31 December 2006

2006: The year in milestones & miracles...

Katie got her Christmas wish. Jet Blue came through, both coming and going and both ways in one piece. Katie, there may be something to this whole "flying thing", don't you think?

It was great to see her. She looked absolutely wonderful and I was so happy to discover that her dark, sardonic humor had remained untouched by milling about in Manhattan. I think NY agrees with her.

Christmas Eve was fantastic. Katie's "other mother", Vanessa, and our buddy Joe joined us for Christmas Eve dinner and it was so great having everyone I loved in my living room - chatting, smiling, laughing, remembering stupid stuff and more laughing. Lots of laughter.

Special thanks to my Mom, Dad, Justin, Katie, Sue, Vanessa, Stephanie, Joe, Cassie, Sylvester, Felix and Princess for adding color to our holidays.

2006 has been a pivotal year in so many respects. Someone asked me how I would categorize the year's events and, as I thought about it, only good adjectives pop into my mind. Let's see...

I had fantastic writing opportunities - invitations to write for publications that I would never have been bold enough to even hope for or contemplate. NYC has been so good to me, as it has been Katie, this year. Hard to believe I used to swear I hated that place. I can think of only good things when my mind meanders toward Manhattan. I wait eagerly for my next visit.

I took on my first PC Magazine assignment in March for the 6 June 2006 cover story, "Smarter Homes". I was scared out of my wits until I got down to it, and then it was just pure fun. The only thing I needed to be afraid of was the anxiety borne from my fears and when I chased them away, it was pure pleasure. Well, except for the part where I casually asked Katie if she thought I was equal to the task of writing for PC Magazine and she looked at me and said, "I fear for you, Mom.". I admit that rattled me just the tiniest bit.

My daughter and her boyfriend, John, moved to the East Village in May and I was afraid I'd never be able to laugh again, given that Katie is the source of so much of my humor, but that was a pivotal trip for both of us. I had a productive lunch meeting with my features editor that culminated in more invitations to write, and I met John's two amazing aunts, Daria and Melanie and his Uncle Bill, in addition to his mother Nina, and it was absolute confection.

I returned home from that trip, crying on the plane from saying goodbye to Katie and, even more so, from the mess I finally realized that was sitting beside me and I think it was that trip that finally opened my eyes and informed me that I had the power and wherewithal to make the changes essential for me to move forward. I decided to clean house (metaphorically - I try never to "literally" clean house) and took charge of my life at home. I can sometimes be very acquiescent, but after way too many months with an entirely melodramatic, spoiled, lazy leech, I decided that my life and my home needed to be "streamlined", so I arranged for the removal of things that never belonged in the first place, and got down to business. My home became my home again, and I think my family collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The summer proved to be exceptionally busy with work and writing. I did stories for regional publications, two features for "Wilma" Magazine and then, NY called again and offered an impossible-to-ignore opportunity that not only gave me the chance to write again for a great magazine, but serendipitously allowed me to write about something very close to my heart. The story was entitled, "The 12-Click Program" and was part of PC Magazine's "Technology for Life" spread in the 17 October 2006 issue - it gave me the chance to see if I really meant what I said when I remarked that alcoholism and recovery aren't anything to be ashamed of and that they needed removed from the shadows and whispers usually assigned to deep, dark, down and dirty secrets.

I'll admit that deciding to "come out" in a magazine with a paid subscription of 5 million readers did give me a few moments of pause and serious contemplation and then someone pointed out that I'd always professed that it shouldn't be a big deal and, if I really believed what I paid lip service to, there should be no hesitation. When my own words came back to haunt me, I knew it was time to step up to the keyboard and that's exactly what I did. I was pleased with the final product and figured I that I must have meant what I said, that this whole "coming out" business was not a huge deal...

And then Amy Hotz, reporter with "The Wilmington Star", called to request an interview with me on my decision to write openly about my own adventures in recovery - yikes! Apparently someone at "The Wilmington Star News" reads PC Magazine. I also discovered that a LOT of people in Wilmington read "The Wilmington Star News" and don't use it simply to line the bottom of their bird cage as has often been my own experience.

OK, I admit that it slightly took my breath away to realize that I could wind up on the front page of my hometown newspaper, a self-confessed alcoholic by my own admission, and that people might possibly cast a critical eye if they knew my not-so-secret secret! I batted this back and forth for at least 24 hours - I consulted a couple of friends including Bruce, my sponsor, my family, Celia Rivenbark and then out of nowhere I was struck with the memory of what it was like for me in those dark, early days of January 2004, when I felt more lost and hopeless than I'd ever experienced in my previous 44 years. Nothing came close to the fear, disappointment, confusion and disorientation of my first week between my last drink and my first AA meeting. Terror!!!!!! Sheer terror.

When I thought about what it might be like for someone else in the position and situation I found myself in almost three years ago, it was a no-brainer. I certainly would have given anything to read that story back then. Given the wide-spread prevalence of alcoholism and substance abuse, I couldn't help but think there might be other people who would benefit from it. It needed to be told. And so, I did. My "virtual recovery" became public record. One month after publication, I have absolutely no regrets.

Recalling that period of time not so long ago, brought back some pushed-aside memories. I remembered looking for anything I could get my hands on to read, ANYTHING that might offer me hope, that I could carry around when my courage was MIA and my doubts were threatening to overtake me. There were a couple of books by celebrity alcoholics, but my life bore no resemblance to those stories.

I decided early on that someone should write about an alcoholic of non-celebrity status, someone that was far more representative of the kind of people most of us know and many of us are! The problem is that most of us aren't all that comfortable writing about the missteps, embarrassing stumbles, the really bad decisions and wrong turns that deliver us to the unique place we eventually refer to as "bottom"; The painful realization that we have reached the point where we find ourselves in too much pain and destruction that it's finally apparent that it would be more painful NOT to change; that we are powerless to repair any of it on our own. That's such a horrible, excruciating place to land, much worse than labor and childbirth and kidney stones, but it's essential and the best motivation possible. I'd basically be dead if I hadn't landed there and, most of the successful people in recovery that I personally know, seem to agree.

So, long story short, I met with Ms. Amy Hotz and I purged. I really purged. I divulged pertinent details to her that I'd shared with only a small circle of friends and close family. Amy and I spent a little over an hour together in the post-lunch coziness of "The Courthouse Cafe", we traded business cards, shook hands and then parted ways - she to enjoy the beginning of her weekend and me to wonder, "What in the heck did I just do?".

The story ran on the front page of the Today Section of The Wilmington Star and I have to say that Ms. Hotz got it right. I was impressed with her reporting and she accurately represented the facts as I shared them.

Of course, I woke up at 5:00 AM on the morning of Tuesday, 14 December, ran to my computer and pulled up the story and right after I recovered from reading about my recovery, I opened the only negative e-mail, from a very raunchy, wrinkled, arrogant, harley-riding, thirteenth-stepping asshole who wrote one negative sentence which basically made no sense whatsoever, much as every diatribe he delivers in any meeting I've ever been to where he's been present. I laughed and then I decided it had to be a good story if he didn't agree with it. And of course, I wrote him back - took issue with his statement but left him with the suggestion that he consider writing a book on a subject he knows a great deal about; hitting on women in the first few months of recovery. I mean, write about what you know best, right Paul?

I know a few men like Paul, including one who was so proud of his achievement in successfully 13th stepping that he once started a blog on it, regaling his experiences. The blog never really went anywhere and, like most things in his life, he didn't finish it. I kind of doubt he'll be writing about his current situation - he now lives with his doting 71 year old mother in a duplex near Raleigh. I'm sure this is just a temporary situation until he can snag another "early in recovery" female he decides to "help", who owns her own home and can pay the bills. God bless her.

Detritus aside, the newspaper article went well and the feedback was heart-warming, touching and reaffirmed that I made the right decision to allow the story. In fact, it was a necessary experience because, if I'm working on a book proposal about my "virtual recovery", I certainly needed to get over any trepidation in discussing my story with a local newspaper. Like most things in life, the only scary thing about it was the scenarios that played out in my mind in the hours leading up to publication. Much ado about nothing, really.

And then, there was Christmas. I had a great holiday this year - much more fun than in recent memory - in fact, my Daddy remarked last night it was the happiest Christmas he could remember in years. And it was. It absolutely was. On every single level.

