You don’t have to know me very well, or for very long, to know that I have a love-hate relationship with Atlanta. In fact, it may be the most complicated relationship I’ve ever been in, and that’s saying quite a bit. When things are good, they are very, very good. When things are bad, I want nothing more than to start a brand-new life anywhere that isn’t here.

When I moved here, the transition wasn’t easy. I didn’t expect Atlanta to be like New York, or Philly, or London. Yet, I didn’t expect it to be like L.A. or Miami, either. I’m not sure what I expected, except a place where people walked around after dark without getting mugged or harassed, a place where chivalry was still alive and well, and a world that was a little slower and kinder and gentler than the one I was used to. I thought of it almost as a trip to 1950′s suburbia. “Hey everyone, guess what? I’m moving to the South to live with a guy who’s smart, adorable, loving, and works hard. OK, so we don’t know each other that well, and I’ve never been to Georgia, but I’m sure it’ll all work out and everyone will love me!” .

Obviously, it didn’t, and the fact that things ended as they did may have kind of left a sour feeling towards Atlanta in my heart, one that always reminds me “I allowed myself to fall in love, take a huge chance, change my life because I’m stupid enough to believe in following your heart, and it really fucking hurt…so maybe that’s not a thing I should be doing anymore.”

Yet, I did stay, and I built a life for myself. Three times, it came crashing down around me in a dramatic fashion that involved immense feelings of betrayal at the hands of someone I either trusted, loved, or believed in…or all three. I won’t even claim my own choices had nothing to do with how those situations worked out, because of course they did, but on the karma scale balance of things, what I suffered far outweighed the transgressions I committed. I came to a point where I finally believed karma and I could call it even, I was going to put the past behind me, and move on.

When I put my mind to something, that’s typically what I do. When my intuition tells me I should take an opportunity, head in a certain direction,or take a chance on a relationship or a friendship that doesn’t seem to be the easiest or most rational choice, I listen. This is largely because I’ve learned the hard way. When I don’t listen, when I do what I think is what I should do rather than what that thing inside my gut is telling me to do, I run into obstacle after obstacle. Everything I do fails; every new endeavour is fraught with challenges and difficulties. When I don’t listen to that voice somewhere deep inside me that tells me my instincts *know* things, I end up feeling like the car trying to prove it’s stronger than the brick wall.

A few times, that voice that says “Atlanta is not your home; you don’t fit here, you don’t belong here, you’re not loved or wanted here, and it is nothing like you.” got insistent enough that I almost listened to it. Yet, every time I packed my bags or started making plans, something else, something that seemed like an opportunity I shouldn’t ignore came into my life. Of course, I took it as a sign…and I’m still here. Somewhere, in the core of my being, I know I am meant to be here for now, and it is not forever, but there is a reason I am supposed to be here right now, despite all this city has put me through and how incompatible it is with my lifestyle. Maybe it’s related to a relationship, to friendships that are like family to me. Maybe it’s related to me finding a career, a purpose, a calling. Maybe it’s just because I’m supposed to be in this place at this time, and one day, it’ll all make sense. I have this sense that when the time comes for me to leave, I won’t put it off, weigh the options, have doubts. I’ll know, and I’ll make a huge move in my life’s direction, just as I did in coming here.

Nevertheless, there are some things about Atlanta I don’t quite like. As a non-driver who isn’t a big fan of all things corporate, living in a city where people work in huge office buildings and everything is sponsored by some major corporate entity and spend 2 hours a day driving through a metro area the size of a small state isn’t necessarily a “go” for me. As a person who believes in real, emotionally connected relationships and soulmates and all that—despite my commitment-phobia and my pretty solid belief that we’re all meant to have more than one of the above in our lives—living in a city where 75% of single people say they wish to remain single, and dating means getting drunk, going to a club, hooking up, and moving on to the next option has never really been for me. Not that I didn’t do it, of course, but it taught me it isn’t who I am or how I am. As an uber-liberal, don’t-judge-me-and-I’ll-live-my-life kind of person, the conservative politics, the tendency to judge everyone and everything, and the fact that if you say something negative directly to someone, you’re “confrontational”—but if you smile and talk behind everyone’s back, the prevailing wisdom is “She’s so sweet!”—it just doesn’t gel with me. I was never a rude, obnoxious, weird, gold-digging whore in other places I’ve lived. Here, I’ve been labeled all those things, and much worse. It’s tough on a sensitive person, and maybe that’s the lesson Atlanta is meant to teach me.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve read about all my exploits with dating people who turned out to be amusing anecdotes, friendships that went awry, douchebag people I shouldn’t have devoted blog space to, but did, and the dislike of certain types of individuals I’ve encountered in this city. You may have even heard my story of a fling with “The Worst Guy In Atlanta” turned into spoken word entertainment. For the first half of my stay in Atlanta, it seemed I was meeting all the wrong people. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to make some of the best friends and most stable relationships of my life, but for a long time, I was really convinced that giving up on the people of Atlanta was the way to go.

You see, more than anything else, I was meeting the people of Atlanta who didn’t make me feel secure. They didn’t let me be myself. They judged, and judged some more. I was meeting people who reminded me on a daily basis that nobody would ever love me because I was too weird, too odd, not pretty enough, not ambitious enough, not smart enough. Now that I am older and wiser, I see that’s just the vibe of how things go around here…a trip to the ladies’ room at the Buckhead club will convince anyone to get plastic surgery and develop an eating disorder, and that if you’re not married by 31, you might as well become a lesbian.

Yet, now I have vindication. It isn’t just me. A recent magazine article pegged Atlanta as America’s “Third Vainest City” (cities number one and two being in Florida and Texas, also Southern states known for urban sprawl, beauty pageant contestants, and driving your car around town to show off how awesome it is just because you can.)

Not that this is exactly the most scientific study out there, mind you, but if you disagree with me…I dare you to come live here, and when you leave, tell me how positively you feel about yourself, and how much you still like other people.

Sorry, Atlanta. We’ve always known this wasn’t going to work out, and one day, whatever we have is going to come to a timely end. It’s not going to be that painful for either of us, I suspect. However, when that day comes, I now have some proof to back up my assertions of why, exactly, it wasn’t meant to be.

You made me feel crappy about myself a lot, but it’s because you’re kind of an insecure jerk hung up on looks and money and power-tripping and name-dropping, and you’re really kind of mean and two-faced. You’re intimidated by things and people you don’t understand, so you judge them, which makes me realise I may be way too smart for you. You have a lot of nice people living in your space, but almost all of them have come from elsewhere to take advantage of your reasonable rents, bigger apartments, and greater chances of getting a job. Those who haven’t will likely catch on to the fact that you’re just not that nice, and end up moving somewhere else.

It always takes me a long time, after realising something isn’t right for me, to finally have that catalyst come along, smack me in the face, and tell me it’s time to make a change. I don’t know when that will happen. So, until then, we’ll stay together and I’ll tolerate your bullshit. I’ll make it work, even when it’s in the form of passive-aggressively raising the temperature to 106 degrees when my AC doesn’t work.

But, secretly, I know the truth. It’s not me, it’s you.

