25 September 2006

Search Me! I Just Stumbled Into It...

I have been busy Stumbling Upon...StumbleUpon...If you haven't visited the service yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. I do have to warn you though, it is highly addictive. I have visited a lot of websites, but this is by far the best choice for creative procrastination. Not only that, I have met some amazing fellow stumblers!

Yes, you have to subscribe and go through the mechanics of creating your own "Stumble Upon" home page, but it's well worth the effort. Initially, you will probably think to yourself, "Why exactly am I doing this?". Tell yourself to be quiet and get on with it. You may not understand the caveats initially, but just click around and remember that when you find a sight you really love, and you know you will, click on the "thumbs up" icon on your SU toolbar and write a review.

Along the way, you'll meet some interesting, geeky, like-minded SU subscribers and before you know it, you'll be exchanging information, greetings and swapping sites and e-mails: Acquaintances will blossom into cyber-friendships - it's an online community that's eclectic and fairly savvy, on a global scale.
As with most communities, there are sickos and bozos around, but all you have to do to avoid the occasional weirdo, is simply click on the "block this user" button and voila - you can't, and won't, be bothered anymore. They will no longer exist.

As I mentioned, I have swapped some interesting messages with people interested in the same things I am as well as people who aren't! I've had a string of intense deadlines in the past couple or three weeks, and because of this, I have spent a great deal of time staring at my monitor and wondering which word should go next. To break up the tedious aspect of writing, I have also surfed and stumbled my way through any number of websites I would never have discovered otherwise. For the occasional insomniac or professional procrastinator, this site is a "must see".

Thank you for time well wasted...

And finally, to fellow stumblers Miss-Parker, Yola, Gmkii, Crimewriter, Dbarndt, Contour, Starbuck1, Glenede, Orca-wild, saar, gcl, Outoftheblue, boomcrash1, pseudonym, ncoutlander, Cheaphits and Nicky187, thanks for making me feel welcome, sending me kind words, encouragement as I dither over deadlines drawing nearer, making me laugh when I should be asleep and sharing some points to ponder, long after I move away from the monitor. You guys rock!

Walking in New York...

You don't skip a beat
when you're hittin' the street,
Walkin' in New York
There's a kind of heart
You become a part of,
Walkin' in New York.

Me and my friend,

Just walkin' and talkin'.
Walkin' in New York...

There are times that will always stay

Somewhere in your thoughts
One of mine will always be,

Walkin' in New York

All you need is one good friend,

And some time to spare.

Stoppin' for coffee at some cafe,

Life without a care...

~ Brenda Russell

I've had so many people in my corner over the years, every single one of them quirky and talented and loyal beyond belief. I wouldn't be here without them. There is one, however, who I think of every single time I read something I wrote in published form. I know that if it were not for this fine, talented, gifted writer-in-his-own-right, I wouldn't be in print at all. Of this, I am certain.

In March 1997, I was excited by the prospect of finally meeting, in person, my e-mail friend of nine months. Michel was making his first flight to the United States, and what a gift that turned into for me. Poor Michel! I wonder if he had known what he was in for, if he would have still made that flight? I'm so glad he didn't know, because he has been such a "don't miss" experience for me - in a variety of ways.

Michel is one of the kindest, most gentle and compassionate gentlemen I have ever met, who comes equipped with an accent that could melt butter, but make no mistake, this man is serious about writing and has never hesitated to take me to task if he didn't think I was giving something my very best effort. There have been times he has constructively and correctly criticized a piece I have e-mailed him for review, and I have wanted to declare war on France, or at the very least, Michel! It would have made no difference and he would never have changed his opinion if I had possessed the capacity to declare war. He's stubborn beyond belief. It's what drives me crazy. It's also what makes him a true and precious friend. Bouf! (Hey Cowboy, you might want to leave the hat back in France...you know how those NY'ers are. They might not cotton to that kind of attire. People get killed for less than that in NYC!)

One of the things I dislike most about him, is that he's generally always right, and when he's directed me to go back to the drawing board (or keyboard), there has always been a good reason(s) for it and when I finally shifted my ego aside and thought about what he was recommending in terms of my lackluster effort, whatever I was working on, was infinitely better because of it.

Michel is the reason I somehow found the courage to pitch my newspaper column and snag my first paid writing gig, but he had to nudge me hard. I remember talking to him on my cell phone on the way to my meeting with the editors at the newspaper in Texas, and no matter what protestations I presented, he shooed them away and told me to basically get over it, and myself, that I was capable, and I could do it. As it turns out, the man was right - but I distinctly remember walking out of that editor's office, proposal accepted, and thinking..."Wow...what do I do now?" How does one write a column?". It was sort of surreal, in a good way, of course.