The presents were well-received and graciously accepted. The people I shared my time with were purposefully chosen and there was no downtime suffering the company of uninvited guests. It was joyful. Katie was radiant and Justin was beaming and my parents were, well, my parents, and so it was close to perfect. The added gift of friends made it even more memorable for all the right reasons. I can only say thank you.

So I finish this last day of 2006 filled with a lot of gratitude, funny memories, and more blessings than I have any right to count.

I was never all that big on noting blessings, and I've always been reluctant to subscribe to the "everything happens for a reason" theory, but I just have to say that so much of this year, particularly the past six months has generously consisted of one thing leading to another, and another; people criss-crossing my path; opportunities which have lead to other opportunities; one thing building on another; angels dropping in my life. There is no reasonable explanation for ANY of it and so I have say that 2006 leaves me not simply subscribing to the "everything happens for a reason" mode of thinking, but believing it with my heart and my soul. I know it's true. The evidence is too compelling and unquestionable. There's not one doubt in my mind that it's all "A God thing".

I truly believe that whatever happens in 2007, with enough prayer and celestial guidance, and a sincere desire to do what I do best and just let go of the results, will all turn out just the way it's supposed to. Never have I been a person of such conviction. I don't even question the things that are happening now because I know that much of it is being guided by a more powerful, brilliant hand. On my own, my power and influence is limited at best. With the proper direction and divine guidance, I've found myself steaming in directions I didn't even know existed.

Believe me, I'm not bright or powerful enough to have affected the blessings that have visited me this past year. I really suck at creating a shopping list, much less a string of miracles.

It's my nature to be skeptical, and so many of my closely-held beliefs have required logic and concrete facts. Part of why I've never read fiction is because I like facts; I love knowing that life (as I thought I knew it) was built on reality and not whimsy, that events can be traced to truth and knowledge and irrefutable, predictable, solid, unquestionable evidence.

You know...point A leads to point B and if you make it to point B it will undoubtedly lead you to point C and, before you know it, you realize, a lot of it is rote and pointLESS.... At least, that's how it used to look from where I formerly sat. And then, well, I changed seats. I upgraded.

I didn't find faith. In fact, faith found me.

I like puzzles that can be solved with no left over or missing pieces. I love Sudoku because it makes sense and, though at times frustrating, offers a predictable outcome. I never truly thought there was anything more powerful than one's mind, that intelligence is the ultimate answer to everything, that life can be distilled into a handful of universal realities. For me, Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law was my blueprint for living and covered just about everything - that his postulate stating that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, was basic to every point of life.

As the curtains close on 2006 and 2007 is poised to make its debut, I can only conclude that such black and white thinking, all of that logic and predictability and all of that fact based stuff is just brimming with...crap.

All of the logic in the world can't explain away many moments of my own 2006. In so many respects, it has undoubtedly been my very best year. Somewhere along the way I slipped and was unwittingly swept away by unexpected miracles. So many miracles. I don't think one of them could have been predicted and I'm sure they fly in the face of Newton's Third Law. Faith has replaced fact in "the world according to me". I couldn't have designed 2006 to turn out as it did and, well, I couldn't have dreamed it either. But I did live it and, I am compelled to report that "things" do happen and these "things" don't always come attached with easy-to-understand explanations and logic, as it turns out, is frequently missing and highly overrated.

I know this to be true. I would stake my life on it.

In fact, I have staked my life on it.

Happy New Year and here's to more "things" that happen for a reason.

18 December 2006

It's beginning to look and feel a lot like...

...sheer insanity, that is if you've been bold enough to brave the mall. Shopping has never been my passion or forte - which has worked out well for my bank account.

I'm happy to say that Wilmington and I both survived the Star-News article that appeared last Tuesday. We both managed quite well I do believe and, my wonderful friend in NYC came up with the best title imaginable for the submission I have to finish in three weeks. Working on that layout only consumes every other waking moment. The rest of my non-existent free time has been spent getting in gear for Christmas. It feels as if the days are flying faster than the speed of sound or light or maybe Jet Blue, huh Katie? :-)

I have to say that my daughter just wrote a blog entry that made me laugh and I can't help it, I am so proud of her talent - she's perfectly sardonic and what a style she has! Her latest blog entry is entitled and, do yourself a favor and read this one, "All I want for Christmas is not to die in a fiery plane crash". If I didn't know better, I would swear she's adopted, but I do know better and she's 110% mine and how happy I am that she is. I feel the same about her brother, who's writing style is also off-center, keeping with the family of writers he is connected to, and with although, in all fairness, he is perhaps a little more sentimental - a trait that Katie and I just don't quite grasp or show much interest in adopting. Of course, I'm proud of them and not simply because I am their mother. If you do visit Katie's blog (vox), please be sure to leave her some good advice and hopeful words and the more acerbic, the better!

Let's see, what all has gone down in the past week. Aside from my coming out in my hometown newspaper as a recovering alcoholic (just another day at the office, right?), I have received some wonderful e-mail - amazing really, the kind words of people I know and people I would like to know. Not to mention the fellow Wilmingtonians who've stopped and commented on the story and said such kind and supportive words to me.

I am most relieved to say that the only surprises I've encountered have been positive and each one has reaffirmed for me that I did the right thing. I'm glad I consented to that interview and I truly do love hearing how people have related their experiences because they read about mine. Hearing similar accounts paved the way for me three years ago. I think if we're about anything at all, it should be directed toward making things easier for those who follow. I don't feel uncomfortably exposed or that some dark and treacherous secret has escaped. I put it out there, I stand behind it and I'd do it again.

If someone reading this has written me in the past week and you haven't heard back from me as of yet, please know I'm working on it! I LOVE the e-mail, but as of 1:11 AM, I have over 80 still left to read and I'm getting there. I think my e-mail must have rabbit-like features because it seems to be multiplying! I'm certainly not complaining and truth to tell, I love receiving messages so much that I like to take my time and read through each one - it's just that in these fleeting days before Christmas, I'm not quite as efficient as I might normally be, but I'll get there!

Stephanie and I braved the mall on Sunday. It was sheer madness. I think we spent about two hours in Brookstone and played with all kinds of cool gadgets. It was, in fact, gadget heaven! I know I was int here perusing items for gifts but my gosh, I wanted everything in that store and if the mall hadn't closed we would probably still be there pushing buttons, wondering how everything works and oh my gosh, I saw the coolest things! One item that had my name written all over it was this sort of self-contained eco-sphere. It came complete with salt water, algae, and yes, a brine shrimp and it was all encapsulated in this elliptical glass vessel with no opening. It didn't need one! I would LOVE to have that whatever it is and if I did, I'd place it on my desk right beside my monitor. It would provide hours of entertainment between pages. I could literally watch that tiny creature grow and do whatever tiny creatures in ecospheres do. See? I really need one because it's a mystery to me what occurs in that thing after days and weeks and months. I kind of doubt I'll find one under my tree because I don't think my family would even notice it, but my gosh, it's beyond cool.

And what Christmas shopping trip would be complete without Wal-mart? We couldn't escape a visit to the South's version of Saks Fifth Avenue. More wall-to-wall people and, of course, the added challenge of navigating a shopping cart. I cajoled Stephanie into pushing it most of the time. I tried to keep diverting her attention so that she wouldn't realize that she was pushing the stupid thing. I hate pushing carts and clogged aisles make me crazy.

While Stephanie and I were banging around "seasonal" in search of cookie-cutters, Katie text-messaged me. Katie's text read as follows, "We're eating sushi and Julia Stiles is two tables over from us.". I read it aloud to Stephanie and we looked around us and I think we both came up with the same reply which read, as follows: "We're in Wal-mart and within ten feet of two Nascar, confederate-flag waving rednecks. One is even dressed in camo."

I hated one-upping her, given that she's in Manhattan and eating ill-prepared food among the glitterati, but she asked for it. It wasn't like I text-messaged her first simply to brag about the colorful comings and goings at Monkey Junction Wal-mart, but I never shy away from touting the advantages of living large below the Mason-Dixon Line. I didn't divulge that I was drinking iced tea - that might have pushed her over the edge and she's nearly there already - and please, don't forget to read her Vox blog and read that one of a kind melodramatic post - such a heart-warming blog entry, no question. It ranks as some of the best literature it has been my pleasure to read this year. David Sedaris couldn't touch the quality of her latest offering. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll get the picture.

