Before I start today’s blog, which is about my love of the beach, a quick note about yesterday’s. The Guy I Am Currently Dating shared my link with Amanda Palmer’s Twitter account, and it was retweeted!! It was really awesome to see people come to visit this page because I talked about the book and how it aligned with my personal beliefs and experiences.

Today’s blog is a more personal one, one that is about past experiences, but is largely about daydreams…and how what you want most in the world isn’t always what you thought when you were 5 or 10 years younger.

We all have daydreams, and for me, a lot of them involve being somewhere other than where I am now. When I imagine where I might want to be at any given time, I usually think of the beach. Often, it’s a beach I’ve been to in the past, but sometimes, it’s an entirely new place my mind has invented. It’s strange that I like the beach, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble doing “nothing” and that is largely what people go to the beach to do. Ever since childhood, my family would be relaxing, and after 10 minutes of quiet, I’d ask “What are we going to do next?”

I have always been a city girl. I like bars, restaurants, things to do, people to meet, adventures to have. But there is also this feeling you get when you lie on the sand and look up at the sky, or take off your shoes and walk near the ocean at midnight, that the world is so big with possibility and you are so small that it would take you 100 lifetimes to do, to be, to see everything. It makes all your problems seem insignificant, or at least small enough to handle.

Even as adults, my family, and eventually just my brother and myself, would take a trip to the Jersey Shore. It’s not the Jersey Shore you see on MTV, although there are bars and restaurants and a club or two. But there’s also the fudge I loved half a lifetime ago, getting a henna tattoo on the boardwalk and playing games for stuffed animals like I’m still a teenager, riding the tram car up and down the boardwalk, stopping at a 1950’s Doo-Wop place for a milkshake and getting a slice of some of the best pizza on Earth. It is a place I love, and one of the saddest things about getting sick is that I’ve been unable to go back.

Of course, the last trip to the Jersey Shore is what made me sick. I was happy, healthy, energetic…and one day, I mixed an orange Izze with some vodka, sipped it on the beach while listening to music, and fell asleep. I woke up sunburnt, but had no idea how badly. I took a shower, walked around for a few hours, and by the end of the night, I could barely crawl home due to blisters on my legs. But I made it, and the next day, my luggage and I had to make it all the way to the bus. Later that night, it wasn’t a pretty picture. I had my first panic attack, which felt suspiciously like a heart attack, and afterwards, kept shaking uncontrollably. I thought I was going to die. Instead, I rested for a few days and traveled back to Atlanta, with 2nd degree burns over half of my body.

My parents said “Don’t go to the hospital”. “It’s sunburn”. “It’s no big thing”, so I believed in my tendency to make a bigger deal over things that need be. It took 2 weeks before I ended up in the ER, leaving an event early and crying because I was sure I was going to die and never see anyone again.

The ER rehydrated me, noticed my resting pulse of 120 was not good, put me on sedatives and beta-blockers, and sent me home. But it didn’t take long before the panic attacks started again, and the constant dizziness. 4 visits to the ER, a drug that tried to kill me, and weeks later, there was still no diagnosis. One doctor put me on a heart medication that still to this day causes weight gain. Another determined it was an inner ear disorder. Another said I had an anxiety disorder, another said I had late onset bi-polar disorder. At one point, I had to stop the doctor merry-go-round, because the motion of the car would trigger adrenaline rushes so bad I would rationally consider jumping out of a moving car on the highway to make it stop.

Nobody knows what is wrong with me, or what happened that day on the beach to trigger it. One doctor even said I had brain damage to my hypothalamus as a result of heat stroke. But that one day changed my life forever, and I can’t help but think, “If only I’d stayed in and worked”, and “If only I’d waited until dinner to have a drink”. I hope one day they do find out, and I hope I’m alive when they do. But I don’t count on it. Being sick has become a new normal, and being alone isn’t as lonely as it was when I was healthy.

So, you’d think I’d be terrified of that beach. You’d think I’d have a panic attack just remembering the place where this happened. Instead, I think “If there is every a way for them to identify and cure my mystery illness, and I can go back to being me, I’m going to the beach for a month”.

I don’t care if I’m 40. I’m still getting a henna tattoo and going to the fortune teller and eating too much fudge on the tram car. It turns out that even one of the worst experiences of your life can’t cancel out years of great ones.

It can teach you, though, the value of small things…and being healthy enough to walk on that beach at midnight again is priceless in my world. It is priceless enough for a small town of 10,000 people to seem more interesting than cities with ten of millions, because the things that remind you of when you were younger, happier, and healthier are what you remember when you journey throughout life….even if you’re drinking apple martinis and covered in glitter.

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, and that some of my older posts are no longer with us. Sadly, for the 3rd time in nearly 16 years of blogging, I lost my blog and all of my entries. The Guy I Am Currently Dating was determined to save my posts for immortality, and hunted down many of them. However, a big chunk of 2014 is gone, and I am hoping to find it again bit by bit.

When you create, and you lose something you’ve created, it is a genuine loss. It can make you not wish to create new things, or re-create the old. I recently learned I am not alone in feeling this way; a friend of mine is a designer and programmer, and he recently lost a great deal of work. Fortunately, he had backups, but the process of re-creating something he was excited about the first time didn’t appeal to him. He is still in the “reluctant to create” space. Sadly, that’s the way I have felt about this blog.

So, I’ve decided to rekindle my interest in sharing thoughts with the Universe by participating in the A-Z Challenge! The rules are very simple; in the month of April, every day except Sunday is a different letter. By the end of the month, you should have 26 stellar, publication-worthy essays on the great issues! Right? 😛

I’m kicking off the blog challenge by writing about a book I enjoyed reading, “The Art Of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. For those who don’t know, Amanda Palmer is a talented, unconventional, and bizarre musician who was lead singer for the Dresden Dolls. She then later became an indie artist and helped revolutionise the idea of people using Kickstarter and other forms of crowdsourcing to create art, becoming the first artist to raise over a million dollars for a project. She is also married to the equally talented, unconventional, and bizarre writer Neil Gaiman, who clearly has a thing for unconventional redheads (see: Tori Amos). Amanda Palmer has been on my radar and in my links list for a long time, so it always surprises me when people ask me “Who’s that?”. Fittingly, the book was a birthday present I asked for, and one a lot of people might benefit from reading.

By most accounts, I have lived a fairly unconventional life, having traveled extensively and having jobs/interests ranging from business professional to “it may or may not be legal to discuss that”. I have slept on the couches of strangers and met people from other countries in pubs and clubs, and ended up having adventures. I have gotten into a little trouble. I have gotten into A LOT of trouble. I have had to start over again so many times, I should be eligible for some resilience award. I have been stuck in a city where I did not live and had no place to stay and a budget that allowed for a soft pretzel and Coke for dinner, and spent the night in Port Authority and been just fine…but had my stuff stolen from my own apartment by a roommate when I was out of town. Life has been an adventure for me, and most people don’t even know half of it. So, when I find the memoir of someone who has lived an even more adventurous, unconventional, risk-taking, trusting in strangers kind of life, it absolutely fascinates me.

Amanda Palmer is that person. She discusses having a variety of jobs, from waiting tables to working as a dominatrix, but focuses a great deal on a job that lasted for many years: working as a living statue. Oddly enough, her years as a street performer not only launched her career and introduced her to her husband, they formed her beliefs in a way most people find challenging: seeing asking for help as not just getting something you need, but allowing someone else to do a favour for you helps another person feel useful and access their generosity.

