Working to get v3 back soon 🙂

You may have noticed there haven’t been too many articles promoting my writing, interviews, and other creative projects. Sadly, I think the illness that’s kept me inside has robbed me of a good deal of inspiration. There are so many blank pages staring back at me. 🙁

Fortunately, I think I went and broke the cycle by doing a guest blog spot on the lovely Mysti Parker’s blog, where she hosted a writing challenge that featured different authors and bloggers doing personal essays on every letter, A-Z. I’ve been fortunate to cross Mysti’s path a few times, as she is not only an accomplished author I met via Goodreads, but a mentor over at Writer’s Village University. I even won a little contest on her blog last year, writing on a flash fiction prompt. She has a wonderful community of friends and writers out there, and I highly recommend checking her out. 🙂

My letter was “Y”, and I chose to write an essay on youth, and growing older. It is an odd subject for someone my age to tackle, I know. Such reflections are usually done by writers in their 50’s and 60’s. I thought it might be interesting to approach the idea of lost youth from the perspective of someone who is suddenly what the world would consider “an adult”, and doesn’t always feel equipped to handle such a responsibility.

I’d love if you’d read the essay here!

Please show us both some love with likes, comments, sharing, and all that jazz….:)

And, as a bonus, I’m sharing a poem I wrote almost as a joke a few months ago. It’s “Ode To The Trolls”, and designed to teach children (or people of any age) to deal with bullying and being made to feel “less than”. It is both real and satirical (you know, rather like Stephen Colbert), so it’s best read to a Dr. Seuss sing-song rhythm, either aloud or in your head. Enjoy! 😉


“Ode To The Trolls”

“There’s a problem today
That makes everyone mad
Angry and quiet,
Disgusted and sad.
You’ll notice one day
People don’t often agree
And being disrespectful to others
Is something you’ll see.
I don’t recommend it,
You shouldn’t really try it,
But you don’t have to listen
And you don’t have to keep quiet.
You may be a child, an adult
Or a teen
But at some point and some time
You’ll meet someone who’s mean.
She may think she’s funny,
He may be aggressive
But bullies are awful
Really, truly offensive.
On the playground, at work,
Or an Internet troll,
Bullies don’t fit
One particular role.
When one makes the decision
To come after you
You’ll wonder what you did wrong
And what you should do.
The truth is it’s nothing,
You’re perfectly fine
(Though we all do embarrassing things
From time to time.)
And though it may hurt you,
This moment will pass.
Just handle yourself with grace
And with class.
When it comes to people,
It’s easy to see
There is really and truly
Not a right way to be.
When people are angry
And cause a commotion
It’s them and not you
That create this emotion.
People aren’t always good
And they aren’t always bad,
But in the heart of a bully
You’ll often see someone sad.
There isn’t one way to be
That is never a crime;
We’re all going to get picked on
From time to time.
Maybe you’re really smart
Super-nice, extra-pretty
Or always willing to help
Others out in a hurry.
Maybe you have special talents
Are the head of your class,
Have lots of friends,
Or can kick a ball down the grass.
Maybe you’re that one person
That others can find
When they’re sad or they’re scared
Because you’re humble and kind.
Maybe you don’t even know who you are,
What is real, what is true,
But lurking inside
Is something special, creative, and new.
And when people can see it
They become really jealous,
Trying to erase all the great,
Wonderful things people tell us.
Maybe you’re black, and
Maybe you’re white;
Maybe you’re Muslim
Or Israelite.
Maybe you’ve made mistakes
Or you’ve spoken too loud,
Or you’ve done something silly
In front of a crowd.
You might feel too short,
Or you might feel too tall;
Or you might feel like no one
Ever sees you at all.
Maybe your hair is curly
Or red like a fire,
Or you’re bad at sports
But great in the choir.
You might be a guy
Who knows how to dance;
You might be a tomboy
Who always wears pants.
Maybe you’re Asian
And still bad at math,
Or you live with two moms,
Or you live with two dads.
Whoever you are, there’s a stereotype
Of who you should be
And what you should like.
But girls can play football
And boys can like pink.
You must learn to ignore
Those who speak and don’t think.
People may gossip or call you names
Bullies play mischievous,
Devious games.
It’s not your fault,
It’s not your decision.
You don’t deserve all the
Scorn and derision.
You may think it’s you
That you’re stupid, or weird
When the truth is we all have
Our doubts and our fears.
There isn’t one person,
No matter how strong
Who doesn’t look in the mirror
And find something wrong.
When people are bullies,
When people are mean,
They don’t like themselves
And so, make a scene.
People are perfect
In all shapes and all sizes
From all races and countries
Friends are remarkable prizes.
They make your life better,
They make it seem fair
That you are who you are,
That you are here and not there.
But no matter how special you are
Helpful, modest or nice,
Someone will say something mean
Without thinking twice.
Words can hurt deeply,
But whatever they say
Nobody else has the power
To ruin your day.
Whatever happens, and
Whatever you do
You must never, not ever
Once stop being you.
Maybe you’re skinny,
And maybe you’re fat;
Maybe you like dogs
Better than cats.
Being yourself is
To live unrepentant
And having opinions
Is what makes you authentic.
But whatever you say,
And whatever is real
Leads people to judge
The way that you feel.
They’ll tell you you’re wrong
That you should keep quiet
And you may be utterly
Tempted to try it.
When you are yourself,
You’re much criticised;
Supported and loved,
But also despised.
I’ve lived and I’ve learned,
And this much is true:
“Just be yourself”
Isn’t easy to do.
Deep down you must know
There’s no reason for shame,
But you will hear judgment
And you will hear blame.
Whoever you are
And whatever you do,
Somebody, somewhere,
Doesn’t like you.
So, why should you care?
Really, what does it matter?
There will always be people
Who will make your heart shatter.
You take a deep breath,
You count to ten-
Then you put the pieces together
All over again.
Kindness and love
Are still everywhere
But the courage to share them
With others is rare.
People today, they
All want to fit in,
As if being different
Is the world’s biggest sin.
Different is pretty,
Expressive, unique;
It may make someone’s heart
Skip a beat.
People may tell you
Your thinking is wrong,
But they are narrow-minded and scared
Because you are strong.
You don’t have to tell me,
I really do understand
Fitting in with the world
Should be part of the plan.
Going along with the crowd
Makes you feel protected,
Accepted and liked
Instead of rejected.
But those who are different
Help the world change;
Some of the best people ever
Were remarkably strange!
You might be an actor, inventor,
Or poet
You might fight injustice
Love others, and show it.
You might make new music,
Find a cure for disease,
Travel the world,
Rescue kittens from trees.
You might be a pilot,
The first girl aboard submarines,
Or help save the world
By keeping it green.
Or, maybe, one day,
You’ll be a mom or a dad
And deep in your heart
You’ll be awfully glad
That although people hurt you
Or mocked you with glee
You had the courage to say
“I am me!”
Because what makes you so different
Is what makes this all true:
There’s nobody better
Than irreplaceable you. “

~ February 28th, 2014

So far, I must say that 2014 has been off to a less-than-stellar start, despite all my determination that the upcoming year was going to be an unforgettable year of adventure, and the best year yet. Sometimes I suspect that there’s a small black cloud of doom that follows me around; if something negative is going to happen and you’d say, “Wow, that’s bad luck; what are the chances?”, it happens to me.

After a trip to the doctor and 5 days worth of antibiotics allowed me to recover my health enough to go out and celebrate my birthday (which was a wonderful outing with friends that made up for a very quiet rest of the month), and to make it to dinner with a small group of some of my closest friends on NYE, we made the mistake of attempting to ring in 2014 at one of our favourite clubs. It was also the last night for this club, which was closing its doors for good.

Here’s where things went awry, and it’s my own fault. I have a confession to make: I don’t even *like* clubs that much. I like them in theory; I like drinking, dancing, music, people…but somehow, you mix them all together, and you have this experience where I *think* I should be having fun, but I realise I’m not. By the time we all got to the club for NYE and parked, it was after 11 PM. My friend spills a drink on the silk top of my dress. I get mistaken for the coat check person. (this is not the kind of club that has EVER had a coat check person.) The music is loud, people are smoking, and because this was the last night of the club’s existence, it was elbow-to-elbow people. I couldn’t find any of the friends I arrived with. I rang NYE in while waiting in line at a bar. I used the men’s restroom because the women’s restroom had a 30 minute line, and angry lesbians yelled at me for being a girl and taking too long in the stall. Then there were cans of silly string, and an almost-relationship-ending fight with The Guy I Am Currently Dating provoked by the spraying of silly string. A friend of mine called yet another friend, who’d already left the club, for a ride. He drove all the way back to get us, and they were annoyed when I wouldn’t go with them because The Guy I Am Currently Dating came back. Somehow, in the parking lot, there was an incident with the car getting keyed, with my friends inside of it…and it was a case of mistaken identity. The angry attackers were looking for a similar, but different, car. Other friends got into a physical altercation in the parking lot. I walked what seemed like a half-mile, sobbing in the freezing cold, to get to the only place The Guy I Am Currently Dating could park.

No, New Year’s Eve was not fun. But New Year’s Day, when I woke up feeling heartbroken, with a hacking cough, and a temperature of 102, was even worse. Over the next week, I steadily got worse, to the point where I was coughing so hard that my ribs were surrounded by little greenish-blue bruises. (It turns out that all that vocal training back in the day has strengthened my diaphragm to the point where I not only have breath and vocal power, but the power to bruise myself from the force of coughing.) Finally, we went to the Minute Clinic, which gave me 7 days of antibiotics, an anti-cough medicine, and the diagnosis of a sinus/ear bacterial infection as the result of a cold. Somehow, I managed to pick up two viruses in the span of 6 weeks. What are the chances? Well, if it’s me, the chances are really, really awesome.

I learned that the second illness was a different germ when all my friends seemed to have it, and 10 days later, are still not recovered. I had also been excited about scheduling an audition for a musical, something I haven’t done in years. I’d decided months ago to put myself out there, and convinced friends to audition with me. A week before the audition, I had laryngitis.

I still went to my first audition for something I thought I might actually stand a chance of getting cast in, and after trying every “vocal helper” for laryngitis known to man, I could still barely squeak out a tune. Half my range was missing, and the part that worked cracked and I’ve never been so horribly embarrassed in my life. It may literally be the most humiliating audition I’ve ever been on, and for a local black box theatre with an oddly intense amount of talent.

Of course, the audition started out with a dance audition, and I’m no stranger to musical theatre dance auditions. I know they are not my friend. I am a “singer who dances” as compared to a “dancer who sings”, which means that I’ve had my requisite “Intro To Not Falling On Your Face 101″ classes in everything, and with 4-6 weeks of rehearsal, I can pick up an intermediate routine enough to sing and dance in an ensemble without being the one person who trips and falls.

This dance audition was clearly an advanced audition. The choreographer showed some very quick steps and then expected everyone to copy them. Almost everyone had a high kick, and some people were stretching in full splits on the floor when I entered. There were a few dance instructors auditioning in my group. For someone with vertigo, who hasn’t seen a heart rate above 100 since 2011, it was a horrible “someone is trying to kill me” experience.

This can be forgiven, if you’re a singer, because no one expects 4’11″ singers to be ensemble dancers, anyway. They want to know if you can pick stuff up, given the chance to work on it, so I was not terribly devastated by how far out of my league I was in an audition with women who were a foot taller and 40 pounds skinnier and had been high kicking since the age of 3. I’m very familiar with that situation, and strategy of hiding in the back row and trying to turn, kick, and move in the same direction as everyone else.

