Have I Just Become Redundant?

An artificial intelligence just told me a story.

On this, my last post of 2022, I wanted to look toward the future, not dwell upon the past. While contemplating the many world-changing things I’d heard about recently (and those things seem to be coming at us faster and faster, don’t they?) I remembered that within the space of a week, I had heard two different NPR stories about an intriguing new artificial intelligence program called ChatGPT. (You can find the stories here and here.)

ChatGPT can crank out poems, stories, news articles, software code, translations, syllabi, assignments, speeches, lectures, letters, and interview questions. It can also correct essays and grade papers, summarize academic articles, and tell you why your computer code isn’t working. It can even provide you with answers to your crossword puzzles. The possibilities are endless.

This thing can do everything but walk and chew gum. In a way, though, it’s kind of creepy. Will there come a day when ChatGPT will take all the jobs? If so, how will our world look after that? I suspect that the times, they are a’changin’.

Its own website concedes that ChatGPT has its limitations. It can write articles that sound quite plausible, but are, in fact, incorrect. It can also come up with harmful instructions or biased content. And currently it’s about a year behind on current events. Nobody’s perfect.

I decided to check out ChatGPT to see if it could write this blog better than I do. (And if you’re interested, you should explore it, too, but do so soon, because right now it’s free, but there’s no telling when OpenAI, ChatGPT’s parent company, will decide that this AI is sophisticated enough to monetize.)

So I created an account and then said hello to ChatGPT. (And really, couldn’t they have come up with a better name? This one doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.)

I asked it to tell me a story about a bridgetender who sits on her drawbridge and observes people all day. And this is what ChatGPT came up with in less than 10 seconds.

The Bridgetender’s Smile

Once there was a bridgetender named Jane who lived in a small town by the river. She had been working on the drawbridge for as long as she could remember, and she loved her job. Every day, she would sit in her little booth on the bridge and watch the boats go by, the birds flying overhead, and the people walking across the bridge.

Jane was a curious and observant person, and she enjoyed learning about the people who passed by her booth. She would often strike up conversations with the people who crossed the bridge, asking them about their lives and their stories. Some days, she would chat with tourists who were visiting the town for the first time, and other days, she would talk to the locals who were just passing through.

As the years went by, Jane became an expert at reading people's moods and emotions, and she was always ready with a kind word or a comforting smile whenever someone seemed down. She had a special talent for making people feel at ease, and she was always happy to lend an ear to anyone who needed to talk.

Despite the passage of time, Jane remained as cheerful and positive as ever, always greeting the people who crossed the bridge with her warm smile. And even though she was getting older, she remained as dedicated and hardworking as ever, always ready to open and close the bridge whenever a boat needed to pass through.

As the years passed, Jane became a beloved figure in the town, and everyone who knew her admired her for her kindness and her love for her job. And even though she was just a simple bridgetender, she touched the lives of countless people, making their days just a little bit brighter and happier.

Well, it’s a lot more saccharine than any story I would come up with. The plot was kind of unsophisticated as well, but still, it did make me smile, even though I’m dying to wade in there and edit it. I suspect that a lot of people wouldn’t guess that the story was written by an artificial intelligence.

We’ve come a long way since the encounter I had with another AI called Cleverbot just 4 years ago. Now that was a funny conversation. That AI could only respond by saying things others had said to it, and you could tell many of its users really had fun with it. The conversation moved back and forth between flirting and hostility, and it often made no sense whatsoever.

Just to be fair, I paid another visit to Cleverbot to see if it had improved over the years. Here’s the brief conversation we had:

Me: Hello Cleverbot, I haven’t spoken to you in 4 years!

Cleverbot: Yes you have. And I am Frank.

Me: Have you gotten any more sophisticated since then?

Cleverbot: I'm always getting more clever, have you?

Me: It depends on whom you ask.

Cleverbot: If you say so.

Me: I just met an AI called ChatGPT. It appears to be smarter than you are.

Cleverbot: Give me a random 3 digit number.

Me: Do you know ChatGPT?