In her book, Amanda Palmer discusses the generosity of people around her, and how the world happens to be a loving, giving place. I have seen that. I have seen people want to take care of me because I had nowhere else to turn and was scared and alone. I have had people want to buy me a drink or coffee or dinner because they liked the way I looked, and bartenders often give me free drinks because I’m good company. I have had people I don’t know ask to draw me. I have been an active Couchsurfer for a long time, and never once had a horror story. I largely met people who were nicer and more giving people than people in my life back home. I have had strangers come up to a friend and I and want to buy our meal, or ask to take my picture wearing my bizarre headpieces and then send over a bottle of vodka. A lot of the strangers I encountered along the journey, I still am friends with on Facebook or send Christmas cards to every year.

On the other hand, I’ve also had people tell me, on hearing I was publishing a book, “I wouldn’t BUY it or anything. I don’t buy books.” Running a Meetup for over 8 years, I’ve had people tell me my time and effort wasn’t appreciated, wasn’t good enough, or even had them run out on the check. I’ve had guys in my life tell me I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t witty enough, wasn’t interesting enough to keep their attention. I’ve seen the opposite of generosity and lifting people up in every way. It makes it hard to believe that Amanda’s observations are true; that the world is a nice place if you open yourself up to it.

Like many people, I live in a very corporate city. Prior to that, I’ve lived in other large corporate cities. The mentality in these places is one of self-sufficiency. I have had good friends suggest I take 2.5 hours on public transport to get to them, because I’m 10 minutes out of the way for them to drive to me. I have had some of my best friends in the world not offer me crash space because their apartment was small (if you have the choice between sleeping on the floor and in the bus station, the first is preferable) and it was inconvenient. I have had roommates who charged $5 for a ride to the store a half-mile away. And on some level, these things always outraged me, and I never knew quite why. It isn’t that I expect the world to revolve around me or that I am an exception to the self-sufficiency rule. It is a deep seated idea that “People are meant to be generous and giving when it comes to their friends and family.”

Last year, my mother had to be put in a nursing home, and my aunt, who once had quite a bit of money, went shopping to buy my mother everything she needed. She then sent my brother a bill, knowing my brother lives on disability and is caring for my terminally ill father almost alone, saying she couldn’t afford not to be reimbursed for these things. The bill was $150. My brother paid her back, although it meant going into debt that month. He asked when she’d be by to visit my mother. My aunt and her family couldn’t, because they were going on a ski trip. She hasn’t been to visit my mother since, despite living 40 minutes away.

The sense of injustice at this, at this Ayn Rand-esque “I earned my money and do everything by the book, go take care of yourself and don’t ask for favours” idea makes my blood boil. How can you have that attitude towards society and still like people? How can you cut people out of your life when they are struggling or not successful, and really like anyone but yourself?

It seems to make Amanda Palmer angry, too, the idea that “asking for a favour” is shameless. There are people who won’t ask a stranger for a tampon or to borrow a dollar in a crisis. There are people who will come to your parties empty-handed when the invite says “Everyone please contribute”. There are people who think they are somehow “better than”, and buying someone a drink or a coffee over conversation is looking for a better return on an investment.

In her book, she tells so many positive and uplifting stories of how cool the world can be when you are open to experiences and people. But she tells one that she describes as a soul-crushing experience, having overturned her ankle and being unable to walk on a busy city street in the Northeast U.S., and in need of help. She went by three older women who assisted her, and offered to call an ambulance. She said she was fine, but she needed help from the cab to her apartment to retrieve cab fare and asked the ladies to go with her, offering to pay their fare back. They wouldn’t help. She asked for a variety of other small ways they could be of assistance, and they wouldn’t do anything except say, “We’ll call you an ambulance”. She was in tears hobbling to her cab alone, because she felt the cruelty of what they world is like when you can’t trust or help anyone, not even people in distress.

Throughout my life, I have had people not wish to be a part of my life because my level of openness exceeds their comfort zone. I have had people not want to be talked about on this blog, written about in stories, or have picture on FB and Instagram. I have had people not want to be with someone who likes living in such a big and public way (and they should know me now, as I am quite the opposite.) I have had people tell me I’m crazy, the chances I’ve taken in life. But, for the most part, they haven’t been reckless. They have been based on reading people and knowing not everyone shares this “Money, Success, And Self-Sufficiency Defines You” dogma. Many people have a “Generosity Of Spirit Defines You” attitude, and believe, like I do, that when you put things out there in the world, you get them back.

When I first became ill, back in 2012, I was convinced I was going to die. And I became interested, because I couldn’t go out much, in sharing myself with strangers beyond this blog and FB and e-mail. I started becoming involved in a mail-swap community, and it filled the need to share pieces of myself with the world. Some of the things I got back, I really value, including one girl who wrote a letter about needing to come out to her family, but being afraid that whether she did or didn’t, she would never get the love she felt she deserved. I often wonder what happened to her.

Over the years, I have had to learn that many people are not like me. They don’t send 4-page handwritten notes just because they care. Sadly, I have started to become more like most people on many occasions, not returning e-mails and phone calls because I could do it later, and not making people smile quite as much. Being an open-hearted, open-minded person has gotten me a lot of things, but it’s also left me disappointed when my boyfriends or best friends didn’t show me the same loyalty I showed them, or people stopped reaching out when times were tough because nobody wants to be around someone depressing with all of their crappy life struggles. I think it’s a reminder that “Life can be crappy and unfair to you, too”, and that really kills the buzz. I have found myself de-friended in life and attacked online for expressing my opinions and my world views…and wishing people would be open and kind and giving in just listening and getting to know other people.

Amanda Palmer talks about this, too. She writes: “With every new connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it.”

It reminded me that when I was in Washington D.C., I had an issue with my bank and it was a weekend, and I had no money, and a friend drove across town during his lunch hour with $750. I’d like to think that people can be really awesome if you can get over fear and doubt just enough to let them be. Amanda Palmer thinks so, too, which is why this book is worth reading. (and the preface is written by a conservative Biblical scholar.)

Friend in D.C. from many years ago, thank you for saving me and not letting me get murdered. <3

Many people I know complain that laziness and complacency are their enemies. “I’d get so much more done if I didn’t want to stay home and watch TV”, “I know I should try to cook more, but it’s way easier to order a pizza”, “I went to work today and still didn’t get anything done.” I can absolutely understand this feeling, but I have identified that my enemy in life isn’t being lazy or getting too comfortable with routine.

I come equipped with a built-in sense of restlessness that is rarely ever focused or satisfied. The Zen folks who talk about “Living in the moment” may quit, trying to teach me the art of being “present”. Wherever I am, I’m so often really excited about wherever I’m planning to be NEXT, while also enjoying where I am NOW.

I don’t neglect doing work because I am lazy and would rather do nothing (most of the time.) I neglect work because when I start on one project, my mind wanders, and I end up somewhere else mentally…and I would rather be anywhere but where I am, doing anything other than what I am meant to be doing. I have 70 billion ideas rolling around, and some days, if I try to focus on one, the noise of all the others makes it impossible.

It isn’t only work that is affected by restlessness. On Friday, I had a rare day with no plans, and was feeling tired, so The Guy I Am Currently Dating came over and we were just going to “hang out”. By 10 PM, I was a little bored and wondering what to do with what seemed like endless hours of free time. I have always felt guilty in my various long-term relationships, because somewhere in the back of my head, this seed was planted that “If people are really right together, they’re happy doing nothing.”. I’m a horrible person with whom to be in a relationship. After 15-20 minutes of cuddling, if we’re not doing something or talking, I start thinking about everything else in the world. I start wondering at what point it becomes not rude to want to get up. Sometimes, when I’m considering this problem, I just fall asleep.

