Saturday, July 25, 2009

Was there life before Google?

Ah, the "Double O Oracle". I resisted it. I swear I did. Just like with Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, my obstinance turned into lust once I experienced it for myself. It started with a simple search on a computer with limited resources and suddenly I saw the beauty of their design.

Next, I became drawn to AdWords while I was trying to run my own design business. I appreciated the ability to have thousands of free impressions of my business name in search results, even if no one ever clicked further. When I came back to school, a friend introduced me to Gmail and I now check all of my 6 or 7 email addresses from one online interface, which allows me to see all of my messages - past and present - from any computer that has an internet connection. That was life-changing. As far as tools for entrepreneurs go, that one was priceless...followed closely by Google Calendar, which I use to do everything from planning my week to synchronizing weekends with the boys for my ex-husband.

As if that wasn't enough reason to owe my sanity to Google, they then came out with Google Docs! I can write papers and spreadsheets, or do homework online and have it all safely saved for me the next time I want to look at it, even if it's from another computer with a different operating system! Google Reader allows me to follow my favorite blogs and RSS feeds (if you need a blog to test it out with, I'm volunteering and now Google Voice. I just hooked myself up with a number for my latest venture. Whew! And the miracle here? 'Sall free. That's right. I haven't paid a red cent for any of the services with the exception of getting clicks on AdSense, which is the backbone of Google's game plan. They let the *advertisers* pay for leading the general public to their virtual doorstep.

There are those who feel that Google is evil. They feel invaded and used. If this is how you feel, by all means, avoid their many excellent and time-saving products. I, for one, don't see a problem with letting a company earn a profit when they have a business model that is both creative and useful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Guided by a Pinlight

When I was younger, I felt like I could see forever into the future. I always knew what my next step should be. Somewhere in my twenties, that all-knowing lantern which had shed light into eternity dimmed to something less powerful than what I now have hooked to my keychain. Eventually, I began to feel like I was groping my way through a cave with a pinlight. I barely have enough insight to make my next step, let alone try to predict what I should do farther down the road.

At first, I saw the disappearance of my certainty as a sign of doom. I felt lost and confused. After a while, I began to think of it as a novelty - allowing me to make decisions spontaneously, based on where I am rather than where I thought I should be. This became an important element in letting fate shape my future. Recently, I said to my mom something like: "The thing about planning everything, is that everything goes as planned. When you leave something up to chance, you get serindipity." I've started to believe that if you want to have lucky breaks, you need to be able to see outside of your best-laid plans and allow something to go wrong...or atleast differently than expected.

Unfettered fate is a beautiful and wonderful thing, bringing you moments and opportunities that you may have passed up if you had kept it in your own hands. Left to the universe's devices, I feel like I'm being guided into my proper place, instead of feeling like a square peg in the round hole that I had previously selected for myself.

If you still have your lantern, by all means, use it! If, however, your path is no longer illuminated (or perhaps never was) don't be discouraged. Just shine your pinlight beneath your chin. You may not know where you're going, but you'll look scary as hell to anyone trying to stand in your way!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Of Moths and Men

My 4 year old is allergic to almost everything. Included in that horrible overstatement, are cats and dogs. This is a cruel truth, because he is more enamoured with furry friends than almost any other child I've ever met. He wants to nurture them. In his room, he maintains a zoo of stuffed animals, each one his favorite.

He was in the bath last night when I heard him wail about a bug. Taking one of his drinking cups, he scooped the bug from the bath and held the cup high. I proposed that he discard the water, and the bug, in the toilet. "But I want to keep it as a pet!" He said, his eyes glistening in the incandescent lights of the bathroom. "Honey," I prodded. "That's a dead moth. Moths are made to fly in the air. They don't do well in water." I said, with slight sympathy. "They do if they're dead!" He rebutted and again held the cup in the air, as if he thought his logic had persuaded me. I smiled at him, took the cup and flushed the bug down the toilet.