We FINALLY made it home from hell (Wal-mart) and had all of 40 minutes to wrap Justin's presents before he pulled in from work. Justin has a gift for snooping and discovering every single gift and stealing the thunder of the gift-giver, eradicating any thrill of watching his face "light up" as he unwraps one "un-surprise" after another because he can't seem to keep himself from prying. He's good at it, I'll give him that, but my gosh, it's so anti-climatic for everyone concerned. There have been years when I've thought, why bother wrapping it? But I've generally gone through the motions mostly for the sake of other family members knowing deep inside that to keep something under wraps from Justin is a feat not often accomplished. It's not like he's clairvoyant - he's a blatant snoop! I don't even think he can help himself and I rather doubt that he makes much of an attempt. After all these years, I've accepted it, but I had to school Stephanie on his antics - this is her first Christmas among us and she has no idea what she's in for. Bless her.

The good news is I chipped away impressively at my list and the bad news is I chipped away depressingly at my bank account. December is always a financial juggling act - but somehow, it all works out. I have to say I have really enjoyed these last few days and though I miss Katie to pieces, she sends me text messages, e-mails, indulges me with phone calls as she pushes her way through the stores and subways like the New Yorker she is - a role she was destined to play.

I also want to say something about my Mom, who turned an impressive 83 on 13 December 2006. Two words: She's amazing. The woman is unbelievable in what she still manages to take on and the thousands of things she does for all of us, who are blessed enough to be related to this dynamo. She is the ultimate Mother and makes June Cleaver look like such a slacker.

Vanessa sat my mother in her magic chair and gave her a lot of attention and pampering this past Thursday and a very lovely haircut. It was great having my parents visit at work and they brighten up any room they walk into. They infuse calm and humor into so many lives simply by being themselves plus, how often is it that anyone runs into a couple who've been married for over 60 years and who openly adore each other? Talk about icons. You bet I'm proud of them both. Thank you to my dear Mom for everything you have done and continue to do in order to make our lives run so smoothly. In every sense, Maxine Cook is a beautiful person. We are better people because of her love and care. As long as we can keep her away from a computer, we will be fine because if she ever fell prey to the same computer/online addiction that everyone else in this house suffers from, we would not be long for this world. Fortunately, she's too antsy to sit still for any length of time which is, no question, our saving grace.

Good stuff is breaking out all over the place - in fact, I'm nearly afraid to discuss it or write about it just yet. While I am grateful, I want to deal with it in just the right way and assign the proper attention and focus the work I'm doing merits. I'm sure I'll overcome my hesitancy to discuss events in the next few weeks, but for now, I think it might be best to keep things under cover.

For now, just color me grateful.

12 December 2006

Wilmington-Star News...

The article came out and, I have to say with no small measure of relief, Ms. Amy Hotz got it right. She most certainly respected the guidelines I requested and, in the process, earned a huge measure of respect (and relief!) from me.

a virtual recovery

By Amy Hotz
By Amy Hotz,

Susie Parker didn't think she showed any of the stereotypical symptoms of an alcoholic.

There was no alcohol in her house. There was no history of alcoholism in her family. She grew up a "good Baptist girl." She didn't take her first drink until she was 23, and when she did finally drink, it was almost always good wine, not cheap beer or hard liquors.

All that didn't matter, though, on the night she woke up to the sound of a policeman tapping on her car window. The officer found her passed out over the steering wheel in a grocery store parking lot. She didn't remember driving there or how she got a white streak running down the side of her car.

Later she would discover the streak came from hitting a mailbox.

"I was scared, but I was relieved," she said. "Every day I thank God it was a mailbox."

You can read the rest of it here: Virtual Recovery

11 December 2006

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Our Christmas Party was this past Saturday evening at the resplendent Greystone Inn, right in the middle of downtown Wilmington.

It was lovely. It was fun being with my co-workers who long ago segued into friends, outside of where we earn our checks. Everyone was beautiful!

Of course, we had a great time. No question we enjoy each other at work, and there was never any doubt that outside of work we'd smile and laugh and celebrate a very special season.

I was honored to have a very special person as my guest - this "guy" managed to pull it together on very short notice and arrive at my house a few minutes early! I was so impressed and he looked very handsome. A special thank you Guy, for being a gracious, fun and entertaining companion - he cleans up REALLY well! In all seriousness, I had a great time this year. It was such a sea change from last year's party and all around, a much more pleasant experience - I'm enjoying no longer feeling as if my every action is under surveillance. I just don't seem to thrive on a short leash. Not only did I lose the leash, I tossed off the collar. :-) Life is good!

Thanks to Guy, I shocked my friends by appearing stunningly on-time. Not only did I show up on time, but I arrived BEFORE Vanessa and Joe. Vanessa has issues with time-management, not unlike myself. She called my cell phone as she was leaving her house, as instructed, and of course, with everyone standing around listening, I pretended that the time had gotten away with me and I wasn't even ready yet. Vanessa was not pleased and I'm certain she didn't expect me to be there until after 8:30 - she was more than a little shocked to see me greet her when SHE finally got there. Ha! Every now and then, I have to toss her a curve ball just to keep her guessing.

Of course, Vanessa was escorted by the handsome and brilliant Joe who also goes by the name of "Tony", depending on how and where you know him from. Joe is always a welcome addition to any gathering and, my gosh, it's worth putting up with Vanessa just to spend time in Joe's company. Sure, he makes HER look good, and what a good sport he is to deal with it all. :-) Joe and I have a lot in common - we both spend great quantities of time around Vanessa and one of these days we're going to sneak out for coffee and compare notes on her behavior. That will be a whole OTHER blog entry but, given that it's the holidays, I will keep this nice and light. I have to admit they both looked very attractive decked out in their "Sunday Best".

The food was fantastic and I spent so much time visiting with everyone that I never made it to the dessert table, but I hear I missed some good stuff. I have absolutely no willpower over chocolate and I'm not really all that interested in acquiring any. Hey, it's the holidays - it's OK to kick back just a bit.

Speaking of "kicking back", it looked to me as if Vanessa definitely believes in cutting loose herself! Ummm...Vanessa, it's certainly not my place to critique or monitor your alcohol consumption darling, but don't you think it's a bit much to walk around a swanky soiree with two glasses of vino? It was a bit transparent to "pretend" that one of them belonged to Joe. Those who don't know you as well as I do, may have bought it (though I doubt it), but I've seen this sort of behavior before, more than a few times. I know, I know, you can "handle" it and, apparently you handled quite a lot of it! I may have to practice a little "tough love" with you after the holidays. I'm going to have to keep my eye on you...Those young ladies we work with look up to you and wine notwithstanding, they can't look up if you're falling down! Just something to think about. No question about it, I see where Katie inherited her "bad" habits.

Stephanie joined us this year and, I must say, she was radiant in red. Chelsea gave her a lovely evening 'do and she looked like a little princess. I was very happy to have her with us and I think she had a pretty good time. I wish that Justin had been free - she probably would have had more fun with him as her date, but I don't think she minded hanging with Guy and me. I see her so much - both at work and around the house, that sometimes I don't realize just how beautiful she is and, well, she is! My son has impressive taste. They make a very nice looking pair.

And then, there is Chelsea. Chelsea and I have so much in common that it's almost scary. Even though we're divided by 25 years, there are a few facets of our personality that strike me as identical. We are generally thinking the same thing and I see a lot of me in her, but maybe she'll get lucky and outgrow it. If not, there's always Vanessa around to jerk a knot in her...well, to straighten her out as only Vanessa can.

Chelsea has become very special to me since she joined us in August and how lucky we are to have her! She's weathered the changes we've all been through in the past few months with grace and a smile. I admire her confidence and take-charge personality. She's most certainly a wonderful asset and a wonderful friend.

Our most recent addition is another Stephanie who joins us on Saturdays and who we came to know when she was a client in Vanessa's chair, due to a FORTUNATE series of events! She's talented, easy-going and has a beautiful smile and does GREAT WORK! We're thrilled to have her on our team, even if only on a part-time basis (for now).

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't say a special thank you to the man who has kept us all together this year, through some fairly challenging times, I might add. We're lucky that our place of business is owned by someone who has stood by us and demonstrated his confidence in this mercurial business, spending impressive amounts of money on advertising and equipment, and who has made it possible for us to remain together. My mortgage company is quite grateful to him, as am I! It's been a wild year, Martin. Thank you for sticking by us and not losing faith. We really do want to make you proud.