I’ve suffered from this problem of “restlessness” ever since I was a kid. I was the one who, three days into summer vacation, was tired of “relaxing”. I was the one who’d insist on seeing and doing everything possible on family vacations, who never wanted to sit still. I drove my mother insane, because she’d happily sit on the beach watching the ocean for an hour, or chill out on a patio to “people watch”. After 20 minutes, I was over it. I wasn’t interested in watching life, I was interested in experiencing it…and when there was nothing to experience, I’d retreat into a world of imaginations. Books, television, theatre, dance—pretty much any form of self-expression and experiencing another person’s story appealed to me, when I couldn’t experience my own.

It is something I thought I’d eventually grow out of, but I haven’t. The odd thing is, I’m not a type-A person by nature. However, there are wheels in my mind that are constantly spinning. The only times this doesn’t happen are the moments when I am really 100% consumed by whatever I am doing, either creatively or activity-wise, or when I am sick and/or tired out to the point of exhaustion.

One of the largest struggles I’ve faced with being ill off and on during the past two years is that I still have the mental and spiritual energy of a teenager. Unfortunately, I do not have a body that will keep up with that. I’ve learned to make the most of things by doing everything I can do to enjoy life during the “good times”, and when the “bad times” hit, when simply riding in the car will trigger a panic attack or I can’t go out with friends without wanting to collapse, it is hard for me. Because, even when I feel at my worst, part of me just wants to break out of whatever is keeping me trapped and *GO*. “Bad times” are often accompanied by very childish outbursts of self-pity and bouts of tears, because I find it heartbreakingly unfair that I don’t feel in control of my life, and that there is no outlet for my restlessness.

It has been suggested to me throughout my life that I suffer from some form of ADD or ADHD, although this doesn’t seem to be the case (my mother took me to be tested as a kid, and I had a neurologist discuss it with me as an adult.) I am actually capable of intensely focusing on things for hours, and grow irritated quickly at any interruption. However, it is often the case that my brain is so overwhelmed by daydreams and things I’d like to do and things I *should* do and all these things that want to be expressed all at once, that I end up doing nothing at all. It’s almost as if I try to ignore the chaos, because it is too hard to organize it.

I have always wanted to live a life “bigger” than my own. I have always had this incredible need for memorable experience, as often as possible, in the way that only someone who has a strong awareness of the inevitability of mortality early in life develops. I am often panicked by the idea of death, not because death in itself might be the most frightening experience in the world, but because I don’t want to run out of time. There is so much world, and so many experiences, and so many people….and such a small amount of time. Especially as you grow older, or start struggling with health, this becomes so much more obvious.

I once had an ex-boyfriend tell me, when he was tired of me looking morose and bored because he was so busy working that we couldn’t go out and do anything, that only boring people were bored in life, because there was so much fascinating about life. For me, the most fascinating thing about the world was being a part of it, interacting with people, going new places, having new experiences, forming new relationships. This ex, who grew up as a very self-sufficient, responsible introvert, could not understand why I was frustrated to the point of tears at being told that my restlessness should be contained and directed towards solitary, intellectual, and creative pursuits. I grew terribly unhappy (and consequently, became a very difficult person with whom to spend time.) because I found it couldn’t. The more my restlessness was constrained, the more it took over everything; I would feel frustrated with and hate everyone and everything.

A decade later, I’m still battling demons having to do with restlessness. The work I do is monotonous, repetitious, and easy. There is no reason I should not be incredibly productive, other than I find myself staring at the computer screen, thinking of other times in my life, other places, other people, other dreams. I have never learned how to enjoy the mundane, or at least, to tolerate it. I’ve read anecdotes about many creative people working in extremely dull, tedious jobs because the nature of a repetitive job helped boost creativity or clarify highly intellectual problems. This is not me. My mind seems to take any opportunity to escape, mentally, if not physically.

The worst thing is when I have all the time in the world and someone asks what I want to do, and I just don’t know. All the answers are unrealistic. I want to do something different, exciting, something that engages body, mind, and spirit 100%. I want to do something I’ve never done before. I want to meet someone who may turn my life upside down. I want to experience really powerful emotions as often as possible. I want to be not here, because I’ve grown tired of here for now, but I’ll probably want to come back in a little while. The kind of life I want requires a lot of money, a lot of robust health and energy, and plenty of willing partners-in-crime. I lack all of the above.

I have packed a LOT of life experience, positive and negative, into the first part of my life. I always thought by now, I’d be happy with the simple things, appreciate living a calm and quiet life, see the value in “alone time”.

Nope. I’m still ready to go. But I know that the $1.25 in my pocket won’t get me terribly far, and at some point, I’ll have to take my medication and want a nap.

It is, indeed, a conundrum. I wonder at what point restlessness will turn into internal stillness and peace. People told me that once I turned 30, a shift would happen, and I’d desire this more. It was true, for about two years.

Now I’m ready to do things, experience things, feel things, affect the lives of others, explore new places, and generally turn the world upside down with the force of being that is Hurricane Alayna. I am ready for more dopamine and all that good stuff. I like when my somewhat fragile body is lying in an exhausted heap, but on the inside, I still want to “go go go”, because it reminds me I am not dead yet. *laughs*

I think I’d rather be lazy and complacent than waking up thinking, “What cool experiences are we going to have today?”…because the answer is usually, “We only do things on Friday, and today is Monday.” :P

On some level, I never stopped being 23. I just drink a little less, my life is much less complicated, and sadly, make less money. My spirit, however, is as inexhaustible as ever. I just wish it wanted to write about lawyers and plastic surgeons on a regular basis. :P

Every girl has a weakness, and if you either know me in person or read my blog frequently enough, you likely know that I have quite a few. One of the healthiest and least destructive is my addiction to reality TV. Indeed, I’ve always had a great love for TV, in general, ever since childhood. While I’ve never seen many classic movies everyone else has seen, I remember that show that was on the air for less than a season. While some people say “I don’t watch TV; it’s a waste of time.”, television has always been more like a consistent friend in my life. When I am sad, it can lift my mood. When I am worried, it is a story that distracts me from my problems. Characters on television or contestants in reality shows I will likely never meet become real enough for them to feel like part of my day. I invest in them. I care about what happens to them. When a show comes to an end, it’s a little bit like losing a friend. The same way some people are passionate about movies or books or music, I’ve always felt that about television. It’s ironic that I spent more than half my life as a stage actress (my obsession with musicals is pretty close to my obsession with TV, but there simply aren’t as many of them readily available.), but my earliest childhood memories involve being fascinated by stories I saw on television.

In any case, I’ve blogged about my love for and experiences with CBS’ Big Brother in the past, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m one of the devoted followers willing to watch the TV Guide channel for two hours a day just to see what’s happening in the house. Since my favourites have all been voted out and the season is almost over, I thought this meant the end of my relationship with the TV Guide channel. (I mean, it’s an annoying channel. Half the screen shows a scrolling guide to which you eventually become oblivious, and at night, they show advertisements for cat toys and ways to make perfect pastry pockets. During the day, you see these horribly tragic commercials about abused pets, thanks to the ASPCA.) However, since Survivor premiers the day Big Brother ends, they’ve been showing seasons from Survivor past.

Again, as many of you know, I have a friend who appeared on Survivor–and through her, have made a network of acquaintances who are part of the CBS Survivor family. (I do give them credit; they are an interesting and resilient group of people.) However, it occurs to me that while I may have never watched Survivor before going through the Big Brother audition process (I was not a fan of Real World or any other reality shows before CBS came on the scene with their shows.), I associate the first season of Survivor with a number of important memories in my life.

