29 December 2009

One New PC

I got a new PC for Christmas, but it wasn’t on my wish list. It was a “gift” from the worst malware I’ve ever encountered, which hit my PC on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day, things were so bad I had to reformat my hard drive, reinstall Windows, and start rebuilding my PC from scratch. Thus, one new PC.

Luckily, I had done a massive backup on Windows Live SkyDrive in June, and I’ve been doing spot backups monthly, so I didn’t lose everything. The worst losses were lots of photos and ALL of the work I had done on my book in December, which is ironic since I hadn’t touched the book for months. I got excited about it again and *poof!* it was gone. Whatever. What can I do but start again?

Of course this experience has taught me to backup important things more often, but it has also changed my views on antivirus software. Before, I didn’t think I needed anything but the free version of Malwarebytes, but I now know otherwise. I’ve added avast! and SUPERAntiSpyware to my arsenal, providing me with (I hope) the holy trinity of PC protection. All three programs have free and fee/upgrade versions, and all are recommended by Geeks to Go.

True to my typical bright-side outlook, I do like my new PC better. It’s one lean, mean, clean, clutter-free machine, all set for 2010.

22 December 2009

One New Solstice

The solstices are always important to me, but this year’s winter solstice (21Dec) seemed especially important. This December feels like a major turning point in my life and in many of my friends’ lives as well. Maybe yours too? It’s as if the changes of 21Dec2012 are already starting. (That date is also a solstice and the end of a cycle lasting about 5,125 solar years, known as the Mesoamerican Long Count.)

Maybe not, but solstices are still turning points. The winter solstice marks the time when the days start getting longer instead of shorter (the return of the Sun). It’s a time for writing your goals for the coming year—not resolutions, but goals and big wishes in the personal, present, and positive. It’s also a time for writing what you no longer want onto little pieces of paper, then burning the pieces as you say goodbye... or going outside and speaking your farewells into your hands, then blowing them into the sky.

Since I update my goals and wishes weekly rather than yearly, I rewrote my list this week with a bit more spice and specifics than usual. It was fun! As for saying goodbye, I think most so-called negative things are in our lives on purpose, so I didn’t say goodbye to many things. Just things I think are on their way out anyway. Lessons I humbly hope I’ve learned.

I also, for the first time, got to see Aiken’s sparkling winter wonderland known as Christmas in Hopelands. Over 100,000 lights? Yes, yes, there are, along with holiday music throughout the gardens, free refreshments (donations accepted), and a teensy-tinsy old house (the Dollhouse) you can walk through. But the main thing is the lights. If you’re in the area, the last night to visit this year is 26Dec. If not, here are my photos.

19 December 2009

One New (Temp) Job

Yep, I’m working. It’s intermittent temp work, and it pays considerably less than what I was making before, but it’s work. I’m thrilled. Also, it’s in the communication/publishing industry, so I’m even more thrilled.

In fact, intermittent work seems like a good bridge into fulltime work, considering I’ve been out of work for 18 months. Of course I’ve kept my days structured throughout those 18 months (no daytime TV addictions here), but my structure at home is no match for a 40-hour week in an office... as I discovered this week. This week was a full 38 hours plus the two hours I spent having my car’s battery replaced. ($280 for a battery? Did they have it couriered from Munich in a silver case?)

Between Erle Wilhelm’s (my car’s) battery issues, and learning a new data management system at work, I’m drained. But it’s a good kind of drained. I’m lucky to be working with a great group of people, and I’m lucky to be working.

08 December 2009

Christmas on the Cheap

For the few Christmas gifts I bought this year, my budget was $5 or less, per gift. That may seem impossible to you, but if you know where to look, you can get a lot for $5. You can also get nice stocking stuffers for nothing but seconds of your time—by requesting free samples. Here’s where I “shopped” for Christmas ’09:

$5 magazine subscriptions from Hearst (Amazon sometimes offers similar deals)

$5 off (promo code 20077) a $10 bath/mug gift set from ULTA, plus other deals, depending on your purchase (check their homepage)

Free samples from Vocalpoint by becoming a member (it’s free) and providing short reviews; so far I’ve gotten a full-sized jar of an Olay product worth $50, along with other great products

More free samples from...
Sweet Free Stuff
Sweetie’s Swag
Walmart’s Free Samples
Wise Bread’s Best Deals Today

Happy holidays! :)

01 December 2009

One New Roost

On Black Friday, my friend TJ came over from Atlanta to visit me and to see Augusta. We had planned to do the Jingle Bell Jaunt, which was a scavenger hunt of sorts, throughout downtown, but the cold weather changed our minds. We thawed out at the New Moon Café, then drove across town to browse a bookstore, eat lunch, and watch a two-dollar movie. There was no shopping madness for us, except for the small fortune TJ spent on a coin she had been trying to find for thirty years.

At the bookstore, I browsed the Personal Growth section to see if my self-help book idea has any competition. I didn’t see anything, but an online search might dredge up something. TJ bought a kiddie DVD and a Star Wars puzzle for her son, maybe out of guilt for the coin purchase, or maybe just being a mom.

At the movies, we enjoyed Julie & Julia. The voice got a bit irritating at times, but the story was good. One of my favorite parts was when Julia tries the food in France for the first time—I dream of that myself. I also loved when Julie flips out over getting her first blog comment that isn’t from friends or family. I reacted similarly when that happened with my blog. It’s probably a universal blogger moment.

Speaking of writing, this was only my second trip to the Washington Road location of Books-a-Million, but I can see it becoming a place to roost while I work on my book proposal (and book). Books and mags all around. Built-in café. Two-dollar movies across the parking lot. What’s not to adore?

24 November 2009

Mindstorming


After last week’s financial triage, I’ve spent much of this week conjuring up ideas for income sources, organizing the ideas into categories (products, services, etc), and determining the required steps to bring the ideas to life. I used Brian Tracy’s mindstorming method for the ideas, but I came up with more than his suggestion of 20 answers/ideas, so I now have three promising pages of possible ways to bring in money. Yay!

Also, thanks to Trish MacGregor, I’ve learned I can market and sell my self-help book before it’s finished. (With fiction, which I was originally focused on, you have to finish the book before selling it.) So that’s my main focus right now: marketing the book. Instead of spending up to four hours a day searching for and applying for jobs, I’ll use that time more productively, at least until the job market picks up. As for my other ideas, I’ll let you know how those progress.

