The Smart Phone Dumb Ass Dance

Pay Attention
Viral Pirate, March 28, 2016

Are we like frogs in boiling water? Adjusting to increasing discomfort until it’s too late to hop out?

Most of us by now are used to cell phone conversations invading our ear space. I may not LIKE overhearing detailed medical or romantic problems while standing in line at the grocery store or even while sauntering down the sidewalk, but I am no longer as uncomfortable as I was a few years ago. I’ve gotten used to it. Is this a good thing or not? Are cell phones turning us into blabbing idiots and giving us cancer? Maybe we are already brain wave scrambled.

I confess I answer phone calls in public sometimes too, but because I am quiet by nature, I try to sneak into an unoccupied nook (not a bathroom stall, I learned the hard way) and keep my voice down.

Now what is taking me by increasingly unpleasant surprise is the cell-phone shuffle, the zigzagging around those walking, noses into texts and Facebook on their phones, totally unaware of surroundings. Which includes me and hundreds of others.

I think it’s getting worse. In fact, almost every time I go somewhere now, I have to maneuver around several people with their heads down, headed straight for me or stopped right in the line of traffic or a doorway. All ages and types too, teenagers, businessmen and women, families, seniors. The ones who scare me the most are the young parents with strollers. It’s hard enough getting around them when they are not on phones, but when they are, they are like rogue missiles.

And even when I am being watchful, amping up my vigilance and doing this dance, there are surprises. The other night at the movies a woman slammed into me from BEHIND. We were less than 30 seconds from filing out after the movie and she was already checking for messages, in the middle of a moving mob. To her credit, she did apologize. The implications of this are scary. What if we were escaping a fire? Would she still be reading texts? Frankly, if she stopped, she’d be trampled and deserve it. However those around her would not deserve to have their buns toasted.

We’ve been warned about the dangers of texting and driving and it’s even illegal in some states. Maybe it’s time we thought more about the dangers of texting and walking, which are actually greater? Many studies point to an increase in pedestrian injuries and death due to cell phone use (talking and texting).

Here in San Diego last Christmas, a young man plunged 60 feet to his death off our oceanfront cliffs while using his phone. A few months earlier a texting teenager was killed stepping off a curb into a truck. In Florida a woman walked into a train but survived, getting clipped. She was fortunate. Others have hurt or killed themselves by falling off platforms, or into manholes and fountains.

Some cities are putting “bumpers” around lampposts. School and colleges are hanging signs in stairways reminding students to look up. Apple is working on making screens transparent so we can see ahead of us while looking at the phone.

All these could be helpful, but they don’t really solve the problem of not paying attention, of being considerate of those around us. Why should it be something we adjust to? Is it time to hop out of the hot pot while we still can?



Je Vois, J’ai Vu, Je Vais Voir (I See, I Have Seen, I Will See)

There is a lot of talk today about being here now, but what does it mean? Do we not look back or forward? Do we train our minds not to wander, to stay focused on the present moment? Is this what is called being mindful? What does mindful mean?

The busier, faster and noisier our lives become, the more we are being told to slow down, breathe, savor the moment, be here now. If we can hear over the increasing din, the message is “Live for the present, be in the zone, zenfully alive.”

It’s kind of like trying to grab the brass ring on an out-of-control merry-go-round with monkeys running wild. Or being held captive in a corporate retreat and told you have to manage 20 more projects and attend a new workshop on stress relief.

Be Here NowBuddha supposedly said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” (Some Buddhists say this is not an exact quote and that he actually advised not attaching to thoughts in the present either.)

Sayings like this are satisfying, but only briefly. They seem to make sense at first, then actually lead to more questions the more I think about them.

It does make sense not to dwell too much in the past or future. If someone has hurt us or we’ve made mistakes in the past, the sooner we can forgive them and ourselves and move into enjoying our current lives. Each of us might have to handle this in a different way and on a different timetable.

I knew a man who was stuck in the past. One beautiful morning we walked on the beach and he spent the whole time complaining about his ex-wife, trying to convince me that she belonged in the nut house and was responsible for all his troubles. When we got home, I was exhausted. Then, by accident, I met the ex-wife at a social function. She seemed fine to me, had happily remarried 10 years earlier. In the meantime, my friend lived in a dark hovel of an apartment and drove a piece of shit car.

I’ve also known people who are afraid of the future, of trying anything new, who send doomsday prophecy emails or spend hours planning for every possible disaster scenario when they make a purchase or take a trip.

Sometimes looking back or forward can be helpful. If we lose a loved one, we can remember good times and soften the grief somewhat. If we are undergoing physical therapy or chemotherapy, we can envision ourselves getting better and stronger every day as we reach into our healthier future, because, let’s face it, the present sucks.

While the concept of being present in the present (the present is a present!) is helpful, it is not a rigid rule or formula. I like to think of the idea as a guideline. My mind feels best when it can flow freely, back and forth, keeping a balance. Like standing on a rock in the ocean, if I tilt back or forward too far and too long, I might slip into the water and go under.

So I am mindful of where I stand and of all that is around me.

Glorious Mornings – and Those Less So


Morning GloryBy glorious morning, I don’t mean waking up and rising to a heavenly chorus. Oh, some mornings I do hear a chorus of cat cacophony, depending on how my cats feel. They can be moody and unpredictable, like human teenagers, sometimes wailing at 3 a.m. and other times sleeping all day.

