Bait

If a trout sees a fly flitting about on the surface of his river, he’s going to snap at it. It’s in his nature. And when it’s just nature at play, that’s a great idea. Everybody needs food.

Unfortunately, sometimes man is inserting himself into this little game, and then taking that bait means certain death for the trout. I’ve always had mixed emotions about that sort of thing. When you take advantage of the fact that another creature is going to do what comes naturally, it kind of seems like cheating to me.

Bait. It’s a sinister thing. And the worst part is that we use it on one another, too.

If you’ve ever snapped off an angry response to a hostile e-mail, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You took the bait. And that almost always makes things worse for you.

Humans have always struggled with delayed gratification. The bait is there now, and it’s soooo satisfying to snap at it. For a split second. Then the regret and/or embarrassment sets in.

Trolls, in particular, count on this. They get some weird satisfaction from getting a rise out of people, while hiding alone in their lonely little rooms, clad in their stained and stretched out tighty whities. And they are oh, so good at it.

When someone gives you bait, it’s hard not to take it. But as a loved one says, “Don’t let their stupid rub off on you.” Wise words, indeed.

I’m trying to remind myself that no one controls my timeline. I don’t have to respond instantly to an e-mail. The fact that I’ve never been very good with snappy comebacks is probably a good thing, after all.

Take a breath. Let things percolate. Give yourself the time to use your very valuable brain. Because hooks in the mouth hurt.

Trout fly

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Waging War

Inside my body, an epic battle raged. A bacterial infection had invaded, and for the past three weeks, it had threatened to take over. And it had been a very near thing.

This had been the weirdest cold I’d ever experienced. I had a sore throat for only 20 minutes. I never had a stuffy head or nose. Every time I took my temperature, I never had a fever. The congestion settled into my upper chest for the duration, which caused me to cough, sometimes so hard that it triggered vomiting. When I talked, I sounded like Brenda Vaccaro.

But the absolute worst part was the battle that was waged in my head. Vertigo. The ground was like a storm-tossed sea. When I’d move, everything around me seemed to lag about a second behind. And I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t concentrate. It exhausted me. It scared me. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I started to worry that I had a brain tumor, but didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. If only I could sleep, I’d throw up a white flag and let the invading hoards take over. Whatever.

In my muzzy-headed dreams, I watched from a distance, looking down over the chaotic battlefield. They had orcs and goblins, and ringwraiths and trolls. My brave little hobbits were hard pressed to keep up. There was much growling, much bloodshed. It seemed that all was lost.

But then, at the eleventh hour, Gandalf appeared, shouting, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” and cast a z-pack upon the shoulders of the balrog.

The invading hoard screamed in agony. The hobbits cheered. The tide had turned and everyone knew the good guys would win. The music swelled. All hail modern medicine.

It took another long week to clear the battlefield of bodies. Even now, vultures still peck at the scattered remains. But, oh, the sunrise in the distance is a beautiful, beautiful thing to behold.

battle

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The Limit of My Tolerance

We have reached a point of such divisiveness in this country that it’s really hard to even get through a day without disagreeing with someone. That’s fine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I’d find this world rather boring if everyone did.

But what is even more tragic is that we are losing the ability to maintain a respectful discourse. I blame social media for this. We are now, more than ever, able to interact with total strangers and yet remain virtually anonymous to them. For some reason, that seems to allow the more crass amongst us to be outright hostile.

My whole life, I have put up with a mountain of crap from people who make these Facebook trolls seem like punters. Because of that, rightly or wrongly, my threshold for abuse is rather high. But I do have a hair trigger when someone attacks one of my friends or loved ones. You do that, and you have then entered the no-fly zone.

I will warn you once. But if you don’t correct your course to a more courteous trajectory, I will shoot you right out of my airspace. And I’ll have absolutely no regrets about it. Because life is just too freakin’ short to put up with hostility.

This isn’t the same as unfriending someone whose posts are irritating to you. A cousin did that to me, and I was shocked by that. It’s something I’d never do. This isn’t about ruffling feathers. It’s about basic decency.

I have very little control over the direction in which this country is going, but I sure as heck can control the tone of my Facebook page. Believe that. So agree or disagree with the people that I care about. That’s your business. But do it with courtesy, or we’re done.

No Trespassing

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Credit Where Credit Is Due

If you were told that someone had a talent that only a handful of people on the entire planet had, wouldn’t you be impressed? Wouldn’t you be even more impressed if you knew that person was also a free speech advocate, had been in a few films, organizes for street performers, is a storyteller and has a radio show?

Meet Abby the Spoon Lady. This woman is talented beyond measure. She’s also intelligent, well-traveled, and dedicated. That should be all anyone needs to know about her.