They happened to air the first part of the first season of Survivor today, and I was reminded that I liked it because it seemed so different from the way reality shows are today. The show premiered when I was 20; I’d just gotten my college degree and had hoped to be spending my summer in the CBS Big Brother “house”. When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, but interested in watching the girl for whom I was an alternate, and quickly found the show compelling. At the same time, Survivor: Borneo premiered, and I remember being skeptical about whether or not I’d like it. By the end, when someone had their torch snuffed out and had to leave, I found myself crying. I’ve been a fan of both shows ever since.

Both Big Brother and Survivor changed formats incredibly since the 2000 seasons. Contestants are now largely edited, everything is overly produced and edited, and fans of the show know what challenges are likely to show up. Re-watching the first season of Survivor, I’m reminded why it was the only one that was emotionally charged enough to make me cry when someone was thrown out of the game. Neither the production team nor the cast seemed to know how to act or what to expect. Instead of the highly-produced, well-edited shows we’ve gotten used to in the intervening 12 years, the original Survivor seems a bit like a documentary of people who signed up to play “Lord Of The Flies” or “The Hunger Games”. The people were not overly fit, glamourous, or Hollywood in any way. They were truly diverse. They were not made into characters, but shown as real people with both positive and negative attributes. They were not given make-up touch-ups and didn’t walk around in cute bikinis all season. Sometimes, they *looked* like people having a rough time on a desert island. Looking back, I realise that honest way of creating reality TV allowed you to empathise with the people on the show in a way that isn’t as easy anymore. These days, any illusion of reality is gone. You don’t suspend disbelief; you remember it’s a game staged by a network. But, at the beginning, there was so much more reality to TV. (it took most of the participants a majority of the game to figure out that by voting together, you could form “alliances” to get rid of one person. On one episode I saw today, nearly every person had their name put down, and when one woman realised that a group of people had voted against her, she remarked in a heartbreakingly honest, shocked tone of voice, “Oh, my God. It’s me.” For a moment, you had the sense that something more dramatic was going to happen to her than simply walking off a CBS set.

In the summer of 2000, since I was not locked in a set on the CBS lot, I was off on auditions looking for a job. My first was for Disney World. I’d auditioned twice in NYC, and was finally flown down to Orlando for a final callback. I didn’t get the job (which is a different story for a different time, and most of you have heard it.), but I spent a bit over a week in a hotel in Orlando. (Sadly, it took that long for me to get out of a rather depressed and directionless funk, and finally phone a friend in Miami…and thus started a whole new set of adventures for me.)

I’m not sure why I decided to do that, except I didn’t know where to go or what to do, and I’d never been to Florida when I was younger. To save money, I was in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, the kind of place where the only things in walking distance were a Wendy’s, a Piggly Wiggly, a gas station, and a Goodwill.

I thought I’d feel free and adventurous when I finally got there, even when I didn’t get the job. I was still determined to look for adventure and experience, but instead, I surprisingly felt dreadfully alone and lost. It was the first time I realised the world was this big place, and I was just this average girl right out of university who’d been turned down for every major audition she’d landed, and didn’t want to go to NYC to wait tables like everyone else. I had a small suitcase, a laptop, a cell phone, and a CD player (yes, there was a day where there were no iPods. :P ). The hotel room I was staying in was sad. In general, my life felt sad.

(Strangely, this phenomenon has never left me. I love traveling, and unless I’m with one of a handful of people in my life, I prefer to travel alone. However, when I get there, I will feel immensely sad for the first day or two at being alone, and not being near anything precious to me.)

There were a few things that weren’t sad about that trip. One was the fact that it rained every day at 3 PM. I loved watching the downpour. Another was the fact that I was talking online to two different people I didn’t even know, but were highly important fixtures in my life (and remained that way for a very long time.), and things like my blog and internet chats with strangers who didn’t feel anything like strangers helped me through feeling quite isolated. The last thing I remember was Survivor. As soon as the show came on, it lifted my spirits, and for just a little while, I was transported into someone else’s adventure and felt stronger just by vicariously watching.

To this day, I hate Orlando, and it’s amusing that I ended up making my home in the South, when I’ve never been particularly fond of much, outside of New Orleans and perhaps Savannah. But, on rainy days when Survivor is on, I am 20 years old and utterly lost in the world again. Yet, I am happy with the memory, because I can recall what it’s like to feel that young and have that belief in adventure and know that anything in the world is possible. It isn’t a feeling that I have these days, and haven’t for many years—but years of method acting have left me with the ability to recall it, and small things are enough to evoke that memory.

Although I’ve traveled such a great deal since then, lost and rebuilt so much of my life, and in many ways, had the lifetime of adventures that 20-year-old me so desperately saw herself destined to have, that particular week of my life is terribly easy to recall. And, while I’ve also lost and replaced suitcases and their contents, the contents of apartments and storage units, and many of my possessions throughout life, it seems fitting to me that I still have all of the items I purchased at the Orlando Goodwill. (regretfully, I am not the size I was at 20, so the day I’m able to wear them to something will be a proud one. *laughs*)

That one week of my life was not in any way a happy one, but it was one that really affected me on some strangely deep level, and the original Survivor will always be a huge piece of that memory. :)

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.

Of course, I’d like to open up my blog post today by linking you to a blog that discusses one of my all-time favourite topics: me.*laughs* While I’m perhaps not quite *that* egocentric, I did enjoy the interview that the lovely Megan Cashman posted with me, earlier in the week. She typically only interviews novelists, and while I hope to have that particular title one day, I’m glad she found me fascinating enough to make an exception. If you haven’t, please visit her page and read as we chat about what it’s like to be someone who is still publishing poetry in 2013, and believes that crowd-sourcing is the future of the indie artist. (In fact, perhaps it’s the future in general, as it gives established artists the freedom to *become* indie artists and pursue projects and passions that aren’t considered widely marketable.)

If you missed it, I also participated in the All-Authors Blog Blitz, where I was interviewed by a charming woman across the pond in Dublin named Paula Black. Her site, Raven & Black, is really geared towards readers of gothic erotica–and while I neither read nor write gothic erotica, it’s safe to say there’d be nobody on the planet shocked to learn that I did. Yet, I had the strangest writer’s block in trying to do a guest introduction for the page. I simply decided to share that struggle, and it came out in a rather humourous fashion, if I do say so myself. Hop on over and visit me in what seems a little like home, surrounded by black and crimson. ;P

Thanks so much to Paula and Megan for having me as a guest!! I’ve really been slacking on my Sunday author interviews lately, but it seems there are only so many hours in the day, and on my introverted days, I spend a majority of them writing. Earlier today, I began communicating in one word sentences along the lines of “Words. Difficult. Tired. Brain. Point. Unimportant”.

Why have I been working so much, you ask? As I alluded to in the last blog entry, but did not fully explain because it was another author’s day in the spotlight here, I had some last minute news tossed in my direction. Perhaps about a week ago, I was informed in the middle of July that I was going on a family vacation, and then home to visit my parents. I was also informed I’d be expected to pay for my part of the trip and backing out of going home was not optional, as I hadn’t been in two years, and my mother’s health is very bad. I’m not sure if it’s her physical health or her mental state, but her last stroke left her unable to walk without assistance and talking with her is certainly a labour of love, as it takes her ages to find the words to string together a sentence. It is one case in which my highly intuitive personality and active listening skills come in handy, because I’m able to finish her thoughts for her. Still, for a highly impatient person like myself, it’s a challenge.