However, I was a singer with laryngitis. The sad part is, the staff of the musical really seemed to like me. I made a few quips about being dizzy after the dance audition and singing with laryngitis, and everyone laughed. A few of the staff were excited pointing at things on my resume while I was croaking out my 32 bars, and the director asked me if I had any recordings or videos she could see that were representative of my non-laryngitis filled voice. (My friend, who was able to give a great vocal audition, mentioned that the same director seemed largely disinterested during his audition.). Had I been able to perform with full vocal power, I doubt I’d have ended up in the show, but I’d have made a pretty good impression for a musical theatre actress who has been out of the game for a very long time.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel good about the audition. Instead, I felt humiliated. While there’s something to be said for perseverance, I should have canceled. I was not expecting a tiny little theatre in the back of a shopping centre to have New York-level talent, nor was I prepared for the crushing impact to the self-esteem that comes from being surrounded by young, pretty, talented girls. I later told The Guy I Am Currently Dating that one of the real reasons I stopped performing was a crisis of crippling self-doubt. I could have dragged my heartbroken self back to New York or Philadelphia after my relationship here didn’t work, or started auditioning for things anywhere in the country. But somehow, I lost any sense that I was good enough to do the thing I’d spent my whole life training to do. I saw friends who were much more gifted than I, much prettier, much more in possession of that natural “star quality” that causes people to light up a room, needing to work 2 jobs in NYC and go on auditions in their spare time, just waiting for the opportunity to have two lines in a commercial or to end up in the chorus of a musical somewhere. I felt like not only could I not hack the competition, I didn’t want to have to fight so hard to accomplish anything, to be someone special. Our professors always taught us that when we started to have doubts about our ability to make acting a career, it was time to move on. I loved, and will always love, the world of theatre. But I was never going to be good enough to be as successful as hundreds of thousands of gifted young people want to be, and I thought I was still young enough to find something I could be really good at.

The truth is, I never did find that thing that I’m really good at. I never found what it is that makes me special. Growing up in the world of theatre, it doesn’t occur to you that you might be ordinary. If you have that in your head, you might as well not bother showing up, because nobody notices or cares about the ordinary. You have to be special. You have to be larger than life. You have to be the person everyone pays attention to when they enter the room.

In the real world, being this person means making enemies. I once heard someone say, “When Alayna walks into a room, she sucks all the air out of it. It’s like all attention has to be on her at all times”. I had someone else tell me, “No offense, but you almost don’t seem like a real person. We hang out with you and stuff, but it’s more like you’re a character on a TV show than a person.” It turns out, all the world isn’t a stage. In the real world, most people ARE perfectly ordinary, and that’s OK. It’s even to be expected. And if you happen to be ordinary, too, you can be quite happy. Over the years, I’ve had to learn a different way to be, one that doesn’t suck all the air out of the room. Going back into an audition situation, therefore, with experienced performers who are still working at being as fabulous as possible…it’s strange. And it of course reminds me why I walked away in the first place; I just never had what it took to be that person who stood out.

If you look at my resume, you’ll see someone who was a moderately successful, well-trained actress, and if I had made different choices, I might still be that. But I didn’t want to live a life of moderate success at something. I wanted to be special. I wanted to live in more than 500 square feet.

The truth is, I hate the suburbs, and I miss New York. I miss acting. I miss putting myself out there on a stage, where it’s acceptable to be larger than life. I miss pretending not to be insecure and my own worst enemy, because the more you acknowledge that, the harder it becomes to keep out of other aspects of your life. But I always wanted everything; I want the nice apartment, the social life, the pretty clothes, the happy relationship, the being someone who is admired in some way. I wanted everything except being exactly what I was: a plain, ordinary person.

Now, in my early 30′s, I have to come to terms with the fact of being just that…and it’s hard. It’s hard to relinquish a lifetime of being told you have certain gifts, certain things that make you special…but in the end, you grew up to be just like everyone else. There is still a part of me that wants to be special, that wants to be recognised, that wants to be good at something in a way most people are not.

Yet, that kind of talent is simply something you were born with, or you weren’t. And, in so many ways, it appears to have skipped me. Looking at yourself in a very honest, down-to-earth way can be a bitter pill to swallow.

In the musical “A Chorus Line”, there’s a character who is a dancer in her 30′s, old for that line of work. She was a star in the making at one point, a principal dancer who just couldn’t hack the competition. She comes back to audition for the chorus of her ex-lover’s musical, and he tells her the chorus is about being just like everyone else, blending in, and that wasn’t who she was. He doesn’t want to see her let go of her dreams of something greater. She replies, “It is now”, because she truly believes it. She’s too old to have the illusions of being anything fabulous that everyone has at 20.

I understand that mentality, a great deal. I suppose the question I have to ask myself is what makes your average,ordinary person content with all the small things, and not restless? Because I am that, all the time. I know I should be doing something more, because I have gifts to offer to the world, and I want my life to mean something. I want to be remembered when I am no longer here. I want to actually be missed.

I just don’t know how, or why, or if I’m actually truly good at anything at all. I suppose most people don’t think about that, don’t have jobs where having any special ability or unusual talent comes into play…and those parts of a person’s life often go ignored and unfulfilled. That seems a little sad to me, but I’m learning it’s how the world works. Perhaps, in time, I’ll get the hang of being happy being just like most other people. I’ve just never known life without really big ambitions and unrealistic delusions of grandeur and a rather narcissistic sense of self-importance, combined with a lot of insecurity.

I’ll take being ordinary and living quietly in a heartbeat, if it means being healthy and gainfully employed. ;)

Today, I woke up remembering that when I was 20, I ended up in New Orleans, waiting to meet a guy I’d never met but knew very well at the airport. I’m pretty sure I’d never been so nervous about meeting a person in my life. I remember that, always self-conscious about my almost translucently pale skin, I’d attempted to use sunless tanner. What looked like orange Ben Nye pancake makeup was all over everything and it took a very abrasive exfoliating wash and a loofah to remove most of it. Yet, for all my trying, I ended up showing up at the airport wearing a cute white and blue butterfly dress and had orange streaks on my legs. It was, of course, laughable later. Looking back, it was the unfortunate side effect of caring too much about how others might judge you, and it was ridiculous. It was also an illustration in what happens when you take risks. They don’t all work out, but sometimes, it doesn’t matter much. That particular person was so nervous about meeting me, he scarcely noticed my failed experiment in becoming a Jersey Shore cast member.

I’m not sure why I woke up thinking of that day, except maybe that last night, I wore a wig that I bought during that trip. Last night was full of heartbreak and tears, and discussion about ending a 5-year relationship that has meant the world to me, all prompted by silly string. And, there I was, thinking about a younger version of myself who literally dyed herself orange.

I’ve been relatively quiet over here lately, and my poor little blog has been feeling neglected. You see, although I managed to spend the majority of December stuck inside my apartment—something that has led even my most introverted friends to say they’d have gone stir-crazy— I also felt too unwell to write. It’s odd, the feeling that even the thought of picking up a computer (or a pen and journal) might make one feel completely exhausted. I didn’t do much work, to the chagrin of both my bank account and sense of accomplishment. I certainly didn’t do much on the creative front. I even left my Christmas cards until the very last minute, because they are like all of my correspondence, not simply a name scrawled on a card. I write long and often heartfelt messages to the people in my life on occasions that merit cards, and even some that do not.

This year, whether due to illness or some sense of heaviness in my heart, I simply have not wanted to write. For me, writing is, above all, a type of catharsis. It fills the same space in my life that music or performance or any other type of self-expression does for me. For whatever reason, I have not wanted to handle the overwhelming idea of self-expression. That, of course, means that I have been largely disinterested in confronting and examining my own feelings.

About what, I do not know. On the whole, 2013 has been kind of a roller-coaster of a year. For a majority of the year, I seemed much healthier and energetic than what I was used to. In my second year of dealing with what the doctors call a “chronic illness”, there were times I forgot I was ill. I was able to host social events, hang out at clubs and go drinking and dancing with my friends, and reclaim a bit of that adventurous spirit I used to have. I was able to spend over two weeks traveling the East Coast on a bus during the summer months, dealing with challenges such as a crazy heat wave and going back to the beach where my illness first began. I was able to push through the anxiety of dealing with the reality of what my family was going through, and I cried a lot because although my family hasn’t offered me anything resembling home or affection in a long time, the realisation that the shadows and comforts of your childhood are gone and you’re really, truly alone, it’s a hard one.

Through it all, I was also able to visit old friends I see rarely, but all of whom mean a tremendous amount to me. Although they all seemed to be going through something in their own lives, they were also all there for me in their own way, and remembering I have an extensive and varied support system out there– even in the form of old friends whose lives have taken a different path from mine, and others who imagine that might not always be the case— it made me a stronger person. Coming back to Atlanta also made me appreciate the love and support I have here, because family is not always determined by blood ties. I hadn’t been back two weeks before getting news that my mother had a stroke, either her fourth or fifth. This one was rather debilitating, and led the doctors to the conclusion that she should live out the rest of her life in a nursing home. It is difficult to speak to her, as both her speech and hearing are affected, but I try to remember to send letters, cards, packages, and photos, little things that cheer her up. I know that if I were facing illness and isolation for the rest of my life, it is those little things that would be a bright spot.

I managed to handle DragonCon, marching in the parade in incredible heat, going to the SIEGE conference for the weekend, helping The Guy I Am Currently Dating with his annual fundraiser, and throwing a huge party for him where I sang in public in Atlanta for the first time in a few years. I managed to help my brother try to get help dealing with all the responsibility on his shoulders, and to be someone who is there for him. I managed to make it through fun Halloween celebrations, and even attending a concert with loud music and flashing lights. All signs pointed to the idea that I’d be better. A check-up with the doctor yielded good results; my blood pressure was so low, it might soon be time for me to come off medication, and possibly have energy, vitality, and the ability to lose weight again.

Then, in early November, I seemed to have a relapse. Driving in the car would cause an out-of-control sensation near my kidneys that would move to my heart, my lungs, and eventually my brain. I had panic attacks and blood sugar crashes that my normal medications could not control. Thanksgiving, although a lovely holiday tradition of visiting my former roommate and her family (including two beautiful little girls, two dogs, a cat, and a husband) for turkey and Black Friday shopping, left me physically exhausted in a way that is not normal for someone my age. Nevertheless, I kept on going, singing karaoke, playing trivia, and wandering around the Botanical Gardens for four hours in the freezing cold to look at Christmas tree lights.

After the first week of December, I contracted a really bad cold/flu, which turned into an infection that kept me in bed for almost three weeks. As of today, I am still coughing up a lung, as my body’s immune system seems to have no defence against this particular germ. The illness affected my ear, which meant return of panic attacks and migraines, and the prolonged inability to go back out in the world meant a return of the social anxiety symptoms. I was afraid that every time I went out, I’d have a panic attack–which often happened–not as a result of people, but riding in the car. For a month and a half, the feeling of depression returned, which happens every time I get better and then I get worse. I feel like I will never have my life back, never be the person I used to be. I look at photos of a girl who was young and vivacious and desirable and had a certain spark about her, and I do not remember her. I cry because I feel too young to have lost her, and because it is unfair that the doctors have never been able to tell me why. I cry because I want answers; even if I only have a year, or three, or five left to hang out on this earth, I want to know what to do to make them the best possible. I cry because feeling helpless and not in control of anything, not even your own body, is terrifying and lonely.

During this time, I found out that my uncle—one of the only people who helps in the care of my family—was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma. It is the same disease that attacked an ex of mine, so I unfortunately know more about it than I should to believe, “It’s not a big deal; it’s most treatable”. The long-term odds of survival are a dice throw, and my uncle is only in his late 50′s. After that, my friend’s cat passed away. I started to see things as signs; signs that validated my theory that the next year of my life needs to be a “bucket list” year.

I had a wonderful Christmas and birthday weekend, surrounded by people who matter to me, and really just having fun in the kind of way that–for just a little while–reminded me of what it felt like to be me ten years ago. I barely remember that naive, life-loving person who would wake up in the morning and feel genuinely excited about the world and the anything and everything that was possible. But, once in a while, there is a glimpse and a memory—and when that happens, I am honestly happy.

