Quitting Time

Sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  Maybe I read “The Little Engine That Could”  too many times as a child, or maybe it’s that I can be a teeny bit obsessive when it comes to completing what I’ve started, or maybe I’m just too darned stubborn for my own good.  But for whatever reason, every once in a while I find myself plugging away at a particular goal long after it has become obvious that my chances of success are less than zero, and the only sensible thing to do is give up.  That little train engine may have chanted, “I think I can! I think I can!” but sometimes it’s much more honest to say, “I thought I could, but I was wrong.  I thought I could, but I was wrong.”

Recently, fellow blogger Kate (who writes a wonderful blog called Aroused) invited me to do an interview for another blog she writes called “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I was flattered to be invited to do that, and quickly agreed.  She emailed me the questions, with the request that I send my answers back to her, including links to two of my blog posts.  It sounded easy enough, and I had no trouble answering the questions.  So far, so good.  But then I tried to include the links and that’s when everything came to a grinding halt.

My computer uses Word, so I wrote my answers in that, including what I thought were the working links she requested, and emailed it to her.  Now a smart person would have checked those links before she sent the email, but I didn’t.  Draw your own conclusions about that.  Once I realized my mistake, I emailed her again and let her know the links didn’t work, but I would try to fix it.  Two hours later, I had chatted on-line with a Word Press Help assistant, looked up several sites on how to attach a link to a Word document, filled Kate’s inbox with several more increasingly apologetic emails notifying her of each failure, and still haven’t figured out anything about how to add a link except that maybe my word-processing system and Word Press don’t play well together.

DSC03342 2My tendency to keep trying in the face of obvious failure isn’t just limited to technology, either.  I love homegrown tomatoes, and for the past several years have been trying to grow my own.  One year I even succeeded and harvested a few dozen.  But that’s just one year.  Mostly, I grew tomato plants that were massive in size, but were also infested with white flies that kept the tomatoes from ripening properly.  The looked bad and tasted worse.  This year, I have a beautiful, white-fly free, normal-sized tomato plant in my back yard that has at least twenty tomatoes on it.  All of them green, as they have been since early July, and will probably remain that way until the first frost kills them.

Sometimes the only thing to to is throw in the towel and admit defeat.  At best, we can try to salvage something from our efforts that we can put to practical use in another area.  The one good thing that came from my efforts to add a link to my favorite blog post was that I realized the post I liked best was written just a few months after I started this blog, meaning that very few people, other than my mother and my husband, have actually read it.  I’m thinking it could be a good idea to re-post it on my blog, as soon as I figure out how to do that.  Which most likely means that you can expect to see it on this blog sometime in 2020, if I’m not smart enough to give up before then.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Distracted Living

Driving while distracted is a big topic these days, as well it should be.  Anyone who’s been driving down the highway at sixty-plus miles per hour and glanced over  to see the driver of the car in the next lane texting with one hand and sipping a coffee with the other one knows the sheer terror that distracted driving can invoke.  It is a huge problem that has caused far too many accidents, and I believe it continues because so many people pride themselves on their ability to multi-task safely and efficiently no matter what they happen to be doing.  And they don’t find out until it’s too late that they are wrong.

I’m happy to say that I never text while driving, but please know that by saying that I’m not trying to claim a high moral ground.  It’s easy for me to resist the temptation to “just glance at” my phone when I hear the familiar ding of a text because I know for a fact that I can’t multi-task.  And I’m not just talking about while I’m driving, either.  I can’t multi-task at anything, ever.

Sadly, these days the inability to multi-task is fast becoming, if not something to be ashamed of, at least something that makes it hard to cope with the normal fast pace of life.  My computer is equipped with the ability to send and receive text messages, which means that when I’m trying to write a blog post I am often interrupted with a text notification, usually from someone who wants an answer to his or her question this very second.  Since I tend to require complete concentration when I’m writing (I turn off the TV, put my cell phone in another room, and wake the dog if she’s snoring), the interruptions are a problem for me.  I lose my train of thought, and what could have been a stunningly brilliant blog post is lost forever.  Which explains why my blog has yet to win the Nobel Prize for literature, I’m sure.

If I’m trying to cook a meal and someone insists on talking to me, I often forget an ingredient or burn one of the courses.  (Why all those people on HGTV want an open floor plan so they can “be a part of the conversation” while they are cooking is beyond me.)  When I worked in an office, I had notes for everything I did, because the constant interruptions meant I was also constantly forgetting where I had stored my information for a donor report or what the latest procedures for a job applicant happened to be.  I even had a note on how to properly transfer a phone call, and consulted it often.