And since I’ve been likened to Casey Anthony in the past year, that’s got to be saying something. :P

“Being sick allows you to check out of life. Getting well again means you have to check back in. It is absolutely crucial that you are ready to check back into life because you feel as though something has changed from the time before you were sick. Whatever it was that made you feel insecure, less than, or pressured in a way that was uncomfortable to you. You have to create a whole new life to check into.” — Portia Di Rossi, “Unbearable Lightness”

It has been a year since I first got sick, or almost, and the thought of braving the summer is somewhat terrifying to me. The heat, the sun, the TV shows that I watched throughout my illness—they all remind me of a time in my life when I was constantly afraid. I was afraid I was going to die. More than that, I was afraid I was going to die, alone and unloved and crazy and misunderstood and without ever doing anything positive with my life. I was afraid I would never be normal again, and because of it, nobody would ever love me, understand me, want to be my friend, find me attractive. In some ways, I felt like my life was over at an age that, by many standards, people consider the epitome of being young enough to be vibrant and enthusiastic about life, but wise enough to avoid the stupid mistakes you engaged in a decade earlier. I reached the age where it was time to be an adult, and all of the sudden, the world came tumbling down around me.

I am, of course, still not entirely well. I have a chronic condition that will be with me for the rest of my life, requiring medication and more rest than I’d prefer to need and more unwanted reactions to life than I’d prefer to have. I still have the occasional migraine with aura that may only last 15 minutes, but gives me such a sense of being out of control, that I am convinced I am going to die. I still have anxiety in places that are too bright, too loud, have too many people. I still can’t fly. I have a few really close friends in NYC that I’d love to visit and spend time with, but instinctively, I know that one of my favourite cities on Earth is too much for me, and that makes me a little sad. I still can’t seem to ditch the unwanted 20 pounds I gained when they put me on medication, something that makes me very sad. I can’t be as free-spirited and unconcerned with things as I used to be, because now there are consequences. If I forget to take my pill at the right time of day, drink too early in the day, push myself too hard or sit in the heat too long, there are consequences that are very unpleasant. If I don’t eat enough, or eat too many of the wrong things, or deny myself caffeine for days on end, my body rebels. It’s strange to suddenly be governed by rules and limitations.

My doctors have told me that over a period of 2-3 years, my condition will steadily improve. Symptoms will interfere with my life less and less, until they’re barely noticeable. Some people have issues with large, brightly-lit spaces for a lifetime; others can’t stand loud environments; still others can’t handle elevators or escalators.

Being me, and a pessimistic realist, I didn’t believe my doctors, who had been wrong so many times before in attempting to treat my illness. I am still young enough that 3 years seems like a lifetime. I imagine that, by then, I might be an entirely different person with an entirely different life, as it’s happened so many times before. It is hard for me to see three years down the road. It is hard for me to even imagine that I will be alive and well in three years. Some days, I doubt it. I have always had trouble imagining myself as a person with a future. Since my teenage years, I was convinced that I was going to die when I was 30. It seems coincidental, and yet almost too meaningful to be coincidental, that once I passed that mark, I developed a frightening illness that reminded me I wanted to live and didn’t really know how.

A year ago, I would not have believed that I could spend the day at a friend’s pool party without hiding from the sun the entire time, go to a rock concert, or travel to multiple cities on my own, places I’d never been before, to visit with friends. I would not have believed that I could handle a world full of buses, crowded stations, elevators, trains, and taxis on my own, along with almost 30 pounds of luggage added to my body weight.

I would not have imagined that in the year that’s elapsed since first getting sick, I’d have developed friendships that are among the most meaningful I’ve allowed into my life in years, simply because I took the time to talk one-on-one and invest myself in the kind of people who may never have caught my attention in a more vibrant, constantly moving social setting. I would not have imagined that not having something to do, somewhere to go, and someone to entertain almost every day would not only be acceptable to me, but would help me find a sense of peace and acceptance regarding myself.

Slowly, I’ve been checking back into life again, and the time I spent largely checked out of my old existence helped me to formulate a new one. One of the most shocking things I’m discovering about myself is that I’m not a co-dependent person. I’ve always thought I was, always been attracted to the guys who would constantly pay attention to me, take care of everything in my life, fix all my problems…and then suddenly run when it came time to make a commitment, or find myself looking for a different type of relationship. I like people, I like attention, I like being loved and cared for, but I have a self-sufficient streak that runs through my personality. I am happiest when I am allowed to engage it, when I can explore the world on my own terms from time to time. It is important to me to have friends and relationships in my life, to feel I am loved, to express affection…but my freedom and independence is just as important to me. Perhaps this means I won’t ever get married,or have kids, or my relationships will be of the non-traditional variety, or I’ll end up with a job that makes me a wandering nomad from time to time, but that’s OK. I find myself judged quite frequently for that aspect of myself, and the pressure to hide that desire for freedom, coupled with my natural distrust of other human beings until proven otherwise, has led me to seek out very clingy friendships and relationships. Yet, that very same kind of clinginess causes me stress and makes me unhappy.

Let’s be honest here, I lived with a roommate I didn’t really like or bond with for a very long time because I thought I couldn’t manage on my own, and cried and felt undue stress at the idea of being left to cope with living in a space by myself. This person was utterly toxic in my life, yet keeping that person around was less frightening than being alone. This is not the first time I’ve been through this scenario, and every time, once I deal with the shock of being left alone, I realise just how much happier I am. I’ve lived with ex-boyfriends and moved in with people I should not have because I felt like being on my own just wasn’t for me, and every time, I was shocked by the realisation that I felt freer and lighter when the person I supposedly loved and needed was gone. I didn’t want the person to be gone forever, I just wanted my own space for awhile. I never really knew that about myself. I like living in a world where there is a certain amount of personal space and freedom, and that’s balanced out by friendships and relationships that are truly important to me, not just having people around to have them around. I’m still an extrovert who gets bummed out if I don’t have enough social interaction in my world. Yet, I grew up valuing my personal space immensely, being able to hide out in my own room and “escape” from everything and everyone else. I thought that, like most people, I simply grew out of that, but I don’t think I ever did. I just told myself I *should*, because people have roommates, families, live together…especially in cities, people aren’t designed for personal space. But I like mine.

I’ve also come to accept a basic truth about me: I don’t like people. At least, I don’t like all of them, and during my time of illness, I came to see the idea of meeting and entertaining strangers as a drain on my very limited resources. It became harder to smile and appear charming in the face of people you don’t care for, or pretend to be interested in conversation that just *isn’t*. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve developed at least three strong friendships during the time I was ill, largely because it was the first time in my life I cared about meaningful one-on-one interaction with someone I suspect I might relate to, instead of “How many people can I get to come to my party?”. I’ve hosted a Meetup group for 5 years, and literally met thousands of people. Perhaps 20-30 of them have become friends; some of them have become my best friends in the world.

But, when I was sitting on the lawn talking about my childhood with my friend in Durham, or at a quirky coffee shop creating imaginary art in my head with a friend in Charlotte, or at a small dinner with 6 or so of my close friends in Atlanta, I realised how much happier and more content I was than at any of the bars or clubs or parties I’d been to recently. The difference was, I was really able to communicate and bond with people I truly care about, people who accept me and allow me to be myself. I didn’t have to flirt or accept and give insincere compliments, hug strangers, make small talk about “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?”.