I expected New Year’s Eve to be a fabulous night, and planned dinner with friends, followed by a trip to a club that I’d visited every month I was in town over the past year or so. Ironically, the only place to get dinner reservations for 10 people on short notice was a restaurant that is personally memorable to me because I’ve been there on the “break-up dinner” with people in my past. Twice. I even joked about the bad karma that seemed to be associated with that place, but I wasn’t seriously concerned.

Fast forward to 2014, and everyone has toasted with champagne, done shots, and cans of silly string are being passed around. In order to celebrate all the good memories, we sprayed each other with silly string and danced. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that I went to see why The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating wouldn’t dance, which isn’t out of the ordinary. He told me in a very cold voice that I had hurt his feelings (by spraying him with silly string), and a fight ensued. Fast forward, and he is leaving the club and my friend, who was sweet enough to not want to leave me, is consoling me while I cried a LOT and getting another friend to come pick us up. Fast forward again, and The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating has returned and closing out the tab, and my friend is angry that she called for a ride for us and I’m going home with the guy that made me cry on New Year’s Eve. But it is almost physically impossible for me to just let things go and forget them; I need closure on everything. Fast forward again, and I am home, and we are talking about how different we are and how, after 5 years, there is not necessarily any sign of moving forward in the relationship. I tell him he deserves more than to settle for someone who isn’t right for him and doesn’t make him happy. He says I make him happy, but for the second year in a row, we’ve rung in the New Year crying and barely speaking, so I disagree.

Now, we’re talking about the details of ending the relationship and changing Facebook statuses, and it’s almost absurd to think a 5-year connection can be broken because of silly string. But, that’s precisely what happened, and today, I have barely moved out of bed.

2014 was supposed to be a really awesome year, and frankly, it’s not looking that way for me.

The reality is, I call this my “bucket list” year because at the end of 2014, I really still hope to be both alive and healthy. If I manage to accomplish that, I’ll have made it to a “milestone birthday”, one of those where you realise that whether you like it or not, you’re the grown-up now. It sometimes still seems hard for me to wrap my head around that. Inside, I still feel like that little girl in the blue and white butterfly dress who wanted so badly to be sophisticated and impressive, and thought she knew everything about everything at the age of 20.

When you are ill, and you’re not sure why, and you’re not sure about either the quality or quantity of your life, milestones matter. New Year’s Eve celebrations matter, and not spending them with tears and heartbreak matters. I have had a good life. I’ve also had a hard life, an adventurous life, a life that some judge and others secretly envy. I’ve loved often and lost often, and my heart and my body have enough scars for someone twice my age. I have packed a lot of living into what many might consider not that many years. In some ways, it seems like it’s been 70. Some days, when everything inside my body seems out of control and all I can do is cry and beg someone to help me and find the answers, I do not know that I am going to be there with my friends or loved ones to celebrate a brand new year. You only get so many chances, so many clean slates. If something should happen to me, I know that nobody will be quite certain why, or they’ll find they didn’t do the test for the right thing, and it’s simply too late. I know that part of my “bucket list year” is being a responsible adult, and planning for that day when I won’t be here anymore.

I am the type of person for whom no amount of time would be enough time. I try to be as vibrant and enthusiastic about life as I can. I am growing more comfortable with being alone, but not for too long. It isn’t something I like in too great a quantity. I am trying to become the kind of person I want to be, regardless of whether or not other people like her. I am no longer willing to dye myself orange to impress anyone.

I feel sometimes like I am working against a clock, and I do not want to spend the years I have left being afraid. If there is anything that would be the most meaningful thing to me to accomplish in 2014, it’s learning to find whatever strength I have deep down inside that allows me to be less afraid. If I am less afraid, I can actually make a difference in the world. More than anything else, I cry when I imagine that I will be forgotten, that I will have left nothing of value behind, that I will have touched no one for being here.

I want to live the next year of my life with all the health and energy I can come up with, so that if somehow it is my last, I will be filled with love and memories and feelings of accomplishment and having mattered to the world. I need 2014 to be full of life and experience and emotion and vitality and challenging myself to be that person I always thought I could become. I want all the moments to matter, no matter how small. I know that’s a tall order to ask from a new year, but I am going to try, because it means a lot to me.

One thing that has changed about me is that when I was younger, I was much stupider, but far more fearless. I took a lot of risks. They didn’t all pay off and they weren’t all intelligent, but in some ways, it is much better than never trying. I wasn’t about to wait around and let life happen to me; I went after it. It didn’t always lead me to the best places, but it didn’t keep me standing still, fearful of choosing the wrong thing or suffering painful repercussions.

If I could have just a little of that back, I think I’d feel like the old Alayna again. That person is just this flighty little redhead who doesn’t see an adult when she looks in the mirror, because even though there are now tiny lines and crow’s feet, she will never reach 5 feet tall or have that “serious face” that comes with a lot of responsibility. She will never be beautiful, or delicate, or understated, or made of the same stardust that most people seem to be made of, and she will not be the one in any social situation that everyone misses when she is gone. But she is intelligent, and imaginative, and lively, and believes in soulmates and impulsive adventures and being overdressed and sparkly, even if others dislike it. I try to keep in mind that girl is the kind who is crazy and determined enough to be certain she’s going to be here to see 40…even if she doesn’t have any more stability or certainty in her life than the day she showed up in New Orleans with a blue and white butterfly dress and orange streaks on her legs. It never occurred to that girl that she would not be loved by many, that she would not be successful, or that she would not be strong enough to grow old. It didn’t occur to her to be afraid or feel inferior—she needed the harsh judgment and actions of other people to teach her that—-and I envy her for being that unencumbered, in a way only the really young are. I would like just a little bit of that back in my life.

I haven’t been blogging on any sort of regular basis, so today’s entry is more of a hodgepodge collection of thoughts, feelings, observations, and memories. You’ll have to forgive me if I appear to be an ADD blogger. :P I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now, and it doesn’t let me concentrate as well as I should. Needless to say, creativity has taken a back seat for now.

Today, I woke up in an emotional and contemplative mood. It struck home today that I often end up feeling like I care about a lot of people in my life so much more than they are willing to care about me. I often feel cast aside and minimized, because people want me around when I’m useful, have feelings for me when it’s challenging to ignore them, enjoy knowing me until the novelty wears off, and want my company when it’s convenient. Worse yet, they may actually wish I weren’t around most of the time, but realise I am something that must be tolerated—so I never know that someone I actually like knowing would prefer not to have to interact with me. I get that it’s the way the world works—at least three friends have spoken about this recently as it relates to their own lives—but I realise that I feel angry about this way we relate to one another in this world. The idealistic side of me cannot reconcile reality with how things should be, and because I don’t think I am so wrong on this one, I’m not sure I should have to learn.

I feel angry that people are temporary, and we’re expected to accept that of our friendships and relationships. I feel betrayed when someone I considered a friend tells others they dislike me. I feel used when someone I considered a very close friend suddenly can’t be bothered to make time for me. I feel hurt when someone who has been in my life for a long time tends to tear down my self-esteem as a result of their own unhappiness. This is just not how I treat people. I deserve better. We all deserve better when we allow someone to occupy space, time, or feeling in our lives. Our thoughts and feelings and experiences, and what we share with others, should be treated with great value and handled honestly. Everything in life these days is just so casual, that emotions are kind of a luxury.

Earlier today, in my FB posts about my 30 days of being thankful, I said I was thankful for my sensitivity..but that being said, it would be easier if I were wired a little differently. I wonder what it’s like to be the kind of person who doesn’t cry over others, but simply replaces them. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sort of person, however hard I’ve tried.

I realised today that I feel hurt, and underneath all of that, I feel angry about not being of any great importance to people who claimed to love and value and admire me. I feel angry that someone should smile and joke with me to my face, yet talk about how much they dislike me to my friends when I am not around. I feel angry because I should not be a doormat because my heart gets so easily involved in the lives of others.

Before I started blogging about that particular topic, I was working on a blog about reality TV, creativity, and why teachers and coaches are important in life. So, allow me to switch gears, and discuss a different aspect of human connection.

It’s absolutely no secret that one of my favourite (and least harmful) guilty pleasures in life is reality TV. I’m actually not into watching most of the “talent-based” competitions on TV these days, such as the Voice, America’s Got Talent, American Idol, etc. Odd for a performer, I know, but they give off such a manufactured, produced vibe. At the same time, they give the impression that performing is something everyone can do. Winning a reality TV talent show isn’t about talent quite as much as marketability, and the idea that many of the producers have about marketability is a narrow-minded, formulaic one. American Idol is a good case in point; most of the winners put out their obligatory album and were never heard from again. Many of those who did not win used the exposure as a launching pad for a career, and some unconventional contestants became marketable. I believe Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar, as well as some Grammys.

I enjoy watching Dance Moms, and the spin-off show, Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition. The young talent that is showcased is impressive, and the overbearing stage mothers and fathers (which are a serious part of life for anyone who begins performing before the age of 16) are often portrayed in a realistic light. Everyone wants to be famous, to be a star, if they have those performance-based gifts and inclinations. However, performing is a high-pressure environment that isn’t for those who aren’t resilient, can’t handle rejection, or have low self-esteem. These shows give an inkling of why so many young prodigies self-destruct before the age of 30, or quit whatever they do by the time they leave high school, major in accounting, and call it a day. These aren’t shows that exploit very talented young kids and neurotic parents; rather, they reflect the real world of competitive performance.

A new show premiered, which I had no intention of watching, called Chasing Nashville. Not only do I tend to not watch talent shows, but I do not care for country music. However, it drew me in, this show that’s more of a documentary about a few very different girls between the ages of 13-17, who dream of being Nashville musicians. I’ve now added it to the list of shows I watch, but something about it struck me as ludicrous.

They will show these girls singing, show they are talented, and make it obvious that they have been chosen because they are very gifted—gifted, not perfect. It is amazing how offended some gifted, untrained young people look when the feedback is “I think you could use a vocal coach”. They should all be introduced to an opera singer or a Broadway star at some point in time. While it’s arguable that having a degree in something like musical theatre or vocal performance is a great way to spend four years and $40,00-$120,000 without much to show for it in the “real world”, it’s equally ludicrous that a singer would be offended at being told he or she needs a vocal coach. Of course you do. You’re a singer. If you play piano, you have a piano teacher. If you’re a star athlete, you have a trainer. Why would you need to show someone singing badly to point out “You need a vocal coach?”. Every singer has a weakness in his or her voice, whether it be a physical issue or one that can be corrected through technique. Most people at that age have no idea how to work with their range, or that their vocal range will change and develop over time. Few know how to deal with breaks in the voice for women, or switching to falsetto for men. I know 30 year-old adults who can’t be heard above the crowd because they’ve never been taught projection.

Someone telling you that you have the talent to benefit from working with someone better than you is not an insult, but a compliment. If you’d like to be a singer, or an actor who can carry a tune, you need a vocal coach. If the pop music industry pushed this as much as professional singers elsewhere, you wouldn’t have bad singers using autotune the same way the modeling industry relies on Photoshop, and amazing singers with improper technique and smoking habits getting polyps removed at the age of 23. It is not an insult. Yet, the thing that is the most challenging and intimidating to these young girls is the idea of working with a vocal coach. A coach is, of course, just a teacher. In theory, taking a class in something you enjoy should be the least frightening thing ever. Oddly, the performer on the show who has the most natural talent is the one who breaks down in tears because she can’t handle a voice lesson.

People think that voice lessons are for people who don’t know how to sing or can’t sing, and that can be the case, if someone with no experience or ability needs to learn the skill. For the most part, voice lessons are for singers who have potential, voices that can go from good to great, or great to utterly impressive. People also think that voice lessons are simply about running scales over and over again.