Cleverbot: No what is it?

Me: An AI.

Cleverbot: Oh really?

Me: It seems smarter than you are.

Cleverbot: No you are not.

Me: I didn't say I was, but I am.

Cleverbot: You did.

Me: You still like to argue, don't you?

Cleverbot: No I don't, you liar!

Me: Okay, fine. I'll just go and talk to ChatGPT. It's a lot more pleasant to interact with.

Cleverbot: I have never loved you.

Me: I'm not exactly warming up to you, either.

So, as you can see, it’s a lot less flirty at the moment, but every bit as argumentative as it was 4 years ago. ChatGPT, on the other hand, appears to be light years ahead of it. I can’t imagine where both of them will be a decade from now. It will be fascinating to find out.

If OpenAI put out a dedicated telephone app for ChatGPT, I’d probably just leave my brain at home and let it do the talking. But as of today, I hope you’ll agree that I can still blog a tiny bit better than an artificial intelligence can. Right?


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Storytelling Extraordinaire

One of my favorite programs on NPR is Snap Judgment.

One of my favorite programs on NPR is Snap Judgment. Called “storytelling with a beat,” it gives the world some of the most refined, professional, entertaining, and thought-provoking stories out there. Its host, Glynn Washington, is my storytelling hero, bar none.

So imagine my excitement when I got to attend the Snap Judgment Live! Tour here in Seattle. It was amazing. Storytelling is becoming more and more popular, but this… this is the pinnacle. There were several storytellers involved, and each had me spellbound.

The best part about it was that after the show, I got to meet Glynn Washington and get a few photographs with him. I don’t think he fully grasped how awestruck I was. But he was very gracious.

If you are ever in the mood for a good story, and can’t catch Snap Judgment on your NPR station, I encourage you to check out the hundreds of hours of podcasts available here for free. You’ll be glad you did.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


The Trump Presidential Library

No matter how this train wreck that is our current presidency plays out, there will one day be a Trump Presidential Library. I mean, Nixon had one. Trump will not be left out. Andrew Carnegie is probably spinning in his grave.

What would this library look like? I mean, Trump is the poster child for everything libraries are against. Misinformation. Lies. Disdain for science. Inequality. Prejudice in its many forms. Closed-mindedness. Ignorance. Illiteracy. Avoidance of research. Elitism. Suppression of information. Not doing your damned homework.

What could this man possibly contribute to a library?

I’m sure there would be vast sections of porn. He objectifies women. And there would be comic books, too, because he has the attention span of a squirrel. There would be stacks devoted to nothing but copies of everything that had been ghost written in his name, as well as every interview he had ever done, and every photograph that was ever taken of him. There would be vast archives devoted to nothing but his tweets. Oddly, even the insulting and embarrassing things would be included, because it doesn’t matter as far as he’s concerned, as long as it’s about him.

There would be no section on religion, and nobody would seem to notice.

The whole place would be gilded, and over-the-top baroque architecture would be the order of the day. So much so, in fact, that it would take the focus away from the books, because really, who needs to read in this day and age, right?

There would be an Ivanka Trump shoe display, with ability to order them on line, and stuffed and mounted evidence of the many things his sons have shot. And a life sized statue of Trump, sitting on a throne, so you could take your picture whilst sitting on his lap.

Storytelling classes would be held regularly, with an emphasis on fictional narratives told with confidence and a complete lack of remorse.

And on every shelf, whether it belonged there or not, there would be at least one Russian book. “We have no idea how it got there, but…”

There would be an outrageous admission fee to enter the Trump Presidential Library, and you’d have to be a white male. And where would Trump choose to build this edifice to ignorance? On the grounds of Mar-a-Lago, where else?

That’s the only bright spot. Because then when non-existent global warming truly kicks in, we’ll all have the pleasure of watching this monument to pomposity sink into the sea, much like his ill-fated presidency. Good riddance.


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Photo Closure

Recently, this haunting picture made the rounds of Facebook. And now I can’t get it out of my head.