He held my hand through the first several and I think it was a good two years into my five year run, before I would submit my work to the newspaper without first running it by him. So my column generally appeared in Texas, by way of France. I love technology.

And why not? Technology, and AOL, brought me Michel! Nine years later, and several trips back and forth across the Atlantic, we're still friends, though his position is more that of a member of my family.

In fact, I sort of helped Michel see more of America, because I kept moving. We met in Miami in March 1997, he went house-hunting with me later that same year, in Charleston, South Carolina and, 18 months later, I found myself moving to Texas. Six months after that move, Michel saddled up and visited West Texas. It wasn't long before I got antsy again and August 2000 found me buying a home in Wilmington, NC - Thanksgiving of that same year, found Michel sharing Thanksgiving Day with my family and making his first foray into North Carolina. This move must have taken (knock on wood!), because six plus years later, I'm still here and very happy but Michel has always had a yen to make it to Manhattan which Katie was kind enough to take on this move and give us someone to visit, a young lady who knows her way around the subway system, buses, big yellow taxis and provides an "insiders guide" to the craziest city in the world. I guess she inherited the gypsy gene, and she's off to a fine start! I couldnl't be more proud of her wandering ways.

So, in the name of reciprocity, Michel is flying to NYC and Katie has agreed to be our personal tour guide, just as he took such great care of us the times we were in France. Of course, he's a few steps beyond brilliant and, knowing him and how he hates to fly, he will spend the flight studying NYC guides and walk off the plane knowing far more about where to go and what to do than I ever will. He's smart that way. I will do well to remember this is a man who stepped off a plane in South Carolina and, after flying quite a few hours, sat down with me to a game of Scrabble and right off the bat, used every single tile. No small feat, particularly given that English is not his primary language. That really stung and I'm still trying to get over that one.

It's going to be a fast-paced trip and we intend to pack as much as we possibly can into a handful of days. In addition to visiting with Katie and John, we are having lunch with one of my favorite editors at one of my favorite magazines. Erik will join us for a meal and I know wherever he chooses will be fantastic, just as it was in May. I'm sure Michel will enjoy meeting someone involved in major magazine publication, particuarly one with the international reputation PC Magazine enjoys, and I believe Erik will find it interesting to hear about Michel's work. Me? I'll simply be thrilled to be in the company of both these guys, grateful to have a seat at the same table.

Katie has informed me that we chose a weekend when John's beautiful mother, Nina, will also be in Manhattan and we will be honored to join Nina, Katie and John, in addition to Nina's sisters, Melanie and Daria, and her wonderful husband Bill for dinner. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to hooking up with this crowd again. I loved meeting them when I was there in May, even given the private turmoil I was dealing with, and I know it's going to be even more fun, because much has changed since my last visit. My life is so much better and I feel grateful that things are just the way they are.

After Michel flies back to Paris, I'm going to corner my Katie so that we can indulge our vices and drink copious amounts of coffee and really catch up like old times. I'm also looking forward to visiting the Humane Society of New York and meeting the people she works alongside. I'm told it's going to be chilly and I can imagine, late October, New York will be gorgeous.

An open book...er....magazine

Coincidentally, the piece I wrote for the 17th October issue of PC Mag will hit the stands while I'm up there, and Erik has promised to give me a couple of copies. I must admit I'm interested to see how it's received. I was invited to write a very personal piece, and at first it didn't seem like so much, but it's dawning on me that with a paid subscripition of 5 million readers, there's potentially a large audience for true confessions. I know I've always said I was an "Open Book", and I guess this confirms it.

I also just finished a feature that will appear in the November issue of a local magazine on a topic I know a little about, "Women & the Internet". I had a few different options on how to work this one, but it turns out that my perfect interview subjects and resources, appeared just when I needed them and I'm very proud of how it has turned out. I had so many accomplished women who made themselves available (and a wonderful UNC-W Professor - Thanks Jonathan!) , to work with, that it would have been difficult to mess this one up. I hope all who chimed in will be pleased with how they are represented. It means a great deal to me that they feel I did them justice. I couldn't have done it without every single one of them.

