Lost in Translation


The blogging world is a giant playground for writers. So many different lives and voices and stories clamoring for attention.

There are young people and old, athletes and chefs, people who are ill and those seeking health, writers and engineers, cheerleaders for every cause and those who want to chronicle the lives of their children, their goats and their pets.

So many people want to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you’ll never believe what I just figured out!” I’m guilty of this as well. But I suspect many of the recipients of this wisdom roll their eyes like my teenager during one of my lectures.

She magically translates all my words through a filter of age, experience and hormones. So if I say, for example, “You need to clean your room,” the teenager hears, “I think your room should be spotless, because otherwise a neighborhood committee might inspect it someday or because some new, mutant disease is breeding under the bed.” An observation that six-inch heels look painful becomes “Tennis shoes are the height of fashion and should be worn at all times.” A suggestion to find and focus on a few passions translates to “It’s great if you spend all your time shopping for clothes or hanging out with your boyfriend.”

The same magic happens when I talk to my husband. If I say, “I had a really bad day today,” he hears, “I have a problem, and I need you to fix it.”

This translating occurs across all generations and races and classes. I heard an interview with the late Mike Wallace the other day in which his son Chris asked his father how he felt about getting old. As someone teetering on the edge of seniordom, I waited for Mike Wallace to say he’d found new serenity or wisdom or deeper relationships. Instead he pointed to his hearing aids, his failing eyesight and his pacemaker. “I hate it,” he said flatly. I can only imagine his reaction when he read advice from middle-aged baby boomers about growing old gracefully.

Many experiences must be lived to be understood. You can read a thousand parenting blogs, but until you are responsible for a tiny person’s life, you don’t really know the fear that can keep you up nights. Until someone you love dies, you don’t really know how it sets you apart from other people. So many times I’ve given someone advice or thought I understood something, then reached that point myself and realized I was wrong.

I sometimes think it’s possible to tell the age of any blogger by reading their posts. Twenty-somethings are idealistic and often sure they’re right. Thirty-somethings are preoccupied with their careers and families. Forty-somethings are busy creating and trying to leave their mark on the world. Those in their fifties seem more tolerant. They’re reinventing their dreams. Those in their sixties often look back. Bloggers over seventy are explorers who still like to learn and make new connections.

But the wonderful thing about blogging is that it draws all these people into conversation. Where else will you find a 50-year-old housewife discussing life and politics and books with a 20-year-old programmer half a world away or a 90-year-old ex-rancher the next state over? In our day-to-day lives we tend to interact with people like ourselves, but the online world is much wider.

We may not get what everyone is saying, but at least we’re talking.

Ice Worms, Snow Shoes and New Ground

We all dig ruts for ourselves, routines and activities that shape our days and give us a sense of control over chaos.

Some of us dig deeper grooves than others. We rise at the same time each day, eat the same food for breakfast, drink the same juice and coffee and read the paper in exactly the same way. We walk the dog at the precise time each morning and take the same route to work; and lunch and dinner follow like clock-work, punctuated by the arrival of the kids home from school after the clock hands have spun enough times.

I’m one of those people. Every morning at the bus stop, I throw the ball for the dog. She races after it and always returns on the same path. The grass under her feet is worn brown. I’m like her. Each morning the ball is thrown out, and I carry it back along the routes I know.

I’m at a time in my life where major changes face me. My parents are elderly, my children are teenagers on the brink of finding their own lives. My former career is gone, my new one uncertain. The economy and old political orders and even the weather seem to be shifting to new patterns. So I cling to my routines, clutching the ground with my fingers and toes and hoping for one more day before I’m flung from my rut.

But once in a while, someone or something forces us from our path. Sometimes it’s something big—the loss of a job or income, a health crisis, the death of a loved one. And sometimes it’s something small, like snowshoeing in the woods on a winter day.

My husband signed us up for a ranger-led hike at Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade mountains last weekend. Secretly, I fretted about going. I’d have to get up early. I’d need to find snow gear. I don’t know how to snowshoe anymore. Even though I grew up in the snow on the Canadian border, I haven’t donned skis or snowshoes in decades. Snowshoeing isn’t routine.

But we went. The rangers handed out snowshoes and led us onto the snow field where the hike would start. I stared around amazed. The snow, where it was cut back along the road, rose higher than my head. Once on top, people occasionally broke through the surface and plunged up to their hips.

We stood on a parking lot, said our guide, and we’d start our hike along a forest road. No trace of it existed. Now only a tamped down, two-foot wide track led through a white meadow. A bathroom sat buried at the end of the lot with only the tip of its roof showing. Snow fell gently. Once we got our snowshoes on our feet, our guide lined us up along the field and told us we were going to race to the outhouse.

He blew a whistle and I lurched forward with everyone else, moving like a giant Arctic waterbug. The lady next to me fell onto her face and floundered helplessly until a ranger plucked her from the snow. I kept going. Another person fell. I strode forward, following a guy with six-foot legs, and exhilaration began to grow. I didn’t beat spider-man, but I kept the feeling and stayed on my feet.

I learned new facts: Pileated woodpeckers cushion their brains from pounding with extra-long muscles and bones that wrap around their skulls and connect to their tongues. And the snow holds micro-organisms that feed a host of tiny life such as springtails and ice-worms. (That information stopped a lot of snow tasting.)

I saw new perspectives: A tiny bush poking from the snow in reality was the top of a 15-foot tree reaching for the sky. Land that would be impassible in summer because of thorny devil’s club and brushy swamp was easily negotiable on a bridge of snow. The world was white instead of green.

I was forced to move in a different way, bringing my feet level along the snow, and digging in my toes on the inclines to keep from slaloming down. I forgot to care if I fell down or looked odd.

And I was reminded of all the world that waits to be explored and the interesting people still unmet. The hike wasn’t long, only ninety minutes through the snow. But it led to new possibilities I never would have considered on my usual path.

So maybe we should all force ourselves to do something new each day or week. Eat a new food or read a romance or a book on pi, take our dogs on a new trail or say hello to someone we don’t know. Read a new blog or try a different video game or listen to country western. Try karate or dodgeball or tennis (I draw the line at Zumba). Learn how to program a computer or play the banjo. Plan a trip out of the country or explore a nearby town.

Sure, we might fall on our faces and flounder until someone helps us up. But we might see something beautiful.

Change comes whether we hide or not. Our ruts may be comfortable.  They may give us a sense of security and a clear path of where to go.  But if they get deep enough they become blinders, obscuring our vision and keeping us from seeing all the possibilities in life.

Let’s see if we can break free.