I would also like to say a special thank you to someone who gave me the best present! This past Saturday, I received the perfect iTunes Gift Certificate! Thank you GE - James Taylor's Christmas CD is beyond wonderful. How sweet of you to send me this and my iPod and I are so thrilled and I swear I am wearing it out. I probably would never have bought this CD for myself, but I'm so happy to have it. "Baby, It's Cold Out There" which is a duet James does with Natalie Cole, is well worth it alone, but every track on there, including "In the Bleak Midwinter", "Some Children See Him" and he also covers Joni Mitchell's "River". Way, way cool.

I also have to send a special thanks to Gary from Cary - When he gave me that iPod last July, I thought, "I'll NEVER use that thing...I'll never even learn to use that thing." But he knew and I have and I love it. I'm addicted to it. Thank you for the iPod and your foresight, Mr. A. Thank you for being one of the many friendships that survived my own personal sea change. It's nice to know you on the other side. Many of my friendships have proven to be so much more durable than I ever would have guessed. I think I became a little more durable myself.

Saturday Afternoon, right after I downloaded the JT iTunes Gift, I got a call from my daughter. She had just climbed out of a cab and she said, "Mom, guess what the cabbie was playing on his CD player - you will never guess!". I couldn't guess...with Katie, you just don't know. "James Taylor's Christmas CD!". Synchronicity! My gift came from a NYC friend, and my daughter heard it in a NYC cab and I was playing it on an iPod that was given to me by the first person I ever visited NYC with back in Oct. 2003 and who promised me I would love the city...Manhattan truly is a magical place.

One year ago, I didn't know my NYC friend. I didn't know my daughter would be well on her way to becoming a seasoned NY'er. I didn't know my son would meet someone who would turn his world around in the best possible way. I didn't know what opportunities were just around the bend. I didn't know that I could be this happy. I'm glad I didn't know because, if I had, I might have gotten in my own way. I've been known to do that now and again.

I can't believe how fast the days of December are flying past. There are a few milestone events coming up in the next few days. OK, so I'm a little nervous about The Wilmington Star article that's coming out tomorrow, but it's completely out of my hands so I just have to trust that it will be fine. Mostly, I do. I think my stomach will calm down after I read it. I just hope there are no surprises and, if there are, the world won't come to an end.

Also this week, my mother turns 83 on Wednesday! That's hard to believe. She still has flawless skin and not a wrinkle to be found. She's a very beautiful woman and we're very blessed to have this dynamo in charge. You would never in a million years believe she is 83 - she lives, acts and looks so much younger. We can't always keep up with her! Thank God she never had any interest in the computer because the rest of us would die a horrible, painful death - no question about it. I know I'm very very blessed to have her for a mother and that fact is revealed to me a little more with each day. She truly is a wonderful person and most definitely an example worthy of emulating.

And next Monday...wow. I have an appointment next Monday at 10:00 AM and I've been waiting on this one for almost three years. I can't predict the outcome, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Time will tell. I know...I really do know, that it will turn out just the way it's supposed to, so I'm really not all that concerned. More on that one, later. If things go well, it could turn out to be a most welcome Christmas present. Prayers are welcome!

I think everyone in this house is looking forward to Christmas and spirits are running high. My home is happy and even the animals seem extra perky, well, except for poor Felix and, no question about it, we love him, but I'm pretty sure that cat is possessed.

During this time last year, things weren't all that great, which makes this year even more precious and refreshing. I am grateful for the lessons. I am even more grateful for the blessed peace.

Life is good...and I feel fine. Giddy...and fine.

05 December 2006

Smile like you mean it!

Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. ~ Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Last week I got an e-mail from a reporter with The Wilmington Star. She was interested in doing an interview with me focusing on the circumstances from which I wrote "The 12 Click Program" for PC Magazine.

When I was invited to write the PC Magazine piece, I didn't have any huge reservations - well, I did, but they evaporated quickly because, though PC Magazine has a huge following, most of the people I encounter on an everyday basis, here in sleepy, southern Wilmington, North Carolina, don't tend to read PC Magazine. A few of them haven't even heard of it, so the chances of my running into people who had read the piece I wrote on how the Internet was a great source of support and information in my first days of sobriety, was low to basically non-existent. This town isn't exactly Silicon Valley. I don't mean that in a negative way, it's simply not.

When the Wilmington-Star proposed doing this interview well, I had to think about that one. Though Wilmington isn't a tiny town, it "lives" smaller than it actually is. I love this place and I've made quite a few special friends here and, no question, it's been a pivotal scene for no small number of life-changing events in my recent history. To say that a lot has transpired in my life since I bought my house in August 2000, would be an understatement. These past six years have been filled with transitions, some of them profound, many of them scary, intimidating, gut-wrenching and a few could be labeled just plain silly and bizarre.

My first two and a half years in Wilmington, I drank way too much. My wine-consumption grew and my good judgment diminished accordingly. I spent the last few months of 2003 spiraling down until finally, on January 11th, I hit bottom. It felt wretched at the time, but in retrospect, it was a soft-landing, compared to many.

Basically, that's what the Wilmington-Star wanted to talk about - what was the catalyst that sparked the change from active alcoholic to sane(r) sobriety? I thought about it and realized that the chances were good that quite a few people would read the story, see the photo and be more than a little surprised. What would these people think? Would they look down on me. Think less of me? Make unfair judgments based on preconceived notions and just plain disinformation and ignorance with regard to alcoholism and addiction?

After thinking about the possible impact and fall-out, I realized that it didn't really matter all that much. I kept remembering the first few days after my last drink, and how shaky, scared and confused I felt. I would have given anything to read about someone who had been through what I was feeling, who had to contemplate the looming lifestyle changes I was facing, and not simply managed, but realized a better life on the other side - the side I couldn't quite see because everything felt cloudy and fuzzy and exponentially overwhelming.

When I remembered those feelings, I realized that I cared more about the potential for positives much more than any personal negatives I might encounter from such a story being published. I've always felt as if alcoholism is still wrapped in an ill-fitting, undeserved veil of secrecy. Everyone pays lip-service to their view that alcoholism is a disease. But for some reason, it's often still referred to in hushed tones - secretive - and unlike cancer or diabetes, addictive disease still sports the stigma of immorality and a condition relegated to individuals of lesser character.

I really hate that. The thing I detest most about alcoholism is the reputation to which it has been assigned and, even more pointedly, the reputation it assigns to people who honestly can't help it if they're bio-chemistry is wired in such a manner that it never quite grasped the concept of "No thank you, I've had enough", after a glass or two of wine.

Are there some horrible, not-fit-for society, terminally damaged people who are raging alcoholics - people who abuse their spouses, their kids and their dogs - folks you'd purposefully go out of your way to avoid on the street? Of course there are. There are also people who engage in spousal abuse, child abuse, drop kick their dalmatians, juggle cats for sport and refuse to pay child support who have never had a drink in their life, much less suffer from substance abuse.

Lucky individuals who have gone five years without a relapse or re-occurrence of cancer, are considered "cured". Those who suffer from diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, hypo- or hyper- thyroidism, many allergies and yes, alcoholism, are never afforded the luxury of being cured. Patients suffering from all of the aforementioned conditions have illnesses which, with proper health supervision and treatment, can still live full lives as long as they stay mindful of their disease and follow treatment guidelines. My own treatment involves attending recovery meetings and sharing time with people who share my condition. If it sounds like a bitter pill, it isn't at all. It's a gift, a pleasure, a joy and the source of some of the happiest moments in my life. Unlike chemo or an insulin pump, there's really no pain or discomfort involved when I take my medicine - every now and then there's the occasional bad cup of coffee, but other than that, there are no ill side-effects - just a lot of wonderful caveats and benefits.

So what did I do? I replied to the reporter's request and we met this past Friday for an hour-long interview at one of my favorite places downtown; Courthouse Cafe. I don't know how this story will read when it appears in print, but I do know I was honest, forthright and shared my experience. Since that was all that was asked of me, it was hardly a challenge. I definitely kept it real.