As I mentioned, I just finished a feature story focusing on women and how they have come to incorporate the Internet in terms of their professional careers. Now, I'm fairly pleased with my writing, but for some odd reason, titles have always eluded me but for some reason, this time, I had a vision. I don't mean to boast but at 4:00 AM on the very morning my story was (over)due, I had the a mental power surge and came up with the title...ready?..."High-Wired Women Working WITH a 'Net". Where this pre-dawn titular epiphany came from, I cannot say, but even I liked it.
My esteemed editor also asked me to discuss blogs, in the form of a side bar. She suggested I incorpate my own personal blog as an example. I was very pleased to share it, but I notice that as I begin an entry now, I think about who might read my "off the record" words, and what they may take from it and, in a way, I miss the "off the cuff" dispensation with which I used to write my entries. I am working through this reticence and trying to remind myself that the whole reason for this blog in the first place, is to just type what pops in my mind; The freedom to elaborate on life and the changes that inevitably occur is just one of the things I've enjoyed about this medium. So WHAT if I dangle a participle or end a sentence with a preposition...My thoughts sometimes dangle lots of participles and I've been known to think thoughts in prepositionally terminated INCOMPLETE sentences. Oddly enough, the world hasn't come to an end...yet.

Perhaps what is core to so much revelation and personal exposure, of both me and my blog, is the fear and vulnerability that come attached with stripping away some of the layers, the veneer we all self-construct to hide the flaws and focus attention away from whatever weaknesses we deal with and, don't kid yourself, we ALL have them.

For me, I know that part of what comprises my personality, colors my mannerisms, affects my attitudes and directs my course-corrections are the weaknesses and challenges, one of which is about to appear in print. Somewhere inside of me, I'm coming to truly believe that, blemishes and all, I'm OK. I'm working on it. I'm making progress and most of all, I am doing the very best I am capable of doing, and this is probably one of the first times in my life that I can unequivocally make that declaration in complete honesty.

I know I smile more, I laugh from a deeper place, and I feel things much more succinctly. I have plenty of character defects to work on and major items that need improvement, but I also recognize the positives that have been borne from focus and self-discipline, something that doesn't historically come naturally to me. When I look back at where I was three years ago, there is not enough money on this planet that could entice me to ever go back (and I'm a huge fan of money!). When all is said and done, considering what could have been, I'm so delighted to be alive and been allowed the chance to work on anything, myself included.

Most days, I really do love being the "me" I am now, so much more than the "me" I was then. For a woman genuinely trying to "do the next right thing", that's got to be a good sign. It is coming to be my experience, that nothing feels as gratifying as slipping into my own skin, and realizing that it fits...that I am finally comfortable where it counts most; inside of me. You can't buy that no matter how many trips you take to the mall. Hard work and realignment will take you there and, once you arrive, you know that you are home. I really did find home.

09 September 2006

I can't wait for winter...

Today has been a bit on the exasperating side and from all quadrants, I might add. Perhaps it's just cumulative, but for some reason, it feels a little more pronounced today.

I am generally known as Ms. Perky. I twist on the smile, generally hit my marks, and am expected to overlook slights, unfulfilled promises, and conform to the schedules and desires, wants and perceived needs of people in my concentric inner circle. This evening, I'm considering shaking up my inner circle - and only because I'm sure that I need to reconsider the pecking order of a few people in my life. It doesn't happen very often - but this evening, I have decided that it's perfectly OK to be annoyed. And so I am. Definitely annoyed.

My gosh that admission felt deliciously empowering!

In all fairness, I do have a couple of deadlines dangling in my immediate future and I do tend to feel a little extra stress when one of those things are breathing down my neck - so a small part of my annoyance may well be attributed to that, but not all of it.

In the past almost three years, I have discovered something and I am probably as surprised as those around me appear to be: I'm much more honest when I feel someone is taking advantage of me, and I've even found myself sounding rather forthright when I decide that I don't like the behavior of a friend or relative (or stranger). I kind of like it that I feel more at ease in speaking my mind and have stopped letting things slide in order to keep the peace, because that can't be healthy. Maybe it's a sign that I'm growing to respect myself more, by disallowing someone else to disrespect me with their words and actions. It can't be all that good for a person to continually stuff it, when that is exactly the two words you really want to say to the person you find yourself annoyed with. Who hasn't felt the inclination now and again to simply say, "STUFF IT!!"?