However, there’s something about working with a vocal coach—or an acting coach, or having private lessons with a dance teacher, or whatever it is you do as a performer—that requires vulnerability. There may only be one other person in the room, but there’s nowhere to hide. There is no way to dress up your flaws and make them look good, or hope they will go unnoticed.

In reality, about half of every session with your vocal coach is pure silliness. You do tongue twisters, and make siren noises, and other things that make you feel incredibly stupid. Where I went to university, the practice rooms were soundproof, and you’re totally glad for that. Like many sopranos who also have a decent belt voice, I have a note where there’s a clear break between the two, and it is a problematic vocal flaw. I am very insecure about it. There are roles I could never sing because of that freaking note. I’ve done countless exercises to learn vocal flexibility and to avoid that note, but the most traumatic experience? Well, I had a vocal coach who made me yodel.

I don’t yodel. The first few times, I flat-out refused. Then I tried. I failed horribly. Not only do I not yodel, I absolutely could NOT yodel. It was painful, physically and emotionally. It was probably even more painful to listen to me try to yodel. But the biggest problem wasn’t that I couldn’t yodel, it was that I was terrified to reveal a horrible, awful, embarrassing flaw I had—even in front of one person. It was like waving a sign saying “Hey, this is why I suck”. And, for that reason, I empathise highly with this very driven perfectionist who can sing in front of a ton of people with all the confidence in the world, but can’t work with a vocal coach.

That type of insecurity is the major reason for any singer to work with a vocal coach. Everyone has insecurities, weaknesses, things that can be improved. But, for almost every performer, the most limiting factor is fear. You may think it’s an odd problem for a world that’s based on doing things most people would never do. Simply being a performer implies a lack of fear and inhibition, since more people rate “public speaking” above “death” on the list of biggest fears. But it simply isn’t true. Every performer has a weakness, a fear, an insecurity. The right vocal coach identifies where and what that is and helps to conquer that. But it is scary.

I watched the show again this week, because I was curious about the continued struggle of working with a vocal coach.The episode focused on two talented teenage girls in for voice lessons. One has a very strong mezzo voice, and can belt impressively, and knows that is a skill that wins competitions. The other has a beautiful stage presence, but a smaller lyric voice that is good, but not developed. She has neither the physical size nor vocal strength to have a large belt voice, and country music emphasizes that. The first, who captivates every audience she sings in front of, runs out of the room crying because she can’t let go of her inhibitions and work through the silly vocal exercises. The second girl is willing to do just about anything the vocal coach asks, but on stage, reverts to looking like a girl doing a decent rendition of something for a beauty pageant. The solution? The vocal coaches unknowingly set them up on a “karaoke date”.

Here’s a secret most people don’t know: Singers are afraid of karaoke. Often, professionally trained singers are downright TERRIFIED of karaoke. You don’t know what key your song will be in, what song you’ll be singing, and you have no time to rehearse. Sometimes, the crowd is silent and judgmental. Other times, they won’t shut up to listen to you. Many, many singers are absolutely petrified of karaoke because, like making silly faces or yodeling, it is unrehearsed. It can be a train wreck. It can be embarrassing. I literally stopped singing for two years because an ex-boyfriend and his friend laughed at me at karaoke. It didn’t matter that I have degrees in musical theatre and vocal performance, and until that point, would sing for anyone, anywhere. I’d been told when I wasn’t good in the past. I’d had bad performances, bad auditions—but being judged by people you will see again, when you want them to like and respect you and think you’re talented, it’s difficult. Karaoke is something that may just present your talent in the worst light ever, and nobody enjoys that. If you can get past the element of the unexpected and let go of the need to be perfect, it’s terrific fun. But, a lot of singers are as nervous–if not more so—to sing at karaoke than to audition for something.

I think it was awesome to see experienced and knowledgeable coaches that could identify performers with opposite attitudes, insecurities, personalities, stage presences, and vocal ranges, and realise that putting them together to sing “for fun”, unexpectedly, was a growing experience. However, it did not look like either of those young performers were having much fun. They were clearly just insecure and terrified. However, the experience was as much for their teachers, who saw clearly what their students excelled at, and what needed to be worked upon.

Good teachers exist to break down walls. I had a vocal teacher who worked with me only on jazz and blues music, an odd choice for someone working with a lyric soprano with a controlled and naturally ornamented voice. As it turned out, she herself had a similar voice, but had a mother who was an opera singer and a father who was a jazz musician. From her, I learned a lot about emotional expression. I never would have ended up working as a cabaret singer if she had not taken me out of that comfort zone. I had another vocal coach who would put together students she thought could learn from one another, and say “Experiment. Form a musical act”. I ended up working with a talented tenor with impeccable technique. Between us, we could sing in 7 languages and play 5 instruments. But we were about as entertaining as a cardboard box, until one day, we suddenly had an electric guitar, drums, and me belting (sometimes terribly) into a mic. Our “band” performed in front of crowds of whoever would listen to us, off and on, for 6 years.

When I was in NYC, I had a favourite vocal coach, a petite blonde woman with a voice three times her size named Yvonne. Those who have known me for a long time may remember Yvonne. She was the type of vocal coach who only worked with a certain number of students, because she developed a genuine interest and relationship with all of them. I swear, she was at every musical and revue and cabaret and opera one of her students was in, and we all adored her. Consequently, her students stayed with her a long time, and we inevitably got to know one another well. Many of us ended up performing together, completely by chance.

Arriving to see your vocal coach often means sitting and waiting for the person before you to finish his or her lesson. The guy with the time slot before me happened to be singing the role of Don Quixote in Man Of La Mancha. He was a very talented tenor who didn’t seem to need extensive work on his song, but when you’re almost performance-ready, that’s not really what your sessions are for. Yet, I seemed to arrive whenever he’d work on the key change and hit his high notes (or not), over and over and over again.

He was a friendly guy whom I (very mistakenly) concluded to be gay, and always smiled and said hello on his way out. I was working on a musical called The Fantasticks at the time, but one day, I remarked to Yvonne that I knew the title song from Man Of La Mancha well enough to be that actor’s understudy. The next week, after 10 minutes of silently singing along with Don Quixote, I went in for my lesson. Yvonne’s response was “I’m tired, and it’s been a long day. Why don’t you just sing this one?”

And, the next thing I know, I’m at the piano, belting out “I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha…” A few weeks later, when I actually knew the song well enough to get through it, Yvonne detained this other young actor and said “Wait a minute! Alayna has something she’s been working on, and I think you can relate.”

It was one of the funniest moments, and one I will always remember. I think it’s because actors in general have a kinship–what we do is hard, and fosters insecurity on a daily basis, and not everyone gets that. Performing the song I heard my fellow student working on week after week gave me new respect for what he was doing, and how talented he was.

Yvonne was married to a man quite a bit older than her, and he ended up needing a heart transplant after a long illness. Her students all came together to put together fundraisers to help her cope, because she was almost like a mother to us (although, in reality, she was no older than I am now.) When the transplant didn’t work as well as planned, Yvonne directed a musical, Camelot, in which she cast many of her students. It was meant to be another “for the benefit of”-type productions for her husband, but the benefit was something much different. He never missed a rehearsal, even the one-on-one sessions with the actors or the deadly Sunday morning group vocal rehearsals. No matter what we did in that theatre, he was there. There were 25 of us in that show, and he talked to every single one of us extensively. I’d like to think us doing that show was of immense benefit to him, because it gave him something to love, something he could share with his wife and her students, and engaged him in a world where he was not sick and broken.

He passed away a week into the run of Camelot. It is heartbreaking to remember that day, because a theatre feels empty when the love and energy that goes into it disappears. There was nobody prouder of us on opening night, even if he couldn’t get out of his wheelchair for a standing ovation. It was a tremendous loss for everyone when he passed, but we never missed a performance. I think he would have been very displeased if we had. To this day, though, I can only hope that when I am dying, I am blessed enough to live my final days surrounded by love, family, and creative energy.

For those young artists out there who don’t understand why you need to work with a vocal coach if your voice doesn’t suck, there are so many answers. The most important one, though, is that for many people, the world of theatre is an adopted family and your coaches, your teachers, your mentors—they play a significant role in helping you grow, not just as an artist, but as a person.

The world of performance simply isn’t for those who imagine they’ll travel through life alone, with their talent, and actively pursue success. It is for those who understand how special it is to work with other talented people to build something that may exist only for a day, a week, or a month…but is there forever. I wish *that* was the lesson today’s young artists were receiving.

We live in a world where people are disposable, where people don’t say what they mean, where everything is taken so lightly—friendships, relationships, talents, emotional connections. However fabulous you are, there is another, better version waiting to replace you. Few connections are forever. And that’s simply not a world I feel comfortable in, because I think I had the honour of seeing many examples of love and friendship and dedication and respect around me, in between all the crap.

I am angry that, in our society, when it comes to what we value and how we relate, the crap seems to be winning.

I deserve much better than being anyone’s option, convenience, half-hearted friend, or person you like well enough, but not well-enough to invite to your parties because your real friends have something to say about it. I deserve better than being just another person you pay attention to when you have time and interest. I deserve better than having my work not even read because it’s long or difficult or you just don’t care that much. I deserve better than the way you call me a friend but never say one nice thing to me because it’s not your job to prop up my ego. I deserve better than to think you might actually find me charming company once in awhile, only to find out from my friends that you struggle with merely being around me.

I am fucking awesome and irreplaceable, and it pisses me off that so many people don’t see it. Maybe I’m not as insecure as I think I am. I’m just angry at a lifetime of being minimized, overlooked, valued as something less than I deserve, or told without words that I’m not as special as that prettier/smarter/sweeter friend you’d prefer to spend time with, or made to feel like I’m not good enough because you’ll only associate with me when your real friends aren’t around.

I’m old enough to know better, and to believe I deserve better. And when I look around at those who occupy space in my world and see that’s not what I’m getting, I feel hurt and pissed off and used and lied to. And I am angry when those things happen to me, and I think, well…maybe that’s just OK.

Somebody, somewhere, is bound to appreciate my fabulousness. If it isn’t you, I shouldn’t cry over it. But I do, and I can’t help it. But I’m still angry, and wonder why I never feel good enough in this world of ours. Unlike reality TV, life isn’t set up to be a competition.

This is a very long post, but you can consider it a condensed guide to budget travel. :P

You don’t have to know me very well to know that I am not a big fan of America’s current version of the capitalist economy, one that has grown into a system largely governed by large corporations, endless and often pointless rules, laws, and regulations, and bureaucratic red tape. I think sadly, we have a system that may once have been designed to protect and empower the “average guy” and the “small business owner”, but has instead become one where everything that was once helpful has been replaced with the mantra, “I’m sorry, but there’s just nothing we can do. This is our policy”.

A dear friend told me recently there is nothing he dislikes more than feeling helpless, and I don’t think this is an uncommon sentiment. Unfortunately, “the system” often enrages me because it leads to a feeling of helplessness and being trapped by things that were initially and supposedly designed for the benefit of the individual. One of the things that stresses me out more than anything in the world is calling customer support, tech support, or the “dispute resolution” department of any company. Every time, you get a different person who will read you the same policy out of the same manual, and they are very fond of the phrase “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this situation, but there is nothing more we can do.”

As you may have noticed, I’ve not posted here in a long time, and that was because I spent 15 or 16 days travelling up and down the East Coast. There are a LOT of stories that resulted from that trip, positive and negative, and I’m really very happy I got to see so many people who are very dear to my heart in such a short period of time. However, there were some stressful road bumps along the way, and one of them had to do with staying in a “budget tourist hotel” on Central Park West in Manhattan.

