15 December 2007

A Jury Summons Invites Introspection and Gratitude, "Sunny Came Home" and Happy Birthday to "Our Queen"!

It's been a busy couple of weeks since my last update. When I start receiving E-mail asking me if I've sailed away with a rogue, pirate captain (again), I realize it's time to update and quell such nonsense. I promise I've learned my lesson and I'll thoroughly check and recheck the next sailboat captain I take off with - you have my word! I'm silly but I wouldn't make that same mistake twice...well, certainly not within the span of the same year, anyway! And honest, I've sworn off ALL ENGAGEMENTS for the remainder of 2007. I'm firm about that. I'm practicing..."just say no"!

However, there's always the slimmest and impossible chance that the right person will drop from the sky, but UNTIL then, there's Hugh Jackman and, of course, Sting and his guitar...enjoy the music as you read up on this, that and the other thing. I love this video...it's just so irresistibly lovely. Besides, it's the season of hope, right? I just finished a story for PC Magazine on the technology of "bridge sensors" and I swear the entire time I was working on it, I thought of this song for some odd reason.

If you're reading this, I wonder, are you ready for Christmas? I'm certainly not but I never am. I would be deeply concerned if I was prepared because I'm sure something would be critically wrong. I've just accepted I'm not wired that way and my close friends and relatives know this and they seem to have accepted it which makes all concerned happy, joyous and free!

Let's see, since last I penned this blog, life's been spinning along, just as it's supposed to - in unpredictable directions, tossing in just enough surprises and challenges to make these days interesting, but I'm still smiling, writing this from my FRESHLY PAINTED office, surrounded by Felix, Magellan, Princess and Sylvester. Cassie darts in and out just to check on things and see if we're all behaving. Most of the time we aren't. She loves us anyway.

Yes, I painted my office. I consulted my artistic buddy Bobbi and she suggested a scheme that sounded great to me so I got on with it. My office was the last holdout and if ever there was a colorful room in this house, souvenir and memory wise, it is this office which my kids affectionately refer to as "Central Command". I have no real power, but it makes me think I do and I'm sure it's only been assigned such a nickname simply to assuage my ego and make me believe I have the tiniest measure of control. What a laugh.

But the painting project turned out lovely. I also redid the photo collage that now hangs over the love seat situated in this room and it makes me smile every time I pause to peruse it. It's reflective of my family which is another way of saying it's the center of my universe. The heart of life.

It's also the room that Katie and I hang out in when she visits, where we drink copious amounts of coffee and iced tea and we watch old, vintage movies and we laugh as we walk through the memories we've collected together, and share a few we've made apart. There are always animals hanging around and someone generally has a cat in his or her lap, and laughter wafts throughout the loft, permeating the walls and filling this quirky home with warmth, comfort and joy. I can't wait to share more of those times with her and it won't be long now! She flies in (IF she gets on the plane) next Sunday, 23 December. She did remind me that the mere fact that she has a ticket for a seat on that flight doesn't necessarily mean she'll be ON that flight, so she always reminds me not to count on my daughter before she deplanes. Good advice, but I'm betting she'll pull it together, squeeze John's impressive biceps, dig her nails painfully into his skin - possibly drawing blood - and make the flight.

Now, I love to fly but I hate to drive and I particularly hate to drive to Raleigh...ugh! I experience many of the same physical symptoms that Katie endures when she's inflight, only I do it from the confines of my car. However, this trip to Raleigh will have the added bonus of a visit with my buddy and artistic adviser, "The good pirate, Bobbi", captain of the s/v Kokopelli and I have accepted her gracious invitation to overnight at her home in Raleigh so that I can recoup my sanity that will no doubt be lost on the drive up to Raleigh and be on time to pick up Katie and John at the airport. Plus, I'm sure that Bobbi and I will have a fine time - two crazy women on the prowl in the bustling capital city of North Carolina. No single man will be safe, is what I'm thinking. I can't wait to meet Sofi, her beautiful dog child, and view some of Bobbi's eclectic artwork.

This past week, I was thrilled to receive the annual Christmas newsletter that Sofi dictates to Bobbi, and even more amazed to discover it included a photo of Bobbi and me taken at Bluewater when we were having lunch on Wrightsville Beach this past October. I made the newsletter! I was honored!