I was telling a friend recently that I’d never been like that before. In fact, I’d had people end relationships and friendships with me over what was perceived by others as a disinterestedness in truly getting to know someone, and what I saw as “Whenever we turn everything into a group outing, more people means more fun!”. In some ways, my illness was stronger than my desire to be the centre of attention, to be the person that everyone looked at in a large group of people. I didn’t want to be looked at anymore, I didn’t want to have to meet expectations or offer meaningless social frivolities. I just wanted to be around people who understood, and really cared. My illness allowed me to see what life is like for people more introverted, more focused, less willing to engage in pretense and the attempt to “be seen and appreciated” than I have always been. At first, I was bored and depressed and hated it. I just wanted my old life back. As I started to get better, I started to see it’s one of the greatest gifts life could have given me. I value others so much more now, and learned it’s OK not to like everyone, and not to give a crap if other people don’t like you. I was reminded how authenticity was one of the most important aspects of my personality, and how often I’ve had to sacrifice that to please others or to be liked. I feel like it is a permanent change, that I no longer have the energy or the desire to do that. I don’t go to bars or clubs on Saturday nights anymore; I play trivia with my friends at a pizza place that doesn’t serve alcohol and closes at 11, so we sit on the bench in front of the building, talking and looking at stupid YouTube videos. And, strangely, I love it. When I am out of town, it is the thing I miss the most. It used to be something to do when there wasn’t a party to go to or an event to plan. Now, it’s something I look forward to doing.

I have changed and grown in many ways as a result of one of the most difficult periods of my life. I learned to let the self-destructive, attention-seeking side of myself go when it occurred to me that I wasn’t ready to die. I learned to appreciate people by admitting how much about my life I didn’t really enjoy, how much of my interactions with others felt forced and artificial. I’ve learned to balance the conviction that you have to appreciate today because there is no future with the idea that, in case I’m still around, I might want to make plans for my life 6 months from now. I’ve learned that living alone doesn’t mean being alone, and it’s far preferable to the stress of being around someone you don’t even like that much, and the negative energy they bring into your life. I’ve learned that substance counts, and I have a great deal of it, even though I spend a lot of time downplaying that aspect of myself. I’ve learned that feeling loved sometimes means someone understanding you enough to give you the freedom you need, and that showing you care about others means understanding the freedom that person needs. I’ve learned that it’s OK to say “No”, even if it makes you feel badly, because attempting to please others at the expense of your own happiness isn’t worth having panic attacks over. I’ve learned that while I don’t have all the answers to life, sometimes my intuition tells me everything I need to know about the world around me and the people in it. I’ve learned that I value my family for who they are, but it’s the friends who are like family that truly make me feel at home…and it sucks that those friends live in five or six different states, but it doesn’t matter much.

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I think I am. And, maybe, three years from now, I’m going to wonder what all the fuss and panic was about when I see a Wal-Mart, Target, or Kroger. I’m going to make changes between now and then, and I don’t even know what they are or why I’ll make them or if they’ll be the best choices…but I know I’m going to be around to make them. That means I’ve come so much farther from where I was this time a year ago, and although I feel frightened about the approaching summer, potentially going to Dragon*Con, or traveling, or just locking myself up in my room and focusing on work and making money, I somehow intuitively know I’m going to be OK. It used to be one day at a time in my world, and now it’s one week at a time. That is progress.

If you know me, or have followed my page for any length of time, you know I’m a huge fan of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, and by extension, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Although not everyone agrees with me on the actual psychological merit behind these tests, I can say that these tests have pegged me almost dead-on, down to the percentages in which certain aspects of my personality are expressed and what personality attributes are most significant to me in terms of how I relate to others.

Although I don’t always listen, this test has never steered me wrong in telling me (or warning me) about my compatibility with friends, lovers, enemies, and acquaintances. My lifelong friends tend to be of one or two distinct personality types. The people with whom I have the most natural and interesting bonds tend to be of one or two distinct personality types. The people I’ve dated but shouldn’t have, and tried to be friends with, but just couldn’t, all have ended up being the same personality type. The people I trusted who then stabbed me in the back happened to be of a particular personality type. I don’t always follow the intuitive voice that accompanies learning someone is not Meyers-Briggs compatible with me, and that usually does not work out peacefully or end well, but I give this test credit for somehow understanding me, and who might fit into my life, and how, and why. In some cases, it sees more clearly and understands my relationships with others better than I do.

Anyhow, if you’re not familiar with Meyers-Briggs, or put my unwavering belief in it on the same level as the fact that I check my horoscope every day and have my tarot cards read, and firmly believe I am intuitively developed enough that I have “psychic dreams” and “visions”—you will not care about this post. However, if you do know your Meyers-Briggs type, you’ll be amused by this little article, breaking the 16 archetypes down into their animal equivalents.

Unsurprisingly, I am one of the most loving and peaceful of all the animals: the dolphin.

I’m just not performing on command for your entertainment, damn it. :p Unless I feel like it. Or you bribe me. Or there’s a really big audience. *laughs*

I meant to spend time today writing about the trouble I got myself into while visiting Charlotte last week, but suddenly and without warning, got overwhelmed by work. So, on a related note…..:

It’s no secret that Americans have a lot of unhealthy habits. Study after study is being performed in order to prove that many aspects of the way we live are not only decreasing our quality of life, but leading us to live less healthy, economically prosperous, and long lives than previous generations.

America, as a culture, does not understand the concept of joie de vivre. We eat too much, drink too much, and smoke too much, but actually have little appreciation for the joy of these bad habits, engaging in quantity over quality. We work more hours than ever before, but often make less money in the process, and so few of us actually enjoy what we do, choosing instead the route of “working for the weekend”. We surround ourselves with people, yet rarely connect with them. We utilise all sorts of technology to make our lives easier and more productive, yet spend hours on end wasting time to fill our eight-hour quota at the office or because there’s nothing interesting on television.

Americans do not understand the joy of living, not really, and it’s because we are not taught to focus on that. We are instead, at an early age, taught the benefits of busy work, following rules, keeping pace with the rest of the class, suppressing individuality, not questioning authority, putting personal feelings aside when necessary, and focusing on achievement as a stepping stone to more focus and more achievement—which may ultimately be rewarded, but may also leave you feeling as lost and empty and confused as those who checked out and chose to simply not care. Not only are we not a particularly happy, vivacious culture, what we’re doing isn’t working for us. The next generation of children are the first in centuries to have a lower life expectancy than their parents, yet we’re steadily raising the retirement age to compensate for a bankrupt Social Security system. Half of college graduates in 2012 are unemployed, yet the average student loan debt is $50,000. Today’s young adults in their 20′s and 30′s are getting married, having families, and buying homes 50% less frequently than their parents. 40% of the country does not have health care, and another 25% of those covered are not covered adequately.

Yes, it’s fair to say we consistently engage in a system that does not work, but judge and criticise those who choose not to buy into that system.