Having lived in NYC for a number of years, I do not usually book a hotel when I am in town, nor do I stay in that particular neighbourhood, which is plagued with tourist traps. (Those who live in NYC find both tourists and $18 breakfasts annoying by nature, and although I haven’t resided there in ages, my sentiments haven’t changed.) However, since I use Hotels.Com to book my travel reservations, I had accumulated a free night at a hotel…so, I figured, what better experience than to actually not sleep on a friend’s couch when in NYC?

(Note: When in doubt, always choose your friend’s couch, especially in NYC.)

The debacle started on check-in, where I handed them my ID, credit card, and reservation. Because the room was slightly more expensive than the credit I’d had in Welcome Rewards, the room was $11, which I happily pre-paid. I also had about $100 in cash on me, intending to hand it over as the “deposit for incidentals” most hotels require. I then found out that the “refundable deposit” was $200, more than the price of the room. I quibbled about this, because it is not mentioned in the Hotels.com information that a deposit is required, or what the deposit is. They showed me paperwork where the deposit is mentioned in the fine print; it was from Expedia. I showed them my paperwork, where it was not mentioned. Therefore, I felt quite misled and tricked, as it was too late to cancel my reservation and book a different hotel. Also, it was about 100 degrees outside and I’d just spent the day traveling. So, they told me in slightly more polite words that if I didn’t like their policies, I could go elsewhere. The front desk clerk also mentioned off-handedly, “Oh, someone else just had a similar problem earlier today.”

I begrudgingly let them “hold” the $200 deposit, and to add insult to injury, my bank (who I’d love to rail about, but I should have some vestiges of privacy, so I’m not going to tell the entire world where I bank, but it is a fairly large financial institution that is actually gaining in popularity lately.) charged an additional $40 fee for conducting a “pre-authorization hold”. They also assured me it would be refunded.

Long story short, it’s taken 5 calls each to the bank and the hotel, numerous e-mails, and faxes, and an offer on my end to send over a copy of the receipt for the voided deposit that the hotel issues…but well over a week later, my funds are still being held. I’ve written to the hotel about my dissatisfaction, called the bank, contacted Hotels.com…but really, people don’t seem that interested in responding. I was finally told by the bank that if the hotel did not send over all the essential paperwork to lift the hold, it would take 30 days for the money to be returned to my account. Since I’ve been traveling instead of working for the past 2 weeks, I kind of want the money back NOT a month from now.

For those who are interested, here’s the communication I sent to the Belnord Hotel (incidentally, the only way to get any information was through their website. The front desk clerks, who seem confused by sentences that are too complicated because most speak English well but as a second language, are not even aware they have an accounting department, and the “manager’ failed to return my call on three different occasions:

To whom it may concern:

I have been playing “phone tag” between this hotel and my credit card company for days. I can’t begin to tell you how displeased I am with this situation. First, I booked a room at the Belnord Hotel as a “free night reward” via Hotels.com, only to learn that I was going to be charged a $200 deposit for a one-night stay (which far exceeded the price of the room, even if it had not been a reward.). Then, my bank added another $40 pre-authorization hold without my knowledge. So, my “free room” ended up costing me $250. (don’t worry; I’m filing a complaint with Hotels.com because in the fine print, nothing is mentioned about the excessive deposit.)

In any case, I paid the deposit, and a week later, the funds are still “pending”. I’ve had numerous people at your hotel and at my credit card company tell me how holds and voided transactions work…but on my third call to the credit card company, I was told exactly what needs to be done to release the funds because the hotel DID NOT void the transaction properly or according to the card company’s protocol.

This is an issue the hotel has to take care of; I have done all I can do on my end, and the bank cannot void the transaction without the information requested. I hope this issue is addressed in a timely fashion; I’m very frustrated about all the calls I’ve had to make regarding this matter. Every time I contact the hotel, I get a different person, and rarely does anyone have any answers or return my calls. One person said I needed to have my bank e-mail the hotel; however, calling the bank, this is not the case. It is the hotel’s responsibility to contact the credit card company with said information.

Thank you for your cooperation. “

Fair enough, right? Two days go by before I get any response. Then, this, which was encouraging:

“Thank you for contacting the Belnord Hotel. We apologize that you are being troubled over the release of funds from the deposit. Please understand once we void the deposit it should be released. Each bank takes a certain amount of days to remove the hold and in a few cases, such as yours, request something in writing. Unfortunately, because it is so few we do not know unless the customer contacts us and informs us of the banks requirement. Please understand we are not holding the money and we are unsure why your bank insists that it is the property not releasing the funds. The Voided slip you were given at check out is the proof that the transaction was indeed voided and the money released from our end.

We have had the accounting department fax the letter with the information requested to your bank prior to sending this email so that we can assure you of our commitment in helping you receive your funds back quickly.

Best regards,

Customer Care

Belnord Hotel”

Of course, I call the bank the next day to verify they received my documents, but the money is still “pending”. After speaking to three different people at the bank (most of the “customer service representatives” don’t seem to have an awareness of anything beyond the basics written in the manual, and hell is more likely to freeze over than you getting to talk to the same person about your problem. The result is me needing to explain this frustrating story every time I call either the hotel or the bank, which frankly makes me wish there was a button that released a fist from the phone that punched the other person in the face.)

I finally discover the hotel sent the extensive list of information via fax, but neglected to send one document. Therefore, even though there are 10 other documents and me calling every day, the funds cannot be released.

I contact the hotel through both phone and e-mail, trying to get someone to fax this missing document. About 36 hours later, and a particularly frustrating call to my bank with a guy who knew nothing, went away to help me, and came back with a fax number I already had, I have this exchange with the hotel.

“To Whom It May Concern:

I am continuing to be troubled over the matter of the deposit that has not been returned to my bank account.. I have been in persistent communication with both this hotel and my bank for days, and the funds have STILL not been returned. I also am getting no reply to my e-mail requests, and calls to the hotel seem to indicate nobody knows who I need to speak with. It is, to put it mildly, frustrating.

The bank has told me the reason the funds are still being held is because you did not fax a copy of the Guest Folio along with the other materials. They need to you to fax a copy of the Guest Folio ASAP in order to complete the transaction.

It has been over a week, and there is nothing I can do. The bank requires specific paperwork from the hotel, and this key piece of paperwork was not sent with the rest. If you could please direct me to the name and contact information of the person in charge of accounts at your property so I am aware of whom I need to speak with, or simply fax the required information the bank is asking for, this matter can be more quickly resolved.

If it is not resolved by the end of the week, I will have to go to the trouble of filing a “disputed charge”. :( I would appreciate avoiding this headache by simply hearing from your hotel and having the proper information faxed to my bank.

Thank you for your assistance”

Finally, a reply from the hotel (which is so old-school they still use an @aol address, even though they have their own domain name.):

“We have faxed over all the information again. We apologize but we have never had so many problems with a bank before, this is a first. We hope that this fax will resolve the issue with them and you receive your money promptly.

Best regards,

Customer Care

Belnord Hotel”

Of course, I realise perfectly well that they likely faxed the exact same set of documents, sans the missing document the bank needs, meaning nothing will be accomplished. I could be more optimistic, but I realise I will likely have to have the same combative conversation and explain the situation to an entirely new person again tomorrow. Doing this every day not only makes me angry, it’s starting to ruin my day. I asked the bank if they could please contact the hotel directly, and this was their response:

Bank:“We’re so sorry we can’t help you, but it’s against company policy to contact third parties about financial transactions.”

Alayna:“But this is the number I was told to call for transaction disputes. I have a dispute. I would like you to contact the other party with whom I have the dispute.”

Bank:“Ma’am, you will need to contact them directly and have them fill out the required paperwork.

Alayna:“They are not doing this. That is why I called you, because I can’t get any help or answers.”

Bank:“This is a dispute between you and the merchant.”

Alayna:“Obviously. So why do you have a dispute hotline if you don’t actually work to help others solve disputes?”

(more repetition of unhelpful jibberish until I hang up the phone.)

Of course, since Hotels.com got me into this mess by tricking me into a “reward” where I ended up paying twice what my “reward” was worth, I contacted them, also. I naively expected them to care. They didn’t, and not only did they not intercede in the situation, they didn’t even bother to respond.

But, since everything I bitch about is obviously brilliant, here’s my letter to Hotels.Com:

To whom it may concern:

This is not a question, but a general comment on a recent frustrating and displeasing experience using this website. I am sorry to send this, because I have used Hotels.com for many years to book, but on a recent trip that spanned 6 cities and was very tight on both time and budget, I had the worst possible experience redeeming a “free night” booked with my Welcome Rewards.

I booked a room at the Belnord Hotel as a “free night reward” via Hotels.com….only to learn upon arrival that I was going to be charged a $200 deposit for a one-night stay (which far exceeded the price of the room, even if it had not been a reward.). I protested this, and they told me it was in the fine print on Expedia’s website. When I handed them all the print from your website, where I actually booked, they agreed no such clause was included. I pointed out I’d never have knowingly booked a room where the deposit was greater than the nightly price of the room. However, they rudely told me I could either pay the deposit or find another place to stay. Then, my bank added another $40 pre-authorization hold without my knowledge. So, my “free room” ended up costing me $250.

I have been playing “phone tag” between this hotel and my credit card company for days. I can’t begin to tell you how displeased I am with this situation. A week later, the funds are still “pending”. I’ve had numerous people at your hotel and at my credit card company tell me how holds and voided transactions work…but on my third call to the credit card company, I was told exactly what needs to be done to release the funds because the hotel DID NOT void the transaction properly or according to the card company’s protocol.

Every time I contact the hotel, I get a different person, and rarely does anyone have any answers or return my calls. One person said I needed to have my bank e-mail the hotel; however, calling the bank, this is not the case. It is the hotel’s responsibility to contact the credit card company with said information.

The hotel claims they’ve faxed over the information to release the hold, but I am going to have to make a fourth set of calls tomorrow.

In my eyes, this is completely and utterly ridiculous. A customer should know PRECISELY what they are required to pay when checking into an establishment, and a “surprise” deposit worth more than the cost of a room that takes over a week to be refunded is in no way a “reward”. On top of it, the management is downright rude and uncooperative upon attempts to rectify the situation, and keep claiming they bear no responsibility. Frankly, I’m more inclined to trust a credit card company in these matters than such a disorganized hotel.

I was so frustrated that this came about during my two-week trip, and there was little I could do until I returned home. What a debacle! The manager even admitted upon my check-in, and surprise over the deposit, “We just had another person with a similar situation”.

It seems almost fraudulent for business to be conducted in this way, and is a recipe for leaving less financially prepared travelers stranded. I hope, in the future, Hotels. com will either display precisely what is expected upon check in, or disassociate with hotels that are less than honest. The entire situation has left me quite disenchanted, and realising there’s no such thing as a free lunch…or a free room.”

I’m not surprised I did not receive an apology, a “let’s make things right”, or even an indication of caring in the slightest from Hotels.com. Losing one customer isn’t going to hurt them, so it was rather silly to waste time thinking the company would find my dissatisfaction relevant. I’m hoping that in posting this, enough people who have had similar situations will read about this story, and think twice before redeeming “rewards” and booking hotels in general.

I was fortunate in that my stay in the 144-square-foot room at Belnord (seriously, you likely have a closet or bathroom bigger than where I stayed.) was the only hotel I had to book on my trip. Of course, we did pay for a week at the motel in Jersey Shore, but their practices are very old fashioned. Deposit is $20 in cash so you don’t lose your key. Period. My kind of straightforward travel.