By the way, Brian is offering his Goals e-book free if you sign up for his newsletter. I have the print version of his book and it’s full of excellent advice, including his mindstorming technique.

17 November 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable

Please note: This post is about the insights I’ve gained through managing my own financial situation. It provides links to financial advice, but it does not provide financial advice.

When I resigned from my high-stress job in May 2008 and began my sabbatical, I thought I could find a new job whenever I chose—when I was rested and the novel was done. Now, 18 months later, with my savings long gone and my credit card debt creeping up, my perspective has changed, and the banks seem to have changed as well... or were they always this greedy? Is a 30% purchase APR even legal?

Until I’m out of debt and can tell the banks to shove it, I have to get through right now. And right now, like many people, I’m having to consider options I previously thought unthinkable, like cashing out my 401k or filing bankruptcy. I’m not quite to that point, but it was time, this week, to do some serious research and make some hard phone calls. I was dreading it, but I feel better after having done so. Here’s what I discovered:
  • Cashing out my 401k should be an absolute last resort, since 401k accounts are usually safe from bankruptcy filings, but I’m leaning toward bankruptcy being my last resort. Dave Ramsey’s The Truth About Bankruptcy (and related resources) were helpful to me, as was SmartMoney’s 10 Things Bankruptcy Court Won't Tell You.

  • Selling assets and continuing to live (frugally) on credit cards is my best option for now. I’m current on payments (I’ve been paying early and slightly above minimum), so I was able to negotiate lower rates with my credit providers by kindly explaining my situation without blaming, complaining, or meandering. I did use the word “ridiculous” once, but only because a rep suggested I pay off a $10K balance in 800 months. Other than that, I was nice.

  • Skipping my car payment in December will help a bit. Interest still accrues, and the payment gets tacked on to the end of my loan period, but if I get to keep my car, I’m happy to pay a smidge extra.

  • Since my COBRA coverage ends this month, I’ve been researching health insurance options. I started with CoverageForAll.org to see if I qualify for any special-case plans in my state (I don’t), then compared insurance plans at eHealthInsurance.com. I found a plan with Aetna that includes dental coverage, which I desperately need, at about half of what I was paying for COBRA.
I can’t go back and do things differently, but even if I could, I’m not sure I would want to. My time off to rest, recover, and write has led to personal enlightenment, which of course is priceless. I’ve learned the value of living below my means yet above the intoxicating influence of ego and advertising. I’ve learned that true joy comes from what I am—not what I have.

10 November 2009

Letting the Right One In


On Thursday, I met my friend Chris at the New Moon Café in downtown Augusta. We sat and chatted on a comfy sofa beside a window, watching people and waving at dogs (okay, it was just me waving). We agreed the café was a cool place: laid-back vibe, good music, lots of food and drink choices. My choice was a cup of hot mango tea that smelled as good as it tasted.

Then we walked a couple of blocks east to Rock Bottom Music which, like the café, was new to both of us. As soon as I saw the huge KISS poster/cutout, I took an instant liking to the place. Chris bought guitar strings and explained to me the differences between acoustic and classical guitars.

That was all well and good, but my most exciting New Thing this week was actually a book: a Swedish vampire story called Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I won’t summarize the plot, since you can read that on Amazon, but I will share my favorite lines from the story:

“For a few seconds Oskar saw through Eli’s eyes. And what he saw was... himself. Only much better, more handsome, stronger than what he thought of himself. Seen with love.”
— John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In

I should also share the synchronicity that added to my delight in reading the book. The story takes place from 21 October to 13 November, 1981, so not only was I reading it exactly 28 years after it (fictitiously) happened, the days of the week even match: Wednesday, 21 October 1981, matches Wednesday, 21 October 2009. That won’t happen again until 2015.

Coincidences aside, the book took me back. I was 11 years old in 1981, which is about the same age as Oskar and Eli, who are 12 in the story. I can clearly remember being that age—being innocent and not yet aware of what the world had in store. Wondering if the boy down the street liked me. Talking about boys with my girlfriends, unless we were singing along with the Go-Gos or pretending we were Solid Gold dancers. Practicing cartwheels in the yard. Playing basketball until my mom yelled it was dinner time. Standing on my bed and using my baton to turn off the light for a full week after watching a scary movie.

So much has happened since those days, but while I was reading the story of Oskar and Eli, the time between then and now seemed to fold up and disappear. That’s quite a story.

03 November 2009

Streamlining Self Management and Time Efficiency


Over the years, I’ve developed an efficient system for managing myself and my time. It has always worked well for me, but after a recent makeover of sorts, it’s even better. In fact, it has become less like a system and more like a way of life.

It started with a book I read called The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. The book was mostly about things I already knew, until I got to the chapter about relativity and controlling time, rather than letting it control you. I kept hoping Hendricks would scientifically describe how to control time, but he didn’t, because of course we can’t control time. We can, however, control our experience of time.

Generally, time seems to speed up when we want it to slow down (e.g., when we’re in a rush), and it seems to drag like molasses when we want it to pass quickly. The standout word here is “seems,” because therein lies the key to experiencing time. Or one of the keys, at least. The concept is difficult to explain in a blog post, but here’s the gist:
  • Keep simplifying your life until you’re doing more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t, and until you have more of what you love and less of what you don’t. Lots less. Clutter can sneak into your life in many forms—not just as things. If something has been on your to-do list for ages, ask yourself if you really want and/or need to do it. In my case, I retired a novel I had been procrastinating on, and instead of feeling like I had given up, I felt relieved.

  • Keep structuring your days until you’re doing more of what you want (or truly need) to do. If “take up painting again” keeps getting shoved aside for housework, it’s time to hire a housekeeper or get a smaller house. (Unless maybe you don’t really want to paint again, eh?) Just like with a budget, when you track where your time goes, you see where your problem areas are.

  • Large, overwhelming projects can be tackled by breaking them down into steps and working on them a little each day.

  • With everything you do, get into the habit of asking yourself if it’s an efficient use of your time. Is it adding value to your life, or are you not even sure why you’re doing it? This goes for big things too, like jobs and relationships. It’s your time, and your life.
To put it even more simply, time management is really about self management, and a life well lived is not about how much you get done—it’s about the value of what you’re doing.