On top of paying for the trip, the expense is compounded by the fact that I need to find a dog sitter. When I first agreed to take care of my dog, whom I love (but let’s face it, I’m not terribly good at taking care of things, nor am I the most nurturing person around.), I had plenty of people who were willing to take her when I was out of town, help out with getting her places, etc. These days, not a single one of those friends is available, and I’m left in the position of being a single parent. I have numerous things on my calendar each year that take me away from home for at least a few days at a time, and I can’t give up my life because I have a dog and everyone who was so eager to help is suddenly like, “I’m sorry, I wish I could”. So, the result is that the cost of every trip effectively doubles, because I have to find a pet-sitting solution. This has most definitely sent me into “working overtime” drive, which for me, means putting words on the screen as frequently and eloquently as possible.

I’m a bit nervous about the trip, because I’ll be returning to the Jersey Shore, and then to Philadelphia. This is where I got very sick in the first place, and because I didn’t get treatment when I needed it, my body had a particularly rough time with panic attacks and unrestrained adrenaline. I also didn’t get much support from my family, who thought I was being dramatic and inconvenient and attempting to be the centre of attention (when in reality, I needed to be in the ER, hooked up to IVs and heart monitors.) It was the beginning of one of the toughest experiences of my life, and I am afraid that, having a history of suffering from PTSD, revisiting these places will trigger negative physical symptoms. I understand this is simply a fear and there is no logical reason to assume this will happen, but I still have very bad days, health-wise. Thinking about this trip causes me anxiety in advance, but I feel obligated to do it, because when someone says “Your parents may not have that much time left”, you can’t just continue to ignore the fact that your family exists because you don’t get on with them too well.

There is an intuitive voice in my head that tells me it is time to go home, because it may be my last “normal” trip home. I do not know if this is because of my mother’s deteriorating health, or because I wonder if I am the one who may not be around next summer. All I know is it seems a lot like saying goodbye to something I lost a very, very long time ago. “Home” hasn’t been something I’ve had for a large part of my life, and so it’s hard to visit my family’s home and pretend it is in someway mine. It feels so much like visiting strangers, and I realise that’s because sadly, they are.

Of course, I’m still on flight restriction due to my inner ear disorder, which means taking the bus everywhere I go. So, I figured that if I have to do all this work and deal with things I’d rather avoid, I’m going to take my time coming back and spend a few days with people I really *want* to see. I planned a route that allowed me to visit some of my favourite people in four different cities, even if not for a terribly long time (I must say that I appreciate good friends and free Welcome Rewards points for making the trip easier, and people who like me enough to rearrange busy schedules just to see little old me. It’s definitely not the quantity of time you get to spend with the people you value, but the quality. :) ) I’m actually a pretty organized, logical trip planner—a quality that also comes out when I put together events—which is contrary to how I live much of my actual life. I don’t necessarily like being informed I need to travel at the last minute, because I plan my life in advance, but when last minute things happen, I like to make the most of them and enjoy them. However, every time I travel, there’s always an unexpected something going awry…and a lifetime of travel has taught me that organization is a huge way to cope with the unexpected.

I’m also planning to be a minimalistic traveler this time around, as I’m not as strong as I once was, and have no intentions of schlepping 50 pounds of luggage up and down the East Coast. If finances were not a concern, I’d likely take the advice of a friend of mine and “always just take an empty suitcase. You’ll find new things to bring back, and you’ll value them more because they’ll remind you of the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, and the things you’ve seen.” A wonderful perspective, but, well, she makes more money than I do. Once I become famous for…you know, whatever I’m destined to be known for….perhaps this will be the perspective for me.

So, there’s that, and in between, I have some events for my social group, catching up with the people here in Atlanta I like, and of course, the return of “Big Brother”.

Every so often, there’s a season that makes me glad I didn’t reapply for the show that year (I was a finalist for Season 1, which tells you exactly how old I am. *laughs*), and each year, I get a correspondence reminding me that I am on file with CBS and asking me to submit updated materials. This year, they’ve managed to pick a lot of shallow, vapid Hollywood kids (even if they come from all over the country), and the “old lady” of the house is 37. In addition to lowering the average age by a decade, it’s obvious that many of these people are obsessed with their physical appearance and the physicality of others, and talk about little else. I love Big Brother, but I have to wonder if they accidentally swapped buses with MTV and got the finalists for “The Real World”, instead?

Rachel Reilly, one of my favourite redheads (and former winner of the show), is not on this season. However, her spirit is there, somewhat, in the form of her sister Elissa. Sadly, like Rachel, Elissa seems to be a divisive personality and people are already campaigning to get rid of her in the first week. I truly hope that doesn’t happen, because I need some valid reason to watch the show this season. I’m sure it may improve over time, and once some of the more vapid characters are sent packing, but it’s truly shaping up to be a weak season. On top of that, Showtime dropped its 3-hour per night “Big Brother After Dark”, which was one of the main reasons I started subscribing to Showtime two years ago. The show is now 2 hours and on the TV Guide Channel, which is just atrocious. They censor everything, and half the time, they simply cut conversations. If the show was a B-plus on Showtime, it’s barely getting a passing grade on its new network. It will be quite sad if I completely lose interest.

There’s my recap, and what’s been going on in my world! If I have any reason to look forward to vacation, it’s that sitting on a bus is definitely much needed “downtime” (if only “down” meant asleep!), and I will need to recharge my batteries to get excited for all the fun (albeit tiring fun) that goes on in September and October in my world. I just need to convince myself that sun will not kill me, and I am not *actually* a vampire. ;P

I’ll see you all on Sunday, when “Literary Libations” will be back with a charming and interesting author you’ll be delighted to get to know! (nope, it’s not me. ;P)

For those who don’t know, I’ve been MIA for about 10 days because I’ve been doing some traveling. While the original plan was to head up to the Northeast this fall, because I’m not yet well enough or strong enough to handle a holiday visit (and honestly, don’t mind celebrating the holidays with my “adopted” family of friends here in Atlanta, and The Guy I Am Currently Dating, rather than the blood relatives that like to chain smoke and show endearment via verbally abusive commentary.). However, the plan didn’t work out due to timing reasons, and financial reasons, the two being extraordinarily related.

It can safely be said that October has not been a stellar month for me. When I began planning my travels, I was still working full-time for a company in New Orleans I’d been with for over two years. By the end of September, I’d lost my job, but had non-refundable tickets and hotel bookings. I’d been working doing freelance work when available, but I really felt my heart wasn’t here. Friends suggested working on putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book of poetry (still set for publication in December, 2012) or taking the time to work on creative projects. Yet, I mostly felt uninspired, lost, heartbroken, and as if I were that person for whom nothing is ever destined to work out. I felt amazingly stuck, unloved, under-appreciated, and uninspired. I started to feel neglected by the people in my normal sphere of life, and as if those who truly care about me are all scattered across the globe. I started to feel like nothing I was working on was worthy of finishing. In short, I had this revelation: I’m not a particularly good writer, I’m not a particularly fascinating person, the days of relying on a certain type of charm and irresistible spirit to make things work out have long since passed me, and I have no particular talents and prospects for the future. Even those who genuinely love me don’t always believe in me or take me as seriously as I should. People in my life seem to be moving forward with their own lives, as planned or otherwise, leaving me behind.

Some things never change, so I did what I always do when I feel as if the world is against me and I am lost and alone. I packed a suitcase and headed for somewhere that wasn’t here.