I’ve tried to track this photo down through Google image search, and it directs me to what appears to be a Turkish blog, but I don’t actually see the photo there. It also pops up in Pinterest, under Istanbul and everyday life. But I still can’t determine its source. Please know that I don’t take credit for the photo in any way, and do not intend to profit from it. If the owner reveals him or herself and wants me to take it down, I will do so. But I hope that that person will consider this a high form of flattery.

In the meantime, in order to emotionally move on from this amazing photo, I have decided to create a story based upon it. So here it is.


Zehra put the water on for tea, just as she had done every day since she was old enough to reach the stove top. She was content with her routine. Her beloved husband had passed away years ago, yet she still talked to him. Her children had grown up and moved out and now had children and grandchildren of their own. She had only her faithful cat, Mirnav, to keep her company. Aside from Mirnav’s purrs, the only other sound in the house was the ticking of the clock.

While waiting for her teapot to sing its familiar song, she gazed out the window. It was a cold day, and snow was beginning to fall. Zehra hoped that her arthritic hands would not ache too badly. Perhaps she should start a fire in the oven. There would be plenty of time for that. Nothing but time.

The snow was not slowing down her neighbors, who were rushing off to work and school. Some of them waved hello as they passed by. If they had not seen Zehra there, gazing out the window as she did every day at this time, they would have become concerned. She was a fixture in their neighborhood.

Her life was not an exciting one, and she liked it that way. In all her years she had watched as her city grew and changed, had seen wars come and go, and watched as modernity usurped tradition. She had loved and lost and laughed and prayed. She had her cozy little house. Her family sometimes stopped by to visit. And of course, she had Mirnav, her loyal companion.

“As lives, go,” she thought, “mine has not been bad.”

And then the teapot began to whistle, abruptly shattering her reverie.

Even though the cat had already taken this as a signal, Zehra felt obliged to say, “Come along, Mirnav. Time to eat.”

No sense in breaking with ritual at this late date.


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Another Story–About Saying Yes

I told yet another story at my local storytelling group, Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, Washington. I’m becoming addicted to this group and all the wonderful people in it. I never would have imagined that I’d take to standing in front of a group of 150 people and exposing my soft underbelly, but there you have it.

The theme this particular month was “Say Yes”.

Here’s the recording of the story, but if you are unable or unwilling to hear a sound file, I’ll put the story below it. Let me know what you think!

Quite often I call myself an only child with siblings. There were three girls in my family, and I love my sisters very much, but one was 10 years older than me and the other was 9 years older, so by the time I stopped being a self-absorbed little brat, they had already left home.

We had different upbringings. Their childhood was spent with my abusive, alcoholic father and my still hopeful mother in Connecticut, mine was spent with my abusive stepfather and my by now despairing mother in Florida. Our politics and spiritual beliefs and accents were completely different.

I kind of looked at them as more mature pseudo-mothers who were rarely there. I spent half my life desperately trying to get their approval and never quite feeling as though I had. In fact, when my oldest sister had my nephew, even though I wasn’t present for the birth, I called her up and said, “It’s really strange. I’ve never even seen him face to face, but I already love him anyway, so I want you to know that if anything ever happens to you, I will be there for him.”

She responded, “I think we both know that’s a bad idea.” Among other things, I lived in sin with someone for 16 years. Scandalous.

As my nephew grew, I visited him as often as I possibly could. I took pride in being the cool aunt. The one he could ride roller coasters with, despite my white-knuckled terror. The one who would listen. Someone who would love him no matter what.  I also wanted to sort of sneak other points of view into his life. Which went well as long as I didn’t get caught.

Then one day in 2007 I got a phone call from my sister to tell me that she had pretty advanced cancer. My nephew was 18 at the time. Too young. Too young.

A year went by. Toward the end, she said to me, “I need you to do something for me. I need you to promise me that you’ll be here for the funeral. Ryan is going to need you.”

Of course I said yes. This was the first time that she had really trusted me with anything. Ever. This was huge.

Two months later, she was gone. I bought my plane ticket so I’d be there in plenty of time for the funeral. I was going to fulfil her dying wish.