On the way home tonight with my friend Vanessa (who, FYI, I am not annoyed with), we had a nice chat about things and she most definitely is someone who's opinion I respect and who I just plain admire - mostly because with Vanessa, you know where you stand. She's an amazing woman. There is no fuzzy gray area with this strong-willed force of life! She calls things like she sees them and, in many ways, she reminds me a great deal of my mother. Tact may not always be her strong suit, but when all is said and done, she's usually right on the money in her opinions and beliefs. Her batting average is off the charts - and the same can easily be said of most of the opinions belonging to my Mother. Both of these women are valuable, blessed fixtures in my life, and I am grateful for their example, and the direction they unwittingly offer.

My father is also someone who is just about as close to an ideal role model as one can be. Though he is a bit more tactful and soft in his delivery, than my Mother or Vanessa, in his "kinder, gentler" way, he accomplishes the same result - of being someone worthy of anyone's respect and definitely worth emulating. This is someone I find it literally painful to disappoint. I just don't like going there.

To be honest, I need look no further than either of my parents to find a pair of the best people on this earth, in every single category imaginable, to color and influence my life. If I do need to go further, I've always got Vanessa. OK, so my Dad and Vanessa have some "mild" OCD issues with things like mowing (length of a blade of grass) and putting everything back to its original place, almost before you're even finished using it, but no one's perfect right? My Mom isn't nearly as OCD and she's softened quite a bit through the years, to the point where I don't even think she hates cats or, perhaps, she's just learned to peacefully co-exist with them. Felines notwithstanding, you could use any or all three of the aforementioned individuals as a compass for general behavior, and if you listened to them, you could be fairly certain of what you should and/or shouldn't do. Like I said, their collective batting averages are off the charts. I am really quite fortunate to have such benchmarks in my life.

Today, I wanted to scream out of sheer frustration at any number of things and, I may be wrong but I think I have a fairly high tolerance for irritation and, generally, I am well-practiced in the fine art of compartmentalization: In other words, it takes a lot to even register a spike on my "Miffed Meter". I watched a new employee at work spend the day with a cell phone seemingly physically attached to her ear, and when (nearly) everyone else was busy getting things stowed away for a couple of days off, she sat there oblivious to the activity around her, and never once appeared slightly interested in lending a hand - I dunno - maybe she was afraid she'd break a nail or something. I know I have a high energy level, but watching this individual was literally like watching a video in slow-motion. I got the distinct impression that she operates on two indistinguishable speeds: "Snails Pace" and "Molasses".

Add to this, that there was an overabundance of highly dramatic, overbearing individuals in my vicinity and so much drama! I know, we are on the waning side of a full moon and, with no disrespect to my best dog Cassie intended, I could only wonder to myself..."Who let the dogs out?". I don't mean that in anything resembling a flattering way. It was a little too flaming hot for my taste and please, feel free to read into that what you will. Have at it. Be my guest.

[Before I go any further - here's a handy FYI: For the "arm-chair detectives" among you - though I am not naming any specific names, none of the following has anything to do with "romantic-interests". A romantic interest would hardly qualify for inclusion into my circle of trust.]

And then there are a few people close to me, that can rock along and seem to be following a fairly reasonable path, who have a few odd "components" in their lives that I simply do not understand for the life of me and probably never will. I'm not a prude, at least I don't think I am, but I do find it all a bit perplexing because it doesn't seem to fit with the philosophy these select individuals profess to believe in terms of maturity and a distaste for those exhibiting really lame behavior. And I do mean, really lame - over the top on many levels, none of which are remotely flattering or attractive.

As I have come to discover over the years, in the end, it is the choices one makes and the people one chooses to run with that speak far louder than diatribes describing what they "pretend" to think and feel. I am embarrassed for them because of their choices, and I'll remain that way until they have the good sense to become embarrassed for themselves and jettison the trash. Garbage is too polite a word. Trash works much better here. Trust me on this.

Like a lot of people, I think I'm probably too trusting. When someone close to me tells me something, I tend to believe him/her, regardless of circumstances that might fly in the face of what I know to be a fact. I still stubbornly hold onto a belief in a person even if a great deal of evidence points to the contrary. In reality, I need to learn to trust the facts, even if it means that someone close to me doesn't merit my respect. I've always bought into flimsy excuses, doctored documentation and bold, outright, "in your face" lies - because nothing is worse than doubting someone you care about, people you think the absolute world of, and want only to feel the most respect for in every circumstance possible. I guess sometimes we want so much to see only good things that we allow it to skew our vision just a bit. I think that's probably just part of being human and I'm sure we all do it, regardless of what reality may tell us otherwise. I think it's part of human nature to want to look for the good, right?