I sometimes think I might have been a happier person if I had been born before the advent of all this technology, when people had the time to focus on the project at hand without being besieged by constant and conflicting demands on our attention.  I would certainly be more self-confident if I didn’t find myself constantly apologizing for not being able to pay attention to several, or even two, things at once.  But life is what it is, so I just muddle along and trust those who know me best to understand my limitations.

At least I know that I can’t text and drive at the same time.  That should count for something, I think.

The Joys of Blogging

IMG_4757It’s been over eighteen months since I started this blog, which still surprises me.  I’d be lying if I said everything has gone according to plan, mostly because I didn’t exactly have a firm plan in mind when I started this blog, but also because writing my own blog turned out to be a very different experience from anything I could have imagined.

My initial idea was to write about adjusting to this new phase of my life that is called “middle age,” and to share some of the challenges and joys that come with it.  I thought that my close friends, and possibly some of their friends (and of course my mother), would read it and leave a comment now and then.  Of course I had moments when I fantasized that my blog would be wildly successful so that I could earn big bucks from it and, more importantly, rub it in the faces of all the editors who ever rejected my manuscripts (“See what you missed out on!”), but that was never an actual plan.

But like so many things in life, the realities of blogging turned out to be quite different from my expectations.  My mother does read my blog (thanks, Mom!) and so do many of my friends, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my older and friends and acquaintances, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades, were also not only reading my blog, but taking the time to let me know that it spoke to them.  I had no idea my blog would reconnect me so powerfully to my past, but it did.

Although my original intention was to simply write about being middle aged, I found that even after adjusting my posting schedule to only twice a week, I soon ran out of things to say on that particular subject.  There are only so many posts I can write about fading eyesight  and memory, sprouting hair where hair does not belong, developing new wrinkles and sags on a daily basis, and adjusting to being part of the sandwich generation, etc., without repeating myself and boring my readers.  So I branched out, and began writing about other things that were going on in my life and the world around me, and nobody seemed to mind too much.  Or if they did, they were nice enough not to complain.

Of course, there are a few aspects of blogging that did go just as I expected. I have always struggled with technology, and continue to do so.  Writing my posts is the easy part, figuring out how to add links, size photos correctly, and change the format is much harder for me.  There are times when I can’t answer comments without exiting my page and then coming back to it, and sometimes I can see how many Facebook shares a post has, and sometimes I can’t.  Don’t ask me why.  When I contact the WordPress help, the answer is usually that there must be something wrong with my computer.  Of course.

Still, the nicest and most unexpected perk of blogging has been how many wonderful other bloggers I have met.  These are people who are busy writing their own blogs, and yet still take the time to leave words of encouragement and wisdom on my posts, or comments so funny that I laugh out loud when I read them.  Their blogs have become “must reads” for me, even on my busiest of days, because they are that good.  I’d like to especially acknowledge Kim over at www.kimgorman.com, who writes a wonderful blog about meeting the challenges of life with determination and grace, and whose writing never fails to inspire me.  She is a recent recipient of the Sunshine Blogger Award, and deservedly so.

I always knew that I enjoyed writing, but blogging is more than simply writing.  It’s building a community, sharing ideas, and best of all….making new and wonderful friends. Thank you all for that.

Time Marches On

Jones girlsIs it just me, or is the world really changing so much faster than ever before?  It seems that as soon as I master a new technology, it becomes obsolete.  As soon as I learn the latest lingo, it is no longer used, and I barely have time to wrap my head around the latest tragedy in the news before it it is followed by another one, usually even more awful.  I really don’t want to be one of those old people who is always saying, “things were so much better back in my day,” but there are times when I really do feel that way.

My husband and I were eating dinner at a restaurant the other night, and I couldn’t help noticing the table of eight young women who were seated next to us.  (I admit, I am hopelessly nosy.)  They were all dressed up for a festive night out, but their table was eerily quiet, because each and every one of them was staring intently at her cell phone. Of course it was possible that they were all looking something up that had to do with their night out together, but they weren’t.  Craning my neck, I could see that two of them were scrolling down their Facebook news feeds and another was texting a friend.  (I told you I was nosy.)  And they all seemed to think that ignoring the people they were with and looking to their cell phones for entertainment was perfectly normal.

Living our lives on-line is the new normal for most people, even in my own family.  My daughter routinely posts photos of our family gatherings on Facebook, sometimes while they are still going on.  New parents post tons of pictures of their babies and children on social media, usually in good taste, but not always.  I can’t help thinking that the moms who put up the photos of their toddler on the potty are going to have some explaining to do someday.

