gazing out the window. I’ve made plans here. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried here.

Paula and Kevin and Jackson next door have become very good friends to me, and I will miss knowing they are only a shout away. I’ve had many delightful conversations with them as they stood in their back yard and I looked down from my bedroom window. If you have any questions about the neighborhood, I’m sure they would be happy to answer them for you. Also, if you have any questions specifically about this wonderful house, they know how to contact me.

I have bought a house down in Xxxxxxxx, simply because I knew that rent in this area would be going up each year, and would quickly get too expensive for me. If not for that, I’d have stayed here for the rest of my days. I will have tears in my eyes when I lock the door for the final time.

I hope you come to love this place as much as I did, and that you continue to fill it with happy memories. I wish you well.

-Barb

welcome home

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Continuity

I read something recently that I found very comforting. The same sunrise/sunset has been circling the globe for millions of years. Mind officially blown.

I love the idea that my sunset is someone else’s sunrise. It gives me a sense of connection with the wider world. It links me to all of time, past, present and future.

I also enjoy the perspective this gives me. The thing that is causing me stress and anxiety today is a mere blip on the sun’s radar. Talk about not sweating the small stuff! Here I am, one tiny little person, in one tiny little point in time, worrying about one tiny little thing.

It also makes change seem trivial. That multi-million year sunrise has looked different every single day, for every single person, and it will look different again tomorrow. And yet it still keeps on keeping on.

Despite our mortality, despite the havoc we wreak, on a larger scale there is stability and continuity. Life will go on, in some form or fashion, somewhere, some time. We are each just one thread in a vast, complex tapestry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

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Keep Your Distance–Demolition in Progress

I have this friend who is a great guy. In many ways, he’s the male version of me. He loves to travel, is liberal, and is a bit of a science nerd. He’s curious about the world and the people in it. He’s got a lot of stories to tell and he’s fun to banter with. For a brief, shining moment, there, I had a massive crush on him.

But here’s where we part company: His very existence is a slow motion train wreck. He has no steady employment and no steady address. There’s absolutely no stability in his life whatsoever.

I may be biased toward my Capricornian sense of organization and planning and order, but it seems to me that if you are that much of an eff up in your 50’s, you’ve had to put a great deal of time and effort into it. Granted, unexpected things can happen, and you never know when fate is going to kick you in the teeth, but to consistently operate without a stable foundation for your whole life long requires a certain skill set that eludes me.

Okay, to assume I know what’s best for everyone may be typical of me, but even I realize that that’s not particularly realistic. And yet I have to say that I have watched this guy make certain choices that were bound to have disastrous results. It almost seems as though he does these things to himself on purpose. Chaos is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

The only reason for this that I can think of is that it’s a highly effective way to keep people at arm’s length. It’s a rare individual who will voluntarily run into a burning building, after all. And this amazing, lovable guy is a towering inferno.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy Writ Large

I was talking to a friend about my utter lack of success to date on a dating website on which I’ve registered.

“I have to say I’ve never felt worse about myself.”

My wise and wonderful friend responded, “This is going to sound really bizarre, but your current depression is actually a positive development. For the first time in a long time, you have enough confidence in your job stability and other elements of basic survival that you’ve allowed yourself the luxury of thinking about your next-level needs. That hasn’t happened in ages. And yes, when you assess your progress against those next level needs, it sucks. That is hardly surprising given that they have been neglected for so long while you were in basic survival mode. But now you have time to start paying attention to them. Things will improve.”

Isn’t it fantastic when someone says the exact right thing at the exact right time? There’s a reason this guy is so successful at life. In one paragraph, he managed to get me to stop contemplating my navel and consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and its application in my life. And that allowed me to reframe everything. Once again, I have hope. I have perspective. I can be a little more patient.

What a profound conversation. What an amazing friend. Too bad he’s married! Even so, I think I’ll keep him.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

My 1000th Blog Entry

Whoa. This is an entry I never expected to be writing. It boggles my mind that I’ve come up with a thousand things to say to you. I must be an interesting person. So why doesn’t anyone ever ask me out? Seriously. I’m fairly sure I could hold up my end of a conversation.

Egotistical as it may sound, though, I’m feeling rather proud of myself. This blog has become such a fundamental part of my life that I can’t imagine doing without it now. It’s my way of reaching out to the wider world. I kind of feel like it’s my legacy. It’s the book, in serial form, that I’ll probably never get around to writing. It’s one of my most solid commitments. It’s stability.

For fun I just went back and read my first blog entry, Nature is what’s happening when you’re not looking. The photo I included has long since disappeared. I wonder what it was? The entry itself was about all the nature I observed in my 13 years as a bridgetender in Florida.

I thought my life was very predictable back then. Little did I know that after that I’d experience death and surgery and move 3000 miles across the country. I had no idea what path I was on. I still don’t, I suppose. None of us do.