No, I mean opening my eyes feeling reasonably good and well-rested, enjoying coffee and waking up slowly by writing in my journal, getting dressed, walking to yoga, smelling the fresh air. A comfortable routine, hovering between dallying and hurrying. A pleasant pace.

I don’t like to hurry, but I especially don’t like to hurry in the mornings. There were too many harried mornings I had to endure as a single mother, working full-time, getting my sons ready, hoping there would be no last-minute disaster, such as the fish aquarium knocked over or Charlie the hamster expiring (he was old, we didn’t knock over his cage).

We would head out the door, climb in the car (before the days of strapping them into car seats or I never would have made it!) and head up the hill to my sister-in-law’s house. She watched them before and after school. Then I would swing back around to the freeway and go to work near downtown San Diego.

One morning, feeling very satisfied, I arrived early at work. As I drove up, I heard voices from the back seat: “Where are we, mommy?” Their little blond heads appeared in my rear view mirror. I had forgotten to drop them off! Fortunately, my boss was understanding. She had two young sons of her own.

Then there was the boyfriend who had a habit of going outside on a leisurely Saturday or Sunday morning, even if we were on vacation, then rushing back in saying we were late – we had FIVE minutes to make this or that, the breakfast buffet, the taxi, etc. For the record, it does not take me long to get dressed or put on makeup. But to grab clothes and stuff before I can put in my contact lenses and to be barked out the door is not my idea of fun. The boyfriend didn’t last long.

My worst nightmares have always been the kind where I’m trying to do something in a hurry or I’ll be left behind. I still vividly remember one I had as a kid. My mom, dad, sister and I were going on vacation. My job was to open piles of cat food cans while my family waited in the car. I was told I had just a few minutes and if I didn’t finish in time, they were going to leave without me. I can still feel the panic and fear in my gut and throat as I moved my little hands as fast as I could around the clumsy can opener.

At some point during my full-time working years, I realized that if I got up an hour earlier, I could do all I wanted to do – eat, walk, write and still get to work early. My jobs in the hi-tech industry were often hectic, so this gave me a head start to calmer days. I could think, plan, get a few projects underway before distractions rushed in.

Morning Glory2Now, working at home, I still get up early. I love the dark quiet and then the sounds creeping in, a bird, a whoosh of a car, branches scratching against the window, sprinkler squeaking and spraying across the lawn. Then there is light around the edges of the curtains. A fed cat at my feet. Hot, rich coffee, the mug warm in my hands. My pen on the coffee table. Fresh blank pages waiting for first thoughts on a new day.

A glorious morning.




Changing Lanes

To my friends who are changing lanes. You know who you are! I wish you the best of luck and salute your courage.

It can be pretty scary sometimes changing lanes on the freeway, or any busy road. Here we are, hurtling along at 60, 70 or 80 miles per hour, protected only by thin pieces of metal – and now we have to speed up or slow down and look around 360 degrees for the other hurtling objects, gauging the best instant to make the move.

Thankfully I’m not thinking this every time I drive or I’d never go anywhere. Like many, I listen to music and go with the flow on auto pilot. I usually stick to the middle lanes, midway between the fast and the slow. The only time I drove 90 miles per hour in the express lane a family member was on his deathbed and the only time I stayed at 40 mph in the slow lane I was stuck in second gear in my old sports car.

Yes, the middle lanes have suited me, both on the road and in life. I don’t like to hurry or multi-task and am more of a Type B than a Type A fast track person. The three years I spent working full-time, finishing college and caring for my two sons were the closest I came to the fast track and I was glad when they were behind me. However, I do like to move along, reach real or imagined destinations, and in the middle lanes I can avoid running into those slow lane putt putts making tentative entrances or looking for exits.

But recently the slow lane has started to appeal to me. Since leaving my demanding technical writing job three years ago and working as a freelancer, I haven’t had to work as much, and more important, I haven’t wanted to work as much. Gradually, I’ve been drifting from the next-to-the-fast middle lane to the next-to-the-slow middle lane – and I’m starting to eye those exits from the slow lane perspective. Maybe I’d like to get off the freeway altogether and explore the coast highways and byways?

Maybe it’s time to find other ways to work, in addition to or in place of writing for a living, writing what other people want? Maybe I could join the artists and explorers who are taking the time to feel the ground underneath their feet and smell the ocean, desert, and mountain air? Maybe reaching external destinations is no longer required, at least not all the time?

And so, here I am, easing into the slow lane, edging back into the middle. Riding between the lanes like a motorcyclist and just as exposed.

Recently I pulled off for a couple of hours and visited an old friend. A year ago she left her high-powered marketing job and immediately enrolled in culinary school with the idea of becoming a chef. For several months, she stuck to a grueling schedule. When she finished, she realized she didn’t want to be a chef at all – a least not professionally. She loves to cook for friends and family, but she didn’t want to work for anyone!smell the roses

So, in addition to exploring famer’s markets, she adopted a dog, rescued from the streets, who gets along well with her cats, and requires a lot of walking. She also tends a couple of rose gardens in a public park. She gave me a tour, naming each rose bush and explaining its history.

“I’m loving all this, but I wonder if it’s really enough?” she said.

We laughed and laughed at her dog’s antics. With broken legs in his past, he hates getting in and out of the car. With a tender back, she hates the wrestling match it requires to get him to move.

Once back at her place, she clipped me some red roses from her own garden. I got back on the road and headed home, in the slow lane. The smell of the roses filled my living room for many slower-paced days. It felt like more than enough to me.