Further Reading:

29 October 2009

One New Poem: A Dream I Had in ’93

I’m at the beach
I’m happy
It’s a perfect, sunny day
But I’m afraid of the surf

I see a dog
She’s happy too
On this perfect, sunny day
And not afraid of the surf

She runs and jumps
Into a crashing wave
Grinning as only dogs can grin
I could swear she was giggling too

So I decide to run in as well
Into a crashing wave
Into a freer place
Into joy

It cascades over me
Says hello and goodbye in the same breath
And goes
But not entirely
Because we both know
Things have been taken
Things changed
Things given

Skin sparkling and sun in my eyes
I walk back to the grinning dog on the beach
And look at my hands
And see they’ve been filled

With silvery coins
With sun-honey doubloons
With dark, sea-blue sapphires
And a promise unspoken

That a life, lived fearless and free
Is a treasure



© 2009 Vanessa Campbell

27 October 2009

Looking Forward, Looking Back

I generally tend to look forward more so than looking back, but I did both on Saturday. In the afternoon, I attended a local 350 Climate Action event, which was part of a much larger effort: “On 24 October, people in 181 countries came together for the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history. At over 5,200 events around the world, people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis.”

Augusta’s event featured live music and an edible architecture exhibit, along with a handful of groups and vendors. While the term “edible architecture” sometimes refers to cakes in the shapes of buildings (yum!) or mini biscuit cities (um...), this time it referred to community gardens that can supply food for surrounding areas, along with providing myriad other benefits. Which leads me to wonder, are we humans going back to being more community centered?

Speaking of going back, the crisp night air brought out the Spirits of Hallowed Eve at North Augusta’s Living History Park. The park, in keeping with both the season and the pre-electricity times, had an ambiance of reverent quiet and pervasive darkness punctuated by a few children’s frightened giggles and even fewer torches. In fact, it was so dark I could barely see the sequined flip-flops on my feet, let alone the ground. It was disorienting, yet exciting, yet not so exciting due to the $500 camera in my hands. I was prepared to perform a midair turn stunt in the event of a fall, to protect the camera, but I ended up merely stumbling around like everyone else.

20 October 2009

Out and About in Augusta

After several days of rain, Monday brought sunshine and a reason to get out and about. I started at the Augusta State University campus, ostensibly to see their New Space Gallery, but really to photograph the campus itself. Then I drove downtown to the historic Magnolia Cemetery to photograph there as well. (Click here to see my photos.) I was on a roll until my camera’s low battery indicator started flashing.

But that was fine because, like my cam’s batteries, I was getting hungry. On my way home, I stopped at the library and went straight to two books I didn’t know I needed to read until I saw them. I also found a couple of DVDs I had been wanting to watch, and suddenly, having to put my Netflix account on hold wasn’t so bad.

Now that I’m home with my loot, my borrowed books are proving to be treasures. One is called Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry, by Albert Bernstein. It’s very insightful, and I’m amazed at Bernstein’s ability to explain the complexities of the human psyche in plain English. Also, rather than contemplate the causes of personality disorders, he focuses on the here, the now, and arming yourself (with knowledge) against emotional vampires. One suggestion in particular I like is that when people act like two-year-olds, you can treat them as such, often with a successful outcome. It seems so obvious now: To manage immature adults, use child psychology.

But the most important strategy, if I’m understanding the book correctly, is to be able to manage yourself no matter what type of person or situation you’re faced with—to be able to think on your feet. Who’d have thought a Monday afternoon would lead to such enlightenment?

14 October 2009

Two New Interviews

I had planned to check out the Falling for Fashion event at Sky City on Saturday, but I decided to skip it because, along with fashion, fall also means flu season. From what I’m hearing, H1N1 is no picnic, and I don’t like flu vaccinations, so my anti-flu strategy is mainly to avoid crowds and to avoid touching my face. (Just FYI, it’s wise to avoid touching your face in general, since the eyes, nose, and mouth are primo germ portals.)

Although I spent most of the weekend at home, doing comfy, cozy, homey things, my week was not without New Things. I had two interviews for jobs in cities I had never visited, so I researched not only the companies, but also the locations. I wanted to be prepared for the interviews and to be sure Morristown, NJ and Charlotte, NC are places I could relocate to. I'm happy to say they both seem like great cities.

The Morristown interview was done via telephone, while the Charlotte interview was done in person, on Tuesday. On my way home from Charlotte, I stopped in Rock Hill, SC, and had a picnic dinner in Glencairn Garden, which I absolutely loved to bits. Some serious feng shui is going on there... or serious landscaping, at least, and the town’s Main Street is adorable as well.

Now that the interviews are done, I wonder if I'll see Rock Hill again, or if I'll be exploring New York City instead (Morristown is a suburb of NYC). Maybe I'll end up somewhere else entirely. I don't know, but I'm convinced there are lots of Rock Hills and Glencairns out there, if you know where to look.

06 October 2009

Painting in a Pub, by Candlelight, with Whiskey

When I first heard about the Whiskey Paintings and how they were “done with whiskey,” I was expecting abstract pieces in various shades of amber, with spatter patterns and fraught titles. But the paintings are actually small watercolors, maybe 4” x 5”, with whiskey (or the artist’s drink of choice) replacing only the water—not the pigment.

Augusta is one of few cities where the paintings are exhibited for sale, and it happens only once a year here, at the Zimmerman Gallery. I visited the gallery on Saturday as both art lover and investigative reporter, and the staff was so kind in answering my questions. It was such a treat to hear the history behind the paintings while seeing them for the first time.

With origins dating back to the 1950s, the Whiskey Painters of America is an exclusive club allowing no more than 150 artists at any given time. In 1962, when the club officially formed, “the rules to qualify were that a candidate had to be invited to do a painting after 10 p.m. in a bar by candlelight, using whiskey as his medium,” according to the Zimmerman Gallery website.

Seeing the charming collection made me want to light a scented candle, play some atmospheric music, pour some sake, and paint something teeny-tiny at 1 a.m. However, there hasn’t been sake in the house since March, and the only water-paints I could find were of the $1.99 variety—for the whole set. Hmm, I wonder how those paints would look with masala chai or peppermint tea.