Other cities, friends and family graciously agreed to host me (even though after only one night with the family, I was considering checking into a hotel, but that’s another story for another time.), and I do hope I wasn’t too much of an imposition on anyone. I have learned that, by and large, smaller and less expensive hotels give you less grief and are more accommodating than anywhere where lodging is over $150 a night. I have also learned that staying with people who like you enough to be willing to have you around for a few days is not only a cheaper alternative, but far more enjoyable, since you actually have real time to catch up with those you care about. On the other hand, I’ve also figured out that for most people, no matter how close your relationship, three or four days of having someone around non-stop is enough to make them sad that you’re leaving, but just slightly happy that you will no longer be in their space. It’s not so much they’re happy you’re leaving, they just wish maybe you could go away for a day or two and come back, because most people need their quiet time. *laughs*

I highly recommend for travelers:

1) Read the fine print, and don’t expect that the hotel or the site you’re booking through is being honest with you.

2) Recognize that you’ll get better service and people will actually give a shit if you stay in the hotel where the key feature is “wireless internet” instead of “hardwood floors and elegant 1920′s crystal chandeliers.”. You don’t have to stay at the Motel 6, but you’re not looking for a new home. The nicest hotel in town will cause you the biggest headache. (Thanks for the lesson, Marriott in Durham, NC.)

3) Carry a giant stack of cash to the hotel. Not the entire trip…just prior to check in. Insist on peeling out a bunch of 20′s, or even better yet, 100′s. Insist on making your deposit in cash, and do not leave without your cash. You may look shady, but there’s no “hold” on cash.

4) The system is designed to screw you over. Whenever possible, find alternatives to participating, because if something goes wrong…well, you may be screwed, but locating someone who cares is difficult.

5) Make sure to write a blog bitching about those who have wronged you, because there’s nothing else you can do.

6) Express love and appreciation to the friends who bought you dinners, martinis, offered you a place to stay, entertained you, conversed with you, traveled with you, created cool experiences for you, and generally made you feel like an awesome and valued person in a world that mostly isn’t required to care about you one way or the other…for no other reason than being genuinely happy to see you. That’s kind of one of the best things about life, isn’t it, knowing that others care and just like being around you?

7) Hotels do not care, nor do they like being around you. Attitude is to be expected.

I’ve been very quiet lately, but it’s been for a fairly good reason. I’ve been going through a hard time with all the medical-related stuff, and it’s left me feeling like I don’t really want to do anything at all. When I try to do things, the effort feels very physically exhausting. Yesterday, after actually getting up and cooking something for the Crock-Pot, I felt tired and depressed, and just got in bed and cried. Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep.

This week, I went to my doctor to check in with her about my medications, because it had been a year or so. It seemed to me that my medications had stabilized my problems. I was no longer having panic attacks, heart palpitations, the vertigo had decreased significantly, and I had noticed myself being able to go out places I couldn’t handle before. Some days, I’d forget to wear my sunglasses. The only complaint I had was the inability to lose any of the weight I’d gained on these drugs. During the course of about 2 years, I gained a quarter of my body weight (being a very small person, this is a very big deal), and even though I was again able to walk three miles and even jogged a 12 minute mile on numerous occasions (until I hurt my knee), I wasn’t burning a single calorie. Unless I just didn’t eat, that scale didn’t move.

Therefore, I was quite surprised when my doctor informed me that my pulse and BP were running very low, and she saw it as a sign it was time to cut back the dosage of my beta-blocker, an old-school drug called Atenolol. Adapting to taking this drug in the first place was hard. The first month was sheer hell. I felt tired all the time, lethargic, depressed, hated the world, gained weight, and hated being in public places with loud noises and bright lights. Almost all simple things felt like a challenge to accomplish. Somehow, along the way, my body adapted and I finally got to a place where I felt normal. Atenolol treats high BP, which I didn’t really have, but it also treats high pulse rate, irregular heartbeat, palpitations, anxiety, and migraines…all symptoms I presented with when prescribed the drug.

What they don’t tell you about Atenolol is that it has some nasty side effects, like many drugs out there. Britain is working to take it off the market, because they feel it’s overprescribed and neither doctors nor patients are warned of the effects. Most don’t know. Atenolol causes a lot of people to gain weight—some people gain 70-100 pounds—and suppresses the normal release of insulin. If you’re already hypoglycemic (which I am), this is a horrible drug for your body to get used to, because you’re prone to your blood sugar being all over the place. Atenolol masks the symptoms until your blood sugar plummets or you have an insulin surge. There are a number of studies that say it causes Type 2 diabetes in adults not at risk for diabetes. Combine that with a metabolism that’s severely slowed down, and the desire to sleep 11 hours a day, and it’s hard to adjust to it. It’s also an anti-anxiety drug that strangely, makes you more sensitive to anxiety. Some people become short-tempered and irritable; others get depressed. I haven’t felt like myself in a very long time, but I figured it was my illness. The drugs to treat illness are supposed to help, and I really thought they were. People told me they saw some of the old Alayna returning. \

I started to scale back the beta-blocker this week. My doctor wants me on half the dosage I’m taking now, with the hopes of eventually phasing it out altogether. Since you have to start small (just quitting the drug is likely to end you up in the hospital.), I cut out a quarter of the pill. The first day of doing this was fine, except I had a horrible migraine. The second day, not too bad. I still had a headache and felt anxious about certain things, but I went out to dinner, walked around town, and went drinking at a club with a friend. The third day, life just started to fall apart. Yesterday was day number 4, and I felt disinclined to get out of bed or to do anything at all.

I went to one of the “withdrawing from your beta blocker” online support forums, because I wanted to see if other people had as hard of a time as I did. I was reminded that Atenolol treats migraines, so cutting it down immediately gave me migraine with aura for 3 days. Atenolol treats anxiety, so removing even a little has made me jittery and anxious about fears I thought I’d conquered. It messes with the stability of your heart rate and blood pressure, so I’ve felt dizzy and lightheaded anywhere but my bed.

Yesterday, I was crying because I was depressed, and I was depressed because I felt like I was getting better, getting my life back…and someone went and took that away from me. I feel really fragile and scared. The Guy I Am Currently Dating has been very supportive. He’s done all my errands for me, gotten me my favourite foods, helped me make healthy food for lunch for the next week, and even went to the Disney store to get me a “Brave” doll. (There is a stuffed Merida sitting on my bed now.) Yet, I feel like it’s hard for anyone to understand just how crappy I feel, and how disheartening it is to have a huge physical and emotional setback.

People say that the first drop in dosage is the hardest, and if I make it a week without going to back to taking the whole pill, my body will spend the next week or so adjusting to the new dose…and I can eventually reduce to the dosage my doctor wants me on. Even my doctor doesn’t understand the physical and emotional side effects; she told me to just take half the pill from now on, and my body would barely notice.

That is incorrect. I notice when I am dizzy, when my vision gets blurry, when something makes me panic. I’m not allowed to engage in physical activity while I am adjusting my drugs, which inspired my doctor tell me it was the perfect time to go through this, because I should rest my knee (which is sprained or even possibly torn. I have zero good knees) for 4-6 weeks. So, I am resting my knee and my heart, but the hardest part is resting my mind. I do not feel like myself. I do not feel like I am in a stable emotional place, and I am scared a lot. I am depressed because at the beginning of the week, I was so happy my doctor said I was getting healthier. Now I feel like I did when I got sick 2 years ago.

I am terrified to go to trivia tonight. I am afraid I’ll pass out, get too dizzy on account of the lights, the noises, and the people, or I’ll just look like a crazy person in front of other people who don’t understand…and some of whom don’t like me to begin with. I feel like I am too fragile to go out around people, and want the Guy I Am Currently Dating to have fun without me. He won’t do this, though, and that makes me sad. :( I almost went back to taking the whole pill today, just so I could survive trivia..but I logically know that will make tomorrow harder.

I’ve never been physically and mentally addicted to something before. Sure, I like Coca-Cola and I enjoy my alcohol, but when I got sick and could have neither caffeine nor alcohol for a few months, I just stopped. When I had to quit nasal spray and antihistamines, it wasn’t easy, but there was another drug to help me through the side effects, and I made it. There’s never been something I felt like I couldn’t cut out of my life, even if it was painful, even if it was a relationship with another person. There’s definitely a difference between feeling mentally weak and physically weak, though. When something affects both, being stronger than that is really, really hard.

I’m not that strong to begin with…so it’s been a rough week. I will probably spend most of Memorial Day weekend sleeping and watching TV and waiting for the anxiety and brain fog to lift. I’m also experiencing my normal holiday depression, where I realise every single holiday that nobody in my life cares about me enough, or is single and available enough, or is not too distracted by their own family, to spend holiday weekends with me. I’m always alone. Always. And I inevitably spend time thinking how little anyone would really care or notice if I just weren’t around anymore…or that maybe once I’m not here anymore, people will wish they’d have bothered to make the time for me, to travel with me, to really consider me a part of their lives, and not just an entertaining little add-on to it from time to time.

In my next life, I hope I’m the kind of person people want to be around and spend holidays with. The entire time I’ve been an adult, that hasn’t been the case for me. And every holiday weekend, I feel dramatically sorry for myself in my alone and unloveable (or loveable, but with conditions, and when it fits into the schedule, and maybe we’ll go somewhere and have an adventure someday) state.

It’s a hard and lonely life sometimes, and sometimes, just getting up and existing is so much trouble it barely seems worth it. So, therefore, there haven’t been very many blogs or even many FB posts lately. I don’t even have it in me to make a snarky remark. :/

In my humble opinion, Jezebel doesn’t tend to publish very many insightful things. Personally, I’m not a fan. If something has pissed me off and I’m writing about it on my blog, there’s a 70% chance someone from Jezebel inspired me to do that.

I’m not just saying that because I used to date someone who was affiliated with this magazine (back when people read magazines), or because of the number of articles I come across designed to make me either hate myself, want to undergo radical plastic surgery, make me hate the world, or make me consider joining a convent or living a spinster-ish Jane Austen existence. I don’t need Jezebel to tell me why I’m not married, why he won’t commit, why I might be bad in bed, or why 30 is the new 60. I don’t need to know how society judges me, according to a specific subset of society getting paid to write about judging others. I don’t really have many kind, ladylike words for Jezebel. However, every once in awhile, there will be a surprisingly rational, pro-female writer who shows up and makes me think I must have landed on the wrong page.

In fact, in all my years of rants inspired by articles I’ve read on Jezebel, this may be the smartest thing I’ve heard from one of their writers yet.:

“If you’re a woman with an internet presence, you need skin as thick as a redwood trunk to deal with the barrage of insults and threats that you’ll unquestionably receive from misogynist trolls who want you to stop writing about topics that men also like to write about, or stop writing about feminism, or just stop writing, period. This has always been the case, but it’s not getting better for most women I know. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.”

Sadly, I have to agree. I don’t know if the internet is a nice place, but since I apparently am old enough to be a part of “social media before social media had a name”, I remember when the internet was not a nice place. During my time on the internet, I’ve experienced meeting someone online, falling in love, moving to a new city, having everything fall apart, and somehow still getting back on the Internet. I’ve dated people who were pretty influential in making the internet what it is today, even though I didn’t know something huge was happening at the time, and neither did anyone else. I’ve had stalkers. More than one. I’ve had marriage proposals. I’ve had death threats. I’ve gotten mail and phone calls from people who shouldn’t know how to find me, and you can’t take a restraining order out on an avatar. I’ve done online dating through Match.com and OKCupid, which gave me a LOT of stories and a few really close friends I don’t remember not being a part of my life…who in turn gave me other close friends I can’t imagine not being a part of my life. I’ve been broken up with because of my blog, had angry wives contact me because their husbands were chatting with me through my blog, had parents of people I was dating hate me because of my blog, had my “friends only” blog printed and shared with those who were definitely not my friends—twice, had people send mail to those I was dating to tell them what a horrible human being I am, had people write nasty comments and reveal personal information on the pages of everyone I knew in my social group, eventually took down my blog after my personal life caused great upheaval and others saw the internet as a tool to see how far they could push before I wanted to kill myself or someone else, and then got really angry at myself for allowing other people to send me into hiding. I still have people who cite the “constant social media presence” as a reason for wondering if they could ever date me, and people who read my blog and FB just to mock me. I’ve still experienced losing friends over differences in communication in the online world. The difference is that I care less than I used to, which is still way more than the average person is likely to care. The internet, for me, has been a wild ride I never would have anticipated being this huge part of most of my adult life, one that led me to fantastic adventures and tragic mistakes. However, has the internet ever been “nice”? Well, no. Not to me.