What WAS a challenge was the photo-shoot today for the picture that will accompany the piece when it appears in the newspaper on 12 December. I sat at one of the tables in front of our shop on Princess Street while a very nice photographer with the longest lens I've ever seen in my life, snapped away - at times from quite a distance (I told him the further away he got the better I looked), and we encountered a few gawks when he climbed on a chair to snap from a different angle. I had to laugh. There was a glass of jasmine tea beside me on the bistro table and before we started I asked him if he thought it would look like beer in the photo? He didn't think that it would, so I got photographed with my beloved jasmine tea. I pretty much giggled through the rest of the session - and couldn't help but smile as I contemplated all of the crazy places alcohol has taken me and, I guess this would have to qualify as one of them since this man wouldn't have been snapping my photo had I not hit that bottom almost three years ago.

Truth to tell, if I hadn't been stopped in my tracks or, rather, the a parking lot, I have a feeling the only mention of me there would have been in The Wilmington Star, would involve an obituary. I'm not even kidding.

But on a lighter note, who says recovery can't be fun? I had a great time today. That whole "one day at a time" business everyone hears in early sobriety isn't simply a coping mechanism for those new in recovery who are trying to wrap their minds around the concept that they can never drink again, it's also worth remembering when the clouds clear and the days are sweet - a reminder to savor the amazing moments that fly by even when you wish those moments would slow down and linger around for awhile.

Like almost every other day since I found my bearings on January 12th, 2004, I laughed, I learned things, I spoke with friends, smiled at e-mails, hugged a few people, did a few stupid things, and drank way too much caffeine. In other words, I lived my life. Today wasn't special because of one specific event - today was exquisite because, gaffes and all, I really did live in a manner that left me without a hangover and void of regrets. Those two things alone, generate an infinite quantity of gratitude and the pleasure of facing tomorrow with a smile.

25 November 2006

Stranger Than Fiction...

"Let's start with ridiculous and work backwards." ~ Dr. Jules Hilbert aka Dustin Hoffman in the movie, "Stranger Than Fiction"

It was an evening of conceptual irony.

Tonight, I joined my friend and co-worker, Chelsea, and Stephanie, my son's girlfriend, and we went to dinner at a local restaurant in Mayfaire. I suggested this restaurant, not that I could recommend it from personal experience. When I was digging around in the black hole that is my purse a few days ago, I noticed a gift card.

"Where did that come from?", I wondered for a few minutes. Honestly, I couldn't remember for the life of me how I came to be in possession of a restaurant gift card. I get a lot of Barnes and Noble gift cards, but that's about it.

So earlier today, I suggested to Chelsea that we grab dinner and use it, and pick up Stephanie along the way.

We had a great time, the waiter was sweet and funny, very engaging and the food was surprisingly quite good. I knew the restaurant, "Smokey Bones", was a chain owned by the same corporation which gave the world "The Olive Garden" and "Red Lobster", so my expectations certainly weren't high, but it was all much better than anticipated. It was even more fun knowing that part of the dinner was sort of free, courtesy of an almost forgotten 16 month old gift card.

I enjoyed both of my dining partners very much. I work with Chelsea and it's been a pleasure to learn more about her in the past few months. I respect her and though she's a mere 21 years in age, she is an old soul in many other ways. We are very much like kindred spirits.

I also enjoyed spending time with Stephanie. Since Justin was working tonight, it was nice to have more a chance to visit with her, rather than the usual "hi" and "goodbye" we normally exchange because one or both of us is racing off somewhere and we don't seem to have as much time as I would like to really catch up.

Stephanie has become a familiar fixture in my home since she started dating my son this past March. I have learned that there is a depth to her that isn't so easily detectable beneath her shy, quiet exterior. As time moves forward, I appreciate the different facets of her personality. I am profoundly grateful for the positive changes I have seen in my son these past 9 months. They are an interesting fit, these two Scorpios, born exactly two weeks apart, she being the elder, more mature of the pair. I guess my son, like his grandpa, prefers older women?

After dinner, we went to see a movie, along with at least half of Wilmington, or so it seemed given the scarcity of parking spaces. We had decided to see the recently released film with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson - "Stranger Than Fiction". Stephanie had seen it last week with Justin, but found it worthy of a double-take.

The movie was not what I've come to expect from the usual sight-gag laden, frivolous (but funny!) fare that is standard issue in a Ferrell flick. It was definitely a different brand of comedy, particularly given the fact that the film featured heavy-hitters Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.

Without giving too much away, the movie is about a writer (Thompson), who is in the clutches of a horrific siege of "writer's block". By some odd divine device (not clearly explained in the movie), as Thompson is literally typing her manuscript, it is translated and heard in her voice as a "real-time" narration of Harold Crick's (Ferrell), "real-time" life. Of course, only Harold Crick can hear the narration, which makes him appear as if he's presenting a textbook case of schizophrenia.

Amazingly, Ferrell manages to portray an IRS agent, with a serious form of OCD and just about the most vanilla existence imaginable and somehow, you find yourself liking the guy. In spite, or maybe because of, his sheer blandness.

So much of who Harold Crick is resonates - the sort of "everyman" who is completely unaware that he is in possession of an untapped capacity to fashion a life, one that encompasses more than counting the steps to the bus stop or the number of brush strokes he incorporates in his daily dental hygiene. I think probably most of us forget we are qualified and well-equipped to live larger than we do. Will Ferrell's character is appropriately understated, as he goes about the business of portraying a character that "under-lives".

A catalyst is tossed in, and suddenly Harold Crick realizes that this "narration" is no dress rehearsal. He literally and, literarily, needs to learn to live...

And that's when things really begin to get interesting - when he goes about the business of making different choices, when the urgency life suddenly takes on rattles his character and, along with it, much of the audience.

Mostly, the movie is a reminder that we never know when "today was the last of all days" and that it might be a good idea to consider packing as much as possible into "now", on the off chance that today is not followed by a tomorrow. I didn't laugh out loud, but I loved the film. The phrase "Little did he know", could be applied to any one of us because, when you think about, little do any of us know about too much outside of this moment. I know what I expect to take place in five minutes, five hours, and I have a vague assumption on five days from now might look like, but ideas and expectations never sport a guarantee, nor does five minutes, five hours or five days from now.

I found myself challenged by two questions, among others: How little do we know? How little do we live?

Emma Thompson, starring as Karen Eiffel, turns in a deliciously dead-on performance as a neurotic, tortured, macabre and desperately frustrated writer. Her publishing company, so tired of extending deadlines, offers additional support by way of an "author's assistant", in the form of Queen Latifah, who is impressive as a calm, deliberate and focused professional who cuts through the bullshit and does all she can to keep Thompson's character on task. Oh there were a few buzzwords that hit cosmically and comically close to home - overdue outlines, overdue manuscript submissions, time, time, time...It was almost as if God situated me in this movie in the hopes I might take a hint.

I felt her pain. I still do, in fact.

It's no huge secret that I have never been a fan of fiction. My daughter suffers because of this aspect of my personality. She never surrenders hope, but I know there are times she throws up (her hands) in disgust. I have always maintained that reality truly is "stranger than fiction"; this film, like my life (and most everyone I know) is peppered with so many plot twists, unexpected scenes and rewrites - remarkably similar to the contents of reality; comedy intertwines with tragedy and there are rogue moments when it becomes nearly indistinguishable which genre fits best.

Honestly now, haven't you found yourself at one time or another in the middle of a situation you could never have, in a million years, predicted or even conceived, stepped back, blinked and said to yourself, "this IS stranger than fiction..."?

Chelsea picked up the check at dinner tonight, but I insisted she apply the gift card I'd had in my purse. That's when I realized that I was using a gift card given as a wedding present (17 July 2005) of a marriage that no longer exists, the day before what would have been my 26th wedding anniversary of my first (and only real) marriage. I know that legally speaking, it may "state" I've been married twice, but honestly, I hadn't thought of it in weeks and as time moves forward, it really does feel as if it never ever occurred. Sometimes, I'm not completely convinced that it did.

When I look back at that period of my life, and try to understand the thought processes, or lack thereof, that had to be in place, I think it's probably like Dustin Hoffman said in the movie, "Let's start with ridiculous and work backward"

Stranger than fiction...indeed.

16 November 2006

Birthdays, Deadlines and Love...

Evening before last, I had a blog entry written and I was busy choosing photos, placing them at strategic locations throughout the missive. I was cutting and pasting and unfortunately for me, (but probably fortunate for you), I cut too much and lost paragraphs in the "paste", never to be retrieved. I was angry. I was mad. I was...well, I just kind of stared at the screen for a few moments in wondered, in between expletives, "what just happened here?"

