29 January 2008

You Want Me to Do What?? It's Due When????

I may live in temperate Southeastern North Carolina, where winters are mild and fleeting, but I've literally been SNOWED under lately with work, stories and the itinerant deadlines.

The topics have been fascinating and nothing if not diverse. The stories are complete and publication starts next month and quite frankly, I'm rather proud of them given the fact that they are far outside the bounds of my comfort zone and niche.

First up: Bridge sensor technology. My super cool editor at PC Magazine has kept me busy and I'm completely grateful for it. He invited me to interview the creator of a new technology that is looming on the horizon and almost ready for its close-up. I had the pleasure of chatting several times with a brilliant and kind professor from Clarkson University, who is the force behind a new brand of technology that not only monitors the structural health of our nations bridges and overpasses, but uses the vibrations (i.e., energy) created by cars crossing the spans and harnesses those waves to create the energy to fuel the sensor itself. This story should be published in the February issue of PC Magazine in the "Front Side" section of the magazine.

In mid-December, Erik gave me something even more complex than bridge sensors to figure out and, at the time, I didn't think there could really be anything MORE complex than bridge sensors. Of course, I was famously wrong. Currently there's a bill winding it's way through Congress and it's "powered" by well-funded lobbyists working for the MPAA and RIAA. In effect, should this bill pass, our nation's 2200 colleges and universities would be forced to assume responsibility for any student within wireless "tapping" distance who might purposefully or unwittingly download a movie or audio file. In other words, it would force institutions of higher learning to take on the role of "police" rather than education and could possibly jeopardize financial aid and grants, because more money will have to be expended to install IT monitoring applications that are not only are ineffective and ridiculously expensive, but some bright student will figure out how to hack into the program the nanosecond it's installed. For this story, I had the privilege of interviewing a top official with Indiana University, as well as the VP for EDUCAUSE, which represents most of the colleges and universities in the US. It was a fascinating story and in the middle of my discussions, my editor was so pleased with my due diligence that he doubled the word count of the story, affording me more room to report the "other side" of the story. It was easily one of the most challenging assignments I've been handed to date, but I learned a great deal and I was honored to write this piece. It's scheduled for publication in late February/early March and I'm eager to see it in print.

Always one to keep me on my toes, Erik tossed me yet another interesting assignment. He must have been paying attention over lunch one day when I mentioned that I loved the water and boats. Last night I completed a piece on a fascinating prototype powerboat, aptly named "Earthrace", which will set off on 1 March 2008 in a quest to circumnavigate the globe and fueled by a "bio diesel" fuel. Pete Bethune, the New Zealand Skipper in charge of this boat not only mortgaged his home and most of his assets to pay for the venture, but in keeping with the theme of using renewable energy sources for fuel, he and two of his crew mates DONATED some of their human body fat via liposuction. When I mentioned this story to a few of my friends, they were most eager to inform me that they would be happy to donate some fat to the cause. This story will appear in PC Magazine's "Green Issue" which is set for publication in April. If you want to learn more about the boat, the captain and plot the course of the voyage of "Earthrace", you can visit www.earthrace.net and learn more about this fascinating adventure. Special thanks to Beverley in the UK for the high resolution photos, technical information and specifics which allowed me to write my story.

In between all of this, I have been working 37 - 42 hours a week at a Drug and Alcohol Assessment Company, processing clients who have received DWI's and are required, by North Carolina law, to complete an assessment following any DWI arrest. I've enjoyed this immensely and have learned a great deal. Not only has working with my new friend Sherry been educational, but she's been a peach in teaching me the ropes, the forms, the process of pulling driving records, Department of Corrections Offender histories and participating in both the ADETS (Alcohol Drug Education Traffic School), short-term and long-term therapy classes. I have gleaned so much in these days at the office and it's almost like being paid to learn even more about the disease of substance abuse and alcoholism and, if the number of times our phone rings is any indication, the problem is wide-spread and growing at an obscene rate.

I've met every age group, socio-economic and educational background, race, gender and varying levels of understanding and I've been exposed to the formidable power of denial. It's astonishing and some days, it's nothing short of heart-breaking. I'm so grateful to be given this opportunity to grow and learn and share and every evening, I become more grateful for my recovery and realize that in terms of "hitting bottom" a little over four years ago, I had a very soft landing.