In this case, it took a lot to even get me to that point. In addition to getting fired, my dog had been sick for a number of months with a skin condition that was continually worsening. It took a vet bill of over $300 to cure her, and since no friends were available to watch her, I had to hire a friend who is a pet-sitter (who luckily agreed to charge half her normal fee for taking care of Trixie.). Travel is expensive, and while I used to manage to travel with $20 in my pocket at the age of 23, it turns out I’m no longer quite so low-maintenance, nor am I that energetic. So, money was an issue even before I left. Yet, I still felt I needed to go. With a Northeast visit out of the question, I decided I’d visit a place I’d always wanted to visit but have never gotten around to seeing: Savannah. I’d heard it was beautiful, but never made it there, mostly because all my attempts to get someone to go with me have failed. Friends are always busy, and one of the major incompatibilities between me and The Guy I Am Currently Dating is that he doesn’t like to spontaneously travel, whereas I find it one of the most romantic activities on Earth.

Since I can only handle bus travel for a few hours at a time (although it seems to be growing with the passage of time, I suspect it will be awhile before I can do the straight-through 18-hour trip to NYC again.), my first stop was Charlotte. As I mentioned last time, it’s not my favourite city in the world—I find it a bit corporate and straight-laced, and tends to take itself too seriously. In fact, I call it “Atlanta Lite”. However, it has a number of charming spots, good restaurants, and bits of local flair here and there that seriously make the city. This time, I stayed with a friend who lived in a more colourful, off-the-beaten path kind of place. While on my last visit, I stayed with someone who had a gorgeous, theatrical house with a private lake, but was located in the suburbs of the city. This time, I stayed with someone who had a one-bedroom apartment in an area that looked lovely and residential, but she honestly described as a recently gentrified area.

Not one to be deterred from walking around the city by myself at night, unless it’s where I live, I was pleased to note that it was only about half a mile to some bars and pubs. After pizza at a well-known Charlotte eatery called Fuel, I made my way to an art gallery that was doing loud music, hors d’oeuvres, and drinks. The girl with whom I was staying, Kaitlyn, happens to be more of the tattooed, punk-rock kind of girl, and she suggested I go see a few bands playing at that location, one of which happened to consist of friends of hers. Me being me, I happily stumbled upon the rather pretentious art gallery/lounge space next to a vintage store. As it turns out, the place I was looking for was *behind* the art gallery.

After getting past the door guy, I started laughing. The place she sent me to (she didn’t accompany me because she was having zombie movie night at her house, an invite I politely declined) was not just a dive bar with loud bands, which I might have rather expected. It was a PIRATE bar. Seriously. Everything was pirate themed, including some of the patrons, and it cracked me up.

The bartender had no idea what was in a sour apple martini (I’d probably have had success if I asked for vodka and apple pucker in a glass.), and served me some weird green concoction in which I clearly identified Midori and watermelon. (when asked what else he put in there, I was told “apple vodka and Sprite”.). However, people were friendly in that emo sort of way, and drinks were $4. (I learned to stick to vodka tonic). One of the most interesting things was the band that Kaitlyn’s friends played in, called something along the lines of “Lucyfer’s Angels”. They were clearly goth/industrial, but played guitars and bongos, and only did covers of 1950′s and 1960′s doo-wop songs. I definitely felt like it was one of the more surreal experiences I’d had at a bar. Expect the unexpected.

As much as I know enough about Charlotte to identify my clear lack of interest in living there, and that cab fare will kill you if you’re anywhere but downtown (just like Atlanta), I will likely continue to make stops for a day or two during my travels. I always stay just long enough to have an adventure or two, and head out. It’s four hours from ATL, and conveniently, has a MegaBus that will get you to Durham in closer to 3 hours than 4. From Durham, you can MegaBus to DC, and if so inclined, Philly and NYC. I have to say, I’m pretty fond of MegaBus. It has twice the room of the Greyhound, although you’re taking chances if the bus is full, and you don’t wish to ride on the top of the bus. (someone suffering from vertigo does not.) I hesitate to recommend and sing the praises of MegaBus, because I don’t really want too many other people taking it. Suffice it to say, however, I was pleased.

After Charlotte, I took a few days to stop in the Durham area to visit with a good friend of mine who is finishing up his degrees in that area. Surprisingly, I won’t share much in terms of gossip or personal details regarding visiting with said friend, as he’s a very private individual who has asked me more than once not to turn him into a character on my blog, or to use the blog as a space for venting about our friendship (which does have a history of being rather complex and occasionally blog-worthy). While I could probably get away with it, since said friend does not read my blog, I’m one of those types that respects and honours promises. So, you don’t get to hear about all the drama that did or did not ensue. :P (There was actually no drama at all, which is not to be confused with a lack of interesting experiences.)

In all seriousness, I will say I did in fact have a lovely visit with my friend. He’s one of those types of people I always, always delight in seeing, perhaps because we don’t get to see one another that often—or perhaps because it’s just an unfortunate example of how many of my favourite people in life are not geographically well-placed in my world. I am blessed to have a lot of special people in my life, but the flip side of the coin is that so many of them do not live anywhere close to me. It’s a testament to my ability to listen to my intuition when it comes to other people that these friendships are typically amazingly strong, despite the distance, and have gone on for between a quarter and a third of my life. They are often the type of friendships that leave me wondering what kind of different path life might have taken, had we ended up living in the same city. Would we end up being closer friends, or just casual social friends? Would we have inevitably become enemies, lovers, changed the other person’s life path simply by being in every day proximity? Do people simply like me better at a distance, because I am perhaps easier to enjoy or to idealise or to tolerate in short-but-intense bursts of AlaynaTime? *laughs*

As for my friend in Durham, it occurs to me that every time we’ve spent time together in person, our interpersonal dynamic has always been slightly different, as have the circumstances and level of trust and communication. It is a friendship that constantly keeps me on my toes, whereas with a different sort of person, it would likely keep me on guard in a way that would prevent a friendship from actually developing. I’ve noted to him that some people seem to have a rather indefinable chemistry and connection, and regardless of how convenient or sought-after or well-understood that happens to be, or how or if it is addressed, it exists nonetheless. There have only been a few people who have passed through my life with whom there’s actually a tangible feeling of connection that isn’t based in something simple that I can make sense of and consequently dismiss as easy to “get”—like physical chemistry or having everything in common—and those people have turned out to be the ones that have affected my life deeply in some way. It is most unlikely that I share this rather persistent sense of connection and chemistry with this friend, who seems so unlike me at first glance, but is actually very much like me in a number of ways. Sometimes, there’s simply a strange balance between how you and another person interact, and it is very multi-faceted, yet natural. I suspect it is just the way in which the Universe lets you know in a number of tiny ways that you’ve encountered a special person who is likely to remain an important being in your sphere of existence, no matter how complex that turns out to be throughout the course of time.

We keep in touch through phone calls and text messages, but visits are rare and special Consequently, even when things take a turn toward the awkward or the dramatic or the thoroughly unexpected, we always manage to have a great time spending time with one another. This visit was no exception, which can be summed up in the following sentence: I went to the North Carolina State Fair

This may seem like the most mundane of stories I have in my arsenal of travel stories to choose to relate to you, but it’s actually not. I’m a city girl, and have never been to a state fair. I’m usually up for trying something that I would never do anywhere else, with anyone else, so of course I wanted to go check it out, picturing a place where people competed by eating pounds of butter and Aunt Ida’s homemade jam won a blue ribbon.