That’s why it’s inspiring to me to read about the work habits of writer, feminist, free-thinker, and bon vivante Simone de Beauvoir. She is legendary for her copious writings on feminism—ideas which extolled the virtues of living alone, maintaining a self-sufficient income, polyamoury and non-monogamy within committed relationships, and nurturing creative gifts rather than children—as well as her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, a relationship documented by an incredible number of daily communications detailing their lives, together and separately. She published numerous books, was known for her great number of friends and lovers, her entertaining social presence, and was a patroness of all sorts of artists, intellectuals, and free-thinkers. She was, quite simply, very much ahead of her time, and someone I greatly admire.

However, the interesting thing about Madame de Beauvoir is that, for all her free-spirited ways, she also maintained a reputation for being one of the hardest working artists of her time. She managed to avoid burning out by working 7 hours a day—3 in the morning and 4 in the evening—without distraction, and took 2-3 months between books to travel and rejuvenate each year.

She worked far less than most any of us could imagine, and yet, remains one of the most prolific writers in literary history. On top of it, she lived comfortably, found time to have the kind of friendships and love affairs most of us spend a lifetime searching for, and was quite involved in both the cultural and hedonistic pursuits of her era.

The question is, does living a more balanced and well-rounded lifestyle not only make your life a more enjoyable one (I’m fond of saying that since you only live once, and you never know when the ride is coming to an end, it’s fairly silly to waste time filling your life with obligations and things that don’t inspire any sort of passion, as most of us do.), but make you a more brilliant, accomplished, cultured person?

Many Europeans still believe so. They don’t work as many hours as the average American, Japanese, or Indian citizen, but many enjoy a higher quality of life and longer life expectancy. There is an attitude of enjoyment rather than excess, of appreciating the simpler things rather than moving as quickly as possible, and celebrating love and friendship as keys to a happy life.

The next time I’m tempted to spend my day in front of glowing pieces of technology, wearing my PJs, I think I need to remind myself that Madame de Beauvoir would hardly approve. :P Of course, she didn’t live in the suburbs of a city that is the poster child for the evils of urban sprawl without a car, so I think she might understand why I’m not meeting friends for a 5 PM cocktail and gossip in the middle of the week.

However, my unconventional schedule is probably something that most Americans don’t understand, but it works for me. I try to get up around 11, work until 4 PM when my pieces are due, and then spend the rest of the evening socialising, reading, watching TV, or catching up with friends and family on the phone. New assignments come out at 5 PM each day, so if I have a heavy workload, I’ll start work again at 12 AM and see what I get done before bedtime, at 3 AM. If I don’t, I’ll use the time to write in my journal or work on creative projects. I find I have the most creative energy and fewest distractions after midnight, simply because I’m a night owl. Of course, this doesn’t work for me on the weekends, when I’ll typically stay out later than I should, enjoy life, have a few too many drinks, and only have the afternoons to get anything done. However, I then often have extra time on Sunday, a day I don’t often schedule anything to do…so it balances out. Most people are surprised–given my relatively laid-back, unambitious attitude toward work, love for sleeping until 11 AM, and general desire to have life be a fun, entertaining ride—when they learn that I often work 7 days a week. It’s just that I’m typically working when everyone else is not. *laughs* Like Simone de Beauvoir, I have the freedom to take time out here and there, something I would not have in a more traditional lifestyle.

I so very much live in the wrong place for me, in the wrong atmosphere, maybe even in the wrong time period. I have, throughout my life, generally felt misplaced. However, after a decade, Atlanta still doesn’t feel like my home. It feels more like a transient stop along my journey that somehow turned into a third of my life. It’s a shame, in a way, I have so many connections that are dear to me that make me want to remain in a place I’ve never quite belonged. I wonder what it will take to make this place “home” to me, other than a 9-5 corporate job, a car, and a little bit of liposuction. :P

It’s no secret that if there’s anything that’s likely to ruin my day and cause me massive amounts of anxiety, it’s dealing with large corporate entities, bureaucracy, red tape, and hearing phrases such as “company policy” and “I understand how frustrating this is for you” repeatedly. I don’t really care too much that the people who are somehow screwing me over and ruining my day empathise with how pissed off I feel about it. I just want them to fixit, and to fix it now, not when they get around to it, not when they run through the necessary procedures or speak to the correct person, and not in the 2-14 days it takes for processing. When I screw things up that affect other people, I have to fix them immediately. I believe that everyone everywhere should be held to the same universal standard of accountability.

Yet, somehow, the larger the corporation you happen to be dealing with, the less importance your problem has to whomever you’ve gotten on the phone. Accountability and even apologies for screwing with your life aren’t necessary, and are often not offered. If it were possible to kill people with thoughts and repressed rage, there would be a lot of customer service representatives no longer with us.

This is why my attempts at finding a nice, normal job in the world of corporate America have repeatedly failed. It isn’t that I’ve chosen professions where I wasn’t good at my job, but because—and let’s just be honest here— I’m never going to be the type that’s going to follow copious amounts of rules and detailed procedures regarding how I am supposed to operate. I don’t like busy work. I don’t like red tape. I don’t like solving problems by passing the buck to someone who isn’t me and making it that person’s problem. Most certainly, I *despise* being micro-managed. I tend to be a creative, optimistic person that takes initiative, so former employers have always allowed me more leeway than they likely should have in tolerating my refusal to follow instructions and guidelines, but in the end, it was just never a good fit.

I am reminded of that every single time I need to call the utility company, the bank, the credit card company, or complete some paperwork-oriented task that feels like a waste of my time. Inevitably, I end up putting this stuff off into the “later” pile, on account of how much I hate it. I even hate the automated menus. I feel like there should be an option that says “If you’d like to engage in confrontation with one of our representatives, press 3 now.”

I am especially reminded of this when I travel, and something goes wrong. I do not take a laid-back, Zen, “these things happen” approach to life, as much as I’d like to. Somehow, problems with my hotel or flight or other issues that are of major inconvenience to me end up with me accessing my uber-impatient diva side, the one that presents the impression that I am far more important and cultured than I really am, and I am not about to stand for the treatment I’m receiving, “company policy” or not. People have told me that I’d get better results simply by being calm and friendly about it, not to mention causing myself less anxiety, but I can’t seem to help myself. I don’t take major problems in stride. And, in fairness, being assertive and downright bitchy in the face of unhelpful airline, bus, and hotel employees has often gotten me a resolution I can live with, one contrary to “company policy”. I’ve been put up in four-star hotels at the airline’s expense during a blizzard, been refunded by Greyhound in compensation for a 6 hour layover in Richmond, and put in the VIP suite at the Hilton when the room I booked was smaller and smokier than the one I booked.

This did not work during my recent stay at the Downtown Durham Marriott, the place I called home base during my recent trip. Throughout the years, I’ve happened to accumulate some connections when it comes to hotels, so I often end up staying at nicer places than I really should, for a starving artist such as myself. However, I’ve also noticed that the nicer a hotel is, the less likely they are to accommodate you or care about your level of unhappiness with them. A $60 a night hotel comes with a refrigerator, but a $160 a night hotel will charge you $15 extra per night for the mini-fridge. This has never made sense to me.