Tomorrow night, I've been asked to speak at one of the treatment groups we conduct. Sherry has asked me to share a little of my own experiences - in other words, explain what it was like when I was drinking, what happened that inspired me to stop and what life is like now. Keep in mind, I'll be speaking to people in a treatment program who are pretty sure they've landed there by mistake or some wicked twist of fate, so it should be interesting to watch how my words are received. Another different facet to this form of communication is that, while I have written extensively on my alcoholism and recovery, I very rarely speak publicly about it to groups. In fact, it's rare when I share in a meeting, so this is a rather huge stepping stone for me and I won't have my trusty monitor or keyboard to help in the telling of my story. I'll be looking eye to "eyes", and I'll even admit to being a little nervous about the prospect, but the overriding thing I need to keep in mind, is that if I do nothing more than plant a few seeds, share a few past experiences that may ring true and sound familiar to someone in my audience, it may possibly make a difference and in the end, that's the prize. The brass ring. If I keep my purpose and focus on the reality that alcoholism is quite literally a life and death issue, I know inside that God will steady my knocking knees and distill my delivery into what I hope are the right words. He's gotten me THIS far, and I see no reason to doubt my Higher Power's direction. But don't let that stop you for praying that I don't make a complete shambles out of my presentation. Prayers for intercession are encouraged and welcome! You might want to pray for my audience as well.

Which brings me to the end of February and even though February is yet to commence, I have promised myself and my friend at Random House, that I will be flying up on 28 February to deliver more words, in a form I'm much more comfortable and familiar with - written words. Additionally, it will give me the chance to have lunch with my friend Erik at PC Mag, and Glen of RH fame, has promised me a "no holds barred" tour of his stomping grounds which happen to be on the same island that my daughter now calls home: Manhattan...here I come.

I must also let you know that my wonderful, lovable Daddy celebrated his 83rd (or was it 38th???) birthday on 24 January. This spry young man made out like a bandit in cards, good wishes, phone calls and I was most pleased to run out and buy him a new pipe, some special tobacco and yes, some very spiffy pipe cleaners! From where I stood, he looked as if he had a fantastic day and it's nothing less than he richly deserves. He's a pretty wonderful guy and so is his wife. They're both so blessed to have each other and I'm even more blessed to have them both. Happy Birthday DADDY!!!!!!

On 6 February, I'll celebrate 48 crazy, unpredictable, adventure-filled years on this planet. I love birthdays. I love everything about them. I can be heard now and then to complain about turning another year older but, in the grand scheme of things and taking a quick glance at where I've been and, more importantly, where I am, I feel nothing short of blessed to still be around to splash in the waters, dig my toes in the sand and offer up a huge "THANK YOU" to all that is God. Turning 48 doesn't really rattle me because I know, deep inside, I'm still as dazzled and amazed at life as I was when I was 8 or 12 or even twenty.

One more request: There is a certain young man in Cincinnati who is presently undergoing a bone-marrow transplant after two relapses of Acute Lymphoctic Leukemia. If you would be so kind, visit his site at: Matthew Fackler's Website, sign his guestbook and leave a nice message, it would cheer him on immensely. I know that tomorrow night, should I feel my knees start to knock or my voice begin to tremble, I'm going to think of Matthew and remember what he's in the middle of and the courage and style he is exhibiting through his present challenge. He's a true hero. I'm just a hacker. 'Nuff said.

12 January 2008

Four Years of Living Life One Day at a Time...

"Wake up Susie,
Put your shoes on,
Walk with me into this life...

Finally this morning,
I'm feeling whole again.
It was a helluva night...

Just to be with you, by my side.

Just to have you near, in my sight.
Just to walk a while, in this light.
Just to know that life goes on."

James Taylor wrote and performed that song, but I imagine it was exactly what God was inviting me to do on 11 January 2004. Thank God I finally heard this life-saving invitation and at the lowest point in my life, feeling completely beat to a pulp and completely out of options, something inside of me whispered that perhaps there was another way and maybe even "another day".

February 6, 1960 remains the date of my birth, the day I was given life. January 12th, 2004 is the day I was graciously afforded the amazing and precious chance to reclaim it. Not everyone gets a second chance. I never want to take that for granted. In many ways, January 12th is much more dear to me than February 6th.

It was a helluva night.