But one way or another, I am most certainly not living in the world in which I was raised.  And there are times when I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the changes, and feel nostalgic for the “good old days.”  But then I remind myself that change is inevitable, no matter how quickly it comes, and that it’s not always a bad thing.

Families change significantly, with the older generations passing away and leaving us with only the precious memories of our time together.  But that is balanced as the family gains wonderful new members as people marry into it and new generations are born.  The latest technology may be challenging to keep up with, and only time will tell the true effects it has on individuals and society as we become ever more dependent on it and have less and less need to think for ourselves.  But the latest technology also routinely saves lives in hospitals across the world, and enable us to stay in close contact with friends and relatives, no matter where they live.

I may be a bit fascinated by the past, but I sure don’t want to go back and actually live during the time before air-conditioning, antibiotics and automobiles were invented.  In many ways, the “good old days” weren’t always so good.  Like most people, I remember the good things and gloss over the bad.

So when I find myself feeling a bit cranky about all the changes around me, I remind myself that time does not stand still, and never has.  It may well be true that changes are coming at us at a much faster pace than ever before, but that’s not something I can control.  But what I can do is pick and choose which changes I embrace, which ones I simply cope with, and which ones I just plain ignore.  And for me, that makes it so much easier to cope.

Disconnected

Call me cheap, but on my recent trip to Ireland, I simply turned my phone off rather than risk paying enormous roaming charges while I was out of the country.  Like many people, I’ve grown very dependent on my cell phone, using it for phone calls, emails, texts and even taking and sharing photos.  I was a little nervous about going without my phone for so long  (what if there was an emergency and my family or the dog-sitter needed to reach me?), but my husband did have a phone that he could use to his check emails, and even make a (very expensive) emergency call if necessary.  So, as soon as we boarded the plane for Dublin, I turned off my phone, stuck it in the bottom of my purse, and vowed to just forget about it until I was back home.

I’d like to say that my phone stayed in the bottom of my purse for the entire time I was in Ireland, and that I always gave my full attention to that beautiful and interesting country.  But that wasn’t what happened.  I found myself reaching for it again and again, purely from habit, whenever I had a spare minute or two.  We’d board a train to travel to a new city, and as soon as we had settled into our seats, I’d reach in my purse and pull out my phone.  Then I’d remember that it was off and couldn’t be turned on, and quickly shove it back in my purse, hoping that nobody had noticed what I’d done.  I’d do the same thing when we were seated at a restaurant or pub, waiting for our food to come, and when we returned to our hotel room for a short break from sightseeing.  It was kind of embarrassing.

Eventually, as the week wore on, the fact that I was without a functioning cell phone finally sunk in.  I found myself not reaching for it anymore, or at least not as often.  And gradually, I not only got used to not having my phone turned off, I actually began to enjoy it.  True, my husband and I did exchange a few emails with our son and daughter on his phone (some connections are just too precious to break entirely) but otherwise, I was well and truly out of touch with my normal life connections. And I liked it.

IMG_0292I rediscovered how to just sit still and either think my own thoughts, or pay real attention to what was around me.  I spent the train rides staring out the window at passing countryside, admiring the stone fences, the quaint farmhouses and the little towns we passed through.  When we were stopping back at our hotel to change and rest, I’d actually close my eyes and rest for a few minutes, which did wonders for restoring my energy level.  And while waiting for our food at pubs and restaurants, I listened to the music, if there was any.  If there wasn’t, I spent the time actually talking to my husband, who was sitting so conveniently right across the table. I found myself both living in the moment and truly connecting with my environment, to an extent that I haven’t enjoyed in a long, long time.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have my phone turned back on. My time in Ireland didn’t entirely wean me off my cell phone habit, but it did make me see that I was letting my phone intrude into my personal life far too much.  So I’ve made the promise to myself to leave my phone in my purse, where it belongs, while I’m in the company of people I care about.  And I’ve vowed not to reach for it first thing in the morning, or when I’m just a little bored, or even when I feel conspicuous sitting among a group of people who are all staring at their phones.  Because truly, sometimes it’s better to be disconnected.

I Don’t Want To Sound Old, But….

As a middle-aged woman, I don’t really think of myself as “old.” There are moments when I feel my age and think the nursing home is just around the corner, but that’s mostly when I forget what I’m talking about in mid-sentence, or I’m being pulled along by a big shelter dog and find myself telling the dog to remember that there is an old lady on my end of the leash.  But mostly, I don’t think of myself as being old yet, and I don’t want other people to think I’m old, either.  Which is why I make an effort to keep certain opinions to myself.