I also loved the card that Bobbi artfully designed and it is pinned to the corner cabinet that sits above my desk - a beautiful sailboat on bluewater, beneath a blanket of golden stars and a lazy crescent moon. One of my favorite places to be and, when I simply excise the image of the moldy man from the memory of my sailing adventures of this past summer, it becomes a very nice recollection. To be honest, excision isn't that difficult - he never braved the nightwatch and I spent many hours in the cockpit alone beneath a canopy of stars and the moon in various phases, slicing along with the sound of the waves lapping the hull, the whoosh of the wind in the sails and the overwhelming knowledge that there is nothing like being on the water to feel truly connected to the universe. I will never forget that sensation, the sense of awe comingled with the rarest brand of peace and I want to revisit sailing often in 2008. Again and again and again...Every single chance I get...

The County of New Hanover sent me an invitation in late November - they requested my services for jury duty. Now, I have to tell you, even though I know most people look upon jury duty as a huge pain in the derrière, I was kind of thrilled. I mean, I've been in a New Hanover County Courthouse in a past life for very unhappy reasons and to be invited because they actually "needed" me was a bit of a giddy honor. My family and friends asked me if I was going to "try and get out of it"... Nosiree! Not a chance! How cool it would feel to walk in there and not be scared out of my wits at the outcome, not to be on the "hot seat"! Ahhhhh, the joys and gifts of sobriety are wondrous and many. I sent up two prayers, in fact, well, make that three:

1. God help the person who may be on a trial I could potentially serve on a jury and help me to do the right thing.
2. Thank you God for allowing my life to turn around to the point that I get to appear at New Hanover County Courthouse for reasons having nothing to do with me.
3. God, could you please make sure that I don't have to run into one particular defense attorney from Raleigh because that would be cruel and unusual punishment and hey, I'm not the one in trouble here.

I am happy to report that my services were not required for too long because out of the 100 or so of us upstanding, potential jurors available to step into our role and serve, they only needed twelve plus a few alternates and I was released from my duty a short-time later and told that I wouldn't have to worry about being called again for two years, having fulfilled my requirements as an available juror. Whew! I'm even happier to report that I didn't run into any Raleigh-based attorneys so God must surely have decided I had also fulfilled my time served in the company of maniacal morons for at least two years, maybe more. What a Christmas present from a benevolent and loving Creator!

After the rest of us "citizens in good standing" were free to leave the courthouse, I almost skipped out of the building and I know there was a smile on my face. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever left New Hanover County Courthouse with a wide grin. There I was, on Princess Street, milling about all manner of law enforcement types, thinking to myself at how profoundly life can change and just how much I have to be grateful for in this life I've been granted. I honestly felt reborn and, in a sense, I have been.

It was at least 75 degrees on the 10th of December under a cloudless Carolina blue sky and I opened my sunroof to let the deliciously warm beams shine down on me in the heart of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina and you know that feeling that sometimes settles over you that communicates with your soul and reminds you that life is just so darn good, and how incredible it is that you are around to be right in the middle of it? I had that feeling and it has lingered with me throughout this week. Yes, life is good. I'm grateful and I am right in the smack dab middle of it and some days are hard and challenging and the coffee isn't quite right (not yours, Mom - 'outside' coffee). My checkbook is positively anemic with only small and unpredictable cash infusions from freelance work and working part-time for my friends, Danny and Sherry, and I have no idea how in the world I'm going to buy very many Christmas presents, but then I remembered other times in my life when my checkbook has been much more impressive, but my life sure wasn't.

There have been Christmas seasons where I have had ample supplies of cash to fulfill and exceed the list of gifts for my family and friends, but other than a nice, positive bank balance, there was little that could remotely be defined as positive about my life. I guess I could have best been described as making my way through life "hit and run" style - no direction, no spiritual connection to speak of, nothing resembling anything close to the definition I now understand to be "joy" and as for "serenity", I wasn't even sure how to spell it, much less become acquianted with it. I was aimless, and even though I was capable of putting on a good face, most days, my life felt dark and cold and pretty hopeless.

I was under the mistaken idea that a good life started with a positive cash flow and worked it's way up from there. I didn't understand that regardless of what First Union National Bank said, I was on the brink of bankruptcy and the worst possible kind - spiritual bankruptcy. As James Taylor sang in "Shed a Little Light", "you can't get no light from a dollar bill". Nothing made sense to me because my life wasn't making any sense but, of course, I couldn't see that or even know it until things got much, much worse. Thank God they did!