By all accounts, I should not even be alive to write this entry. I drove in a black out and somehow landed in the parking lot of a grocery store about a mile from my home. I have no recollection of the drive, but in the process, I somehow managed not to kill myself or anyone else who might have innocently been in my path. That fact alone is proof positive that God had taken over the steering of my car because I can't imagine how I made the drive from Wrightsville Beach to that parking lot and every single day of my life, I am so grateful that the only casualty was my neighbor's mailbox (it didn't survive). I have no memory of that either, but my friend Kathleen and I connected the dots and somehow it came to light that before landing in the parking lot of a nearby store, I must have made it home, turned around, and by some miracle made it to the parking lot of the closed store.

A few of the events of that night remain murky but one impossible to ignore fact is that I was in a very bad place and seriously sick. I have no idea how long I had been in that parking space, I was passed out over the steering wheel and though the car was in "park", it was still running. It was then that one of Wilmington's finest must have spotted the lone car parked with an idling engine and found me, knocking on the glass of my window, rousing me from my horrendously inebriated state.

My memories of what transpired after that are sketchy at best, but I wound up downtown at the police department and I was charged with a DUI and even though the policeman didn't catch me driving, the fact that the car was engaged was enough to earn a ticket I so richly deserved. As that long night progressed, I took advantage of my "one phone call" and for some reason, I called my neighbor across the street from my home, asking if he could come and pick me up. I have no idea how I came to choose him as my one designated call, but in my toxic reasoning, I felt it would be better than calling my parents because I didn't want to worry them. That's how twisted and irrational my reasoning was that night. As if they weren't going out of their minds wondering where in the world I was and how desperately frantic they must have been imagining only the worst possible scenarios. They had lost one daughter in May 1973 and I imagine that they were steeling themselves for the possibility that they may have just lost the other one. When I think of the anguish that my family went through that long night four years ago, I shudder and, as a parent, I can't imagine a worse way to spend a night.

My dad is a logical man and while I was busy downtown being booked with a DUI, he was calling the local hospitals, friends and finally, the police department to see if they knew anything about his missing and unaccounted for daughter. Fortunately, his call was answered by my arresting officer who told my Dad that he had strongly suggested I call my family, but he couldn't talk me into it. He relayed the information to my father that I was confused, disoriented, but still very much alive and that I would be free to leave in a couple of hours.

As dawn began to break on the cold Monday Morning of 12 January 2004, my father and the neighbor I had called earlier, arrived downtown at the police department at about the same time. I went home with my Dad who, upon seeing me, embraced me with a warm hug and was so completely thrilled and relieved that I was alive...maybe not in great shape, but alive. He told me that he loved me and I told him that I thought maybe I just might have a drinking problem. (You think???). My Dad told me that I would be OK and that he and my Mom and my son and daughter would help me any way that they could. There were no lectures on the trip back home. There were only expressions of relief and a well-spring of love, kindness and support. I didn't know much that foggy morning, but I knew that I wasn't alone and that no matter what the coming days might bring, the legal repercussions of my misguided behavior or the status of my impounded Buick, I did have the good sense to know that I was loved, unconditionally.

Three days later with as much fear as I've ever felt, my son drove me to my first AA meeting. I was beyond terrified. I knew nothing about the organization or what any of it was about. I come from a long line of teetotalers so this was foreign territory for all of us. I didn't know if AA could truly help me turn things around, but I was desperate enough to entertain the slightest possibility that there may be hope for me there. And thank God I was desperate and so frightened. I would never have sought assistance if I hadn't been. I needed to be knocked to my knees, it's the perfect position to begin a prayer. For me, it was also the best position from which to begin a life, as well.

Nearly on the brink of tears and feeling as shaky as I ever have, I walked into that meeting and I found a room full of smiling faces and hearty welcomes. I walked out one hour later with phone numbers and warm embraces from people who would play a pivotal role in my recovery. After just one hour, I emerged feeling as if I had finally found something that made sense. I walked in hopeless and I walked out with the priceless commodity of hope. At that point, I dearly needed hope.

In the past four years, I have made all manner of silly mistakes, stupid errors in judgment, some dreadfully bad decisions and I have faced some difficult situations. I've sailed through twelve hours in a roiling tropical storm and I've experienced a car wreck that completely totaled my car. It's been a busy four years! But the one thing I haven't done is felt the need or had the desire to take a drink. That's amazing and that's all God. That's a miracle.