Before arriving in Durham, I’d booked a hotel room—pre-paid, of course—for four nights. When I decided to extend my trip by an extra day to accommodate additional plans, I rather assumed I could just add on a night when I arrived at the hotel. After all, it wasn’t like I was going to Times Square. I checked in, and they asked for a credit card for the obligatory $50 incidental deposit, which is always refunded if you don’t use things such as room service or pay-per-view movies. No problems, and before I went to sleep that night, I happened to log on to my mobile banking app and check my balance. Imagine my shock when I discovered that a large amount of money had been removed from my bank account and placed in “pending” status. It turns out the hotel didn’t just charge me for the $50 deposit, but for the deposit, plus the entirety of my stay…which had already been paid.

Of course, I was absolutely livid and called the front desk. The manager on duty informed me he’d cancel out the pending charge, and said “You should never use a debit card for incidentals. This is a common problem. You’re going to have to take this up with your bank tomorrow.”.

First of all, if it’s a common problem, the front desk personnel should inform you of this before they run your debit/credit/bank card. I’d have happily saved myself a LOT of aggravation by giving them $50 in cash. Secondly, since it was their mistake, I shouldn’t be the one that has to get up at 8:30 AM on my vacation to fight with my bank.

It took several phone calls back and forth between me, the hotel, and the bank in order to get the funds released. Since this occurred over a weekend, I didn’t get my money returned to me until my trip was halfway over. On top of it all, the front desk clerk then asked me how I wanted to pay my $50 incidental deposit, and I informed him I wasn’t intending to, and waiving that was the very least they could do to compensate me for the inconvenience.

Even after all that, I still needed an extra night of hotel space, so I asked to book a room for the additional night. I was told the hotel was actually booked, and I inconveniently ended up at a two-star hotel across town. It wasn’t exactly the nicest place I’ve ever stayed, but ironically, the staff was nicer and much more helpful than the service I received at the Marriott, which was two and a half times the nightly rate of the two-star hotel.

While one of the front desk employees with whom I dealt happened to be very nice, and the bar/restaurant/shuttle employees were courteous, I was just extremely off-put by the attitude I received in response to a major inconvenience that might have been avoided by better service at what is supposedly the city’s nicest hotel. It is the first time that such a dramatic inconvenience has happened and I wasn’t offered an upgrade, a lower rate on a subsequent night’s stay, a gift card for hotel services, or some form of compensation. I was barely offered an apology, and I fully intend to pursue this issue with the people at Marriott, a chain I’ve always chosen to use during my travels.

The rest of my travels were relatively hassle-free, but as soon as I returned to Atlanta, I was greeted by the knowledge that the train I needed wasn’t running from the bus station’s stop to my part of town, and I’d have to take another train and transfer. Of course, there were no signs or announcements to this effect, so I sat around for over 30 minutes before I realised my train was never arriving. The Guy I Am Currently Dating was supposed to pick me up at the train station near my place, but it was impossible to call him because he’d left his phone at home. On top of that, I was in Atlanta for all of 15 minutes before his mother called me, in a frantic state worrying he was dead. The last thing I could handle was her, so I had to pretend the subway train was going underground and hung up on her.

As soon as I got back home, I sorted through two week’s worth of mail, none of which looked particularly important. I threw away the junk, rescued the bills, and determined life was pretty chilled out here in Atlanta. Then, I opened a perfectly innocent looking bill from SCANA, our gas company, informing me I’d forgotten to pay my bill on time and my gas would be shut off on the 11th at 5 PM if the bill wasn’t paid. Unfortunately, it was the 15th. Oooops.

I quickly logged on and paid the gas bill, but of course it was too late. My gas had been shut off, and a call to the reconnection department told me that someone couldn’t come out until Monday to reconnect it. So, upon my return, I spent my weekend with no hot water.

The gas repair technician showed up at 10 AM this morning, only to tell me he could not light the pilot light for my furnace or water heater because the “equipment wasn’t up to code”. Of course the equipment isn’t up to code; I live in an apartment that was probably built the year I was born and little seems to have been replaced since then. I told him I didn’t own the place, I just rented, and needed hot water. His response: “I understand, but I can’t do it. Your equipment isn’t up to code. You’ll have to call maintenance to have them do it.”

Maintenance was called, but every time I have an issue, it takes 8 calls over 3 days to get anything fixed. I am an increasingly aggravated Alayna, one who is learning the key point about taking vacation/travel time is a very simple one: just don’t come back. Any sense of Zen, peace, inner calm, creativity, what have you, that you may have gained in your new surroundings will immediately evaporate once you return to your usual stressed-out life.

I’d really love to take a shower and wash my hair before Wednesday.

Back when I was a healthier person, I’d routinely take off to visit friends and family that are scattered along the East Coast. It helps that my friends and family tend to be in cities that you drive through to get to other cities, giving birth to the idea of what I call the “Alayna National Tour”. I couldn’t go to visit family in Philly without stopping to see a friend in D.C., another in NYC, or meet another for dinner during a layover in Richmond. I never thought this was anything special: I genuinely love the people in my life, and if someone is important to me, I will make time to see them. My year of illness has gotten in the way of this, something that’s made me very sad, but my recent travels have proven to me that I may not have the stamina I did before I got sick…but I can handle more than I think I can. I definitely plan to have the energy to get myself to NYC and Philly by the end of the year.

When I decided to visit my friend in the Durham area, and then two others in Charlotte, I really didn’t think anything unusual of it. I visit people because I like them, and because I like spending time with them in a world other than the one I inhabit each day. However, a chief concern of mine (and if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve heard why) is that visiting my friend in Durham would result in chaos that might end our friendship permanently. However, we’d managed to create that scenario numerous times over the distance since he came to visit me in Atlanta, so I thought it might be the best thing to either work out our issues or realise exactly why we could not be friends—an odd concept for me, as I’ve never been able to not be friends with someone I genuinely liked, save for very complicated situations that were simply never going to change.

There was, in fact, a moment that followed a very nice evening of bonding and spending time together where it became pretty obvious that either we were going to talk through things in an open and honest way, or end our acquaintance with him leaving me sitting in a bar in North Carolina. (No, my friend is not that big of a jerk; I am. I am the one who told him to simply leave me there because I deserved better treatment. He simply considered taking me up on it.)

This friend has told me he dislikes being a character in my blog—admittedly, not the first time someone’s told me that. When someone tells me that, the chief reason is because the person is either afraid they’ll be obviously identified by the rest of the world and judged unfairly, or because the person is an introverted soul who doesn’t wish to be put on display. My friend is an extremely private person, and I am someone who has lived my life on the internet for 12 years, and sees this blog a little like my own reality TV show. So, when he told me it made him uncomfortable to see personal aspects of our friendship made public, I promised I’d skip the whole “who, what, where, when” saga of us managing to work through some of our issues and build a better friendship. Or an actual friendship. Or something. *laughs* Instead, I’ll post this rather nice series of thoughts on friendship that I recorded in my personal journal while at a cafe in Charlotte.

“Some people come into your life because they remind you of who you are; who you really, truly are, beyond the layers of artifice, social propriety, expectations, and carefully constructed walls and defense mechanisms designed to protect at the expense of real connection. They are the rare, unusual people with whom you can laugh, cry, yell, discuss all manner of thoughts and feelings, be as silly as possible or as intense as possible, and feel you’re not only accepted, but that you should like yourself as much as those individuals do. They are the people who make you feel as if being yourself is simple and easy, and being vulnerable and unpretentious isn’t frightening, but the most natural thing in the world.