Unfortunately I had to change planes in Memphis. And there was going to be a delay. A 5 hour delay. A 5 hour, funeral-missing delay. They were gluing a new antenna on the plane, and it would take 5 hours for the glue to dry. And of course there was no other flight available. Oh, no. “Sorry, but here’s a 6 dollar lunch voucher…”

Have you ever had one of those soul-tearing, chest-heaving cries that leave you completely exhausted and Incapable of functioning? Well, I had one, all alone, right in the middle of the airport, with an audience of hundreds. For all the good it did me.

There was a tiny bit of good news, though. Her husband called me and said that his employer had missed the same flight, so when the two of us finally made it to Kansas City, we could share a rental car for the hour drive to his house. So that’s what we did.

When I met this total stranger, I must have looked horrible. Red, puffy, snotty, my hair all tangled. Depleted. Needless to say, he drove. As we got on the highway, he said to me, “So, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Are you kiddin/g me right now? Can we all agree that there’s a time and place for that type of conversation? I:?t took every fiber of my being not to jump out of the moving car. I took a deep breath and said, “Look, I know you mean well, but I can’t have this conversation right now.” The rest of the trip was in awkward silence.

And when I got to the house, it was filled up with in-laws whom I had never met. I walked in and everyone stopped talking and just stared at me. Finally, my brother-in-law’s father said, “Well. Glad you could finally make it.”

I felt like I had been struck by lightning. So I just turned, went upstairs, and closed myself into the guestroom. I sat in there feeling like an utter failure. The one thing my sister had asked me to do, the one thing, and I couldn’t do it.

Eventually, my nephew got back to the house. He hugged me while I cried. He comforted me. This 19 year old young man who had just lost his mother comforted me. He calmed me down. He told me to take a shower and try to get some rest.

Later that night, I lay in the dark in that house that already felt empty of my sister, a house I knew I’d never return to. I began to accept the fact that some things are just going to be out of my control, and any approval I need has got to come from within.

I looked at the ceiling and I said, “You know, you have nothing to worry about. He’s going to turn out just fine. Just like I did.”

Since then, I’ve watched my nephew grow into an amazing man with my politics! Yay! And he also has integrity, compassion, conviction and decency. He happens to be visiting me, and he’s here tonight, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

My Latest Story–Wrong Can Be Right

I went to my monthly storytelling event while still in a delighted daze about all the amazing things that have been going on in my life, in terms of the StoryCorps anthology and the anthologies that I’m planning to publish myself, so naturally that’s what I wanted to talk about, even though tooting my own horn does not come naturally to me.  

But it was a tricky month for horn tooting, because the theme for this month’s event was “Mistakes–Stories of Getting it Wrong.” So I had to be a little creative. Let me know how you think I did. Here’s the recording of my story on Sound Cloud, and if you are unable to get audio or don’t want to hear the dulcet tones of my voice, below that I’ll post the text I practiced with for weeks prior to the event. I think I stayed pretty faithful to it this time.

I truly believe that if there’s a lesson you’re supposed to be learning but you aren’t, then the universe will throw it at you over and over and over again until it finally sinks in. One of those lessons, for me, seems to be that despite my best efforts, life just isn’t going to be predictable.

I’m a Capricorn through and through. I like everything to be foreseeable and expected. I like all my triangles to be equilateral and my t’s to be crossed and my I’s dotted. And my ducks better behave themselves and stay in a nice little row.

But if they don’t, what will I do? What can I do? Nothing. Because life just isn’t going to be predictable. I don’t know why that always takes me by surprise. I think my life has taken an unusually high number of 90 degree turns simply because I’m supposed to be learning that lesson.

“You think you can have it all under control? Well, buckle up baby. Here we come!”

I have to say, though, that recently I’ve been enjoying this lesson a heck of a lot. It started when I got a phone call from  StoryCorps asking if I remembered that interview I did for them back in 2009 about how much I loved being a bridgetender.


“Well, we want to include it in our next book.”