One thing I've heard over and over and over and, even more impressively, experienced in one form or another just about every day of the past almost three years, is that everything happens for a reason. Even when I type that phrase, I can literally hear Vanessa, with her perfectly glistening, almost-too-white, teeth, smiling and nodding in that "knowing way" she has, whenever I actually repeat something she drills into my thick skull many times a day. Don't you just hate it when people are pleased to see you confirm they are right, even though they are right and were on target all along? You just want to smack them. Unless you really think the world of them and, of course, I do think the world of her.

But I do think things happen for a reason - even things like losing a post which probably contained something that didn't need to be published, though at the moment I can't really think of anything offensive that might have been included but who knows, maybe it contained something that didn't bear revelation quite yet or merit revelation at all. Or maybe I just highlighted too much text and clicked on "cut" and lost most of the post because I was tired and in a hurry and wanted to get in bed. No wait, that would sort of refute Vanessa's wisdom - so I'm certain it can't be that. I probably wrote out of turn. I'm known to do that now and again.

A glitch in time...

I guess the bottom line is to be grateful not only for the gifts that fall in my lap, unexpected and, to a large extent, hardly deserved, but also, to be grateful when things don't go exactly as I plan, because my plans can be really screwed up and thank God a lot of them don't work out. Now, that can be a bit of a challenge, to be grateful for the blessing of a prayer request unfulfilled. Not infrequently, in my life at least, the blessing is that the blessing I wanted to be blessed with blessedly never occurs. Basically, I am trying to be graciously glad for the glitches. Not so easy as you might imagine, but I'm hoping it will develop into a habit.

Let's see, what else is new and notable? I got an E-mail from the features editor of "The Huffington Post", who requested permission to publish the PC Magazine article I wrote on, "The 12 Click Program", as part of the "Fearless Voices" page which, I suppose, is a companion piece to the recent release of Ms. Huffington's latest book, "Fearless Women". I'm not certain how she found me, but someone at "Team Huffington" did, and I'm working on that as we speak.

Another highlight of the past week involved food and friends. My pal Bruce E-mailed me with an invitation to "do lunch" with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Marge, at The City Club, along with Celia Rivenbark. I've always enjoyed Celia's newspaper syndicated newspaper column and her books are "laugh out loud" funny - (think Erma Bombeck with a southern accent and an edge). Celia has the courage and talent to write the things most of us think but probably would never dare have the guts to say. She's still on tour promoting her latest book, "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year Old Like A Skank" which you can find at a bookstore near you and will make anyone who picks it up smile. C'mon - be honest - haven't you ever looked at a kid in elementary school and wondered, "Why did her parents let her walk out of the house like that?". Of course you have. Celia, and my daughter could easily be this woman's daughter, just puts it out there and doesn't even bother looking back. If you've read Katie's blog lately, you would find a strikingly similar style of writing...with, of course, the tiniest bit more edge. Katie's last two entries have been so vintage Katie. I'm certain Celia would approve.

I'd never visited The City Club in downtown Wilmington, but the food was amazing and the interior was "elegant plantation". As always, it was fantastic to see Marge and Bruce - and Bruce is one huge reason why I'm enjoying the offers I've been blessed with lately. I can't thank him enough for his counsel, interest and direction when I ask him, "How am I going to do this?". He actually makes me believe that I can. I respect his intellect, experience and obvious talent, not to mention his "git 'er done" attitude, that I find myself buying into it when he promises that I am capable.

The day before lunch with Marge, Bruce and Celia, I was invited to another lunch - my best, dear friend Sharon called me up and told me to be ready in about 20 minutes which I felt safe in assuming would be an hour or so because Sharon's watch runs like mine - about 40 minutes late. I love that about her.

Sharon is someone who probably knows me better than just about anyone outside of my family and maybe even better than my family. She's been there almost since the beginning, being one of the first people I met when I moved to Wilmington in August 2000. We worked together at Coldwell Banker which is where I first met Sharon. We were on our way to an awards banquet and the office I worked for had rented an SUV limo to transport all of the agents to a breakfast awards dinner at a hotel on Wrightsville Beach. We were all decked out in formal attire, which I think was the brainchild of our rather odd broker-in-charge, demonstrating a sense of humor I never really knew she had, and just as we crossed over the bridge, 8:00 AM in the morning of a cold January day, I noticed we were pulling over before we got to the hotel. I also noticed there was a very attractive blond who seemed to be chasing, on foot and in heels and a long formal dress, the limo. Of course, that got my attention. "Who is she?", I wondered. I made it my business to find out.

It turns out that "she" was one Sharon Pate. She created quite a stir that morning and I was almost taken aback when she opened her mouth and the most delightful, genteel, prim and proper drippingly southern accent rolled off her tongue as she introduced herself to me. I figured that any woman who could chase down a limo in heels and look good doing it, was probably someone I wanted to know.

We became fast friends, partners-in-crime, and have we EVER shared a few adventures, good times, hard times, scary times, and everything in between. She was the best thing Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty ever offered me, much more precious than the best commission check I ever received as a broker, a job I absolutely hated with every fiber of my being. We worked together off and on during my tenure, and we've shared dinners, movies, drinks (pre-AA), more dinners, long long talks, me hitting my bottom, her cleaning out my desk, me getting engaged a few times, her getting my patio ready for a wedding that should never have been (but it was a really pretty party!), her remarriage that fared much better than mine (he didn't need to be a kept man), the illness and difficult death of her beloved mother, working side-by-side for "Team Dysfunctional" for a few weeks until she wised up and got out of there. It took me a little while longer.

Through it all - we've brought different strengths to the table and, to our friendship: She's a wonderful sounding board for me when I'm not sure how to proceed - and even if I'm not totally in agreement with what she says, her accent is delicious to listen to and should come with a warning. Me? I provide two very unique services for Sharon; 1) She knows that no matter how late she's driving home from anywhere, she can call me and I'll be up, usually in front of my computer. I entertain her so she doesn't fall asleep at the wheel. 2) I can find anything she may need on the Internet - from diagnostic information to directions on the occasions she's driving around and may require a quick mapquest check. I guess I'm kind of like her personal GPS. I'm fine with that.

She's probably the closest thing I have to a sister - and interestingly enough, she's ten years older than me, making her the exact same age my sister would be, if she were still alive. Since I no longer have one around, she certainly fills that role perfectly, and in fact, we've been accused of being related because we're both blond and we have the same skewed sense of humor.

We have plans to retire together someday so it's in Sharon's best interests that I make some money writing because she has really expensive taste. I'd hate for her to lower her standard of living because I couldn't bring home the bacon. Personally, I think that's why she pushes me so much, though she pretends it's purely for my own benefit. Sharon is southern charm personified. She colors my life is bold, brilliant brush strokes. There is nothing pastel or impressionstic about Sharon - she is much more Picasso. And I love her. Particularly when she agrees with me.

Speaking of colorful, my son is going to turn 20 on November 21st. My gosh, he's getting old. The contrast between Justin 2005 and Justin 2006 is almost beyond comprehension.
This has been a huge year for my son - in so many positive ways. He replaced the wild, reckless self-destructive manner that kept me awake so many nights in 2005, with more life-affirming goals and behaviors. He has matured almost beyond recognition which isn't to say he's "all grown up" but really, who is? He has grown more handsome, made better decisions, and is living more healthy than I can remember. Some of this is due, in part, to mistakes and increasing age and experience but, no small part of it is due to the fact that he met someone very special - who has brought a great deal of joy into his life, and a lot more peace of mind into my life.

Justin began dating Stephanie this past spring and they've basically been inseparable ever since. She has become a fixture around here and I rarely see Justin without her which is fine. I'm just happy that Justin is still around for me to see. Her healthier lifestyle has definitely been a huge influence on his life and, because his grandparents and I love him so much, it's been a powerful influence on our lives as well. She has had a quiet, but profound effect on my son and I will forever and always be grateful to her for the major changes in attitude and lifestyle he has adopted.

When I look at photos of Justin from his 19th birthday and I catch a glimpse of the son I have now, who regularly comes and visits me in my office at home and work, there is little resemblance. He is not the same person. He is now a young man who's grown and learned so much in such a short span of time. What a wonderful transition and I'm so thrilled to be able to see the evolution into the young adult he has grown into these past dozen months.