Others come into your life to remind you of who you have yet to become, because even though they are wise enough to see you clearly, recognise your flaws, and even identify your capability for being a tremendous pain in the ass and making life harder than it needs to be, they also care for you. As a result, they somehow see you as something better than you truly are, as something better than you see yourself.

If you’re fortunate, every so often—not frequently, but in a time period measured in years in between such people appearing in your life— you’ll meet someone who is all of these things, and discover a connection that isn’t quite ordinary. These are the people who affect you on some deeper level, teach you a little more about yourself, and make you a slightly better person for being a part of your life. These are the people who can affect you in a very emotional way, not on account of being mean, difficult, horrible people, but because you understand it is right to trust them enough to let them.

For some time, I’ve suspected this friend might be one of those people in my life, an oddly intuitive and inexplicable reaction to have upon meeting someone you’ve known of and about for a long time, yet don’t know at all. I’ve been consistently saddened by our inability to bridge certain points of conflict, while having the ability to connect in a fairly unique and special way. It has seemed that it would be a great loss to walk away from knowing a person I immediately, intuitively, and inexplicably gathered might be important in my life, on account of common phrases like “too different” and “complicated”. The odd thing is, once you look past those differences and points of conflict, and accept that someone being able to affect you on some level isn’t cause to run and hide and employ all sorts of anti-vulnerability shields, you often discover that opposites are simply mirrored reflections, the same picture expressed in a contrary direction.

I am so glad this friend and I made the decision to put aside issues of mutual distrust and communication complicated by a lack of willingness to be open and invest in knowing another person, while asking that person to give that level of trust and faith and understanding. I’m glad we seem to have chosen the option of recognising our friendship is one for which it is worth learning to understand and appreciate our differences—a choice which, strangely, unearthed more similarities and understanding than natural and unavoidable reasons for conflict. Sometimes, once you understand someone a little better and are willing to invest a little trust (the hardest thing for many of us out there in the world), you see that not that much compromise is really necessary to end up on the same page, or even face in the same direction.

You can’t demand what you’re not willing to give, and spend months wondering why the result isn’t positive. Trust and faith are things I don’t have to offer in abundance, and I have always been the sort to hesitate to offer them, even to those I consider a important part of my life. I have a way about me that I’ve perfected over the years, one that allows me to appear extremely open and accessible, to engage in abundant communication rather than real, meaningful connection, all while keeping any sense of real vulnerability hidden. This isn’t something that has ever worked in this particular friendship, because I would always feel as if I were uncomfortably transparent, as if this friend had a gift of getting to the core of who I happen to be. Meanwhile, I always seemed to be able to look through this person in the same way, never being able to take things at face value because of a weird sense that I was looking at one picture that was truly another.

Some friendships just don’t have room for games and walls and unwillingness to trust. Getting to know this relatively new person in my life has made me see more clearly that trying to build any sense of emotional intimacy while still maintaining impenetrable protective walls is not only not possible, but almost toxic and destructive. It isn’t real, and it’s often manipulative. It’s anything but accepting, because you’re too focused on protecting yourself adequately to truly see another person clearly. The attempt ends up hurting everyone involved. Some people—even those that haven’t been in your life long enough yet to become essential and permanent pieces of it—deserve far more, even if you don’t quite understand why. When you find one of those rare people, you kind of just have to make space in your life, which means taking down a few walls. In the end, it is usually worth it, and often even more so than you anticipated.”

During the rather unpleasant argument that preceded the “Either we have to be real and honest and trust each other, or just not try at all.” conversation, my friend asked me why I would visit him and what I expected from doing so. I thought I knew the answer, and that it was simple: “I visit people because I like them”. I didn’t really see it in terms of as big of a deal as he was making it out to be, because for me, it wasn’t. It touched me that he saw that as something beautiful about me. Now that I’ve had some time to look back on that, I realise that on a deeper level, I understood there was a more important decision to be made in my knowing this person: either we were going to take a chance and develop a real friendship, or agree not to be part of the other person’s life. Some people simply make terrible casual acquaintances, and connect in a way where that doesn’t work as easily as it should. Others can only have a conflict-free friendship if there’s very straightforward communication and honest expression of thoughts and feelings. I think both are applicable here.

I think I can safely say it worked out for the best, and I’m glad we chose to make the more difficult choice, and decide that our weird, confusing, complicated acquaintance was worth turning into a friendship of some substance…or at least getting it on that particular track. I actually believe it is one we will both value for some time to come. However, you may not hear about it, as I will henceforth avoid making this particular friend a recurring character in my blog. Fortunately, that may be a sign of a distinct lack of conflict and drama both of us will appreciate.

I have no doubt that I’ll find my drama elsewhere…which will be illustrated tomorrow by my piece on my relationship with annoying corporate entities. *laughs*

I know, I know. I haven’t really been around much, but I have a very good excuse. I’ve been traipsing through North Carolina for the past week or so. There’s a lot to share, so I’ll do a series of posts on my adventures, but I’ll start out with chatting about spending some time in the thriving metropolis of Durham, NC. :P

Of course, the immediate response to telling people this is “Why?!?!”, but it’s kind of funny the way things worked out. I initially had hoped to take 2 weeks’ vacation in June to travel to NYC and Philly as I always do, but thanks to the inner ear disorder, I can’t fly. I’m also still not strong enough for spending 20 hours on Greyhound. Conveniently, I have a friend in Durham who visited me in ATL a few months back, and with whom I wanted to spend more quality time so we might get to know one another a little better, and since that city is the approximate halfway point to NYC, I thought I’d stop there.

As it turned out, plans didn’t work as well as I’d have wanted them to. The Chinatown bus line shut down, and the extensive travel I wanted to pursue in mid-summer is something I’m still not strong enough to handle, from a physical perspective. Also, if you’ve been reading my blog over the past months, you’ve seen that things with this potential new friend have been chaotic, to say the least. Yet, I still decided it was worthwhile stopping by to visit, even if the attempt to spend time together was disastrous and we ended up never speaking again. (yes, there was reason to consider this as a possible outcome, but friendship drama is another blog for another day.) I also made plans to stop and visit a few friends in Charlotte on the way home to Atlanta (also another blog entry for another day.). Charlotte isn’t very far from here, but it’s one of those cities that you pass through, rather than purposely go to *visit*…so, I decided it was time to do so. The result is that, within the span of a week, I saw many, many small towns and medium-sized cities throughout North Carolina.

Durham is an interesting little city. It’s home to Duke University, and about 20 minutes away is the town of Chapel Hill, a pretty vibrant area dominated by the presence of UNC. I’ve been to the Raleigh-Durham area before; this was actually my third or fourth visit. However, in the past, my travels were confined to the Raleigh side of things, and the Research Triangle area. I never actually made it into Durham or Chapel Hill, because I didn’t have much reason to travel that far. Like Atlanta, and most of the Southeast, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill is obnoxiously spread out and suffers from urban sprawl that seems designed just to make people buy more gas and newer cars, and only have friends who live within a 10 mile radius. The entire Triangle area is larger than the state of Rhode Island, so for a non-driving Northeasterner like myself, it’s indeed culture shock.

I have a lot of stories and adventures I could share, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll list the things I do and do not like about the Durham area. (strangely, for a big city girl, I found it WAY more charming than I expected.)