I was talking with a friend the other day and we were discussing personal transformations and I was trying to explain to him what had changed, but the fact is that nothing had to change except for me. Actually, what it all came down to was nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. I got my Spirits mixed up. The spirits in a smooth merlot were never going to offer me any long-lasting relief, no matter how many times I kept trying. However, thanks to a series of very fortunate unfortunate events, I finally met up with the RIGHT Spirit and, in the words of Robert Frost, "it has made all the difference."

This Christmas, there's no doubt about it, we'll be able to see the tree because it's not going to be hidden beneath a plethora of presents that used to obscure it as many of our Christmases did a few years ago, but that's OK. Of course, there will be presents, but the most precious ones can't be wrapped and many of them are completely intangible. In this, my fourth Christmas sober and shared with the RIGHT spirit, I've learned along the way what truly matters most and those things emanate from the people and creatures I love most and hold dear. Family, friends, cats, my dog and all of those colorful fish brilliantly swimming about in our aquarium.

Life. Life is the ticket! This house is just spilling over and sloshing around with it. You can't walk too far in this place without crossing the path of something filled with life and the love that fuels it - sometimes it's a grandmother or a grandfather, or a 21 year old young man and other times, life comes attached to a striped tail, a 50 pound bundle of canine goodness or even a pair of fins. Wrapped around it all, is THE Spirit that eluded me for so many years. The one that came from a "Higher Power" and not a glass bottle with a spent cork. Thank God I've spent my last cork and, to my friend up north, nothing is hard if you take it one day at a time.

I am reminded of that quote from E. L. Doctorow as he was alluding to the sometimes overwhelming and daunting proposition of writing..."It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." It will take you far, even all the way to where you need to be.

Now, not only did I receive some deep introspective reckonings courtesy of my invitation from New Hanover County, but yesterday I opened my mail to find a check for the heady amount of TWELVE DOLLARS! Of course, I'm going to scan it and frame it before I cash it. To be perfectly honest, I feel as if maybe I should have paid them. Who would have imagined such gifts from something as simple and mundane as the prospect of jury duty? With an infusion of funds like that, who says there's not going to be a Christmas on Nottingham Lane? I know, I know, I am NOT going to spend it all in one place. So many people make that mistake. Not me! :-)

In OTHER news of the less philosophical variety, my son FINALLY got his new rotors installed on his birthday present, and his Cobra Mustang is back in business. If you live within 3 miles of my house, you probably know that by now. This Wednesday after I came home, he bounded in my office and leveled an invitation at me...."Mom, let's go somewhere. Let's take a ride.". I didn't really need to go anywhere so I asked him where he wanted to go? "It doesn't matter! Let's just go! C'mon!". Well, who can turn down an invitation like that? Certainly not me! We hopped in the car and we went! We even wound up having a nice dinner together at McAlister's - just my son and me. Talk about precious and I don't mean that warm and fuzzy smarmy precious, but it is a gift for a 21 year old son to have the desire to take his Mom for a spin in his pony car. I looked over at him as he shifted gears, completely unable to disguise his delight in all of the glorious horsepower that revs that pony of a car. I was so happy for him.

I don't really understand that brand of affection toward a car, probably because I don't love to drive, but I know that feeling as I've experienced it whilst engaged in other pursuits. I guess it must be what it feels like when a sailboat is on a beam reach and the sky is dotted with white puffy clouds and the wind couldn't be more perfect if it tried. Or maybe it's the same sensation I felt sitting on the stern of a sailboat crossing the Gulf Stream, watching the phosphorescent wake sparkle in the fragile light of dusk, miles from even the hint of land and wondering if this must be what heaven looks and feels like?

Waves, water and wind inspire that same grin on my face and it all distills into a special sort of joy that makes being alive the best gig going. I was just thrilled to share it with him and I even pretended to understand the machinations of the engine and all that is a Mustang. Mostly, I enjoyed all that it entails to be his mother and for me, that is easily one of the best gigs going. Thank you, Justin!

"Sunny Came Home"

I have a very special friend in New York City who cajoles, prods, cheers, threatens and text-messages me often to remind me that I have an important project to take care of and a story to tell. I'm referring to, of course, my friend Glen who's an Art Director with Random House and one of my most dearly loved and most enthusiastic cheerleaders. In fact, I think he's the head cheerleader. When I was in a NYC a few weeks ago, it was so wonderful to see him again.