This weekend will mark my final submission for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and working for the long-suffering Ms. Sarah who so sweetly and graciously waits for my stories which eventually arrive, only about five days late. Sometimes seven. Never more than nine. Well, there was that one time but I had to get ready for a trip and my gosh, I E-mailed it a whopping three hours before I left! It's been a lot of fun working with Sarah. She's a rising star and a darn fine editor and an exceptional writer herself. My work load (and I'm not complaining) is getting so crazy between my day job, my writing gigs and I'm still toying with my "50 pages and an outline" or GE is going to fly down and kick me in the keyboard. I just know he will. You know how those NYC publishing people can be. I've heard stories...from very unreliable sources. :-) They "know people". They're "kind of a big deal". My friend is no exception and I know he's going to stay on me until I deliver the goods.

I don't want to let my friend down, who's opened a very impressive door. Even more than that, I don't want to let me down.

In a perfect world, I would receive a lovely Christmas bonus (hahahaha) and find a reasonably priced place to stay in NYC - take in the sights of a Manhattan all dressed up and ready for Christmas, go ice skating, walk through Central Park and maybe even see snow, visit the nice folks and animals at HSNY and maybe go to a show or nice dinner with my friends and then catch Amtrack out of Penn Station and ride a train for 10 1/2 hours to Fayetteville, NC - and then get in a car for 2 hours and finally arrive home to Wilmington.

Now, I know you're asking yourself, "why would anyone fly up to NYC and then take a train back home?" and that is a very valid and reasonable question. I know it's a question I'd ask if someone told me of such plans.

My daughter hates to fly. And it shows. So in an effort to spend more quality time with my little 23 year old girl, I would love to fly up, take in a few NYC sites, and then ride the rail back to the south - as Katie pointed out - we can have 10 plus hours on a train without any interruptions, no cell phone calls, some real time together, just the two of us, what Katie pronounces as "quality time". What I translate as her gentle way of saying, "There's no f'ing way you're going to get me on some commuter, in the winter, when everyone knows planes must be de-iced, and think I'm going to get belted in a seat on a slender, claustrophic aluminum tube that has no business off the ground. Fuggetaboutit!". That's exactly what Katie is saying. Oh, I'm picking up what she's putting down. :-)

As luck would have it, December 23rd, the date of her tentative departure for North Carolina, comes agonizingly close to Christmas - you know - the season when you have to buy stuff...a lot of stuff. Presents. For several people who will be expecting them. Or you will hear about it for the rest of the year how Christmas 2006 was about the lamest one imaginable.

Even worse than the Christmas 2000 when Mom (me) literally experienced a very real (and audible) panic attack while getting up on the roof and stringing the Christmas lights because I suddenly remembered I had this horrible fear of heights.

Budgets. Money. Crap. One would think that a train, taking 8 times as long to get from point A (NYC) to point B (Wilmington, NC) would be fairly cheap - for all the agony one is expected to endure. But believe it or not, it's as expensive, or more, to ride the rail than soar the sky. It's like you have to pay more money for less efficiency. I don't like that!

"You'll get to see the countryside!" Katie much too exuberantly exclaims. (She's not naturally exuberant).

"I've seen it! Did something change topographically that I'm not aware of since the last time I got talked into Amcrap 20 years ago??," I query.

"Mom, there are colorful, interesting people on the train. They're fun to watch," she points out.

"Katie, there are colorful people at the bus station and they looked closely related to the people at the train station last time I took you to catch your train. I'm sure they're great and upstanding citizens, but I don't really want to be around them for 10 hours. I don't really want to be around people I actually know and like for ten hours - except, of course, for you...because I really do love you."

I rather doubt I'll be the recipient of an unexpected Christmas bonus so this is all a moot point. But for as much as I hate the thought of being on swaying train for ten plus hours, I'd love to be on it with her. She makes me laugh like no one else can. She's completely dry and absurd and can deliver a line like no one else can. Katie doesn't look through rose colored glasses - I'm not sure what color the lens in her glasses really are, but I just know I love hearing her describe what it all looks like from where she sits. And smirks.

Oh...and Happy Birthday wishes to another member of our immediate family. Tonight, my Daddy reminded me that Cassie joined us seven years ago today, when we adopted her from the Amarillo SPCA. She was skin and bones and, as Celia Rivenbark might say, "knocked up", but she had the sweetest smile and heart-melting eyes. Justin and I knew she was the one, instantly.

The vet estimated she was probably around one when she came to hang with us, which would make her 8 by now. She still, however, is just as much a puppy as she was 7 years ago. Maybe even more. She is the best dog West or East of the Mississippi and we are so thrilled that she is ours.

We're also pretty thrilled that Justin is ours. I knew right away that he was the one, because I doubted any other baby could kick my spine the way he did as he made his way out into the world. I locked eyes with him and my heart melted. It's been melting ever since. I love you, Justin. Happy almost birthday (November 21). I am just so proud of you.

A special Happy Birthday to Stephanie, who turned 20 on 7 November, and who has colored our lives by sharing her own. We really do love you Stephanie - we're glad you are one of us. Really. You're a very special young lady.

I'm proud of you too, Katie, even if I can't talk you into a short flight that I probably can't afford anyway. I know this is one of those places where it should suffice to know that "it's the thought that counts", but my gosh, I really would have loved to have shared that long train ride with you - not because I like trains, but because I love you. You've always had my heart, just like your brother. I miss you these days.

I love you too, Mom and Dad. Thanks for loving all of us back and continuing to teach us in a very gentle way, what is real. What matters most.

I love my family - crazy and strange as this group is, I can't imagine belonging to any other, nor would I ever want to even contemplate such a thing. They rock.

30 October 2006

New York City - Part Deux...and a few thoughts

[For the curious among you:
I've had several E-mails asking me
if Michel,
who recently joined me in NYC
and appears in a few of my posts,
is my date,
fiancee -
Fortunately for Michel,
he is my friend. :-)
Michel is too smart
to get tangled up with me!
The fact that we are not
romantically involved
is the reason we're still friends!]

Stop This Train...

"So scared of getting older.

I'm only good at being young.

So I play the numbers game,
to find a way to say that life has just begun..."
~ John Mayer

If you haven't listened to John Mayer's latest CD, "Continuum", you really should. And if you do, pay particular attention to "Stop This Train" and see if you relate. If you're over the age of 40, and I'm six years past that, it resonates. It reverberates. It haunts my mind, but mostly in a good way. Maybe it means a little more with a bit of history.

It was also almost the reason I missed my flight back home to Wilmington. Not that I didn't get to La Guardia in plenty of time, but I kept playing that song on my iPod so many times and I was consumed with a million circulating thoughts, that I didn't hear the announcement that my gate had been changed. In a divine Act of Providence, my ear piece popped out of place and I heard this startling announcement, "Would passenger Susie Parker, please report to Gate 2 for boarding. This is the final call for Susie Parker - Report to Gate 2." It was a "Home Alone" moment. I sprinted. I'm sure I looked like a freak. Oh well, it was New York City which meant that I probably looked normal.

Anyway, to sum up the rest of the trip, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, just like Thursday and Friday, were exhilarating, fun and filled with unexpected surprises, the good kind, and blessings scattered all around me - disguised in the form of sights, sounds and the people hanging in my orbit. I really love whatever galaxy it is that I am currently inhabiting. I just don't quite know how I managed to find it. Or maybe it found me.

On Saturday, Michel and I headed to Union Square because he wanted to see a NYC farmer's market and how impressive it was! We walked around until Katie joined us around noon and then she took over the itinerary as only she can.

We headed for "The Strand" bookstore, having heard from Erik at PC Magazine, that it was a "must see", and Katie quite concurred. Four incredible floors of BOOKS! New books, old books, out of print books, gently and not-so-gently used books, you name it - and it was probably there. I set up camp in the basement and would still be there if Katie hadn't reminded me there was more of NY that Michel needed to see. We made our purchases and found our way back outside and in a taxi.

Next stop: South Street Seaport. Katie, John and I had lunch there last May at Pacific Grill, and it was such a warm, sunny NY afternoon, it seemed like the right thing to do once again. After lunch, we decided a harbor tour might be cool, but we couldn't' have been more wrong. Oh, the tour was fascinating - but it was FRIGID! The wind whipping up off the water soon chased Katie into the more temperate reaches of the tour boat, but Michel and I braved the winds because the view was just too perfect. It was like sailing in a picture post card scene except for the wind. I loved how the boat bounced, but I did miss it when the feeling left my face and hands. Michel was kind enough to share his overcoat and scarf, but even with that - my southern blood was protesting.