The only other constant in my life for the past 1,000 days has been my dogs. Everything and everyone else has come and gone, or has been there sometimes, for some things, but not for others. This blog has been my continuity, the very backbone of my days. What a concept.

I wonder where I will be, or what I will say, for my 10,000th blog entry? Whatever it is (if it is), I hope you’ll join me, dear reader. It’s bound to be an interesting and twisty little road getting to that point, but the scenery should be, I hope, worth taking in.

This image is called 1000 origami cranes, but I suspect they're not all shown. Still, it's pretty, and on my 1000th entry, I can show whatever I want. So there! [Image credit: rebrn.com]
This image is called 1000 origami cranes, but I suspect they’re not all shown. Still, it’s pretty, and on my 1000th entry, I can show whatever I want. So there!
[Image credit: rebrn.com]

Proportion

I recently got screamed at for leaving a fingerprint on a microwave. It rendered me speechless. I am always shocked when people react all out of proportion to a situation. I mean, it’s a fingerprint, not toxic waste. It took me less than a second to wipe it off. And that whole time, the world continued to revolve around the sun.

According to Dictionary.com, one of the many definitions of proportion is “symmetry, harmony, or balance.” Perhaps that’s why I get so unsettled when things are out of proportion. I thrive on balance. I don’t like unpredictability. I like to be in an environment where the emotional energy is flowing smoothly, without sharp peaks or valleys. Is that so difficult?

Recently I was in the midst of a typical bantering session with someone whom I love dearly. We’ve been friends for 14 years. He’s one of my favorite people in the world. Apparently I said something that touched a nerve. That wasn’t my intent. It was a subject we’d spoken about in the past. It was, to my mind, a mere sentence fragment amongst the millions we have exchanged over the years. But it caused him to remove himself from Facebook and cut off all contact for the past two weeks.

I e-mailed him and apologized for hitting that nerve and expressed surprise that he could think so poorly of me, but have had no further contact. That makes me profoundly sad.

It should be something we could talk about and easily resolve. It should be a mere blip on our emotional radar. Instead, my friend, who is a wonderfully big guy, seems to have painted himself into a very tiny, prideful, childish corner. Proportion? In essence, he’s taken his marbles and gone home. The longer this plays out, the harder it will be to repair this damage, and that breaks my heart.

I always viewed this person as my rock. The stable one. The go-to guy for advice. Now I am having to see him as unpredictable, and it has left me confused and more than a little tearful.

Maybe if I understood, I’d know what to think and how to act. And to complicate the issue, the very person I would have asked for input on this type of situation is the very one who is no longer speaking to me. I’m baffled.

Maybe proportion takes more work than I realized. Maybe symmetry, harmony, and balance aren’t the default positions I always thought they were. This is a very bewildering concept to try to digest at the age of 50. I’m struggling.

[Image credit: Galleryhip.com]
[Image credit: Galleryhip.com]

Marriage Contracts

I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR the other day, and they were discussing the fact that in Israel, a woman cannot get divorced without her husband’s permission. Even a secular woman in that country is bound by this ancient Jewish practice. So if you have a vindictive husband with nothing to lose (the very type you’d most want to leave), you could very well be stuck with him for life. That means that even if you don’t live together, his debts and problems will forever be yours. What a nightmare. That’s not marriage. That’s slavery.

I love it when people talk about the sanctity of marriage as if it were some sort of never-changing feature in life’s landscape. The fact is that more marriages end in divorce than live happily ever after. That has been the reality for many, many decades, and it obviously isn’t going to change. With that in mind, isn’t it high time we develop our laws to reflect this irrefutable evidence?

Divorce should be a much simpler, cut and dried procedure that doesn’t cost a fortune and doesn’t require lawyers. As a matter of fact, from a sociological standpoint it would make much more sense if the marriage contract were something that people had to renew every, say, five years. If it wasn’t working out, you simply let the contract expire.

“Oh, but then there would be no stability for the poor innocent children!” Gimme a break. There’s no stability for them now. If people don’t want to be together, they’ll find a way not to be together. Making divorce easier isn’t going to impact that. It will just mean the inevitable will come to pass in a more equitable, rapid, inexpensive and less stress-inducing manner.

Marriage was invented at a time when people weren’t expected to make it to age 40. It was a lovely, romantic construct that added to a stable society, and provided support for women at a time when they couldn’t work outside the home. But let’s face it, you can live with the devil himself for that short amount of time but it’s quite different when you tack on an additional 40 years to that proposition, and women these days can take care of themselves. This delightful tradition no longer suits the reality of the situation.