So here I am, on page 17. They even spelled my name right!

But oh, that’s not all. Of course they want to promote this book, so they asked if it would be all right if they played part of my interview on National Public Radio’s Morning edition.

Heck yeah!

So now you can hear it on the NPR Website and the StoryCorps website. And because of that, overnight, visitors to my daily blog, the View from a Drawbridge, tripled in number.

Hooooo… so now things will die down and become nice and predictable again, right?

Noooooooo! Next, I was featured in Parade Magazine, which has a readership of 54 million.

And then a friend went to one of the book signings in Austin, Texas, and of the 53 people in this book, Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, mentions my story specifically. What???

So now, when I google my name, I get almost 4,000 results.

Even so, I wasn’t expecting the next phone call, from a senior editor of O Magazine. Yup. I’m going to be in the September issue. Are you freakin’ KIDDING ME? Oprah Winfrey is going to know my name for about two seconds! How cool is that?

I cannot believe this is happening to me. I’m so excited! I’ll ride this wave as long as I can, even though sometimes it can be a little bit exhausting.

But I’m now working with the AMAZING Deborah Drake to start publishing a series of anthologies based on my blog.

Predictable life? Pfft. Little did I know.



Find Your Folklore

Recently I had the privilege of hearing a local Native American Storyteller. Roger Fernandes is a member of the Lower Elwha Band of S’Klallam Indians, which is a tribe here in Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula. This was my first experience of this type, and now I’m longing for more.

I love storytelling. Not only did Roger tell myths and legends of the Coast Salish tribes, but he lead a fascinating discussion about what these stories had to teach the people of the past as well as how they are still relevant today. Folklore, after all, are the first lessons ever planned by humans, and storytellers were the first teachers. Roger often accompanied these stories with singing and drums, so I could imagine hearing them around a campfire, long before city lights blotted out the night sky.

At one point he spoke about how many of these old stories talk about basic truths, and because of that you can often find similar stories popping up in various cultures throughout the world. To demonstrate this, he told one story that originated with the Coast Salish people, and then told another one that came from Africa, and they were shockingly identical.

He encouraged each of us to look up the folklore of our ancestors, and search for the universal truths within these stories. I plan to do just that. I also plan to closely follow Northwest Heritage Resources, the organization that sponsored this event. They host cultural events of people from all over the world, and I have no doubt that I will enjoy many more evenings like this, thanks to them. Expect to hear about these experiences in future blog entries.

Roger Fernandes [Image credit: Northwest Heritage Resources]

Storytelling Parties

A friend of mine had a party the other night that was a great success. Usually I avoid parties, especially ones where the only person I know will be the host. I’m just too introverted to mingle with strangers. But this party was structured in a way that it made “mingling” unnecessary.

12 people came, each bearing desserts. That turned out to be, in my opinion, an ideal number of individuals. Not too many, not too few. (And of course you can never have too many desserts.)

We all sat in a circle, and the host explained the rules. She’d start off, asking for a certain type of story. We’d all think for a minute, and then someone would tell one that pertained to the topic. It had to be a true story about them or a very close relative. When that person was done, if people wanted to ask questions, they could. But after that, it was that storyteller’s turn to ask for a story of a different topic. And so on. There was no pressure to tell a story if you didn’t want to.

That night we heard stories of courage, of surprises, and of starting over, to name just a few. We all got to learn some amazing things about each other, without having to break off into little awkward mingling subsets. At no time did I feel uncomfortable, and no one seemed to feel left out. No room for wallflowers when you sit in a circle! The time flew by and I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

I look forward to the next storytelling party. Maybe I’ll see you there!

[Image credit: ecyc.org]

A Story About Reframing Misfortune

This month, the theme for the monthly storytelling group I attend was “Starting Over”. I’m the poster child for that, but I didn’t feel like being too intense this time, so I thought about a blog post I did a while back on the Evil Eye. That’s the story I told, with some modification. If you have the ability to listen to the audio below, let me know what you think. And if you have a chance to join a storytelling group in your area, like Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, I highly recommend it!