Stuff the Durham area has going for it:

*People are really nice. Yes, you might say people are nice anywhere, but it’s not true. I’ve never spent much time in Southern small towns, but this one had a level of friendliness I’ve only seen before in New Orleans and Biloxi. Strangers will talk to you. Everywhere I went, I met someone. People carried my bags, opened car doors, bought me drinks and coffee shop items, and wanted random pictures of or with me. Perhaps it’s just a natural openness about those who live in the area, or perhaps it’s because I’m a little bit of a novelty for the area…I can honestly say I didn’t find one person who looked, acted, or had a type of energy that resembled mine. When you’re a little different, people will either love or hate you, but I overwhelmingly felt a sense that everywhere I went, I encountered someone who was charmed by me. Being a little narcissistic, I can’t say I didn’t appreciate that. :P

*You feel a little like you’ve stepped out of “Pleasantville”, and it’s charming. Unlike many cities who once served a different function, Durham hasn’t torn down the old buildings of its small-town tobacco roots in order to build skyscrapers and condos. Near where I was staying, there was a pharmacy within a one block radius, and it was a 1950′s style pharmacy. No CVS, Rite Aid, or large chains. Similarly, all the coffeeshops, cafes, and bars were independent, one-of-a-kind places. I didn’t see a single Starbucks. I mentioned to my friend that I half-expected to see a milkshake shop, and I wanted to go there. He responded by telling me there was one, and now I’ll have to visit in the future to see a number of things I didn’t get to see this time around, but that is one tourist experience I am holding him to. *laughs* There was even a vintage shop that made me wish I’d brought nothing but one outfit and a a mostly empty bag. For someone like me, who is decidedly urban and modern but charmed by the attractions of time periods long abandoned, the combination of old and new delighted me.

*There’s a kick-ass performing arts center. As a performer, I tend to judge a city on the amount of culture it has to offer, an arena in which Atlanta falls sadly short, for a city as large as it is. My visit to Durham happened to coincide with the closing week of the 2nd national company’s tour of “West Side Story”, so of course I was excited to see that. What I did not expect was how expansive, modern, and downright cool the Durham Performing Arts Center is. It may be better than our Cobb Energy Center, in both design and acoustics. I also mentioned that I’d have to pay a return visit when it coincided with a show I wanted to see, because I *loved* that theatre. As it happened, I was staying at the same hotel as the company, and ran into one of the cast members during check-out, who thought she knew me. She didn’t, but we do have mutual friends on tours with different shows, so it is possible our paths had crossed at one point. It’s odd how small the world can be.

*There are a lot of cool places to hang out and explore for a small city. There were many things I just didn’t get to, especially in terms of restaurants and bars with interesting ambiance. Yet, there’s also places to go if you just want to chill and spend a low-key night hanging out with friends. I literally sat on a lawn (while sober) and talked with my friend as cars drove by and occasionally beeped or said hello to us. It was actually really fun, and the sort of thing the less extroverted side of me secretly likes. You just can’t really *do* that here in Atlanta–you’ll either get approached by people who creep you out, or a cop will yell at you for loitering.

Once I began to figure out how to navigate the area, and where things were located, I started to see Durham as less of a small town and more as a little city that happens to have retained a lot of small-town charm. People who know me will find it quite odd that I would enjoy the culture of such a small place, but I did. I found people to be refreshingly down-to-earth, open, and while there might be a soda fountain, an old-school pharmacy, and lots of places with the word “BBQ” in the name, there’s also a lot of what I enjoy: tapas bars with good martinis, independent coffee shops, people who appreciate art, music, and culture, and are open enough to talk to strangers or pay a compliment just to make someone’s day a little nicer. However, there were a few things that make me understand why my friend doesn’t necessarily intend to call the place home on a permanent basis.

*Everything is just so damned spread out. Strangely, it’s easier to get around and navigate without a car than Atlanta is, but there’s no subway system, and when you’re dealing with a city that’s really a metro area consisting of 4 cities, you kind of have to pick one part of town and stick to it. Being a non-driver, I couldn’t live there for more than two weeks without a LOT of friends to take me places. I wish that Southern cities, in general, were more accessible to other ways of getting around that don’t involve a car.

*It’s North Carolina. Seriously, every time I overheard two or more women my age having a conversation, it revolved around babies, day care, lactation counseling, husbands, the search for husbands, and biological clocks. Either that, or “Did you see what she’s wearing?”, “Look how tiny she is!”, and “My sorority sister just had this beautiful wedding…”. This drives me crazy in Atlanta, because I can’t relate in even the slightest, but is far more pronounced in North Carolina. I’m sure there are places in which the intellectuals, the free-thinkers, the hippies, and other “unconventional” folks hang out and talk about different things, but I had to restrain the urge to let the women of North Carolina know that feminism kicked in 50 years ago. I also ran into a contingent of perfect, blonde, blue-eyed Stepford Wives who I’m fairly certain mistook me for Lady Gaga. If I lived in North Carolina, I’m pretty sure I’d die alone with 50 cats. It and I just have different life philosophies. *lol*

*Pepsi. Yeah. Pepsi products are everywhere. When I finally went somewhere that sold bottles of Coke, I had that same feeling you’d get from discovering a 20 dollar bill on the street. I *hate* Pepsi. Enough said.

All in all, I have plenty of lovely things to say about the area, and will definitely consider a return visit in the future, on my way to NYC (talk about culture shock! *lol*). I felt pretty much the same way about Durham that I felt about Greenville, SC: that it seemed so contrary to my nature to find a place so small to be fun and charming. The thing that both places have in common is they both have downtown areas that are walkable and rapidly growing in terms of culture and restaurants/bars/coffeeshops. Both are decidedly un-corporate (unlike Atlanta and Charlotte), probably because the presence of academic institutions influences the culture more than large corporations. There’s something I really like about those kind of places; it’s why I largely dislike Atlanta, but find certain neighbourhoods, such as Decatur and L5P/Va-Hi to be places I could be happy living.

Maybe Seattle is more up my alley than I think….*laughs*

For those who don’t know, today was a pretty special day…for pretty much everyone on the Earth. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to know there’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that bonds every single person on the planet to one another, something that is so much bigger that each of us, or all of us put together.

Today is the event known as Transit Of Venus, the time where the planet Venus travels between the Sun and the Earth, visible as a small black dot moving across the sun. Someone today (I forget who, so my apologies) described it as a beauty mark lighting up the Sun.

The last Transit Of Venus happened in 2004. The only other recorded occurrences throughout history took place in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, and 1882. The next dates marked for this phenomenon are 2117 and 2125.

It’s pretty amazing to realise that something has occurred that will never again occur in our lifetimes. Many of us have great-grandparents and grandparents and even parents that were never able to experience this phenomenon in their lifetimes, and even a child born tomorrow is very unlikely to live to see a Transit Of Venus.

I’m not particularly interested in science or astronomy (apologies to all my “SCIENCE!”-loving friends), but it’s no secret that I do have a particularly sentimental, intuitive, and even spiritual side. The feeling of knowing that there is this one moment in time that simply can’t be duplicated—at least not in my lifetime, or in the lifetimes of the little ones that are more and more frequently beginning to populate the lives of my friends, it’s overwhelming. The realisation of how large the idea of time truly is, and how small the lifespan of the average human being, is both breathtaking and sad.