29 September 2009

Columbia, Part II

On Sunday, I went back to Columbia to see more things and to take more photos.

The second leg of my tour began at Finlay Park, where I saw a gorgeous fountain and a great view of the Columbia skyline. Across from the park, I saw the lovely Governor's Mansion and Gardens—albeit through a fence, since the grounds were closed that day. I then cruised through the historic district and headed back toward the Columbia Museum of Art. Along the way, I saw local artist Blue Sky’s Busted Plug Plaza, which is a public art installation that is believed to be the world’s largest fire hydrant.

At the museum, I caught the last day of Cleve Gray’s Man and Nature exhibit and saw Claude Monet’s Seine at Giverny (L'Ile aux Orties), which I think translates to The Island with Nettles from the Seine at Giverny series. I also saw two paintings that made me stare in amazement: Guido Cagnacci’s David Holding Goliath’s Head (1650) and Elliott Daingerfield’s The Moon Path (1900). I don’t know if you can tell by the online images, but Cagnacci’s painting appears to be glowing, and Daingerfield’s painting seems to sparkle with tiny bits of light. More than that, it soothed me, as if it were reaffirming something I didn’t know I knew.

Before heading home, I walked around USC’s Horseshoe area, which looked surreal in the late afternoon sun, then had a light picnic dinner by the canal at Riverfront Park.

22 September 2009

Rolling on a River of Change

Arts in the Heart of Augusta—a three-day festival featuring crafts, foods, and performances—was the big event going on this weekend. I had planned to attend on Saturday to watch open mic performances and whatever else I fancied, but I changed my mind at the last minute due to the $7 entry fee. With no income (I left my job voluntarily, to take a sabbatical), I couldn’t justify spending $7 to shop for things I couldn’t afford and to watch performances I was only slightly interested in.

I ended up strolling alongside the Savannah River on Augusta’s Riverwalk, then sitting in shade and having a nice phone conversation with a dear friend. Then I drove a mile upriver to North Augusta’s Hammond’s Ferry and lounged on a floating boat dock in sparkly-gold sunlight, close enough to touch the scintillant river traveling beneath me. I realized the river doesn’t see the changes ahead as it journeys toward and into the wondrous ocean, and neither do I, yet we flow forward nonetheless. We see changes when we reach them, and we’re wise to welcome them, because change is natural.

That was the most sublime half hour I’ve had in ages. I browsed a borrowed I Ching book (Book of Changes) while the meandering breezes tested different styles on my hair. I stared dreamily at nothing. I squinted in half-interest at occasional boats passing by. I did not, however, toss coins or count yarrow stalks, because I had no questions to ask that day. I knew the answers were already within my self and in everything around me.

15 September 2009

One New Resume

I did see a couple of new exhibits on Sunday at the Morris, but most of my weekend was spent completely redoing my resume. I was in perfectionist mode, laboring over every word, trying to be as concise as possible while also saying as much as possible. Not so much I overwhelm, but enough so I hold interest. I even researched my old performance reviews to get specific numbers and achievements.

It was worth the effort, though, and it’s such a relief to have it polished and posted and, I hope, working for me on various job sites. There are probably hundreds of applicants for any decent job posted on any decent website, so my strategy (along with applying and networking like everyone else) is to have such a great resume, the recruiters find it, call me, and say “Oh my gosh when can you start?!” That’s the idea, at least.

Another strategy I’m seriously considering is relocating to the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. Although no NC cities are featured in US News’s Best Places to Find a Job, I suspect Research Triangle Park (RTP) holds more promise than the Augusta area. According to RTP’s website, “RTP is the largest and longest continually operating research park in the United States, encompassing 7,000 acres. With more than 170 companies occupying 22.5 million square feet of developed space, RTP is globally renowned as a center of innovation.” Plus, there are many other companies in the area, outside of RTP.

By the way, I also found US News’s 30 Best Careers for 2009 to be helpful, along with the related articles, Ahead-of-the-Curve Careers and Overrated Careers.

08 September 2009

Strolling Through Columbia, SC

On Saturday, my friend Kristin met me in Columbia. She drove down from her home in Raleigh, NC, and I drove up from Augusta, GA. Although Columbia isn’t a midpoint between those two cities, it seemed a good place to spend an afternoon exploring.

Our meeting place and first stop was the West Columbia Riverwalk by the Congaree River. Since the park has walking trails and picnic tables along the river, that’s also where we ate dinner. But first, we drove all over town to find a grocery store for lunch (since neither of us eats at restaurants), then spent most of our afternoon taking a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area. We started in the artsy Congaree Vista district, walked around the SC State House grounds, then walked down Main Street to the Columbia Museum of Art.

After dinner at the riverwalk, we were completely pooped and ready to head home. Kristin’s shoes were devouring her feet, mosquitoes were devouring my skin, and the heat and humidity had zapped both of us... but that’s the South, right? I don’t know how the day slipped by so fast, but I’m planning another trip soon to see a few more places in Columbia:
Until then, click here for lots of photos (and lots of pink, somehow) from our Saturday walking tour.


01 September 2009

One New Browser

I just started reading a great book by Jennifer Niederst called Web Design in a Nutshell. Early in the book, Niederst covers the variety of web browsers available, from the text-only Lynx to the ubiquitous Internet Explorer (IE). She seems to prefer Mozilla’s Firefox, and considering her guru status, that means a lot.

After using Firefox myself, I prefer it too. I began using it out of desperation after a severe malware attack in July. Those cooties were so clever, they sidestepped Malwarebytes and other programs, and they even hijacked my attempts to search for an antidote. I finally entered a search string that didn’t trigger a redirect, then found a cure on a Geeks to Go forum. After that, my next download was the Firefox browser, and I’ve been happily using it ever since.

Firefox is generally more secure than IE and is definitely more adaptive to W3C standards coding, making it a favorite among web developers and techie types. There’s even a nifty web developer add-on, along with many other useful and/or fun tools. But tech talk aside, I’ve found it to be flat-out better than IE regarding speed, appearance, and user interface—everything, really. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t surprised when Firefox reached one billion downloads just over a month ago. One billion and blazing.

