So Many Messages

So many messages, so little time to listen and answer. So many ways to communicate, so few real connections.

It’s been a frustrating week trying to schedule interviews, receive feedback, even reach friends for fun plans. I’ve had time to work, which for me is usually writing, but without receiving the information I need, there’s nothing to write about. I can fiddle-fart around to some extent, researching and preparing, but sooner or later I face the void. Time hanging, like a cage dangling.

I don’t dare make plans. For example, my neighbor just asked me to go for coffee, but as soon as I do, someone will call or email needing a reply and the cage will clank shut.

Even going to a meeting at one of the most hi-techie companies around is not without its glitches. Here we are talking about a breakthrough product in communications, how it’s going to be exhibited at all the conventions, the project manager wound up like robot on speed. The poor people setting up the demo are struggling to catch up. They drove all the way down from L.A. the night before and arrived at the building early so they could be ready before the meeting. Someone was supposed to let them into the conference room. But no one came down, no one called, and we stood in the lobby waiting. I used the time to talk face-to-face, learning something about the product I needed to know.

iPhone MessagesFinally the manager arrived, all flustered, and we followed her into the meeting room. Apologies. “Someone was supposed to tell me you were here.” Who, I wondered. Who didn’t call whom? We all have cell phones and some have more than one.

I love my iPhone and need to upgrade soon. I have a dinosaur model and most of the time it works well, except when I leave it in another room, but that is not the phone’s fault. All my friends and family who have upgraded have had problems: phone calls going to the computer instead of the phone, contacts disappearing, ring tones fading away. It took me several days to reach one friend. She wasn’t getting my messages on her phone, nor was I getting hers. She blamed it on her upgrade. It’s true we are older, but we are not that technologically challenged.

The corker this week was a call from my sister. I was so happy to see her name light up on my phone, missing her after a visit 3,000 miles away. I can tell her about my week! Get some sympathy.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I butt dialed you by accident. I’m trying to clean up a mess. I reached up in my pantry for a bag of flour and spilled it on everything. There are poufs of white everywhere!” I tried to imagine how the poufs involved her butt and iPhone.iPhone Cover

This was not the first time she’s pocket or purse dialed me. More than once, I’ve answered a call from her, said hello, and then listened to her and one of her daughters out somewhere, like in a store Christmas shopping, discussing what to get people.

I know what I want for Christmas, and the new year. To go back to the days when my sister and I used tin cans and a string in our grandmother’s garden.

Pssst … Have You Heard?

Recently a friend said she thought it was okay when people expressed opinions about how others should live. “Who knows what unresolved dreams they have for themselves? At least it’s better than gossip, isn’t it?”

No, I don’t think it is. In fact, I think it’s just another variation of gossip. But this got me to thinking. What is gossip? Is it good, bad or in between? Does it serve a purpose? Is gossiping so engrained that we can’t help it, or should we work to minimize or eliminate it?

There is a saying, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (but not verified): “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

As with almost all sayings, this appears snappy and smart, but upon closer examination doesn’t hold up. Many of us have minds that are ever changing – small one minute or day, large the next. If we are analyzing ideas, how can we not mention the people who create them, write about them, or run for public office spouting them? We are not either/or, one way or another and neither is gossip.

The word gossip has a variety of meanings. Its Old English origin is godsibb, from god and kinsman, meaning godparent. In Middle English, it came to mean a close friend with whom one reveals personal information about others. Today, this can mean anything from “chatty talk” to sensational facts or rumors.Garden Party

There are times when I would prefer to hear gossip – for example, if a co-worker overhears the boss saying there are going to be layoffs, or if a friend sees my husband kissing another woman, or if a neighbor reports a stranger lurking on our street or that another neighbor is in the hospital. This is information I can use to protect myself or to help someone else.

There are times when I do not want to hear gossip – the malicious kind making fun of a person or spreading untruthful rumors. Whenever I do hear unpleasant gossip, I picture 18th century ladies in wigs surveying the ballroom and clucking away behind their fans.

Some gossip kind of falls in the middle. So and so’s marriage is in trouble. Did you hear his wife ran off with the gardener? Did you know she had to file bankruptcy? This information may or may not be useful. It sometimes gives us a momentary high, like chocolate. “At least that hasn’t happened to me,” we think. But then it leaves us with the sugar blues letdown and a bad taste in the mouth as we realize it could happen to us and most often people need our compassion.

I think spouting off about what someone else should do can fall into this category. From our safe vantage point, it seems reasonable that someone should start her own business or leave an unhappy marriage. But we are looking at these situations from the outside, not the inside, and we don’t fully understand what the person is thinking, feeling, dealing with. For us to assume that we do is arrogant – that same high-minded attitude that is glad we are “above it all.”

I usually don’t offer my family, friends, or anyone, advice unless they ask for it. I am not perfect. I do indulge in chocolate. I may think to myself, “He should leave that job or that woman,” but I try not to say it out loud. And if it does slip out during idle chatter, I hope my fellow gossip reminds me I am on a healthy diet and that I need a clear mind and heart.

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A note about the photo: I took this in 1980 while covering a garden party for a local newspaper.