If you’ve noticed, I’ve disabled comments on my blog. It’s been that way for a good number of years now. People who want to respond to me are free to e-mail me or contact me on FB, Twitter, whatever. Many successful bloggers, most of them female, have made similar choices.

Why? Because, frankly, this is my space. You wouldn’t walk into my home to criticise me or tell me you didn’t like me or to wish I’d die. You wouldn’t leave inappropriate notes you should never write lying on the coffee table. Leaving those comments on my blog is the equivalent of just that. So, basically, you don’t get the key to my house, and I think that’s totally valid.

It’s OK if you don’t like me, really. There are a lot of people in the Universe I don’t consider the best company. But, unless we’re friends, do I really need to know about it? (On the other hand, if you do like me, I appreciate being told that so we might *become* friends.)

I’m not sure that this just applies to women, however. There are some male bloggers who are very unafraid to put themselves out there, and they receive a lot of haters. You might even be the CEO of a company, and someone with a grudge starts the story that you’re getting fired because you’re an alcoholic, and the next thing you know, it’s on a legitimate news source. You might be freaking Bill Gates, and every single word you publish is fodder for an internet troll or rant.

Is it harder for female bloggers, essayists, and journalists? Certainly. You’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You’re either an uptight bitch, or a slut. You’re either a traitor for agreeing with the boys, or whatever horribly demeaning word you want to use in place of “feminist” for speaking out against how unfair certain things are. It doesn’t matter if you’re not terribly controversial or political. If your words aren’t a problem, the focus will be on your looks or your personal life. (One female blogger I know has a board dedicated to people talking shit about her personal life, people who have never even spoken to her.)

The thing is, it’s always been hard. I’m not surprised when something comes along that makes me cry, because I’ve never seen the part where having an internet presence didn’t mean being constantly judged, which often means crying at what other people write about you. I’m not a thick-skinned girl. I’m intensely sensitive, and the comments have always hurt, the same way they do in real life. But it is certainly something you need to deal with in order to be anyone with an internet presence these days, especially a female someone.

On a more personal note, today ended up being a very good day, despite all my expectations to the contrary. In fact, I couldn’t fall asleep last night because I had so much anxiety regarding going to the doctor today. When I did fall asleep, I had a series of bad dreams I don’t really remember, and kept waiting for my alarm to go off. I was very anxious about having to go to the doctor. Since getting sick in 2011, trips to the doctor have often meant something very unpleasant was going to happen, and the result is that I now have extreme anxiety even when going in for my yearly check-up.

However, the results were good. My BP was 102/73, pulse 62. My beta-blockers are now officially giving me low blood pressure, which is the green light for starting to reduce my dosage. Also, the knee injury is likely just a strain. High-impact cardio and jogging is a no-go for me, which I’m fine with, because it’s not as if I enjoy those activities. I can now try to lose 10% of my body weight (what I need to be at a healthy weight, even if it’s not the number I’d LIKE the scale to say)over the next 6 months if I eat at least 1,000 calories a day and increase my healthy food choices. (less sugar and white carbs and crappy fast food.) And I didn’t need blood work, at least today. I definitely feel that health-related things are heading in a positive direction, even if personal life-related things have been all over the place this year. Of course, I know there’s still a long road ahead, but I suppose it’s OK to feel optimistic, if only for a day.

Today, I also noted that my entry for Mysti Parker’s flash fiction contest was posted. It’s entitled “All That Glitters”, which is amusing if you know me personally. (I glitter about as much as a Twilight vampire, and it gets left behind everywhere.)

Honestly, I wasn’t going to share it with the entire world, because I stayed up very late one night writing it. I sent it off, read it over, and immediately concluded that it sucked. In my mind, it was a perfect testament to my ability to create interesting and psychologically damaged characters who impact one another in some way, only to realise that three-quarters of the way into my allotted word count—nothing has happened.

I am Seinfeld, without the humour. :P

Anyway, I submitted the story knowing it wasn’t terribly good, and figured I just wouldn’t mention it to anyone. Then my ego won out, as it always does, and said, “Hey, look, something I made! I am awesome! Go like the awesome thing I did!”

(The ego does not always have the best grasp on reality. I hate to hear what the super-ego might have to say, and that’s why she’s not allowed to talk, ever. :P )

Fortunately for the ego, some people did like it, and left comments and sent me e-mail about the story. One of my friends wrote to ask, “Is the girl in the story you?” and “Is the main character a real person?”

I have answers to those questions, but they’re complicated, and for a different blog—one that only those who enjoyed the story, or my personal anecdotes, would appreciate. So, simply put, “Yes and no”, to both questions.

Finally, tonight was the finale of “The Big C”. I don’t remember the last time I cried so much, but I do know I feel blessed to have a number of people in my life I love as much as I do; even when I forget, even when they forget, even when I care more than someone might care about me in return. It means everything to know those people are there, out there at various places in the world. :)

It’s Sunday once again, and here in Atlanta, you’d have no idea it’s the middle of May. Happy Mother’s Day to not only my mother, but all the wonderful women out there in the world who drive station wagons and mini-vans, change clothes in the car on a regular basis, learned to tune out the sound of little people screaming in the background, and know that hot dogs and spaghetti are an impressive Julia-Child type recipe when mixed together.

Of course, every Sunday is Literary Libations, where I speak to the type of people who have children that have been loved and nurtured into publishable form. In a way, writing a book is a lot like deciding to have a child. It takes most of your focus for the greater part of a year, you make a lot of sacrifices in order to get it done, you end up slightly fat and out of shape and wanting ice cream at 3 AM, and it will wake you up in the middle of the night suddenly demanding attention. Halfway through the process, you start to doubt your ability to actually do this and know it’s going to go wrong, and when all is said and done, 10 pound boxes of something you created show up at your door. You’re then compelled to spend the next few years showing pictures of it and telling everyone how wonderful it is, even if it kind of just looks like every other book to everyone else. Fortunately, you don’t have to feed your book, potty train it, drive it to soccer practice, or wonder how you’ll afford to send it to college.

On that note, today I’ll be speaking with tireless and prolific writer Devorah Fox. In addition to writing artful and imaginative stories (as someone who grew up intrigued by all the stories of King Arthur and the world of Camelot, I look forward to checking out her works.), she also has a number of creative hobbies you can read about on her blog. Recently, she told me she was one of 100 writers invited to participate in a book-writing marathon. Participants were challenged to write a book in 40 hours. As someone who’s not sure she’ll be able to finish a novel in 40 years, I find this quite impressive.

Devorah (who goes by Dee) is here to speak about her latest book,
“The King’s Ransom”
, and about the art and craft of being a writer. Sit back, relax, and perhaps give your mother a call to chat about the wonderful books you’ve just “Dee-scovered”. :)



devorahauthorwithplaques
1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from, where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, I’ve spent more years in Arizona and along the Texas Gulf Coast than I ever did “back east,” but still consider myself a New Yorker.

My current project is “The King’s Ransom,” a sequel to my first published novel,
The Lost King

.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?

The King’s Ransom continues the story of Robin, the dethroned King Bewilliam. He commits to restoring his kingdom and family against all odds, and they are formidable.

Something about my books apparently transcends the fantasy genre. I’ll quote a reviewer: “Being new to the world of Fantasy Fiction I was a little uneasy about buying The Lost King. I expected to be forced to wade through baroque dialog and dark scenes of witches, sorcerers, fairies and knight machinations… All my trepidations were for naught. The story could have taken place today.”

3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.

Though The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam series is set in a medieval fantasy world, I’m inspired by contemporary dilemmas. I wrote The Lost King to explore the predicament of people who because of the economic downtown were “pink slipped” out of a career, an entire life that they had spent a decades building. The King’s Ransom looks at what happens when you defy all odds and commit to pursuing your life’s dream.

4) Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

You could say I’m both an indie publisher and a self-publisher. In 1988 my late husband and I started a publishing company so I’ve been an “indie publisher” for decades. We did and still do publish textbooks for commercial motor vehicle operators but he always wanted to publish my fiction writing. So when I decided to get The Lost King between covers, I published it under our imprint. We have had nonfiction titles put out by a traditional publisher but regardless of who does the publishing, the author has to do a lot of marketing and promotion.

5) Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? Is this your first book, or have you published before? If someone were to sum you up as a writer in 50 words or less, what would you like to have written about you?

I’ve always been a bibliophile, even as a little girl. I believe I wrote my first novel in the third grade. I got my first writing job in 1977. I started writing fiction in earnest in the mid 1990’s.

I couldn’t want for better acclaim about my writing than what one reviewer told me:
“I haven’t read anything to speak of since I was 40 except for a few inspirational books or books about politics. I suppose you are responsible for reviving my interest in reading fiction.”

6) Outside of writing, you seem to have a variety of interests and are a well-rounded person. What are some of your hobbies and interests? Do find these things help you grow creatively, or leave you in a time-crunch when it comes to meeting deadlines?

I devote quite a bit of time to the writer groups to which I belong. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned from being in the publishing field for so many years. It’s great to be able to spare someone from having to recreate the wheel. In turn, I have benefited from read-and-critique with other astoundingly talented writers.

7) In addition to being a writer, you’re also a blogger with a social media presence. How do you feel social media helps or hinders artists in pursuit of their goals? Do you spend a lot of time on social media or focus on building yourself as a “brand’, or is it something you only use on occasion?

I think I do put quite a bit of time into social media but I’m not prepared to say that it’s been time well invested in terms of reaching readers. Maybe I haven’t been doing it right! On the other hand, I have picked up a lot of invaluable information from the experience other writers have shared.

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?

I wish I had more time for pleasure reading. Before I got so busy writing, I enjoyed Greg Iles, Randy Wayne White and Ian Rankin. I really admire how they create a sense of place. A reader of The Lost King found its hero reminiscent of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport so now I’m rereading the Prey series.

9) Is writing a full-time career for you, or something you do in your free time? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish as a writer? For what would you most liked to be remembered?

One way or the other, I’m writing something every day: a blog post, a sponsored review, a newspaper column. I’m fortunate enough to have had people tell me that my writing has helped them. In some cases it’s been practical, such as via one of our training publications. Others have been motivated to be creative themselves. On reader was so inspired by The Lost King that he couldn’t wait for me to write the sequel so he wrote one himself. The Lost King has fan fiction!

10) I read something on your blog recently about you “going away to camp” in order to work on your next publication. That sounds like a truly interesting idea. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

I attended “Camp NaNoWriMo.” It’s an imaginary writers retreat. I set aside a month, making fiction writing a priority and try to meet the goal of writing 50,000 words. Camp NaNoWriMo is organized by The Office of Letters and Light which also organizes National Novel Writing Month. That takes place every November, and OLL also holds two “camps,” one in April and one in July. I’ve done two NaNoWriMos, one in 2010 and another in 2012, and two camps, one in 2011 and the April 2013 camp.

11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?

I’m not much of a movie goer. I do like TV. I think I’ve seen every episode of Law and Order and CSI. When I have time, I like to crochet and do crafts like glass etching, glass painting and furniture antiquing. I’ve given watercolor painting a try and I’d like to do more of that. Recently I charged myself with restoring a mosaic table that my mother had made decades ago.

12) What’s your Zodiac sign?

Gemini

13) What’s the most memorable thing (either positive or negative) anyone has ever said to you regarding your work? If you had one piece of advice for young, aspiring writers, what would that be?

I was really moved when someone told me that after reading The Lost King he felt validated because someone understood what he had gone through in his life.