25 August 2009

Searching for Size 2

I admire how guys shop. They can go into a store, go directly to what they need, get what they need, and be back in the car in five minutes. That’s how I like to think I shop, but last weekend, I got sucked into a shopping vortex that lasted for three strange days. It all started on a sunny Saturday afternoon...

I needed interview/work clothes quickly, and I didn’t want to risk something not fitting, so I decided to visit an actual store rather than shop online. I breezed into Macy’s thinking I would grab some career pants and skirts in size 2, try them on, and be out of there. The glum-faced men waiting for their wives would gape in awe as I blazed by, and the women would secretly suspect I was transsexual. But nooo-no, none of that fun stuff happened, because there was nothing below size 4 except in petites, juniors, and the INC line. I’m 5’8”, 39 years old, and not feeling INC, so none of those worked for me.

Undeterred, I ventured back out on Sunday and tried the discount/off-season/overstock approach. I found one single solitary pant in size 2, and the legs were uneven. *sigh*

On Monday, back at the mall, I found some size 2s scattered throughout a few stores, but selections were limited, or things didn’t fit, or prices were too high, or quality was too low. Wondering whether to wear my size 8 pants (creatively belted?) or my khaki Capris (with heels and a jacket?) to the interviews, I dragged myself into the last shop on my itinerary, Ann Taylor LOFT. Boy did I hit pay dirt. They had plenty of things in my size, well made and well fitting, and I could actually afford them! Bless those people, and bless my friend Kristin for suggesting them.

Whether the dearth of 0s and 2s in stores is size discrimination or simply supply and demand in action, it is frustrating. Are we not supposed to be smaller than size 4, even when the size 4 of today is the size 8 of ten or twenty years ago? Where are we going with this, people? Can somebody please start making career wear in children’s sizes, just in case?

18 August 2009

Seeing the Light

This was not my first visit to the Morris Museum of Art, but it was the first wherein I actually looked at all of the art. The Morris collects only Southern art, thus they have one of the largest (if not the largest) Southern art collections in the world.

During my first visit to the museum, I learned that the impressionist movement made its way to the American South in the late 1800s, and many impressionist works were created here. Of course, those works don’t all reside at the Morris, but several do.

Then, during this week’s visit, I discovered a style of painting that had somehow eluded me all these years: luminism. There’s a neo-impressionist version of luminism as well as an American version, the latter of which was an offshoot of the Hudson River School (also new to me). The American version focuses on the use of light in landscapes, specifically, while the neo-impressionist version focuses on light in general.

Since light is important in many (or all?) styles of painting, I was surprised to learn there’s a style that focuses specifically on light, and I love that it’s related to impressionism (i.e., emotion). I adore modern art, but impressionist art is possibly my favorite, and the dreamier it is, the better. I like expressionist art too, which is also about feeling, albeit with darker, more existentialist leanings. Impressionism’s pale pink lilies are expressionism’s shadowy trees full of secrets, and I like both depictions of life—the light and the dark.

So now I’m thinking there should be a modern style that blends expressionism, impressionism, and a bit of luminism. Light made brighter by shadow, and shadow made darker by light, but with edges more soft than stark. The film noir of painting, but lighter than Goya’s Peintures Noires. Does such a thing exist? If not, let the eximluminism movement begin.

11 August 2009

Reading the Tea Leaves

My friend Lisabel recently asked me what my greatest joy moment was for that day. I had to think about it, because I’m generally so grateful for the many joy moments in a day, I wouldn’t dare compare them. Not even sure I could. But sometimes, I’ve discovered, moments do stand out.

Remember those free samples I talked about in a previous post? That was how it started, and that was how I found myself with three types of Yogi Tea to try. After some deliberation (and sniffing), I decided to try Himalayan Apple Spice first. I opened the paper pouch, pulled out the teabag, and relished the enticing scent—appley and spicy, just like the name says. Ooh this is gonna be good. Then I noticed a tiny message on the paper that holds the string. It simply said, “Love your soul.”

I mean, isn’t that what we all need to do—love our souls? And wouldn’t you love to say that to someone, or hear them say it to you? Seriously sweet. My other teabag messages were precious too. The second was, “Every heartbeat creates a miracle,” and the third was, “Your infinity in you is the reality in you.” Awww...

Thanks Yogi, for the tea and the joy. :)

04 August 2009

Rediscovering the Dollar Movies

It was Saturday afternoon before I realized I hadn’t planned anything New for the weekend. Hadn’t even looked at the Metro Spirit calendar. After a few wide-eyed seconds, I remembered I have backup New Things for precisely this type of crisis situation. I exhaled. The time had come at last to rediscover the dollar movies... or the $1.99 movies. I hadn’t been in nearly a decade.

I checked showtimes online and was all set to see either Terminator Salvation or The Taking of Pelham 123, but I meandered and then had unexpected parking difficulties, due to 300 other people having the same idea I had. By the time I reached the ticket window, can you guess what was playing? Yep, Drag Me to Hell. Not my first choice, but I was grateful it wasn’t a kiddie movie. I figured it might even be fun.

It turned out to be more fun than I expected. There were a few jokesters in the audience whose one-liners and sound effects turned the movie into a comedy. My cheeks were hurting from laughing so much. I don’t think that’s the effect director Sam Raimi intended, but I suspect even he would’ve been laughing. Plus, comedy aside, the film was a lot more entertaining than much of what I’ve seen lately.

I look forward to seeing more $1.99 movies, and I hope the same silly people are in the audience from time to time. I don’t know who they are, but I like them.

28 July 2009

Seeing Synchronicity

It started with an insightful book I read recently about changing the way you think, thus changing the way you feel, thus changing how you experience life. Far out stuff, I know, but also very real. It’s called The Feeling Good Handbook, by David Burns, and I think just about anyone could benefit from reading it.

But you may be wondering, as I did, if it’s even possible (or natural) to change the way you think. Aren’t unpleasant emotions part of being human? Well, yes, but the trouble starts when those unpleasant emotions become unhealthy emotions, as Dr. Burns points out in his book. You can’t, and shouldn’t, be happy all of the time, but you can manage your emotions more than they manage you. I get that now, but when I was reading the book, the perfectionist in me was dissecting every “bad” emotion, determined to be Ms. Perfect.