But the views! It would have been impossible not to fall in love with Manhattan that day. The skyscrapers gleaned, the water was white-capped and the sky found just the perfect shade of blue. It was one of those moments when the non-NY'er that I am, felt, well, extreme pride! Considering all that this city has dealt with and weathered, "Can do" was stamped all over the place. My fondness for Manhattan bubbled up, kind of unexpectedly. Having said that, when our boat sidled up to the Statue of Liberty, I did turn around and thank Michel given that he's French and it seemed like the polite thing to do. It is pretty impressive, all the more so since 11 September. One of the most touching parts of the day was when the boat got into position for the "Statue of Liberty Photo Op", every single person on that boat stood up - even the ones without a camera. All eyes turned toward the torch and I think there was this collective feeling of "awe". I still feel it when I look back at my photos. It was a goose bump sort of moment.

After the boat ride and post-sail thawing out, we weaved our way through the financial district and found a cab which deposited Katie on Avenue C and we made plans to meet up with her later for dinner. Michel took off for a walk to find something for his son, Brieg. I took off...for a nap.

The wait for dinner was something like an hour or so, but it was more than worth it. We found the most sumptuous restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel and I had no idea it was the home of the same chef who authored "Kitchen Confidential". Brasserie Les Halles is definitely worth a visit and whatever wait you may encounter. You have to understand, that after eating at NY Athletic Club on Friday Night, was a hard act to follow for whatever restaurant we chose, but through pure dumb, inexperienced, naive luck, we encountered a contender.

I said everything was fantastic - Katie and I ordered Filet de Boeuf Bernaise which was mouth-melting, as was the Salade d'Auvergne and, of course, the tea...well...trust me - good stuff. The only puzzling thing was Michel's entree: Steak tartare, Frites. I just couldn't understand eating raw beef with a bunch of stuff tossed in to make it appear (and I use the word loosely) cooked. Michel insisted that I try it and I did, but it tasted and felt like something I would give Cassie were I to try and hide a pill she needed to take. My unsophisticated palate found it to be...raw meat with stuff tossed into make it look cooked. Ugh. What was he doing to me? The first night we take him out he orders Kangaroo sausages and then it's raw steak. I think it was a sly French device for taking me to task - probably because I didn't walk fast enough. I didn't sense any obvious malice or resentment, but it could all be very passive-aggressive. Of course, I am teasing. Michel would have no problem getting in my face and expressing to me his displeasure with one of my actions - in a polite sort of way, of course. The French are very civilized like that.

Oh well, his digestive system, not mine. It must have agreed with him - or maybe that's why they are so serious about their wine - to take the edge off having to eat ill-prepared dishes. I really can't say. I guess if I tossed back a couple of glasses of vino, I'd easily overlook that someone forgot to put the meat over a flame. It reminded me of the time he ordered oysters for us on the Eiffel Tower and right when I was about to swallow one, he pointed out that it was alive. This was in my "pre-sobriety" days and I recall needing a half bottle of champagne to get the taste of THAT out of my mind and off my tongue.

What can I tell you - I'm such an American! Michel, I know that if you're reading this, you are probably rolling your eyes right now.

Sunday Morning was spent in the deep woods of Central Park. John joined us after seeing his mother off as she headed back for North Carolina the day before me. It's always fun to have John along and he's so easy to spot since he's generally the tallest person around and never gets lost in a crowd. Of course, Central Park was beautiful and the leaves were turning and it was nice to feel so far removed from the noise of cabs, buses, subways and 8 million people, give or take a few thousand. I love Central Park. It takes the occasional claustrophobic feel that I sometimes experience when I'm in that town. We followed paths and rambles and saw all manner of wild life, and there were some animals as well. The weather was still warm and it was a nice way to spend a Sunday Morning.

We had lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant which was very nice and then, given that Michel only had a couple of hours left for sight-seeing, I decided his sights needed to include the chaos that is Times Square for a little "sensory overload" which is the essential NY experience. Michel didn't quite know where to look first. So he looked a little lost and, of course, I captured it. I always have my camera. He's still handsome even when he looks lost.

Soon enough, it was time to head back to the hotel and the train that would take him to Newark and then to the plane that would fly him to Milan and then Nantes and the French 'hood he calls home. Or whatever the French word for home is...Chez Le Seac'h.

After bidding him a safe trip and goodbye hug, it was time for me to catch a cab for Greenwich Village for a fun dinner with John's Aunt Daria and Uncle Bill, John, Katie, another John, Cathy and Joan, who I met for the first time and enjoyed immediately. How kind of them to invite me to their Sunday Night dinner at El Charro. The only person missing was Melanie (John's other lovely Aunt). The food was warm and spicy and the company and conversation even better. What a great way to wind up a spectacular weekend. Sometimes I am amazed at the individuals who light up my path. I'm not sure how it all happens, I know my buddy Bruce B. has his own theory with regard to such encounters, but I know this much: I am so thankful, regardless of the machinations that make it so.

Monday Morning, I had one more meeting to attend. I figured it would last an hour or so, involve a cup or two of coffee and then I'd be on my way to hop around the Upper East Side as I waited a couple of hours for Katie to take off from work for lunch. What was supposed to last one hour, became three hours that flew in a blink! I met a very special person who was a surprise and delight. And so talented! GE - it was a pleasure and I really am working on my assignment - I just had to take a little time off to blog this stuff or it would recede into the far recesses of my cluttered mind. I promise to get back to work. I'll make you proud. I won't let you down. I won't let me down, either. Thank you for that SURPRISE Tuesday phone call.

Finally, as noon approached, I checked out of my hotel and headed for the charming place where my daughter spends her days. I met her fantastic friend Eric, who graciously guarded my suitcase while Katie and I ate at the Moonstruck Diner, just around the corner from the Queensborough Bridge, and then I returned to meet the beautiful and vivacious director, Anne Marie, other staff and, just as important, some very cool cats. No really, I met cats. I walked into a room that had at least 60 cats and it was like this huge cat daycare center - all cats, all the time. Everywhere my eyes landed, there was a cat engaged in cat-like activities and, as it turns out, NY cats pounce, swat, stretch, sleep and purr, much as their southern counterparts, three of which who call my place home. I will say that I met a very cool urban NY cat named Patterson who, I am told, is running for mayor and should I be granted HSNY voting privileges, he's got my mine. Katie works in such a purrrrrfect environment and it's a good fit for her.

Soon it was time to collect my over-sized suitcase, ask Eric to take one more photo and though I was sad to leave, Katie tried to make me feel better about not seeing her again until the holidays - "Mom, Christmas is like ten minutes away! You'll see - it will fly!". Right.

The weirdest part of all is that, though I was thrilled to be back home and see my son, my parents, Stephanie, Princess, Sylvester, Felix, Cassie and the birds - for the first time ever, I found myself missing the noise, the crowds, the shadows of skyscrapers, the subways, the taxis, the smells of a million different restaurants and street vendors, my friends, both old and new, and so much else that epitomizes that crazy city. Except the weather. When I left there was a biting wind whipping around those buildings and off the East River and I do NOT miss that mind and throat numbing cold, but I miss so much of the warmth I felt on this trip. I never ever thought I would feel that way. Then again, I never thought I'd have a kid living in Manhattan.

When I think about all of the fun I had on this trip, the adventures, the dinners, the meetings, the unexpected familiarity and even a little deja vu tossed in for good measure, and I recall leaving NYC in May when I was miserable and at the end of a relationship that was doomed to fail, the tears that I dripped all over the Financial District and Battery Park as I left my daughter in Yankeeland, and the very sad flight back home realizing all that I had to confront and feel my way through, I can't help but feel astonishment and gratitude for all that has come to pass in what is a relatively short span of time.

I couldn't know back in mid-May that all of that pain and frustration would deliver me to this place in my life. I am not quite sure how I got here, but I keep coming back to something I hear often and believe with all of my heart, "the promises are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will materialize if we work for them." There was a time I couldn't totally buy into those promises, and there were times I thought they might be meant for other people, but certainly not me. I now know they are dependable, reliable and non-discriminatory. They are true for everyone. Even me.

"Don't stop this train
Don't for a minute change the place you're in

And don't think I couldn't ever understand

I tried my hand
John, honestly, we'll never stop this train..."