Glen and I have had quite a year - while I was busy sailing around the Abacos, dancing on various beaches and becoming increasingly disenchanted with an attorney who's mental seams were rapidly unraveling and coming unglued, Glen, for the first time in his life, moved off the island of Manhattan, bought a home in the suburbs north of the City, went to Disney World for the first time in his life on a fantastic family vacation and three weeks ago when I was visiting NYC, he and his family completed their Norman Rockwell existence by adopting a miniature poodle named, quite appropriately, "Sunny".

Through it all, however, he has been a constant in my life this past year. Glen has believed in my writing project since we had our first meeting in the coffee shop of the hotel I was staying in while visiting Manhattan in October 2006. We became instant friends and he's been an endless stream of encouragement for me in more ways than I can adequately express here. I wear a silver necklace around my neck that on one side has a cross and on the flip side, has the word "LOVE". It was a present from my dear buddy last year and a tangible reminder that I have yet another guardian angel who is willing to work with me and stubbornly determined that I bring my work to fruition.

Even though Glen was busy adding to his family the weekend I was in NYC, he made time to meet up with Katie, John and me and treated us to a great brunch at Arte Cafe and how excited I was to introduce Katie to Glen because they're both just so hopelessly twisted (in a good way!). In fact, as we sat down to a scrumptious meal, it was as if Glen was family. He fit right in perfectly and he and Katie got along famously. It was a special treat for me to be in the company of two of my favorite people however, the thought of them double-teaming me and beating me up sometimes causes me some stress but, well, what can you do?

Glen seems to have a special knack for knowing when I need to be gently nudged, pushed, and sometimes even SHOVED as only a seasoned, born and raised NY'er can, but he does it with love and I know always that he cares. He's like family and I expect it always to be just like that. As I've mentioned before, my life is sprinkled with angels, and some of them just happen to have Yankee accents and frequently call me on my bullshit. Such is the case with Glen. I want to take a second to send a special thank you to my brilliant, talented northern friend who plies me with giggles, sends me iTunes gifts to inspire me, and never loses his faith in me. Glen, you're the best. We have a date for the last week of January in New York - please order some of that fabulous snow that you and Katie love so much and let's go ice-skating in Central Park. Oh, and yes, I'll be delivering my submission because I know that if I don't, there will be heck to pay and I know you well enough to understand that you will never let me forget it. You rock, buddy.

The Heart of Love...

One of the most important events of this past week occurred on 13 December, because on another 13 December back in the year of 1923, a very special person was born: My Mom. We joyfully celebrated my Mom's 84th birthday and what a blessing of a milestone that is! She had a check up with her doctor the day before and she checked out pretty darn well! We're grateful because we love having her around.

She's something else, this Mom of mine. She cooks like a woman half her age, maybe even younger, and she turns out culinary masterpieces that can inspire people to fly from far-flung locations and a few have even been known to paint for their supper (right Billie?). She's easily the coolest 84 year old I've ever met.When Justin and I were out running around town to no place in particular, we ascertained a book, chocolates, jelly beans and cards and of course we couldn't wait until the actual date of the anniversary of her birth, so on the night of December 12th, we surprised her with her gifts and she was pleased.

The phone rang quite often on the 13th, with friends and family calling from all over the place to wish the birthday girl congratulations for putting up with us for yet another year. We easily have the best end of that deal. Whatever steely determination that is sometimes attributed to me, is the result of her donation to my gene pool. Maxine Cook is a force to be reckoned with - sometimes obstinate, fiercely independent and she could easily teach Martha Stewart a thing or two, but thankfully for Ms. Stewart, we keep her so busy that she doesn't have time to mess with such domestic divas.

The center of my mother's world has always been, at least from my front row seat of 47 years, her family. She tends us well and always with a glad heart. I've made her shake her head more than a few times, but I think deep down she's fond of my unconventional characteristics and I know any skill I have in terms of home repair and painting come from watching her through the years. I don't think there's much she can't fix whether it's a bruised knee, misbehaving kitchen appliance or a broken heart. If only I could get her to put faith in the power of Vick's Ointment and The Farmer's Almanac and maybe, just once, entice her to confess that she truly does love cats, she'd be nearly perfect but that might be boring and, given her obstinance, a probably futile pursuit, so we smile when she rages on about cat hair and the way Cassie sometimes drips water from her water bowl, secure in the knowledge that she loves all of the creatures in this house, both great and small. Even the ones that shed. Happy, happy birthday Mom - we love you more than you can possibly imagine. We're just so glad you are ours.