This matter of "living life on life's terms" is challenging stuff! Recovery is a serious business because the disease of alcoholism is progressive and terminal, if left untreated. It's a deadly disease and we never arrive at a plateau where we who suffer from it are considered "well", but if we do a few simple things and follow the suggestions of the what I consider to be a divinely-inspired program, we can and do get better. Much, much better.

In my mind, "recovery" is a verb, a term of action, ongoing and, if I do the "next right thing", it's never-ending and that's one of the great things about it. At every meeting I attend, I see and hear from people who have relapsed, who have went "back out" and tried living in their old ways, and those are sobering moments for me because the point is driven home that I am only one drink away from the end of my life.

When I first joined AA, I couldn't imagine what kind of life lay before me that didn't include a glass of wine to get through a date, an evening alone, or a social gathering of any sort. What fun could there be in dining out? How would I make painful chit chat or appear "cool" without a glass of merlot in my hand? What joy was there left in this world? I imagined a life akin to that of being a nun and my transforming into the female equivalent of a monk. Surely people who didn't imbibe had to lead completely boring and colorless lives because there was nothing to break the ice, ease the tension and I wondered would I ever be able to laugh again? I knew I could never drink again, but I had it in my mind that my future looked bleak, colorless and without any joy and happiness and that I was evolving into a sad and boring existence, maybe something a librarian could deal with, but I didn't know how in the world I would find much excitement in the rest of the days of my life.

Fortunately for me, I was fabulously wrong. The idea of never drinking again for the next 30 or 40 years, if I happened to live that long, struck me as the most dismal prospect imaginable and I would become sad to consider the string of sober days ahead of me, with no buzz or mind-numbing elixir. As the haze of wine slowly lifted and I took in my new reality, it wasn't too long before I began to sense that rather than enhancing what I mistook for "a life", I had been making my way with a dulled sensibility. I couldn't see the forest. My vision was so obscured that I couldn't even make out the trees.

As I attended more and more meetings, found a wonderful sponsor and finally began getting serious about "working the steps", things began to happen. Life hadn't changed, because life didn't need to change. The change that took place came from the only place that it could and that was within me. As they often say, "it's an inside job" and my interior needed some serious revamping and major reconstruction. My life didn't transform overnight, and I learned to adopt a different method of measuring the mystical nature that is "time". "One Day at a Time" became my metronome, reliably ticking off the measure of my days and it's stood me well. This is a good thing - I needed recalibrating.

In my early days of attending meetings, I would often hear folks with many years in AA joyfully share how happy they were to be alcoholics and how their bottom became the springboard to a life worth living. I would look at these fine people and listen to them and wonder, "how could anyone possibly feel they were blessed to be an alcoholic?". Was it brain damage that sparked such nonsensical declarations? Mental disintegration? They looked sane and happy and completely normal but I couldn't help but wonder if they were out of their minds. I was sure I would never ever live long enough to feel happy about my status of being an alcoholic. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful to be alive and afforded a second chance, but I wasn't happy that I had landed myself in a 12-step group and while I was grateful for many things, alcoholism would never be one of them.

After four years of sobriety, I can unequivocally state without the slightest bit of hesitation or reservation that I am, completely and profoundly, happy to be a recovering alcoholic. My gosh, the blessings of these past four years, the connection with my Higher Power who, for me, is God, the ability to live my life with a measure of sanity I didn't know previously, and to know that, on good days and especially bad days, I am still a child of God and I am loved and cared for, watched over and protected, was worth every stumble I made to earn my seat at the table. I can't imagine how I ever lived "pre-AA" because that doesn't remotely resemble what is now my conception of living. Admitting my powerlessness, that my life had become unmanageable and willing it over to a power much greater than myself, is the kindest act I have ever taken for myself and I renew that admission of powerlessness on a daily basis.

Of the 47 years and eleven months I have been allowed the gift of this life, the past four years have been a period of intense growth, learning, understanding and offered more hope and inspiration on a very personal basis than I could have ever guessed was possible. In the days and weeks following 11 January 2004, I was sure that would forever be a date I would consider to mark the darkest and most painful day in my life and certainly nothing to celebrate but now I know it was the day that I was truly saved from myself and lead away from the wreckage that made up my life. This is a day of gratitude, thanksgiving and an occasion to reiterate my thanks to my family, my friends and most of all God for taking another chance on me. It is a day to celebrate the most precious gift I was ever allowed. It is a day of hope and joy and a study in unmerited grace; a reason to look forward to a future with the hope of lots of days to be spent at the doable rate of, one day at a time.