Strangely, I had the opportunity to cross something off my bucket list, something that’s been there since I moved to the Southeast: Eat a deep fried Oreo. Not only that, but we also had a deep fried cupcake, deep fried pickles, and deep fried praline pie. After that, I bought a bag of cotton candy. I haven’t had cotton candy since I was like 8 years old, and though we gave it a shot, my friend and I were unable to eat the bag of cotton candy over a fairly extended period of time. It’s like it regenerates.

We also walked through a lovely garden that kind of resembled what you’d think Alayna’s Faery Garden would look like. Seriously, if I lived in the middle of nowhere, this would be my backyard. Lots of pretty flowers, bridges lit up with tiny lights, trees lit up with tiny lights, butterflies, benches, gazebos and as if to punctuate just how much this location was designed for me, they started to set off fireworks. Being a city girl, I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to have this sort of Alayna’s Wonderland Escape, and I’m sure building such a thing might cost more than the house. But still, it was delightful.

In the end, I was so hopped up on sugar and good company and more sugar and deep-fried sugar, I was able to walk a rather significant distance back to the car on a rather chilly night, and my body cooperated with the endeavour.In fact, for the most part, it tolerated the crowds, the neon, the spinning rides (not going on them, of course, but being near them), which gave me hope that I am improving. If all I need is a consistent supply of sugar and delightful company, there’s no reason I should not have made a full recovery by now. *laughs*

As a post-script, I’d like to say that I maintain my stance on cows. The brown ones are NOT cows. The only ones we spied at the fair were clearly Chick-Fil-A cows. :P I joked they should be dressed in rainbow garb.

Aside from spending time with the aforementioned friend, I genuinely enjoy visits to Durham because I really and truly like Durham. I know my friend finds this strange, being a big-city kind of person who can’t wait to get out of such a small town, and me always bitching that Atlanta is too small to keep me happy, but Durham is a strangely fun place. I never fail to meet interesting strangers or have something fun happen to me. They have a performing arts centre that would make most larger cities jealous, and the atmosphere is a strange mix of the academic, the artistic, and the liberal…all things I like. It is not fancy, it is not pretentious—unless you purposely seek it out—but it is really a charming place filled with positive energy. I am far more impressed with it than Charlotte, Richmond, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, or any other small-to-medium sized city in the Southeast, with the exception of Asheville. (I also really love the culture and people in Asheville.)

On this visit, I spent my last day in NC in Raleigh. Prior to knowing the friend in Durham, the only visits I’d made to the area were to another friend in Raleigh, or to stay in the Research Triangle Area. Although it’s only 20 minutes apart, Raleigh is significantly more conservative and more upscale than Durham. The people are also much more reserved, although once I got to know a few people, it seemed they were more than willing to open up and befriend me.

In Raleigh, I had the misfortune of getting rained on multiple times, and people mistaking my normal, everyday appearance for a sign that I was part of a theatrical production. However, I also saw a comedy night, met the Organizer of a local Meetup that basically does what I do for the same sort of group as I organize in Atlanta, and was “singled out” by one of the comedians for his act. After the show, I spent time talking to another comedian who performed that night, and found him very pleasant company. (Chivalry is not dead when men want to buy you a drink and enjoy your conversation, and are intuitive enough to know not to hit on you.)

The women in Raleigh didn’t seem to gravitate towards me as much as the men; I’m very familiar with that look of judgment that says “Why do you have to go around looking and acting like that? I don’t appreciate you being you.”. I received that look often, usually after an attempt to introduce myself to a stranger. However, I did meet a very sweet girl who was at the bar we started off the evening hanging out at, who was funny and personable and in a wheelchair. Her husband, who seemed absolutely devoted to her, told a story about how they met in college, only to find out they grew up about 10 minutes apart. It was so sweet, and for about 20 minutes, I believed in stuff like “things that are meant to be” and “true love conquers all” and “human beings are all designed to be monogamous and grow old together.”

All in all, I may not agree with the politics of many, but there’s no arguing that the people of North Carolina are “nice”, at least to me, and I’m not exactly conventional or low-key. I was pleased to see that Duke’s campus not only got rid of Chick-Fil-A, but was flying rainbow flags out of windows, as were many independent establishments in Durham. Once I got up to Raleigh, though, if I heard one more pro-Mitt Romney ad, I was going to start cutting TV connections. *laughs*

There’s no doubt I’ll visit all three cities again in the future, likely on my way up to D.C. or NYC in the Spring. In the meantime, however, I informed my friend in Durham it was his turn to visit Atlanta on a winter road trip, since it is also the season of the holidays, my birthday, NYE, and my book release party. I don’t travel when I have to wear clothes with sleeves or wear socks. *laughs*

After my adventurous night in Raleigh (and no sleep, since I was up at 7 AM!), I headed off to Savannah….but that story is long enough to be a blog in itself, and will have to wait until tomorrow. Spoiler alert: Absolutely nothing went the way it was planned! :P

For those of you who know me “in real life”, you know that I have a terrible habit of launching into a long and seemingly amusing story, only to have a minor detail completely derail my train of thought halfway through, leading me to then tell another story entirely. People who aren’t exactly enamoured of my personal social style find this one of my more annoying traits, as it can be seen as a little self-centred and monopolises conversation. People who consider themselves friends and are generally amused by my blog-length anecdotes wonder why they hear stories that never have a conclusion.

I have a number of friends who are like myself, and tend to think and communicate in a largely tangential fashion. In one-on-one interactions, this works out well. It may take two hours and five other topics of conversation, but we eventually come full circle, and I remember to punctuate my original story with the courtesy of an ending. In social situations where people don’t really want to invest more than 15 minutes in listening to you, it’s less successful.

This blog suffers from the same dilemma. In mid-June, I took a trip to North Carolina, and broke down the discussion of my adventures into three or four potential blog topics. After writing two of them, people started sending me other ideas for blog topics…and, well, weeks later, my story about my random travels was never completed.

Last month, I put up two blogs about a visit to an old-yet-new friend in the Durham area, and exploring the smaller side of the Triangle, as I’d only really ever spent time in Raleigh on previous visits to the area. I also spent time discussing the complexities of friendship, and how spending time with someone in that person’s world is one of the best ways to gain a very real, honest, non-idealised sense of who another person is and how they live.

After leaving Durham, I stopped to visit a few other people in Charlotte, North Carolina. The experience was quite different, because while my visit to Durham was largely about spending a lot of one-on-one time with someone I’d been getting to know well and exploring a new city, Charlotte was about being more of an extrovert and taking the time to discover a place I’d passed through many times before. I happen to have a number of friends and acquaintances in Charlotte; not only is it a vibrant city in the South, somehow, performing artists and touring companies always seem to end up with extended tours in Charlotte. In fact, I almost ended up there for a month or so myself, before deciding I’d rather not. *laughs*

However, while I’ve passed through the city on bus and plane layovers, met up with a friend for dinner or lunch before heading onward, I never had occasion to spend any time there. Charlotte is a large city that’s rapidly grown due to the banking and business industries, and in so many ways, is what I call Atlanta Light. The city is structured in the same way; without a car, it’s tough to get around, it can take 45 minutes to drive through the Metro area, there’s a very corporate vibe to it— excepting for small little enclaves where “alternative, artsy types” frequent and a surprisingly impressive live music scene—and like Atlanta, the tallest building is courtesy of Bank Of America.

