Sometimes I Do Miss It

Our book club recently read Laura Moriarty’s book, “The Chaperone,” which follows the life of middle-aged Cora, a fictional character who accompanies the teenaged Louise Brooks (a real person who was a silent film star back in the 1920s) on a summer trip to New York City so Louise can try out for the Denishawn School of Dance.  I won’t bore you with the all the details, but it seemed to me that the theme of the book was Cora gradually learning to shed many of the prejudices, social restrictions and strict morals of the early 1900s to grow into an more open-minded and accepting person.  In other words, Cora begins to embrace many of the more modern attitudes we have today, which is of course, a good thing.

I would never want to go back to the days of racial segregation, when it was illegal to be anything other than heterosexual, before women had the right to vote, or when polio, tuberculosis, and a host of other diseases  were far too common.  I don’t miss cooking before the invention of the microwave oven, and as much as it annoys me, I can no longer imagine living without my cell phone.  But I have to admit that there are still a few aspects of “the good old days” that I actually do miss.

I miss the days when it was safe for children to roam the neighborhood, riding bikes and playing with friends, and when games were the products of their imaginations rather than structured leagues, organized and run by adults.   I miss the days when television sets had only a few channels, because then I wasn’t tempted to waste quite so much time watching it.  (Which is why no house of mine will ever boast a “home theater.”) I miss the days when people often sat on their front porches in the evening, chatting together and watching the world go by.

Ann and Ruth on bikes

While I certainly appreciate air conditioning, I also miss falling asleep at night while listening to the sounds of crickets and cicadas, and the sweet smell of the occasional cooling breeze that came in through our opened windows.   I miss the excitement of getting an actual letter from a far away friend or relative, and how eagerly I would open it, read the contents, and then carefully tuck it away for safekeeping.  I know emails are more convenient and much quicker, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to get one.

Of course I am aware that our world has changed for the better in many, many ways, and I appreciate that.  But as an introvert who has never quite mastered the art of multi-tasking, and as someone who really values having a bit of peace and quiet each day, I also believe that some of the changes I have lived through have made the world a bit faster-paced, a bit more intrusive, and a bit more impersonal than I would like it to be.  I don’t want to abandon the modern world, but I admit that there are times when I wish I could just take a break from it, at least for a little while.

Unplugged

IMG_0083My favorite part of getting my hair done has always been the chance to sit quietly in the salon, reading magazines with absolutely no literary merit while I’m waiting for the color to set.  I don’t have to talk to anyone; I don’t have to remember a word I’m reading; I can just sit and relax for a good forty minutes or so in an oasis of self-centered tranquility, with the added bonus of knowing that by the time I leave, my grey roots will be nothing more than a bad memory. Unless, of course, I forget to turn my cell phone off.

Because when I leave my phone on, someone is sure to call or text, or I’ll hear the familiar ding that lets me know I have a new email, and instead of having my peaceful “me time,” I find myself compulsively checking my phone to see just who wants me to deal with what.  And, of course, answering those texts and emails, or making a mental note to return a call. (I refuse to be one of those people who holds loud, personal conversations on a cell phone in a public place.)

Similarly, almost every morning when I get up, no matter how much I’m rushing around to get out the door on time, I sit down in front of my computer and check my emails, my Facebook page and my blog page.  I answer the emails, reply to or “like” comments on Facebook, and answer any comments on my blog.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this at the start of my day, but it has become as much a part of my morning routine as the Diet Coke I drink every morning.  Sometimes what I read on the computer screen makes me smile and starts my day off on a positive note, but other days I read about problems and issues that are very stressful, and I find myself irritated and crabby before I’ve even had breakfast.

I struggle to find a balance between the instant (and constant) connectedness that our technology provides and my need to have some personal space, or a chance to pay attention to what, or who, is right in front of me.  I’m not going to lie, I like the way social media lets me communicate with old and faraway friends, and I get a kick out of seeing their photos and sharing memories.  I value the way I can so easily get in contact with my someone when I need to (remember the old days, when we had to find a pay phone if we wanted to call someone when we were out and about?) My cell phone also makes me feel safer, since I know I can always call for help in an emergency.

But that doesn’t mean I want to be available to other people all the time.  I don’t want someone calling or texting me when I’m out to dinner with my husband or friends, when I’m finally, after a long session at the Humane Society, sitting down to a very late lunch, or when I’m trying to concentrate on my writing.  I don’t need to know instantly how many people liked my latest Facebook post, or even how many people have read my most recent blog post.  And I hate the fact that I have to remind myself of that, each and every time I hear my phone ding, or notice that I have 12 unread emails on my computer.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be compulsive, or maybe it’s because I’m a worrier (I don’t want to ignore a true emergency), but I know that I have to figure out a better way to live with my digital connections.  I have to find that balance between communicating with others and finding the time I need just to live my life in the here and now.  I know that’s not going to happen over night, but I’m going to try to do better.  I have a hair appointment this Tuesday morning, and the minute I sit down in the stylist’s chair, I’m turning my cell phone off.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

A Delicate Balance

I was talking to a friend the other night, and she told me that there is an actual personality type called an “obliger.”  I’d never heard the term before, and my spell check doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate word, but she said it refers to people who try to please others and are generally willing to do whatever it takes to make other people happy.  She went on to say that every once in a while, people who are “obligers” get fed up with trying to please other people and can become, at least temporarily, very uncooperative, stubborn, and angry.   And boy, can I relate to that!

Like so many women (and some men), I have always had a hard time saying “no,” even to things that I really don’t want to do.  I don’t want to let anyone down; I don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt, and I feel a strong obligation to help anyone who asks for my help.  And of course caring about other people and wanting to help them however we can is a good thing…our world would be a much worse place if we all just took care of ourselves and ignored the needs of those around us.  The problem, I think, is knowing where to draw the line between taking care of ourselves and taking care of other people.

IMG_0448And personally, that’s where I struggle.  One of my duties at the local Humane Society is to train new volunteers, and I’ve probably mentored about two hundred people over the years.  I really don’t like doing it anymore, but we always need more volunteers and the only way to get them is to train the new people, so I keep at it.  I try my best to be patient and cheerful as I teach them the ins and outs of handling shelter dogs, but sometimes I worry that the person I’m mentoring can sense my resentment at having to spend so much time training them rather than just walking the dogs, which is what I really want to do.  And if they can, and their introduction to the Humane Society is dealing with my crabby and impatient self, am I really doing any good?

I think that’s the problem with being too quick to do what others want me to do, even when I’d much rather not.  I tend to over-commit in almost all areas of my life, and that sometimes leads to me being so stressed and resentful that I’m not really helping other people at all, and I’m certainly not helping myself.  As the old saying goes, “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”

I am slowly learning to try to find a balance between taking care of the needs of other people and taking care of myself.  I do like helping other people, and I think it is very important to do that whenever I can, but that doesn’t mean I have to automatically say “yes” to every request that comes my way.  If I really want to make a positive impact on the world around me, then I need to make sure that I have some time to recharge my batteries, and to do the things that feed my soul.  Because I can’t do a good job of taking care of anyone else if I don’t make sure I take care of myself as well.