But that’s not how the world works. If you check out her Youtube channel or Facebook page, both of which show you dozens of amazing performances, you’ll be enchanted. Unless you start reading the comments. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll be infuriated. While many people recognize her talent, trolls abound. They criticize her looks. They criticize her clothes. They criticize her lack of teeth.

It seems to me that if Abby were a man, she wouldn’t get this type of feedback. But being a woman in the music world, you’re supposed to be glamorous and perfect in every way, or you can’t be taken seriously. I don’t find Willie Nelson particularly attractive, but you don’t hear people discussing that to the point where his talent gets forgotten, do you?

Give Abby a break. I think she’s beautiful. I think her talent is also beautiful. I think the world is a much more beautiful place because she’s in it. I hope I get to see her perform live someday. And if I do, I hope the trolls stay home.

Abby_the_Spoon_Lady

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Trolls and Hackers

Recently I got a really offensive and illogical comment on one of my blog entries. The guy was clearly trying to get a rise out of me, and since his argument was specious at best, I could have verbally shot him down quite easily, but I didn’t take the bait. The best way to get rid of a troll, I’ve found, is to not feed it. I simply deleted the comment without responding.

Trolls always take me by surprise, because it’s not in my nature to be hostile to total strangers (or to anyone, for that matter). Apparently some people get some perverse pleasure from it. I find this behavior incomprehensible. It’s easier for me to view these people as a different species entirely. It’s as if the predatory, lizard part of their brain has devoured their entire frontal lobe, and they have no human feelings or conscience whatsoever. I can’t even imagine how sad and lonely their existence must be.

But if I don’t understand trolls, I really, really don’t get hackers. At least trolls are feeding off your pain. Although I can’t relate, I can sort of compare them to cats playing with a mouse. Hackers, on the other hand, cause destruction without even getting the “benefit” of their victim’s negative reaction much of the time.

Hackers can shut down entire networks, thus impacting all the people who rely on said networks. Thousands and thousands of people who have done nothing to you. Thousands and thousands of people who will be affected in ways you’ll never know. What’s the point? Extortion rarely works. Identity theft? How long can that be maintained? Is that really your path to happiness? Do you wake up smiling? What in your mental makeup causes you to believe that this is a good idea?

Greed doesn’t sound like a very satisfying spiritual meal to me. Nor does hostility. But then, these people probably have no spirit. How very strange to be sharing a planet with these creatures.

troll-cartoon

Remembering Dave

I used to work with a guy named Dave. When you work on a bridge that requires multiple bridgetenders and you are stuck in a small room with someone for 8 hours at a stretch, you get to know them pretty well. When you don’t get along, it can be pure hell. When you do, as I did with Dave, it can be a pleasure.

Dave impressed me right from the start. He was always kind, courteous, and had an easy smile. (Those qualities can be rare in a bridgetender. It is easy for us to become grumpy old trolls, so I’ve often thought that that myth, at least, was based on fact.) But what really fascinated me about Dave was that when we first met, he was teaching himself Spanish. Just because. Since Spanish is my second language, he often had questions for me.

Having seen this before, I assumed it would be a passing fancy, and that he’d quickly move on to other pursuits. No. Dave studied Spanish for about a year and a half, entirely self-motivated, and for the pure pleasure of it. I have never seen such determination, focus, or drive before or since. I kind of had a mini don’t-think-about-it-too-much-because-he’s-a-coworker-for-crying-out-loud crush on him because of this. Oh, and he was nice looking, too.

And then (and my apologies to Dave’s memory if I get any of the facts wrong here) his mother died. And then a week later his girlfriend died quite unexpectedly. And a week after that his dog died. Overnight, Dave seemed to age about 20 years. He even looked like he had shrunk. It was heartbreaking to witness.

Despite the over-arching sadness that seemed to permeate his existence after all of this, he never lost his dignity. He still was courteous and he would still grace you with his ready smile. He still liked to listen to other people and cared about their lives. That, too, impressed me. He could have become self-absorbed and insular and completely focused on his own misery, but that wasn’t the path that he chose to take.

About a year after that, Dave discovered that his brother had terminal cancer, so he quit his job and moved to Texas to care for him in his last days. That’s the kind of upstanding guy he was. That’s what you do for family.

Dave and I kind of lost touch after that, but he would occasionally call the bridge and say hello. I’d get updates from coworkers and sometimes even get to talk to him myself. He always made me smile. The last I had heard, he’d gotten married. Although that popped my fragile little crush like the soap bubble it always was, I have to say it made me admire him all the more. Dave was all about embracing life in spite of having more than his fair share of adversity.

And then the other day, quite by accident, I heard that Dave had passed away. Brain Cancer. Just like that. Just. Like. That.

I’ll always remember him looking down at me from the catwalk, all angles and smiles and tanned skin, as I walked up the bridge. Most of the world has no idea what it has lost, but it has lost much.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

sunset bridge

Sunset from the bridge where I worked with Dave.