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Pavlovian Ding

When my phone dings, I look at it. Well, not only do I look but I pick it up and enable the message so I can see who’s “calling.” I think probably I have been trained all my life to do this – answer the ding. Alexander Graham Bell was no dummy, after all.

The problem is, my NEED to answer it. Even when I am out to lunch with a friend (but I’ve left my phone on in case my …family is trying to reach me…remember the days when it didn’t bother you if someone could reach you? but I digress). There the phone sits on the table. I’ve turned down the ringer, perhaps disabled the vibrate function, but it just emits that little “ding.” Immediately, my eyes shoot to the small screen. What is it? a text? a Facebook message? an email? which account?

Oh, I could ignore this, easily enough, or could I? And this is what’s bothering me. I feel like Pavlov’s dog. The minute that phone dings, it has my complete attention. Even if I am listening to my friend, my mind has lept to the ding.

So, I could put my phone away. I could turn it off and put it in my bag. I could, for crying out loud, leave it at home. But I don’t. Because it’s an extension of me. It’s like my extension cord to the world. As long as I have my phone, I’m plugged in.

People expect this. If someone is trying to call and I don’t pick up, they send me an angry text message. “Mom, answer your phone!” Guess who THAT message is from.

So have these people trained me? Are they Pavlov and I the dog? Did I give them my permission to do this?

Ha. The clothes just finished in my washing machine. Guess how I know. It dinged. Guess what I DIDN’T do. Jump up and answer the ding. Hmm. So, why can I ignore the ding of the washer and not the ding of my phone? Now THAT may be the question. This “automatic” response that seems reflexive and unavoidable, can in fact, be overridden.

What is the difference between the washer ding and the phone ding? Honestly, it’s what will happen if I make it wait. And THAT is what I better be giving some serious thought to.

In the  meantime, I really wish they would make it against the law to answer your cell phone while driving. Then, I would have a good excuse not to answer those impatient texters, angry I haven’t picked up my phone. Funny that I need a law to set boundaries for me, rather than setting them for myself. The weight of expectation is heavy. A huge magnetic pull for something I can’t even see.

If God had a ding, what would it sound like? How would I receive it? How would I know who sent it? Would I change course in an instant like I do for my phone? “Excuse me, I have to take this God-ding.” Or would I make Him wait, like I do my washer, because He’ll be there when I get around to responding?

Go Ahead, Try it On

Call me odd, my family does regularly. Except we do it politely and call each other outliers.

When I pick up a book and start to read, I also pick up a pen – or maybe a highlighter. Even, and I know this is forbidden according to some, when I pick up my Bible. Because I know there is something I will want to respond to. or something to record. or at least something that deserves demarcating. Not, necessarily guaranteeing that I will return to these words or this place, though I might, but because I expect that while taking myself to these words, something will strike me. Something worth making tangible. I will want to respond.

This makes it conversation, even if I’m the only one there. My response adds value, if only to me.

Key in all this is expectation, I find I alert myself to this without really thinking about it. I don’t, after all, bring my highlighter to the comics (though I occasionally cut some out that deserve saving or sharing) or a junky novel (though I don’t read too many of these – don’t have the patience). From these I expect one-way entertainment, perhaps, but not conversation. Library books pose a particular challenge because one may not write in these. When they meet expectations I have tried sticky tabs that I later transcribe, but often in the aftermath I find the impact of the phrase or thought is diminished, the connection to what I was thinking having been broken.

Expectation is not always well-placed of course, but one should be ready. So, when does ready move? Okay – here comes the outlier moment: it’s when you decide you’re gonna try something on.

Yep. This occurred to me at the outlet mall the other day. Some stores I don’t even walk into. Some, I walk in and immediately walk out of. But some I take the plunge and “shop.” This means I actually walk among the racks and handle the clothing. I look with intention. But I’m not to expectation yet. I casually slide things along the racks, disdaining most items…until I reach one that suggests I try it on. I pull the hanger from the rack and sling the dress or blouse or skirt or shorts, whatever, over my arm. Now, at least for this one item, I will invest my time in disrobing, adorning, looking. I have committed to make a choice about this one.

The funny bit comes next. Now that I have committed to a trip to the dressing room (mind you, it’s not the same if the item can be tried on there on the floor – no commitment needed for this), it becomes easier, more likely, that I will sling more items over my arm in preparation for the dressing room. The key is that first item. It’s a tipping point of sorts.

Now, I may decide not to buy anything. Nothing may fit. I might be having a fat day or a stingy day or a generally disgruntled day. And this can happen with the pen or highlighter. I might not stumble on anything worth marking, but once I mark that first thing, it’s nearly ensured that won’t be the only thing. Much like when you find the PERFECT dress but you need just one size larger (or smaller) or worse, if it’s the perfect size and perfect fit but it has a snag in it or a defect in the fabric. Then, you’ll do most anything to locate that dress. Even if it must be shipped across the country. These days, probably landing at your doorstep – convenience has its upside.

It’s much easier when it’s words you find a perfect fit. You try them on.  When they fit, you respond – with your own words or your own thoughts. And then you wear them out of the store because hey, you look great in them. They become a part of your wardrobe. Perhaps even a favorite outfit.

I wonder how many writers I owe a word of thanks because I have adopted their language and ideas and these have become such a part of me I can’t really separate from them anymore. I’m so glad I was inclined to pull them off the rack and try them on. I wonder how I would be different if I hadn’t tarried over them long enough to try them on.

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