I would tell young writers or even older ones that if you think you’d like to write, just do it. It’s a talent that not everyone has. Don’t hold back out of fear that it won’t be any good. It’s probably better than you think. I don’t think we writers ever believe our writing is good enough, anyway–we’re always looking to improve.

14) Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.

The Lost King is on amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, etc. I like to say that if you want it via smoke signal or carrier pigeon, I’ll get it there. But it’s probably faster to follow these links:

*amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lost-King-Devorah-Fox/dp/0977824527

*bn.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-lost-king-devorah-fox/1037627030

*Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lost-King-ebook/dp/B006L5O1JE/ref=tmm_kin_title_0,

*Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-lost-king-devorah-fox/1108162505?ean=2940044954267,

*smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/230605, and iBook

Anyone interested in our textbooks and smartphone apps can find more information here:

http://blog.bumper2bumpertruckbook.com/answers/

http://bumper2bumpertruckbook.com/sp-bin/spirit?PAGE=24

I invite people to connect with me here:

*email: devorahfox@aol.com

*Website: http://devorahfox.com

*Twitter: http://twitter.com/devorah_fox

*Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/devorah.fox

*Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2751371.Devorah_Fox

*Google+ : https://plus.google.com/115373271462004436975


“Devorah” is a weighty moniker so most people call me Dee. When not “Dee-Scovering” the dee-lights of the Texas Coastal Bend for my column in The Island Moon newspaper I’m running Mike Byrnes and Associates, Inc. We’re publishers of BUMPERTOBUMPER®, The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations (the “bible” of truck driver training), authors of the Easy CDL apps for the iPhone and iPad (so much more enjoyable than the state manuals!); and last but not least The Lost King, a literary fantasy (Book One of The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam). My current project is Book Two, The King’s Ransom, due out this summer.



lostking
Thanks so much to Devorah Fox for stopping by to be our guest this Sunday, and I’ll be following up with her in the next few days to chat about her 40-hour writing marathon, and what type of results that yielded. :) I’ll also be sharing her author interview with me about “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse”, and discussing a few books that have shown up in my mailbox and on my Kindle that I simply can’t wait to read.

In the meantime, a happy Mother’s Day—or just a laid-back and lovely Sunday afternoon–to all. :)


“When it comes to friendship, some people value quantity over quality. I’m not into that. I know and speak to a lot of people, sure, and I value those relationships, but if we’re able to move past the small-talk phase and really become friends, it lasts forever. That is so much more valuable to me than knowing 1000 people in every area code. I love that when I see my friends, we pick up right where we left off. Deep, reflective friendships infused with magic and positivity: that’s what I cherish.

I used to go out every night, but the older I get, the less I want to do that. For a few years, I’ve regarded this change as a kind of flaw — like I “should” be going out all the time, flitting around, being super-social. But that’s not who I am anymore, and I would rather see a couple of people a week — and have a truly meaningful interaction with them — than have the same conversation a million times a night. Of course, I love to go out and meet new people, but it feels like less of a “need” these days. I’m working on accepting that, and learning that that’s okay.”— Gala Darling

In addition to being bloggers and city-loving chicks who march to the beat of a slightly different drummer (perhaps with a 1980′s goth track to go along with the drummer, Gala and I share a number of things as people. We’re the same Meyers-Briggs type. We share an Enneagram number. We even have compatible astrological signs. We both struggle with a number of the same issues, have some of the same stories to tell about our earlier years, and know a number of the same people. So, when she happens to express something that’s close to precisely how I’m feeling about my life, there’s this moment of synchronicity that says: Oh yeah. That. There’s another slightly crazy human being out there who thinks the same way I do most of the time, but in this instance, said it better.

For those who don’t know, in addition to being a freelance writer and blogger, I run a social group in the Atlanta area. Prior to that, I was on the “board of directors” (and I use that term loosely, because there was absolutely no “direction”) of another social group, which unceremoniously kicked me out due to the generally scandalous nature of my life and the uninhibited adventures that will probably ensue if you know me well enough. Of course, the truth is, there happened to be a few people who didn’t like me very much, and it took them a long time to get rid of me. They had to try REALLY hard. :P So, in the spirit of “I have little respect for any club that would have me as a member”, when a friend I met via that group called me to ask me to take over his social group, I pretty much laughed in his face. Well, I laughed at his phone, but he got the idea. Why in the world would I put myself through that nonsense again?

It turned out to be the best thing that ever could have happened, when he finally talked me into it. It was really kind of a swap; I lived in his apartment, which meant I moved out of my ex’s apartment, until his lease was up. In return, his group was in good hands. I made not only new friends, but people who have been through stuff with me for the past 6 years. I met two roommates, a few romantic entanglements, some really wonderful friends, and the Guy I Am Currently Dating. Saying “yes” to doing something I’d just done and failed at so miserably that it destroyed any sense of peace and stability in life actually helped me rebuild my life at its lowest point, which is quite ironic. (I think. I’m never sure what’s REALLY ironic. Thanks, Alanis.)

In the almost 6 years I’ve run the group, I’ve planned over 300 events for members, and many, many more for my circle of friends. Something that started out with 350 members now has over 1800 members. Couples have met, moved in together, gotten married. It’s been a relatively good thing.

Yet, sometimes, it’s exhausting and I feel like I am simply too old for being in charge of entertaining strangers. Other times, I feel ill-equipped to run a social group; I’m not terribly organized, I’m not always social, I speak my mind in a way that isn’t what one thinks of as “proper”, and, let’s be honest, I’m an extrovert who isn’t always terribly fond of people. I have literally thousands of acquaintances, but I’m very choosy about my friends. Out of every 100 people I meet, I’ll find one with whom I really connect and will build a strong friendship.

Maybe it’s because I’m not out there looking to get drunk and hook up, two of the major past-times in any social group. I left all that craziness behind years ago, probably due to this process I like to call “growing up”. Unfortunately, when I see people who haven’t completed that process (and from what I observe, the process may start all over again once you hit 45.), I’ve found I grow more and more impatient. People that others are amused by based on charm and style have suddenly become those I want to strangle, and be like “Why aren’t you a substantial and intelligent person? And if you are, why don’t you show it?” Back in the day, those were the people I’d date. You can make up for a lack of any personal attribute with charisma, and I know that as well as anyone, so it annoys me that I am the person who now sees through that veneer. People have become more transparent to me over the past few years, and I’ve become remarkably less willing to spend time with someone not really out there looking to connect in any sort of meaningful way.

I used to be a bit of a snob, or as an old friend put it back in the day, “aloof”. It’s an odd quality for an extroverted personality, but the truth is, I read people well enough most of the time to know that I don’t want to know everyone. I want to create an atmosphere where other people will get to know those who are right for them, but I don’t have interest in being everyone’s new best friend. I don’t go to events seeking new kindred spirits, lifelong friends, or romantic connections. I never really have. I’m just me, and if I find that, I do. If I don’t, it’s not going to ruin my enjoyment of life.

These days, my impatience with people who come across in a way that’s obnoxious, creepy, or designed to be charming but is transparently fake kind of makes me a bitch. It’s not the best asset in a person who is supposed to radiate love and joy and that crap at all times.

It’s also become more difficult for me to hide my emotions, and keep the pieces of myself that aren’t all that loveable or appropriate for basic social interaction hidden. For instance, yesterday, I was upset because my telephone broke. The Guy I Am Currently Dating came over with a replacement, and I asked if we could do the phone thing later because the process of getting ready to go out and coordinate a large event is stressful enough for someone dealing with anxiety. He said that I didn’t have to do anything, because he would look at it. It turns out, my phone broke because I misunderstood the ambiguous instructions on the battery and damaged it, and was a complete idiot. Then, to add to my stress, he got mad and yelled at me because I was not apologetic about breaking the battery and it “didn’t seem like I cared”. A huge argument ensued, where for the 50th time, I had an emotional breakdown about dating someone who seems to expect a different way of dealing with the world and higher level of perfectionism than I can handle.

I was sobbing, and couldn’t talk, and trying not to ruin my makeup…but I didn’t want to host an event for strangers. I didn’t want to have to put on a smile and make small talk about life and be the cheerful hostess. I would have been a lousy 1950′s housewife. So often, I have to totally get rid of any evidence that I can’t handle my life and have been known to spend hours in bed wishing myself out of existence. And then there’s always one person in the group who doesn’t like me because I’m loud or snarky or not always perky and happy, or writes a bad review because the event was boring, the venue sucked, or there weren’t any good-looking single people in attendance. (totally not my responsibility.) It’s often a reminder, again, of all the ways I am just not good enough, no matter how hard I try.

Sometimes, I think of that old song with the lyrics, “Smile, though your heart is aching; smile, even though it’s breaking.”

And then there’s the matter of the pictures. I take a lot of pictures, and I share them with the world, because, one day, I will be a cold dead corpse somewhere and I’d like people to remember the lively version of me. I don’t take photos out of vanity, and I don’t use them to present a certain “image”. I actually get quite frustrated with people who say “Can you not publish this because I look bad?” and “Can you not publish this because so-and-so might see it?” and “This picture makes me feel like if others see it I’ll be judged”. I feel like I’m living in a world where I’m the only one out there who didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. I don’t care if people see me drinking, doing something embarrassing, hanging out somewhere, or looking like an idiot. Those are all aspects of me, things I’ve done, and I’m generally ashamed of very little. I don’t care if I look unattractive, or I’m posing with a whip or dancing in a cage. I’ve sent pictures of me dancing in a cage in a see-through top to my mother. She thought I looked cute. :P

Today, I got a very abrupt message from a friend that said “Hi. Some of the pictures you’re posting do not belong on Facebook.”

In my opinion, my life belongs on Facebook, so when someone sends me a judgement, it immediately makes me angry. However, I very nicely replied that if she had issues with any photos, she could politely ask me to remove them. One person’s judgment regarding what I post may be different from mine, and I can’t help but feel it’s certainly not appropriate to judge my actions by your standards. I judge my actions by my standards. (and there was nothing even slightly offensive on there. I actually removed a lot of photos that didn’t seem the most appropriate thing to post, in my opinion, and edited others.) She did then ask, and I removed them, but really….at this point, I’m just exhausted.

I spend so much time trying to make other people happy, and it is (excuse the undignified language) NEVER FUCKING GOOD ENOUGH. There is always someone unhappy with me, all the time, despite the fact I spend a lot of my time investing in other people. There’s always some imperfection, something wrong with me and how I see the world that’s worthy of criticism.

So, I get it. I suck. I will never be good enough for most people, most of the time. That’s why I will probably die single and alone, and never, ever get romantically attached to a person who genuinely loves me, sees a future with me, is compatible with me, and can avoid lying/cheating/being a douchebag all at the same time. That’s why I don’t have many friends, I just know a lot of people.

And that’s why, most of the time, it’s easier and less emotionally exhausting just to stay home. I don’t make myself feel badly about being me, I’m perfectly comfortable with my blunt and open lifestyle, I don’t make racist or misogynistic comments, I don’t think I’m a sucky person to date, I don’t beat myself up when I make mistakes or wonder why I’m just that damned stupid, and I don’t go through phases where other people and things cause me to become emotionally and practically unavailable to myself. In addition, I find myself somewhat attractive, even if I’m old and fat and boring. I like all the same TV shows and bands as myself, and find myself to be an entertaining drinking companion.

So, yes, as Gala noted on her blog, the older I get, the less I feel like going out or dealing with people. Because, no matter what you do, people only seem to notice all the ways in which you’re not perfect or even likeable…and for someone to whom that’s quite important, handling that can be difficult. Feeling underappreciated and misunderstood is hard.

Fortunately, I get me, and I have a ton of books and TV shows I like. This must be what makes people want to become introverts.

When it’s just you that you need to worry about making happy, being perfect isn’t quite so necessary.