I am so very glad I woke up, walked into the LIGHT, and eternally grateful that I finally found my way. To my precious family (Barbe, Maxine, Katie and Justin), my cadre of crazy friends, Officer Locklear (for being the catalyst of change), Hearing Officer J. Stewart (for having faith in me and allowing me to get back behind the wheel), Peter at Monitech (for making me laugh every time I visit), Amy Hotz, (for the nice profile in the Wilmington Star), Erik Rhey (for feeding me so many interesting assignments for "PC Magazine" - this latest one takes the cake!), Glen Edelstein of Random House (for reminding me of the work that needs to be completed and delivered), and all of the angels who light my way on a daily basis and most of all, to God, I offer my deepest and most heartfelt appreciation for another year of magnificent miracles.

In case you missed my message, there IS life after putting down the bottle. That's the best part.

"Wake up Susie,
Put your shoes on,

Walk with me into this light.

Another night has gone.
Life goes on.
Another dawn is breaking.

Turn and face the sun.

One by one,
The world outside is waking.

Morning light is driven away

All the shadows that hide your way.
And night has given away,
to the promise of another day...
Another day,
Another chance that we may finally find our way,
Another day,
The sun has begun to melt all my fears away...

Another day, another day.

Oh, wake up Susie,

Put your shoes on,

Walk with me into this light." ~ James Taylor, "Another Day"

05 January 2008

The Audacity and Pomposity of Politics...

UPDATE: I found this great quiz on USA TODAY. Try it. Did the results surprise you?

I have a confession: I am a closet political junkie. MSNBC (Tim Russert and Keith Olbermann) and CNN (Anderson Cooper) are my Dealers. Courtesy of their reportage, I have been taking hits of Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Rudy Guiliani. Things haven't become so bad that I've been driven to try Hilary Clinton - I mean, I'm not in a "dark" place and that would be the equivalent of "hitting bottom" as far as I'm concerned.

So I've been Googling because I need information. I guess I consider myself a political independent but I've always had Republican leanings, though our present President has pretty much left a bad taste in my mouth with regard for republicans, although I like to think of myself as an open-minded sort. I stood in the rain for almost three hours on a cold November day in 2000, soaking wet but determined to cast my vote in order to elevate George to an office he's turned into a complete disarray. I broke up with George W. Bush several years ago and nearly lost interest in all things political. However, the occasion of the Iowa Caucuses have become my personal excuse for a recent political relapse.

Admittedly and with no apologies, I have absolutely no love for Hilary Clinton. As disappointed as I am with GWB, I can't imagine the pain of having to see her facade or hear her shrill voice pinging from my television set for the next four years. Though I went into the Iowa Caucus coverage knowing next to nothing about Barack Obama, and feeling no affection for John Edwards, I found myself cheering anyone who could unseat her from her self-appointed throne as the implied Democratic front-runner. Whatever Obama or Edwards did or did not represent, it had to be better than anything Hilary could offer and I was more than pleased to watch her uneasily try and pull it together in what was anything but a conciliatory speech Thursday Night after the results of the Iowa Caucus were declared. I detest her. I would cast a write-in vote for her husband before I would ever cast a vote for her, and I have absolutely no respect for him, but the guy is nothing if not charismatic. I find her a few steps below the calibration of repulsive.

But it's odd to find myself cheering on candidates that I know so very little about, and it is because of this that I have been burning up my keyboard in search of answers. I mean, if I'm going to wish success for someone, I'd like to know a little something about them. I would hate to be questioned about my support for candidate X or Y and offer up my reasoning as being, "Well, X or Y isn't Hilary Clinton, and that's good enough for me!". How insane and illogical would that be? I'm not comfortable with that at all. I need information. Facts. A rap sheet. I want answers. I want to see a platform rather than platitudes. Like many Americans, I find myself undecided and confused. I don't care at all what party banner they campaign beneath, or whether they are "red and yellow, black and white". I don't want to know the "spin". I want the truth and that seems to be a very difficult item to unearth and disseminate. Centrifugal force is handy in a research lab, but I honestly think it should be banned in politics.

Does anyone know where the off-switch is on the centrifuge?

Thanks Arianna Huffington, but I don't quite consider you the source of a deep well-spring of truth. You're a marketing maven, but hardly what I'm looking for in terms of breaking news and/or compelling debate. Plus, well, if you must know, your accent reminds me of nails on a blackboard.