Until synchronicity kicked in to save me. Netflix mailed me the next film in my queue, just like any other week, and I ensconced myself in PJs and pillows to watch it, just like always. But this film happened to be Equilibrium, which is a Matrix-Fahrenheit-1984 combo about a future society where emotions are forbidden and are quelled with drugs. In fact, feeling is a crime punishable by a one-way trip to The Incinerator. Rather a bleak picture, let me tell you. Then, later that same night I was surfing channels when I should have been sleeping, and I caught a televangelist yammering in drill-sergeant tones about how we need to control our emotions. Crikey. That scared me worse than the film, and it drove home a simple, synchronous point: Feelings good, androids bad.

Of course Dr. Burns knew this all along. His book even includes a surly snippet from a brilliant article, “In Praise of Depression,” which I’ll partially quote here:
“Considering the state of the world, why does science still consider depression an aberration? Don’t these people read the newspaper?... For some of us, optimism is seen for what it is: a form of escapism... a form of desperation that science would do well to investigate—were these researchers not too busy attaching electrodes to dogs and finding out that the impressionable hounds get depressed after the first few hundred volts...”

- David Ives, from “In Praise of Depression,” originally published in The New York Times, June 17, 1981

Are androids the next stage in human evolution? Will silicon chips reside in our brains and bodies? Will nanobots course through our veins, monitor our vitals, and fix us when needed? Will we live longer, better lives... or just longer lives? I’m the first to admit humans could stand a great deal of improvement, and I welcome the improvements bio- and nano-technology are bringing to our lives, but I just hope we’re careful about how we define “improve.”

21 July 2009

Sharing Poetry at Starbucks

In an effort to make new friends in my new town (and do New Things), I’ve joined three local groups on meetup.com. One of those groups, Quality Poets Society, met on Friday, and it was such a treat for me.

The two people I met were impressively creative and, most importantly, humble about being so talented. I love that! If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve met the opposite type who thinks they’re the best thing ever and can’t understand why the world doesn’t agree. If you’re that type, just stop it. Right now. If you love writing, keep doing it. If not, let it go and do something else.

At Friday’s meetup, we started by sharing poetry that had inspired us. I especially enjoyed hearing Charles Bukowski’s “splash,” read by Adam, from Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories. After sharing, we did a couple of great creative writing exercises that resulted, for me, in the poems below. For the first exercise, a circle poem, we started and ended with the same line, but gave the line a different meaning at the end. For the second, we each called out two random words, then wrote a poem/fragment using all of the words. Now, I didn’t use all six words, but I did spin those six words into “ten thousand things”...


what we want

what we want
what we have
what we are
are we
not
what we want?


ten thousand things

black coffee
on an outdoor wood table
warms the morning around me
heats my body
heals my soul
encircles me in wisps
as I drink
sunbursts dancing on the cup
moving on the murmuring surface
telling me of ten thousand things
of now
of secrets shown to all
though few can see

© 2009 Vanessa Campbell

14 July 2009

Scoring Some Deals

I don’t do much shopping these days, except for necessities like groceries and Swiffer Duster refills, but I did manage to score a few sweet deals this week. At the Old Navy store in Augusta, I found cami tops on sale for $5 and v-neck tees for $10 (shown here). They didn’t have all of the colors shown online, but still, good deals. Then, I found a 4GB SanDisk flash drive at Walmart for $12. I almost said “Reeeally?!” out loud.

Alas, my scoring streak didn’t last. I went to five stores downtown looking for artsy cards, postcards, and/or stationery for my new pen-pal, Lisabel, and I found absolutely nothing. Nothing artsy, at least. But I remembered reading a suggestion in Skirt! to turn that publication’s colorful pages into envelopes. Brilliant idea, and it got me thinking about all sorts of fun things that could be scavenged to create envelopes with... as well as cards, postcards, and stationery, for that matter.

My mockup envelope looked surprisingly artsy and fresh, but I still want to reverse-engineer a real envelope to be sure I’m doing it right; i.e., so Lisabel’s letters will actually reach her. I’m all set with my 18” ruler, my trimmer tools, my super-strong glue stick, my plain white address labels, and my eco-friendly writing pads. The eco-paper, which is made from 80% sugarcane waste, is a lovely cream color with light brown lines. Since it’s too pretty to laser-print designs on, I plan to decorate it randomly with teeny-tiny collages and/or paper-friendly inks or paints.

I had to buy everything listed above except the trimmer tools, but thanks to Staples, my total cost was only about $10. Which means I scored another deal after all.

07 July 2009

First Friday and Fourth Fireworks

Since this was my first Independence Day weekend in Augusta, I got to experience several New Things. The fun started with First Friday, during which I especially enjoyed Dwain Shaw’s nature photography exhibit as well as Pyroteque’s scorching street performance. Dwain’s exhibit was at the Metro Spirit gallery, and Dwain was there as well. We talked a bit about camera brands and film versus digital, but not about photography as art, since I already agree with him on that. Pyroteque’s performance involved various things being set on fire and swung about, including a hula hoop! The stunts, music, make-up, and outfits reminded me of both Criss Angel and the circus, in the best way.

On Saturday, Augustans were treated to even more fun, all day, followed by a nighttime fireworks show off the Fifth Street Bridge. I took some photos of the latter, but my cam’s shutter speed was way too slow (i.e., blurry as hell). *sigh* So, yeah, that’s why the Imperial Theatre and Cotton Exchange photos are here instead. But trust me, it was pretty—especially the waterfall effect of white lights cascading into the Savannah River. Which reminds me, the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen is Boomsday, which is held each Labor Day in Knoxville, TN. If you live anywhere near there, it’s worth a road trip to see.

30 June 2009

Putting Good Advice to Good Use: Part II

Judith Orloff is another smart person. She teaches that one’s own mind and intuition can be rich resources for growth and guidance. In her article, The Art of Remembering and Interpreting Dreams, she explains what I call the dream question method. Basically, you think about a question or problem before going to sleep, and then write down and interpret your dream/s as soon as you wake.

It sounds easy enough, but be warned: You might get answers you don’t expect, don’t like, or don’t understand. You might even get misleading info, since dreams tend to speak a language of symbolism not easily understood by the conscious mind. But that’s where your intuition comes in, and that’s why I recommend you read Dr. Orloff’s article (above) and Prevention Magazine’s How to Solve Problems in Your Sleep before trying this method.