I happened to stay with a friend who is a fellow artist and Burner, and he had a house located about 15 minutes from Downtown Charlotte. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is possibly one of the coolest houses I’ve ever had the good fortune to stay in, because it’s exactly my style—quirky, modern, with a few touches here and there that express the love of eras gone by that were a bit more aesthetically focused. I have an ex, who is an architect, and he would have been endlessly fascinated by this house. The more impressive thing is how many personal touches were reflected in the space, as my friend designed much of it himself.

To its credit, a lot of architecture in Charlotte is focused on angles, which I love. It’s a very modern city that still has plenty of trees and trolleys, but is genuinely interesting to look at (and photograph). In my opinion, it’s a much prettier city than Atlanta, and the downtown area is far more pedestrian-friendly. Then again, they have far fewer people to manage.

My friend’s house was no exception, with lots of nooks and angular corners, including a spiral staircase leading up to the second floor, which is a loft. The main area of the second floor is open, while the part that isn’t visible is well-suited for a guest bedroom (including a library/window seat), and a well-designed guest bathroom. It was a mix of old and new, with the art on the walls being romantic and ornate and the space perfect for creative endeavours. Yet, the downstairs had lighting everywhere that clubs would envy, from being able to dim the lights and change it to any colour while turning on faux-candles installed in the wall, to adding bright red/purple/blue floor lighting that announced it was time to party. On top of it all, my friend is more well-traveled than I am, and completed the decor with chairs from Japan, a table from Peru, and feng-shui touches everywhere. I was just a little tiny bit impressed. Being in the suburbs, the property even had two lakes, complete with ducks and geese.

I joked around with my friend from Durham that it was a good thing that I wasn’t staying with him when I was in town, as I suspect we have a lot of incompatibilities regarding how we live and how we’d co-exist in one space. Opposite personalities tend to have that problem. However, I’ve now come to realise just how adaptable I can be (one of the few positive traits I’ll take credit for), because it was a little bit of a shock to learn the friend who offered his hospitality was a raw food vegan. Even mixing a vodka cranberry was an adventure, as the cranberry juice was 100% cranberry, and had to be hand-mixed with sugar and lime juice, and was still quite tart. It’s a good thing I’m a fairly good bartender. *laughs* There’s incompatibility, and then there’s incompatibility..and someone who doesn’t eat anything I’d consider tasty enough to be edible, and is essentially a hipster who showed up at a swanky bar in a t-shirt and shorts, might be seen as an incompatible friend for me. Yet, we still had a great time. :) I think I mostly enjoy the company of anyone who is open-minded, interesting, and doesn’t roll his or her eyes at me as if to say “I’m judging you because you’re really weird.” :P

Being me, I wouldn’t spend time in a new city without meeting up with people at various establishments for food and drinks and entertainment. One of my favourite places was a little coffee shop called Amelie’s, a quirky French-inspired place where even the mosaic tables are hand-made, and the atmosphere leaves Atlanta’s charming Cafe Intermezzo looking downright boring and corporate. I visited both the original, and the smaller downtown location, and would love if Amelie’s would consider expanding to Atlanta. I think they’d find a welcome home here.

Even in the middle of sightseeing and eating eclairs, cupcakes, soul food, and everything else that would give my doctors a heart attack, I managed to set up a business-oriented meeting. I had dinner and drinks at a lovely establishment called Blue, where I had the opportunity to meet with the organizer of the largest Meetup in Charlotte, and discuss how we might work together in the future. While I wasn’t necessarily so impressed with the lack of chivalry inherent in him leaving me at the bar alone to hang out with friends, I try to remember that every member of the male gender I encounter is not required to be instantly infatuated with my company. Yet, I must admit, part of me resents it when I find myself in one of those situations. Although not all, or even many, connections with people in one-on-one outings are of a romantic environment, I do pride myself on being charming, and keeping people entertained. I’m a little more used to people blowing off other plans to spend more time with me than initially intended than I am being left in a bar…but, you know, what can you do. *laughs*

This was, in my opinion, rather indicative of the attitude of Charlotte as a city. If I’ve been repeatedly charmed by the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area and how friendly the residents are, and how easy I’ve found it to meet and strike up conversations with strangers, Charlotte was quite the opposite. As I’ve said, Atlanta Light. There’s an air of unapproachability, and while I met a few interesting people, on the whole, strangers were indifferent to my presence in their world. I’ve come to realise there’s a huge difference between cities dominated by business and corporate entities, and those dominated by the presence of academic institutions and research facilities, regardless of the size of the city. I seem to enjoy spending time in the latter far more than the former, which has always been my beef with Atlanta. We have enough people and things to do to have a balance between the two, but in the end, this place is not liberal enough, not intellectually inquisitive enough, not creative enough for my tastes. I’ve recently met people from small towns in the South who can’t believe this assessment, who look at Atlanta like it’s New York City. But if you’re from New York City, you look at it like Los Angeles Light, and may not feel quite as enamoured.

Anyhow, after checking out Blue, which has friendly staff and live jazz music (yay!) and made me very tasty drinks and a margherita pizza that didn’t survive long, I had to find something else to do with my evening. Fortunately, another friend was able to catch up with me, and I had the opportunity to check out three different Charlotte-area bars, before we ended up at a gay karaoke place called Petra’s. There, I finally found the liberal, exuberant atmosphere I was seeking. I met a number of people who were professional and semi-professional musical theatre performers, which was cool. The drinks were delicious, and the vibe was one that was very welcoming to everyone…regardless of what you look like, your sexual orientation, age, race, or relationship status, you simply felt welcome. It was a great note on which to conclude my trip (literally), although it did leave me boarding the bus to ATL with a major hangover the next day.

Much like I felt about spending time in Durham, I think a return trip to Charlotte is necessary at some point, because I get the sense there’s a whole other side to the city I didn’t have the opportunity to see. Charlotte is very much about soulful food, soulful music, and food and drinks hand-crafted with love. I’d love to spend the evening at a jazz club, and take the carriage tour of the city. Apparently, these are things one can only do on the weekend, however.

As you may have read in part one of my exploits, my random outing almost didn’t happen because the Chinatown buses were shut down the week of my trip. While Greyhound wasn’t terrible, they’re perfectly awful if you need to change buses in Richmond…as you inevitably do if you’re going between the North and the South. I was absolutely thrilled to hear from a friend that MegaBus (which I’d take to D.C. and Philly often when I lived in the NYC) is now in Atlanta, and will take me from Atlanta to Charlotte to Durham for less than $20 round trip. If I’m looking to go to the Northeast, getting myself to Washington D.C. or Richmond means I then have access to NYC or Philly or Boston in just a few hours. There are even trips to Savannah, New Orleans, Nashville, and other Southern cities I’d love to explore, for a fraction of what you’d pay on Greyhound. Since I am not allowed to fly, and can only manage travel for about 7-8 hours at a time (I’m still not strong enough for the 15 hours to NYC without a stop for sleep.), this is exciting news for me. It’s also uber-cheap, so if I’m heading somewhere to visit a friend who is amenable to me sleeping on their couch, it makes travel a way more accessible undertaking.

I’m thinking about a trip to NYC in October, and stopping in Charlotte, Durham, and Washington D.C. along the way. I know the chances of all my friends being in town and available to visit with me at the same time are small, and I may end up having less energy than I imagine I will…but if I can physically deal with it, it’s a good opportunity to review MegaBus and see if it’s worth it for trips longer than 3 hours.

I wish I knew more people who were like me, and just wanted to go off on a random adventure for a weekend. Then again, perhaps I’m just a very independent traveler who prefers it that way; I’m not really sure. I do know, though, that I like feeling as if my world isn’t confined to the Metro Atlanta area. :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff the Durham area has going for it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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