Tip O'Neill once said that "all politics is local", and perhaps at one time it was, but that had to be "pre-Internet". In this age of real-time information and real-time MISinformation, it strikes me that "all politics is spin". Spin makes me disgruntled, disoriented and dizzy. I don't want spin, I want the truth. I wonder where it's hiding and I wonder what it is?

It appears as if this is a daunting task, this fact-finding stuff. I have two aquariums in my home and even though the water can look crystal clear, I can sometimes tell that all is not well in the watery world my fish inhabit. For instance, if I notice the smallest change in behavior or note a lack of enthusiasm when food is introduced, I am instantly reminded to examine "the facts". I note the temperature, I check to see if the filter cartridges are spent and need replaced and if both of these vitals check out and yet, for some reason, my fish are acting "fishy", I test the water with strips that report the true condition of what looks like perfectly balanced water and, many times, I am chagrined to discover that the clarity of the water disguises a dangerous shift in pH, or that my fish are finning around in an ammonia soup, too many nitrites, or that my precious black mollies are on the verge of an icky "ick"epidemic because I was trusting that the sparkling appearance of their home meant all was well in their world. After I apply several "litmus tests", only then can I truly decipher the habitability of their aqua-habitat and the true quality of their life. Of course, after I read the results and determine the ranges that need to be adjusted in order to ensure a return to homeostasis, my fish return to the business of being happy fish and behaving as fish are supposed to behave.

Were it so easy in the larger (s)tank of politics. What IS the litmus test? Where can I find those test strips? What's the true nature of the brand of "clarity" being broadcast from this convoluted cacophony of contenders? Who can I trust? Who's hiding something? Which one is speaking out of both sides of his/her mouth and how can I rely on any word that any of these people are saying?

Take the case of charming, "aw shucks" Mike Huckabee. I watched and listened to a round table discussion comprised of Tim Russert (who I unabashedly respect), Andrea Mitchell (covers Hilary Clinton's 'campaign' and who looks tired and so 'over it'), David Gregory (covers Huckabee's campaign and wearing Prada boots), and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd. I listened as David Gregory was outlining the facts (as he saw them) on Huckabee and most of them were positive and endearing even. And then reporter Chuck Todd said something along the lines of, "but have you not heard what the people inside of Arkansas say about the guy? What his former constituents truly think of him?". Right along with David Gregory, I felt my mood shift. Huh? What? A dark side to Mike Huckabee? I need to know about that. What is being alluded to here that I need to know?

More googling. More wikipedia. More questions. There was that nasty incident with his son, David, ten years ago when his son was somehow implicated in participating in the hanging of a stray dog as he was involved with some activity having to do with the Boy Scouts. I found an article in Newsweek: "A Son's Past Could Come Back to Bite Huckabee". Geez, as if the photo on that site of his son isn't enough to scare you and make you wonder if Mike Huckabee might have married his first cousin, after you get past that, the facts of the story are unsavory and uncovers a situation that involves animal cruelty and the subsequent firing of an Arkansas State employee because he didn't hide the facts very well. What do Arkansans know about Mike Huckabee from first-hand experience that I should know and why do I care that Chuck Norris is grinning broadly behind the candidate as he makes his glowing acceptance speech in Iowa Thursday Night? I don't care that Chuck Norris is backing Mike Huckabee and quite frankly I couldn't help but wonder if there was the "veiled" threat of a roundhouse kick if I choose not to vote for Gov. Huckabee. I really don't care for violence.

What about the candidate's spouses? Do they matter and should they be a factor in the race? Theoretically, I believe the answer is no, but we don't live in "theory". We live in reality and the reality is I need to find something positive about a candidate's spouse. Who's going to have the most profound effect on a future president? His or her cabinet? Get real. The influence will emanate from the person they begin and end each day with and there's no point in pretending otherwise. Judith Nathan Guiliani's face and plastic smile make my skin crawl. She has "other woman" written all over her and she could be the most kind and wonderful person in the world, but that's not what she projects to me. Obama's wife, Michelle, appears poised, intelligent and almost reluctant to be in the spotlight and I like that. Cindy McCain appears as if her face got frozen in a plastic surgery procedure gone awry. Ms. Huckabee looks a little matronly and like some of my elementary school teachers...the ones I recall as being terribly boring.