But the reality is, (and I don't exclude myself from this) that people do make mistakes, they do lie, and even the folks you care for and love aren't always deserving of your complete trust. Hey, it's just the way it is. You remind yourself not to be so completely gullible, and you move on, and hopefully wiser as you move along. If you continue to be bothered by it, no longer can it be qualified as the problem of the person who duped you - it becomes your problem (the duped).

Basically, I'm really tired of being the "duped". I'm tired of all talk and no follow through. Of promises made and forgotten. Of a few relationships that are all take, take, take and no give. The disparity is wrong. I may have been heard to say "welcome", but I choose not to be anyone's door mat, no matter who they are or what place they may hold in my life. I'm not OK with being "taken" - for granted, or otherwise.

I just need to shake myself off and wake up to an industrial blend of STRONGER coffee (Thanks Chelsea!). I can do that. I have a commercial coffee-maker. Though it may take a lot to raise my ire, it does happen and though I don't enjoy feeling this way, I'm not quite the spineless shmuck I used to be. I've experienced a few situations that remind me that I did, in fact, come equipped with a fully operational backbone. Perhaps I need to use it a little more often. I need to look into that. It may smack of sounding a little too "Stuart Smalley", but it's true that I do have control over how much I allow myself to be (mis)used. I think perhaps I should set a few healthy limits, and then I should make certain they are respected. I can do that. I really am capable!

I've even made the executive decision of walking away from this desk later this evening and having dinner downtown and cutting myself a break from irritations, annoyances and deadlines. I hadn't really planned on it but why not? I may even get completely crazy and turn my cell phone off while I'm at it. I'm starting to hear that thing in my sleep so much so that I have decided I either need to change ringtones or cell phone numbers, available only on a "need to know" basis. OK, so I probably won't go THAT far, at least I thought of it. Progress...not perfection. :-)

So I guess the final result of this oh-so-mysterious post, is that I have become disenchanted and even disappointed in a few people lately. I'm sure at some point I will find my way around it, and I'll be back to my perky self - but for now, I am going to allow myself the rare luxury of guilt-free disappointment and mild-to-moderate levels annoyance.

The really GOOD news is, I've been asked to write about what constitutes a "blog" and my own blog is going to be the featured guest. (I guess that means that I'll be "interviewing" me. Gee, I wonder if I need to make an appointment with myself?). I need to get this "disappointment" entry out of the way and replaced by something far more uplifting, enlightening and positive, so that by the time the article on "what exactly is a blog?" is published, visitors who read the magazine will have something nice to discover after my blog address is published. Since most people know that I don't write fiction (much), hopefully all of my misplaced faith will be restored and life will be skipping along on a happier note. This particular magazine won't hit the stands for about four weeks, so that should be enough time to find something warm and fuzzy to blog about. I don't stay terribly annoyed for too long. My irritation tends to have a very short shelf life. Here's hoping...

Actually, it should be a cinch. I had lunch the other day at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants (the one with the dirty fortune cookies) but I chose a cookie out of the "politically correct G-rated" basket and, since I am certain you must be on the edge of your seat in anticipation for the fortune, it stated, and I quote: "When winter comes heaven will rain success on you." It is only for this reason, that I no longer dread the fall or the winter. I have no idea what form this "success" will take, but I know that after December 21, 2006, the future is going to be so bright, I might have to buy myself a new pair of Armani shades. I am certain I will have scant time or attention to be bothered by a few mild annoyances in my life.

I never thought I would say this, but I can't wait for winter. :-)

06 September 2006

My Finest Contribution...

No matter what I write, how well it is or isn't received, whatever accolades may be forthcoming or completely ignored, will never compare to the gift of being granted the immense privilege of being known as "Mom" by Justin and Katie. I can't imagine what my life might have been like without them. Let's just say it's been an adventure. It still is.

YES! There have been times I have felt like tearing large tufts of my hair out (there still are!). YES! I have now and again wanted to scream in frustration by some action they have taken in spite of my loudest protestations (I still do!), but when the scores are tallied, the positives leave the negatives in the dust. Most days. OK, more than half the time.

Hey, I could have done worse, right?

Thank you Justin and thank you Katie, for teaching me so much along the way, and reminding me that it all shakes out in the end, eventually.

Well, most days, right?

Needless to say, these two not only have my heart...they are my heart. It should also be noted that they know exactly how to take advantage of that fact, and still do on a continuing basis.

These two really do make me proud.

More times than not.

I love you both.