I got a doorbell camera. There have been unintended consequences.
When I had it installed a few months ago I didn’t know about the alert feature that indicates when there’s motion near the door and records it. There had been some car break-ins and package thefts in my neighborhood, so I set the detection range from my car in the parking lot to my front door. This is what the camera has detected ninety-five percent of the time:
Nothing. Nada. Not a thing.
The other five percent of the time it has detected the routine comings and goings of my neighbors. This has resulted in making me what my son calls “that nosy old woman”. I know what time everyone leaves in the morning and what time they come back. I know which people are frequent Amazon customers and who still gets old school newspapers. I know what time they walk their dogs and who doesn’t pick up the doo. If the alert chimes at an irregular time during the day I run to the window to see who’s up to what. Worst of all, I judge everybody. I’ve come up with names for them like, Mr. Back and Forth, The Phantom, Weird Guy, Crooked Parking Grandma…
Anyway, it wasn’t just the package thefts and car break-ins that prompted me to get the camera. I got it because I felt vulnerable. I developed insomnia from worrying that someone was going to break into my house in the middle of the night. I think that as I’ve gotten older, I feel I can’t defend myself the way I once could. It didn’t help that racoons were setting off the motion detector on my back slider every few nights. The point is that it was all in my head. I knew it was the racoons lighting up the deck at 3am but I couldn’t shake the fear. I imagined that someone was going to get in and something terrible was going to happen to me. What my doorbell camera has shown me is that nothing ever happens in my neighborhood and that my neighbors are just plain folks. It has shown me that the problem is internal not external. Security measures are a good thing, anxiety isn’t. My therapist daughter says that I need to think about that and for God’s sake stop watching people. I think that from now on I’ll only turn the alert on at night.
I recently recommitted to staying up-to-date with the changing tech we use everyday. (Except for iTunes.) As I’ve said before, I want to remain current. There is a place that the fast pace of tech changes hasn’t made obsolete (a la public phones and supermarket cashiers). It’s the library. Fortunately for all of us, the U.S. public library system has kept up with change and has evolved to meet today’s needs. We can install library apps on our phones. We can check online to see if a book is available at a local branch and hold it until we get there. We can borrow an e-book and download it to our e-reader without leaving home. Anyone can use the public desktops at any branch (albeit on unsecured networks). And we can check out hard copy books by using the self-service scanners. (These require a staff member nearby to help the tech challenged folks who still can’t quite get the hang of it, just like in the supermarket.) Yup, the library has kept up and it makes me happy because it’s been my solace for a long time.
I remember the first time I went to a library. I didn’t imagine the doors that would open once I reached the one leading to the front of the little branch in Medford Massachusetts. My mother dropped my sister and I off there on a Saturday morning in one of her attempts to find something “enriching” for us to do. She had papers to grade, so she needed to leave us somewhere that, in her mind, was more useful than the neighborhood playground. She had little discretionary cash so that fact it was free was a good thing. That was back in the days when parents could leave their kids in a place with strangers and not have a) the strangers call the cops or b) the strangers abduct the kids.
I remember the way the children’s room looked and smelled. The walls were bright primary colors with posters attached encouraging us to READ. Isn’t it funny, to this day I love the smell of books, the paper together with the ink. The first time I caught the scent it was better than that of the lilacs next to my house. My love of the library goes back to that day. I spent hours with my head inside books, close enough to read and inhale them.
I discovered a place that was more comfortable than my home. My mother was a single parent who worked long hours so home was sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful. It was comfortable and comforting at the library. I was able to walk alone and undisturbed up and down the stacks, taking out any book that caught my fancy. I’d look at it, put it back or tuck it under my arm for later. I wonder what the adults thought who saw me, the little black girl in blue cat-eyed glasses talking to herself as she marched through the rows. I loved dropping my choices onto the little tables and chairs set out to enhance the pleasure of reading. And I appreciated the QUIET. It was unbelievable to me that everyone, even adults, had to shut up so everyone else could read.
I went to the library often after that first visit. As I still do now, back then I’d choose a secluded corner near the back, close to a window if possible. I sat at those little tables reading the variety of styles I’d delighted in trying. My interests ranged from juvenile biographies of Louis Armstrong and Sojourner Truth to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Although Charlie’s life was as mysterious to me as the factory.) One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved books in which kids were stretching boundaries. My mother made sure we had books at home but I had to share with my younger sister. Those titles skewed younger. At the library I stretched my own literary boundaries which made me feel more mature.
The library was the most civilized place my nine-year-old self ever experienced, and the library is still one of my favorite places. I wrote a blog post about using it as my writing office but I also still roam the aisles for comfort. Public libraries are wonderful resources for us and for many reasons. I hope we don’t decide we’re so advanced as to lose them.