Is this what it's come to? My child, so starved for a pet, has been forced to seek a friend in a bloated, drowned donkey of a butterfly? I tried getting him fish, but one carelessly placed Cheerio brought an army of poisoned ants to the water. By morning, the whole lot was dead. I suppose I could try a hamster or a guinea pig, but what's to say that the fate of either of those furry animals would be more favorable? Is the death of an animal a fundamental part of the process of becoming responsible for one? Can the same lesson be learned through stories, therefore sparing the life of some poor handheld mammal? For now, I'm going to try helping them learn through empathy. If that makes me a heartless mother, I'll add their therapy bills to the list of things I'm saving for.

What I learned when I stopped standing still

It's hard to believe that less than 24 months ago, my life was over. I had two toddlers and my life was over. I drove a minivan...and my life was over. I was in a marriage where we were both miserable and my life was over. Freedom was a dream that I never knew I had, and exploration was something that only adventurous people did. I certainly wasn't one of those people. I couldn't do those things. My life was already over.

Then an epiphany. Maybe, just maybe, if I figured out what was killing me, I could fix it and learn to live. Months of soul searching and opening my eyes to the facts that had been staring me in the face led me to realize that the kids and the minivan weren't the reason that I felt pinned and alone. Misery was responsible for the death of my soul. That misery was caused by trying to nurture a marriage that was both poisoned and poisonous. So the cure was administered and all parties began to heal.

Still, I never thought I would be an explorer. Didn't ever think of traveling the country, let alone the world. Sure, there were people who did those kinds of things, but it wasn't something that I should be doing. I wasn't one of those people. I don't know what it was that made me believe that the right thing to do was set roots and keep a firm hold on the ground where I grew. Maybe it was soley the fact that I had never been told otherwise. Maybe my fears of the great-wide-open caused me to stay in my own little corner, even when the world was calling my name.

"Couldn't" turned to "shouldn't" then "wouldn't" until the opportunity to go to Beijing arose and I finally said "Why not?" Moments of guilt and doubt intervened, but friends prodded and when I listened to reason I knew that I had to go, if only to prove to myself that I could live my life on purpose. That was one week that changed my life.

I won't go into detail about the trip - not only because that story has been told - but also because it's not the content of the journey that caused my evolution, it's the fact that I took the journey at all. By the time I flew home, I knew that I *was* one of those people. I *was* someone who could and should and would explore the world around me.

Five short months later, I said "Why not?" again, and initiated a road trip that led a friend and I across more than 2,000 miles of paved and unpaved road. We saw new places, camped in all sorts of weather and geocached our way through treacherous terrain. We met a man that the world had forgot and navigated steep and winding roads that the earth had started to reclaim. The freeway brought us home without a hitch and I felt vindicated and empowered. There's a world out there to see and I don't want to see it by myself.

Who would be willing to accompany me on my quest to see the world? Who could tolerate hours in the car with me? The answer was right in front of me and illuminated by a little boy who tenderly proclaimed "Sometimes a four-year-old just needs his mommy." What better way to ensure adequate time together than forcing ourselves to buckle-up and hop from state to state? A little planning and we were off! The ease with which this road trip evolved was amazing. Everyone handled it wonderfully and with vigor. There was excitement growing with every mile and achievement every night. I was simultaneously satisfied and inspired. I've been bitten by the travel bug.

There have been moments when the image in the rearview mirror seemed far more sentimental than time spent in the first place, but it took visiting those locations to realize what I would miss when I was gone. Interests uncovered, geography discovered and friendships recovered, travel is both desirable and necessary as a catalyst to my personal growth. Hopefully, by furnishing it to my boys at such a young age, they will achieve greater heights than I.

I'm stable, I'm growing and I can honestly say that I'm alive. I'm living in a way that only I can, and embracing my unique situation. I know a whole lot more now than I did two years ago. I know who I am. I know what I want. I also know, that I don't want to live a life gathering moss. Roots are good, wings are better.