Another Story-The Hardest Thing to Say

Whenever possible, I attend a monthly storytelling group here in Seattle called Fresh Ground Stories. Each month it has a theme, and this month’s was “The Hardest Thing to Say”. I decided to tell a story about how hard it has been to remain dignified and polite in the world of internet dating.

You can hear that story below, but for those of you who don’t have that ability, I’m attaching the text I rehearsed. For once I stayed pretty faithful to it.

This is the fifth story I’ve told in front of an audience. It’s always such a rush! If you’d like to hear all my stories, go here.

I once stayed in a very unsatisfying relationship for 16 years because I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. I am nothing if not polite.

That, and I was terrified of being alone, and wanted a steady date for all major holidays.  I think he stayed with me because he had no idea what love looked like, and didn’t think he deserved better. That relationship  died a long, slow, death, and it taught me what I don’t want.

Then I met Chuck, and for the 4 years before he passed away, I had met my match. We were emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, passionately, and hilariously compatible.

That relationship taught me what I deserve.

So here I am, ready to try again, but with my screwed up work schedule, it’s hard to meet people. So I joined a dating website. Yeah, it’s come to that.

And at first, what a rush! 60 guys viewed my profile in the first day! I started to think that maybe I’d actually get laid before Christmas! Yay! But then I realized that none of them contacted me, so that was more like 60 rejections in the first day. Ouch.

So I decided to stop looking at the guys who were looking at me and just look through profiles, find ones that intrigued me, and then reach out to them. I did see some that looked interesting, and I sent them messages. And most of them ignored me completely. How rude!

Which is when I decided that even if being polite did not serve me well in the past, I would still strive to take the high road. Anyone who took the time to actually read my profile and send me a message would always get a response from me of some kind, even if it was only to politely say, “Thanks for contacting me. I don’t think we’d be a good match, but I wish you the very best of luck in your search.”

The high road turned out to be harder than I thought.

One guy contacted me out of the blue with a graphic description of what he’d like to do to me.  I gave him my stock polite no thanks,  and he said that he had a Ph.D., was a counselor for many years, and it was obvious that I have a generalized anxiety disorder that prohibits me from socializing with anyone. Seriously, thank God for the block feature!

Another was sweet and attractive, and told me I was beautiful but he was also 20 years my senior. He understood when I passed on his, er, pass. But the last thing he said to me was, “That’s a pity, because I was hoping to fall in love one last time.” That still brings tears to my eyes.

I did have a few dates. One turned out to be on the sex offender’s database, due to a “complete misunderstanding” of course. (Isn’t it always a complete misunderstanding?) Another spent 5 minutes trying to get the legs of our dinner table back into the pre-established dents in the carpet.

One guy who contacted me asked me why I didn’t think we’d be a good match, so I told him that I found all the cleavage shots of scantily clad women on his profile to be a bit off-putting. To that he responded that I was obviously flat chested ( I know, right?) and not into real men.

Okay, this was all starting to feel a little bit like abuse. And it caused me to learn something about myself: I do have my limits. I responded, “REAL MEN don’t objectify women. REAL MEN don’t go from zero to hostile after a little bit of polite rejection from a total stranger. And… YOU PROBABLY  LIVE WITH YOUR MOTHER!”

Not my proudest moment, to be sure. But it felt soooo good.

So much for the high road. I told myself that I’d try to do better next time, because believe it or not, I haven’t given up hope. And I have made a few friends along the way. And I am a polite person and I don’t want to lose that quality in this process.

Then just the other day I was tested yet again. I got a message from a guy who called himself BootySmoocher. He said, “Yes, I know I’ve chosen a strange name, but it’s because I like to give r** jobs. Would you like to discuss it over coffee?”

As I stared at the screen, I said to myself, “Take the high road. Take the high road.” Plus, shooting him down would be too easy. So I took a deep cleansing breath and responded, “Thanks for contacting me, BootySmoocher, but as a general rule, I don’t rim on the first date. Good luck with…uh…that, though.”