Bill Clinton is, well, Bill Clinton. I'm sure he would be gracious and entertaining, but I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable if he "watched over" the staff when Hilary was away on presidential business. Let's face it, he's got the brains, the looks, the charisma and the double-coated teflon and she's got...well, she's got to find something else to do. I'm sure she has a personality, but it just doesn't connect very well with "real" America. Do you ever watch her and just get the feeling that she's doing everything she can NOT to explode when she's crossed or contradicted and can you imagine what a mess that might be? I conjure this image of an automaton, with twisted steel springs and nuts and bolts shooting in all kinds of directions...a lot like a dirty bomb.

I'm confused. I'm slightly cynical and maybe I feel a little jaded by it all, but I also understand that I need to be engaged in it because whoever wins the next presidential election could have a major impact on my life and the lives of the people I love and future people I will love (grandchildren). It's confounding, and I swear I am so sick of hearing the overuse of the new buzzword "Change". Hilary Clinton spent untold millions of dollars and hundreds of days in the State of Iowa over the past couple of years, and somehow, Friday Morning, she shares with a reporter how Iowa really doesn't have all that great of a record in predicting who will ultimately be the next president of the United States. Wow Hilary, why did you spend so many millions of dollars and vast quantities of your precious time trying to cajole people into casting a ballot for you? Were you bored? Not much going on in the Senate? At the very least, own your bad performance and sad showing. Just OWN it, already. [For more on the Clintons' proclivity and talent in playing the "blame game", read an article by Steven Adubato, Media Analyst with MSNBC.]

With all due (or undue) respect to Mitt Romney, I would be less than honest or forthright if I didn't admit that his Mormon background bothers me. I've read several books written on the subject of Mormanism and by people who have left it, ("Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer and "Leaving the Saints" by Martha Beck - just to name a couple), that it creates an undeniable discomfort within me to embrace a candidate that practices and believes in the tenets of that sect. Frankly, I'd be just as uncomfortable with a candidate who professed to be a Scientologist, or a follower of Santeria. I realize we're supposed to maintain a separation between church and state, but most of us do care about the beliefs and practices of those we elevate to lead the nation.

It can't be overlooked, in this vast murky tank of tumult, the effects of the "talking heads". As handsome as I believe Keith Olbermann is, or as interesting as I find Tim Russert to be, there are times when I'm convinced the media is just another cog in the political machinery. I like Tom Brokaw and I even share the same birthdate with the guy (though not the same year!), but I don't really care what "his" opinions might be. The most elusive quantity in this election season seems to be the ability to find information without an opinion attached. Pure truth. The opportunity to examine unspun facts and form an opinion based solely on "just the facts". If you think I'm taking the so-called "liberal media" to task, don't even get me started on Fox News' Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. They send my annoyance indices into the triple digits, according to my latest polling resorts.

Presently, I'm looking closely into Barack Obama. I'm reading anything that looks credible to try and get an idea into who this man is and what makes him tick. He certainly has a great education, an impressive wife and two cute kids. I'm only slightly annoyed that he's one year younger than me, but I certainly wouldn't let that become a deal breaker in terms of affecting my decision to cast a vote for a candidate. I suppose it's just an interesting moment to consider that at 47, I am now one year older than one of the candidates running for president of the United States. You know, like the first time you visit a doctor and are deflated to realize he's younger than you are. I hate reminders that I'm getting older because I swear I'm not.

I know this is a very ticklish and sensitive topic to write about, but I'm not coming out for anyone at this point and what I'm wondering is, how do any of us get to the core of the candidates? It's a shameful sham. As for me, I'm going to keep googling and searching and watching and wondering.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to believe in someone without having to figure out who represents the lesser of all evils? Is that still possible? Well, with the current offerings, I have my doubts. It seems to require a great deal of digging to find out which candidate is least likely to jerk us around, lie to us, raise our taxes and usurp our futures the most painfully. Instead of considering which person to vote FOR, I almost feel as if what I'm really trying to uncover is who to vote AGAINST. I know our system of government wasn't set up to work this way, but sadly I feel that it has become just that.

Barack Obama wrote a book entitled, "The Audacity of Hope". In reviewing and learning more about the current cast of characters running for office, it's not the audacity of hope that piques my curiosity as much as the elusive and fragile quality of it's existence. Politically speaking, anyway.

"American REALLY needs you, Harry Truman. Harry, could you please come home?"