I know one of the quickest ways to sound old is to talk about how much better things used to be.  Phrases like “kids today just don’t understand…” or “we never had that when I was young, and we got along just fine without it” are usually uttered by actual senior citizens.  And I don’t mean that as a criticism.  The world has changed so quickly and dramatically that I understand why older people might prefer a time that is more familiar to them.  Still, I don’t want to talk like an old person when I’m only fifty-seven.

So it’s hard for me to admit that I do sometimes long for “the good old days.”  Especially when it comes to technology, and most especially when it comes to cell phones.  Obviously, they are wonderful devices and I do like their ability to keep me connected to my friends and family (even those far away), to take and share photos almost instantly, to easily access the internet, and to summon help in an emergency.  There’s a reason almost everyone has a cell phone.

DSC00209But that doesn’t mean I want to look in my rearview mirror and see the driver behind me is looking down at his phone rather than at the road ahead of him.  Or that I want to hear the loud, boring conversation of the person next to me in the check out line. Or that I enjoy traveling with a friend who is busy scrolling through her cell phone rather than talking to the other people in the car.  And there is nothing so creepy as sitting in a roomful of people who are all ignoring each other as they stare intently at their cell phones, their faces slightly illuminated from the reflection of their screens.

I admit that I’ve pulled my cell phone out in the middle of a restaurant dinner with my husband, just to make sure I haven’t missed an important text or email, and I can only imagine how special that makes him feel.  Although I’ve never done it, (and never will do it) I have been tempted to check my phone when I’m stopped at a red light and hear the little “ding” that indicates a new text.

It seems to me that my cell phone, handy as it is, is also robbing me of the ability to just live in the moment and simply deal with what and who is right in front of me.  I may be with a person who is special to me, but I’ve just got to answer that text or check for that important email, right?  Sure I do….  I’ve come to realize that I have a love/hate relationship with my phone.  I love what it can do for me, but I sometimes hate what it does to me.

So at the risk of sounding old, I admit that there are times when I think, “we didn’t have cell phones when I was young, and we got along just fine without them!”  Even so,  I doubt I’ll be trading my cell phone in for an old-fashioned rotary phone anytime soon.

Left Behind: technology and me

I’ve spent the past two days trying to update the look of this blog, scanning through endless computer screens of information about sharing, plug-ins, widgets, Gravatars, child-themes and lots of other terms I’ve never heard of before.  While I did manage to add an archive sidebar (that’s a “widget,” who would have thought?) to make past posts more accessible, somehow I also put my Gravatar profile on my “about me” page and couldn’t figure out how to get it back off.   And when I finally did figure it out, it also removed the photo I had so carefully uploaded (I was wearing big, dark sunglasses, of course) as well.  So, I’m taking a temporary break from the struggle to do what I actually understand and enjoy when it comes to blogging:  just writing the posts.

I don’t really know when all my troubles with technology started.  I was still working when computers began to make their way into offices, and I don’t remember having any problems learning to use them.  At the time, I was working in development, generating donor profiles.  And since the profiles constantly needed to be updated, I really appreciated how much easier computers made my job.  Later, as an at-home mom and free-lance writer, I was thrilled to get my first computer since it made writing and editing so much easier.  No more “whiting out” mistakes and trying to find a new word exactly the same size as the whited-out word so I didn’t have to retype the whole page!

Maybe I started resenting technology the first time my computer “lost” a carefully written article.  Or when I had to ask one of my kids to show me how to answer my new phone.  Or the first time I tried to text (in the days before phones had keyboards, and you had to use the phone’s number buttons to punch in the letters.)  I have learned how to use google to find a quick answer to an obscure question, I understand the concept of wi-fi, and I’ve managed to start a blog.  But I’m still not half as tech savvy as my son or daughter.  And I strongly suspect that the average 8-year old has much better tech skills than I do.

And that’s so unfair.  One of the few advantages of growing older is supposed to be gaining wisdom.  Wisdom that you can then pass down to younger generations, who are supposed to appreciate it and respect you for your great knowledge.  But that doesn’t happen when you have to text your daughter while she’s at work to ask her how to turn the sound on your phone back on. Technology may have brought many gifts, but it has also brought one very depressing thing:  the ability to seem both old and clueless at the same time.

So I struggle on, in the hope that someday I will master enough tech skills to feel that I am indeed wise.  Meanwhile, I have to find what happened to that profile picture.  And how to change that ugly orange and brown header to a nice shade of blue.  I’ll let you know how it goes….