It’s high time we take the religious fantasy out of our legal system and deal with the practicalities at hand.

happily

[Image credit: buquedeideias.tumblr.com]

Bridge Symbolism

Having worked on drawbridges for over 12 years, I’ve come to know how strongly many people feel about bridges in general. Just publish your plans to demolish or replace one, and brace yourself for the public outcry. People love to walk and jog across bridges, and many’s the time I’ve witnessed marriage proposals. Fishermen often have their regular spots staked out, and people love to hop out of their cars during bridge openings to enjoy the weather. For some inexplicable reason, the mentally ill are drawn to bridges as well.

Another strange thing about bridges is that people view them as bigger barriers than regular streets, even if they are fixed span bridges with no chance of causing a delay. People will not hesitate to take a 10 minute drive on an interstate which has the same length of road without exits as even the largest of bridges possesses, but if their route contains a bridge, that same 10 minute drive is viewed as a hassle to be avoided.

What do bridges symbolize to people? In the tarot, the bridge card means progress, connections, and stability. Often people view bridges as the only way to reach a destination, and therefore bridges are a way to overcome obstacles. Bridges also represent transitions. “Crossing over” is a euphemism for taking that journey from life to death. Perhaps that’s also why so many people use bridges when they’ve made the unfortunate decision to end their lives, a decision which, speaking from personal observation, is made far more frequently than is reported in the media, and is also a decision which they instantly regret, judging from their screams on the way down. You can be fairly certain that any bridge that you cross that is more than 40 feet above the water has been a place where someone has died.

Perhaps my favorite bridge symbol, though, is that of hope. If you can just get over that bridge, you may find yourself in a better place on the other side. Some bridges are harder to cross than others. If you’re afraid of heights they can be scary. If feeling the surface shaking below your feet unsettles you, then your crossing can pose a challenge, but trust me, that challenge is deceiving. You do NOT want to be on a rigid and inflexible bridge. Not if you want to live. So in some ways bridges can represent a struggle, but one with the prospect of better things on the far shore. I find that inspiring.

If you’re reading this, welcome to my most popular blog entry! The fact that it’s so popular has me flattered and also confused. So I’d love it if you’d tell me why you’re here in the comments below! Thanks!

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“He’s Not MY President!”

It’s Inauguration Day here in the United States, and even though I worked graveyard shift last night, which means the ceremonies felt like they were being held at the equivalent of my three o’clock in the morning, I watched them. And I got an amazing thrill from the event. Not just because my guy won. (Yay!)

I can say with all sincerity that I’ve gotten goose bumps from every single inauguration I’ve witnessed, regardless of whether the man who was being sworn in as president was the person I voted for. As I looked out at the hundreds of thousands of people who were willing to attend this event (despite the fact that it’s always held in an often brutally cold Washington DC January), I realized that they are bearing witness to history, and one in which we can all, on this day if not on any other, take pride.

During every inauguration, I’m reminded of the words of George Washington during the First Inaugural Address in 1789: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

And it’s true. This nation, this political process of ours, is an experiment. My saying that once got me blasted by one of my relatives. He thought what I was saying was unpatriotic. How dare I say this is an experiment? Well, I say it easily and with pride, thank you very much, because anyone with even the slightest knowledge of world history knows that governments rise and fall and political philosophies come and go. Just ask the people of ancient Rome. The fact that we are lucky enough to be at a point in time when our particular experiment seems to be working quite well is a reason for celebration. And saying it’s an experiment is the most patriotic thing in the world because it reminds us that this stability is fragile, and it needs to be monitored and cared for and debated about with the free speech afforded us by our constitution. What could possibly be more patriotic than that?

Indeed, my love of free speech was sorely tested a few days ago. A very heated political debate broke out on a friend’s Facebook page. I sat back and watched it with interest and enjoyment, at first. Then, as often happens when people don’t have a strong dog in a fight, it deteriorated into name calling and personal attacks. That made me sad, because rather than strengthening their views in my eyes, it simply made me think much less of both parties. So I was thrilled today when President Obama said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” You tell ‘em, Barack. We don’t have to agree. But if you let it deteriorate into insults, you’re only revealing your ignorance, because, you see, this is not about him. It’s about us.

U.S. Presidential Inauguration 2013

That Facebook brawl ended abruptly when one person said, “He’s not my president!” Poor deluded woman. If you’re an American, yes he is. Even if you didn’t vote for him, even if you didn’t bother to vote at all, yes he is. And you should thank your lucky stars that he is. We have held a stable government without a violent overthrow since George Washington made that first inaugural address in 1789. Yes, we’ve had a civil war. Yes, there have been assassinations and assassination attempts and threats from other nations, but through it all, we have remained solid. Millions of people on this planet have not experienced that stability, and can’t even imagine what it must be like. So, yes, he’s your president, love him or hate him, and that fact was celebrated today on a cold, windy patch of ground in our nation’s capital. How cool is that?