Most things in life are not once in a lifetime. If something isn’t quite right, if a moment doesn’t live up to expectation, if some moment in your life isn’t as magnificent as you’d hoped, there’s the chance to try again. We spend our lives believing in this, often until our very last moment on Earth. That’s human nature, and what makes spirits resilient, and how hope continues to spring eternal.

What if, however, we did treat more and more moments as if they were truly once-in-a-lifetime? What if there were more moments so powerful they left you speechless with the knowledge that it really is about living in that particular moment, and nothing else? Imagine how much more potential life would have for the extraordinary.

I felt like crying, because after the very difficult year I’ve been through—one where I’ve felt extremely alone at times, and uncertain about my own future and my own simple existence at others—I simply felt blessed that I was here, on this Earth, for that moment in time. I felt grateful that my friends, family, loved ones, acquaintances, and everyone else who has touched my life happened to be out there somewhere, sharing that moment with me.

For just a moment, I felt like the most insignificant, yet most loved and blessed, thing on the planet. Then, the moment passed, and everything went back to what it was before. Yet, I was more aware of living in the moment, of the knowledge that each one may not be rare and special…but once in awhile, there’s one that might be, and will be, as long as you have your eyes open and are looking for it.

I need a reminder, now and then, to walk through my moments with my eyes and my heart open to possibility, to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, to those things that are larger than yourself and you may not understand, but don’t easily forget. Like many dreamers, romantics, idealists, overly emotional spirits, I spend so much time looking within myself, recounting the past, dreaming about the future, that I can easily forget to treasure the now. This moment, here, writing to you: well, it may just be something special after all.

An old friend once took me to an astrologer, one who read my natal chart and determined that, despite a birth sign that is typically very grounded, practical, and goal-oriented, I was ruled by the influence of Venus, which made for an interesting combination of personality attributes. Apparently, I am one who is naturally capable of great achievement, great passion, and great influence over others. In time, I will supposedly learn the art of making the most of both aspects of my personality, something that will lead me to quite the memorable life.

I do not know if any of this has any truth behind it, but I know that the next seven months of my life are meant to have a dramatic shift, and chaos is actually supposed to bring the great and the unexpected into my world. If the almost spiritual moment I had today meditating upon the Transit Of Venus is any sign, I’d say perhaps the next 7 months of my life are off to a great start. :)

Do you ever have the feeling like, upon the day of birth, some people are simply cursed? No matter how well you plan, no matter how hard you try to be a good person, do the right thing, share love with others, bad things keep happening, as if a random black cloud follows you around, ensuring everything you touch or get close to in any way will fall apart?

I have that feeling all the time. I am that black cloud.

I say this as I sit in my apartment that is 80 degrees with the air conditioning ON. Obviously it has ceased to work, something I’ve been telling the apartment for over a year, as the effectiveness of the AC unit steadily decreases, and my energy bills increase with each passing month. Every time, they send someone over to look at things and tell me it is “fine”.

It is NOT fine.

Most people would tolerate the inconvenience of it being 80 degrees indoors with some semblance of normalcy, but last year, the black cloud of doom turned a trip to the beach into an episode where I suffered mild heat stroke, 2nd degree sunburn over 60% of my body, dehydration, and an infection that went untreated for too long. In addition to gaining 25 pounds over the past year, being diagnosed with a permanent inner ear disorder, blood pressure related issues, hypoglycemia, and confusing medical issues I never had before, I also have the inability to regulate body temperature. In short, I do not sweat. My body just stores up heat until my skin starts to resemble a cooking surface for eggs. No AC is kind of not great for me.

If you want more evidence of the black cloud of doom that follows me, I’ve been planning a trip to see some friends for the past month and a half. My original intent was to go to NYC and Philly, and stop to see a friend in the Durham area along the way. Sadly, I am still not allowed to fly, at not healthy enough for such a long non-stop bus trip, particularly in the June heat. So, my plans changed to a more manageable Southern excursion, visiting my friend in Durham, and then off to catch up with some other friends in Charlotte.

A week or so ago, I had a huge fight with my friend in Durham, which resulted in him threatening to no longer continue being my friend. We are indeed still friends, but he said, “I no longer have the level of trust in you where I feel comfortable having you stay in my home”…which kind of sucks coming from someone you’d like to consider a friend, but, c’est la vie. Problem is, he’d agreed to have me stay at his place for an additional two days I’d added to my trip to do things around the area, leaving me to find other accommodations on relatively short notice.

Fortunately, I did, and I had a pleasant enough conversation with the friend I’m no longer certain is a friend or merely an acquaintance who is amused by me….who agreed to pick me up from the bus station when I arrived (but more about that later.), so I thought the whole trip thing was settled.

Wrong. Yesterday, I found out the second person who offered to host me would be unavailable to do so, and I haven’t been able to connect with anyone in the area who is. So, it looks like I’m going to have to pay for a hotel for another two nights.

Then there’s the matter of the bus. Like many Northeasterners, I’m familiar with the comfort and convenience of the Chinatown bus line…which gets you where you want to go without switching buses 5 times and giving you an 8 hour stop in Richmond, like Greyhound.

On Wednesday, I found out that my bus to Durham was actually canceled. This was annoying, because I had to reschedule via Greyhound, which meant taking a bus to Raleigh and then spending another $40 for a cab to my already pre-paid hotel in Durham. Fortunately, when I told my friend in the area about my predicament, he offered to come pick me up, which was quite nice of him (especially since the previous week, I got the impression I was no longer a particularly favoured person in his life.). But, still…this stuff only happens to me.

By “this stuff”, I mean not that a bus is canceled, which can happen to anyone, but that there’s’ a huge bust that puts multiple bus lines out of business days before your planned travel dates. Yeah. This is the kind of stuff that happens when I try to travel.

So, to recap. Broken A/C, sick Alayna, friend who no longer trusts me enough to let me crash on his floor, second host who backed out at the last minute, canceled bus, shutdown of buses I’ve been riding on for years that are apparently death traps, and needing to spend more money than desired on hotels. And I haven’t even packed a bag yet.

Part of the reason I travel is to put the complexities of my everyday life in perspective, take a break from situations that stress me out, and have fun exploring and having a great time with old friends…and often making new ones along the way. I haven’t been able to travel since being so ill last summer, and this is my first foray out into the great big world alone. I should be applauded for getting up the courage to do this, to take a huge step toward reclaiming my independence. Yet, the Universe seems to want me to have the most difficult time possible achieving this.

I’d hate to see what might have happened if I’d decided to go to New York, Philly, or D.C. instead. I’m pretty sure if I’d been allowed on a plane, there would have been a hurricane, or a suspected terrorist attack.

Seriously, life. I am over the black cloud of doom that thinks “one step forward, two steps back” is a fun game to play with my life.

It would be awesome if you could refrain from sending me a hurricane while I’m traveling, and my dog doesn’t run away from the person taking care of her. Of course, she’ll probably just be happy to have A/C.

I’m trying really hard to keep my life simple, fun, and not over-complicate everything. It would be awesome if you, life, would cooperate. Thank you. :)