I do think it’s worth trying if you have a stubborn problem, and especially if you’re a lucid dreamer. Dreams can be so spot-on accurate, illuminating, and inspiring, they make you wonder where they come from, and what they’re tuned in to. Is it something greater and wiser than ourselves? It’s pleasing to think so, but whatever it is, I’m listening.

23 June 2009

Putting Good Advice to Good Use: Part I

Brian Tracy is a genius. After listening to his Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible on CD, I ordered the print version in case I had missed something while driving. The CD/book is full of great insights and ideas, but I especially like Brian’s method of writing your top ten-or-so goals daily, in the personal, present, and positive. This means your goals should use the word “I,” be in the present tense, and be positively stated (“I am...” instead of “I will not...”).

I haven’t been rewriting my goals daily, but I have been reviewing and editing them daily, which seems to be just as effective, for me. I’m also taking some sort of action daily toward achieving them, as Brian recommends. Plus, I’m planning to focus on one area each month, such as health, wealth, relationships, projects, etc, which I’ll write/manifest in more detail than my daily goals.

So far, I’m amazed at the effectiveness of Brian’s methods. Things are already changing, and I haven’t even tried his mindstorming technique yet. Like I said, genius.

16 June 2009

Painting on a Communal Canvas

This year’s Social Canvas event, held on Sunday at the Morris Museum of Art, brought artists and musicians together to create art, play music, and inspire each other. There was also an actual social canvas on which visitors could leave their marks. It was huge, and it looked surprisingly good when I saw it. In fact, it looked so good I decided not to add anything to it, since I haven't painted since, oh... '95, maybe? But I enjoyed this event because it reminded me how enlightening and exciting it can be to watch the creative process—to become part of it, just by being present.

Although photography isn’t allowed at the Morris, I did see some fantastic art I was able to photograph that day. I walked over to a nearby park and, lo and behold, I discovered two Richard Hunt sculptures I hadn’t seen before. One, called Tower of Aspiration, is shown here. The other, which reminded me of the Alien films and gave me the jeebs, is not shown here.

By the way, these impressive sculptures are located directly across from the closed-but-no-longer-overgrown Augusta Botanical Gardens. It’s nice to see the Gardens looking presentable these days, thanks to Growing Augusta the GreenWay volunteers. They recently gave the place a sprucing up and plan to keep it that way. I don’t think it’ll be open to the public any time soon, but I’m telling you, if a garden could smile, that one would be smiling.

09 June 2009

Reading by the River

Since I missed First Friday this month, I decided to have my own First Saturday the following afternoon. My celebration was missing a few hundred people, but I did have live music, thanks to an event on the Common that day. (Speaking of outdoor shows, I’m amazed and pleased by how many there are around here.)

I began my First Saturday with a meandering browse of several shops and galleries on Artists’ Row and a curious air sniffing outside the New Moon Café. It smelled like a delightful place, but I was in a walking mood, and it was too hot to walk around with a cuppa. (I’ll have to go back when I’m in a lingering mood.) I saw many treasures during my tour but, being a lover of words, my most delightful discovery was the June issue of Verge, which is a local alt-monthly focused on promoting downtown Augusta. With my new treasure clutched to my chest and my camera, snacks, and water almost as close, I headed over to Riverwalk to find a comfy, scenic reading spot.

Now, I love to read outside, but it usually happens in my back yard, which is quiet and surrounded by a privacy fence. At Riverwalk, which is nothing like my back yard, my interest was easily diverted to the people walking, the dogs socializing, the sun shining, the water flowing, the band playing, the kids stealing coins from the fountain, the people taking touristy photos of the fountain, my wanting to photograph the fountain too... which I did, as you can see here.

Verge is a great publication, and I got to savor my copy later, but on that particular day, I didn’t need to read anything to see there’s a lot going on in downtown Augusta.

02 June 2009

Free Stuff!

This week, I serendipitously caught an episode of the Tyra Show about getting things for free. Tyra’s guests offered lots of good suggestions, including clothing swap parties and freecycle.org. Although I haven’t yet tried those ideas, I am enjoying free samples and contests from several web sites:

· Free Samples Blog
· Shop4Freebies
· Sweetie’s Swag
· Sweetie’s Sweeps
· Wal-Mart’s Free Samples Page

Free must have been in the air this week, because my July issue of Kiplinger’s mentioned a free, online option for backing up 25 GB of PC files: Windows Live SkyDrive. I've been using it, and so far, I like it. If you try it, be sure to download the software it offers for transferring files, which allows you to drag and drop groups of files, rather than having to upload each individual file. Also, it’s best to copy your files in chunks, rather than all at once. I have cable broadband, and it took about three minutes to copy 15 MB of files (a fraction of the 4.5 GB I need to copy). I wouldn’t call that lightning-fast, but it’s fast enough, and it’s better than buying an expensive external hard drive, which is just as vulnerable as a PC’s hard drive.

That same issue of Kiplinger’s also mentioned AT&T’s GoPhone mobile service. I discovered I can pay a flat rate of $0.25 per minute, or $3 on the days I use my phone, with no charge for minutes. For someone who barely uses her mobile phone, this is exciting news. I hippity-hopped into an AT&T store all set to convert my service, only to learn I have two months left on my $40-per-month contract. Blargh. Well, I’ll just put a reminder on my free online calendar, courtesy of MyYahoo.

26 May 2009

Researching More Master’s Programs

You may remember my blog about researching MFA programs in creative writing. That was in January, and I’m still interested in earning a master’s degree, but I’m not entirely sold on the practicality of studying creative writing—formally, at least. I think the best way to learn writing is simply to write, a lot, and perhaps more importantly, to read a lot.

Of course, creative writing is still an enticing program option, but I’m now considering interactive media, integrated marketing communication (IMC), and strategic communication (StratCom) as well. I found several excellent programs in the North, such as Medill’s IMC program at Northwestern, but because of my own cost and location preferences, these are my top picks:

Elon University, Elon, NC
MA in Interactive Media
The program looks top-notch, the curriculum looks exciting, and “the university's historic 575-acre campus is a designated botanical garden and is ranked one of the most beautiful campuses in the country by The Princeton Review.” The school is also ranked the #1 School to Watch in 2009 by US News & World Report. The program requires one year of full-time study to complete.

Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
MS/MA in Integrated Marketing Communication
I had considered this school for an MFA in creative writing, so I was happy to learn their IMC program is excellent as well. I'm also interested in library/info science, and their MLIS program is currently ranked 14th by US News. Since FSU recently combined their School of Communication with their School of Library and Information Studies, I'm wondering if a new, integrated degree is coming soon?

University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
MA in Journalism with StratCom Emphasis (online program)
If I decide to go the online route, this is my first choice. Mizzou has one of the best journalism schools in the world, yet their online program is relatively affordable—currently around $500 per credit hour, with 37 credits needed for graduation. There are two focus options for the online program: strategic communication (my choice) and media management.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
MA in Mass Communication with StratCom Emphasis
I like how this program offers a Professional Track and a Mass Communication track. The Professional Track appeals to my past experience as well as my future goals, and it even allows me to focus on strategic communication (or other areas). I can also enroll in courses at several other NC universities, including Duke, for the same tuition as at UNC Chapel Hill. Speaking of tuition, since I'm not a resident, this program is the most expensive of my five options, thus my attendance would likely be contingent on a Roy H. Park Fellowship or similar financial aid.

University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Master of Mass Communication with IntCom Emphasis
Since I’m a resident of South Carolina, I was thrilled to discover the U of SC has an integrated program. Then, when I read about Columbia’s new research park, Innovista, I was even more thrilled. I’m looking forward to visiting Columbia and sharing my experiences and photos in a future New Thing post.

Now that I’ve discovered these wonderful programs, I am very excited about earning a master’s degree. I think I’ll apply to all five programs and see what happens. For now, it’s back to Cracking the GRE.

19 May 2009

Seeing the Sacred Heart Cultural Center

This week’s New Thing was originally an art exhibit at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center in downtown Augusta. I did go, and I did look at the exhibit (albeit probably too quickly), but I was more interested in the art of the structure itself. After signing the guestbook and exchanging a few words and smiles, ever so politely, I nearly flew outside to get a better look at the splendid architecture of Sacred Heart.

As you can tell by my photos here and the photos online, this is one heck of a structure. Its beginnings date back to 1874, with the current structure dating back to 1897. It was a church for over 70 years, then sat vacant and vandalized for 16 years, then was rescued and refurbished into its current incarnation, a cultural center.

If old buildings could talk, they could say so much... Well, maybe they can, if one knows how to listen.

12 May 2009

Exploring Aiken

Remember the driving tour of Aiken I mentioned? Well, I took it this week and, as expected, I saw some beautiful places. My favorites were the Rose Hill Estate, the Willcox, the St. Mary Help of the Christians Catholic Church, the Aiken Training Track, and Hopelands Gardens. I didn’t see all of Hopelands, because it’s huge, but they have free concerts/performances every Monday evening throughout the summer, so I suspect I’ll be returning soon. What a peaceful, pretty place. I’d like a better look at Hotel Aiken as well, via karaoke and/or live music at their Polo Tavern.

Until then, here are some photos I took at Hopelands Gardens, preceded by a poem I was inspired by nature (and The Last Samurai) to write, several years ago:

Petal

There is no single, perfect petal
to spend your life searching for.
There is no need for this
tireless insistence on perfect beauty,
as you dismiss
what lies within reach.
The flowers have known this forever,
but we still need to learn:
Every petal is perfect,
and beautiful.

© Vanessa Campbell 2005

05 May 2009

My First “First Friday” in Augusta

On the First Friday of every month, hundreds of people gather in downtown Augusta to enjoy various types of live music and to browse the shops and galleries that stay open late for the occasion. Bands and street vendors are stationed all along Broad Street, and there’s usually a featured exhibit in the Common area. (This month’s feature, a car show, included the lovely Corvette shown here.)

Looking forward to celebrating May's First Friday, my mom and I arrived fairly early (before 7p), and there were already people feting, neon rope lights flashing, cotton candy scents floating, and good music flowing from seemingly every direction. After looking at cars and lingering at the main music stage on the Common, we walked down Broad Street for some whirlwind browsing. I loved Blue Magnolia, which sells modern home décor, and Cloud Nine, which sells natural products. I also enjoyed hearing Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold who, befittingly to their music, were playing outside the Vintage 965 shop.

To top off the evening, I inadvertently made a video (which I am sooo not posting), mostly of people’s butts, with background commentary about a guy who’d had too much to drink, or too much of something: “Ooh we got a live one here...”

28 April 2009

Traveling Through Time

Augusta is southwest of the Savannah River, in Georgia, while North Augusta (my new home) is across the river, in South Carolina. After being a resident of this lovely state for nearly a month, I figured it was time to put my new driver’s license and car tag to use and start exploring South Carolina.

Columbia and Charleston are on my near-future radar, but right now, it’s all about Aiken, which is only fifteen minutes away and possibly the most beautiful town I’ve ever seen. From the live oak tunnel on South Boundary, to the horse trails in Hitchcock Woods, to the charming shops and cafés downtown, to the houses with whimsical names like Mousetrap and Let’s Pretend, Aiken is absolutely gorgeous and somehow suspended in time.

There's a self-guided driving tour of Aiken I plan to take (and photograph), but I’ve already driven through the live oak tunnel, ventured into the Hitchcock Woods, visited the Aiken County Historical Museum, and browsed the gallery at Aiken Center for the Arts. I hadn't planned to visit the gallery, but I wandered in after photographing Splendor in Glass (shown above), which is right outside the door. I'm glad I wandered in, too, because I got to see Leslie Alexander’s Winter series, wherein she balances the extreme paleness of winter with a pure, pristine, graceful aesthetic that reminds us of winter's place in the great cycle of things... or maybe that's just my take, since I’ve been reading the Tao Te Ching.

21 April 2009

Artisans’ Fair at Living History Park

On April 17, the Olde Towne Preservation Association of North Augusta (along with other sponsors) hosted a kick-off party for their annual Olde Towne Artisans’ Fair at the Living History Park. What a pleasant event.

As soon as I got there, I loved the energy of the place. There was live music, good food, and some very interesting art. There were drawings, paintings, carvings, metalworks, luxurious handmade soaps, and handmade jewelry, among other treasures. Out of copyright respect, I didn’t photograph any of the art, but I do have some photos of the park to share: