Friday, August 2, 2013

New Girl

This week, I’m pondering the implications of being the literal new girl at the office, as well as an evolving version of my personal self. No longer the serial monogamist in search of a romantic partnership to verify my lovability and human value, I have made a conscious decision to draw my self-esteem, as I wrote last week, from “multiple jobs well done.”

I have been on the job a full two weeks in my new position as a Marketing Manager for a major insurance brokerage, and only today did I sort out where the kitchen garbage can is located. Until now, I’ve been tossing food scraps in the waste bin under my desk, resulting in some fragrant 5:00 PM aromas for my cube mates. Why then, you may be wondering, did I not ask one of my colleagues to point me in the right direction? For complicated reasons, I associate a high humiliation factor with having to articulate a question and await an answer that should be obvious. I accommodate these irrational emotions by dithering and substituting while I keep vigil, watching the kitchen (conveniently viewable from my seat) until someone reveals the answers I can’t bring myself to solicit. Just beforenoon, I watched a man pull out a rather unassuming looking, large drawer that divulged the trash receptacle.

This pattern of reticence has already produced several minor intrigues as I acclimate to my new professional surroundings: The Case of Locking Myself in the 17th Floor Stairwell, The Quandary of 2nd Floor Gym Entrance, and my personal favorite, The Great Working Overtime Needlessly Debacle.

It occurs to me that this stubbornness in requesting simple information has played a very large role in personal problems I’ve faced over the years. I certainly can’t be helped if I never ask for it, but when I find myself marooned on an island, it’s easier to self-shame for not speaking. The alternative – relying on another only to be let down, a verification that my need didn’t matter enough – cyclically repeated itself throughout an overall hellacious childhood. I learned to navigate bureaucracies on my own through trial and error, leaving myself plenty of time to rectify missteps before the final deadline. If this was inefficient, it was certainly empowering, and from a young age, I started to receive compliments from other adults regarding a preternatural level of responsibility and organization. I became addicted to this type of affirmation and my personal mantra quickly became “ I don’t need anyone. I can do this on my own.”

The thing was, I secretly and desperately wanted to let go sometimes. I wanted to be that kid who could call their helicopter parent to set things right. I wanted Mom and Dad to tell off the person making my life hard, without making a scene or ending up in jail (as happened more than once) throw money at the silly, juvenile jams I’d gotten myself into, let me come home when things got rough and while you’re at it Mom, could you feed me and do my laundry too? But these options were not available to my sister and I. There was no such safety net and we were forced to live by our wits way before we should have been required. My parents lived on another planet when it came to grasping adult responsibility and all you can do when the garbage piles up in your home, when the IRS seizes your family’s bank accounts and the mortgage goes into foreclosure, is plan your escape – in great detail. Survival mode can be useful in the sense that it doesn’t allow much time to slow down and think about the horrifying reality of the moment.

I’ll be 35 next week. I have plenty of time for assessment now. That’s what this blog, and the work I do with my therapist has been about – taking apart all the pieces of me and having a good look at them. And as I’ve stopped running myself in high octane circles, I’m able to sit still and consider that I took the same approach to many of my failed romantic partnerships. I’ve engaged with them in the same way I once interacted with my parents: “I expect you to fail me. I won’t tell you what I need because dammit, you should already know. And when I exhaust myself from doing too much, things I’d like you to help me with that my pride won’t allow me to articulate, I reserve the right to silently resent you.”

I’ve already implemented small changes. With my last ex, I think uttered the phrases, “Don’t go, I need you,” and “I can’t do it alone,” more times in 14 months than the previous 14 years. I gave him the chance to do right, and also the opportunity to disappoint, before I drew any conclusions. The fact that ultimately, our dynamic wasn’t compatible, is the result of fundamental differences rather than self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t feel weaker for the metamorphosis. I am as capable as I’ve ever been, minus the fear of abandonment I’ve allowed to be mistaken for arrogance. This more balanced approach takes far less emotional toll. When I reach out for help only to have my hand slapped away, the outcome is about the other person’s limitations, not my unworthiness.

It’s a work in progress. I’ve shown marked improvement when it comes to big ticket issues: health concerns, the celebration of personal achievements, reaching out to a good friend when I’ve had an epically bad day. But I’m still working on the trickle down. Maybe this new girl should kickstart that process by asking where the recycling bins are located so I can get all this scrap paper out of my desk drawer….

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Liger

I titled this post as such because, when I sat down to write it, I was under the mistaken impression that this animal, the offspring of a male lion and a tigress, was sterile, thus unable to mate. A quick web search revealed my error (thanks Wikipedia!) and increased my dispiritedness. The firm belief that at least one other species of red mammal existed, that did not partner or produce children, has been a source of comfort for the last week. Another entry in the diary of shattered illusions.

Relationship number infinity has gone kaput. Though the most recent ex and I remain in love, there were just too many challenges to weather: rushed cohabitation, unemployment, health struggles, addiction issues and the general cynicism that tends to afflict those who’ve traveled around the block more than a few times. We started hurting each other, flagrantly, unintentionally and the gray areas in between, more often than we laughed and learned.

Though there are many logistical issues and emotional challenges involved in the separation process, the question that’s been running through my mind most of the day is this, a variation of an age old conceit: is it better to have loved and lost multiple times than never to have loved at all? What does repeated failure to connect do to a body and spirit, and just how many times can one put themselves out there? The number must be finite, because I feel out of turns. Not because I believe myself incapable of attracting another person after some healing time; because I just don’t want to anymore.

This is not the grief talking. My approach here, I assure you, is purely academic. After my divorce was finalized at the end of 2011, I fell into a dangerous, life threatening depression. I dated as a method of distraction, throwing my need to be loved and accepted in almost every direction, hoping something would stick. To the surprise of no one - my loyal therapist, close friends, and somewhere fundamental within myself - these dalliances born of desperation failed uniformly. 2012 rolled around and as a New Year commitment to developing internal resources bore fruit, healthier connections with the opposite sex formed organically. I was finally on the right track and when these more salutary relationships foundered, the independence and appreciation for my own company I’d harnessed allowed me to weather the breach with much greater equanimity.

I am saddened by the most recent breakup. 14 months is the longest I’ve ever dated anyone without marrying them and in numerous ways, my ex is the man most suited on paper to comprise my other half. We’ve known each other for years and share the same circle of friends. He supports me in my career, nursed me through various health crises and since I’ve no desire to bear and raise children, but love the idea of a family unit, the daughter and granddaughter that came with him as lovely accessories completed a certain idea of what I want my personal life to be.

But as I wander through the world, I’ve come to understand the difference between the laboratory and practical application. In operation, we were two people used to having our own way with very little need to compromise. Without rings, no shared offspring to force collaboration and no financial dependence on either side, walking away was viewed as the path of least resistance. Only at our respective ages, 42 (he) and 35 (I), we’re both aware that the idea of someone better coming along is an iffy prospect. Somehow we’ve both made our peace with it. I’m in an exciting and fulfilling place in my career, and I plan to allow that to consume the bulk of my cerebral bandwidth. The self-love I experience from multiple jobs well done has turned out to be, in many respects, more uplifting than an imperfect, estranged appreciation from another living creature.

And it’s with all this in mind that I made the association between myself and the capable-of-mating-after-all liger. Only I understand now that the comparison was faulty to begin. Is there an animal in the kingdom capable of forming partnerships, but would rather feel successful alone than disappointed inside a coupling?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law: Not Guilty?

Unless you've been hiding in a cave the last 48 hours (and given an increasingly depressing news cycle, who could blame you?), you've heard the news. Florida's George Zimmerman was acquitted of the charge of second degree murder in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of 17 year-old high school student Trayvon Martin. A six-person, all-female jury found the prosecution unable to create reasonable doubt around the self-defense argument, and this was compelling enough to return a "not guilty" verdict. 

If you spent any amount of time on Twitter over the last two days (full disclosure: I don't tweet and never will), you might be tempted to confuse "not guilty" with "innocent," but such is certainly not the case. No one, not even George Zimmerman, claims that Trayvon's young life was brought to a premature end by another's gun. No one disputes that the two men struggled during an altercation precipitated by the armed, hypervigilant chase of Zimmerman, even as 911 dispatchers cautioned him to relinquish pursuit. Not a soul contends that Martin was himself armed with more than a package of Skittles and a beverage on that fateful night.

A nation weary of gun violence, divergent police response in relation to ethnicity, and fearful of the implications of the verdict on the safety of young black men has come largely together to bemoan a miscarriage of justice. The problem, however, is that as current Florida law stands, the verdict was right on the money. And if we wish not to open a Pandora's Box of similar tragedies, a growing gang of armed vigilantes deciding for themselves that any sort of perceived threat is license to open fire, we must focus our attention on repealing the law that begat this catastrophe. 

In the interest of unedited disclosure, I am reprinting the terms of the Florida statute ("Stand Your Ground") in full:

Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—
(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
(5) As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.

If we cut through the legislative and legal jargon, what Florida's law means in absolute practice is that an armed individual need only suspect possible illegal activity in relation to another's personal property before drawing their weapon. And upon engaging the suspected perpetrator, if the investigating party feels at any time that their person or life is in jeopardy, they may proceed to open fire without the risk of prosecution.

In other words, any lay person with a gun in the Sunshine State is deputized and fully invested with the authority to check into malfeasance, and put an end to it with no training other than the guide of gut and emotions. The surprise then, is not that Zimmerman was found "not guilty" of second degree murder, but that he was even charged in the first place. 

And indeed, local authorities initially declined to press charges before public furor erupted, rendering the possibility of doing nothing so much PR hari kari. 

And exactly who do we have to thank for the increasing prevalence of "Stand Your Ground" type laws, which now exist in some form in 24 U.S. States? The gun lobby of course, more specifically the NRA, which occupies its usual place at the intersection of Second Amendment overreach and the compromise of public safety. Permit me to quote from a March 31, 2012 ABC News story: "Do a quick search for 'Stand Your Ground' on the National Rifle Association’s website and the first video result features the story of a Florida man exonerated of murder charges in January 2012 under the State’s 'Stand Your Ground' law." 

Writer Michael Ono goes on to observe: "The pro-gun group championed the passage of the original law in Florida back in 2004 and lobbied to pass similar legislation in other states, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In light of the recent controversy, the NRA has stalled its lobbying efforts in to pass the law in Alaska, according to Bloomberg News."

The NRA has long been aware of the emotion of fear as a great motivator, and in most cases, the motivation is increased gun sales. When will we as a nation get wise to the truth? Though the NRA membership includes thousands of sane, law-abiding citizens who are safely in observance of their Constitutional rights, the Association's bureaucratic and lobbying arms are not reflective of these ideals. Were I a gun owner myself, I might consider it high time to withhold my annual dues until Wayne LaPierre and his ilk get out of the business of state sanctioned death as a method of increasing sales.

George Zimmerman: "not guilty," according to strict tenets of the law maybe, but by no means innocent. The NRA and "Stand Your Ground" laws: Zimmerman's accomplices with Trayvon Martin's blood all over their hands. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Four Years and 60 Days

Although the seeds began to germinate long before, the title reflects the exact length of time it took this blogger to realize her fullest potential.

It was May 2009, age 30, when I finally located the chutzpah to relinquish a stable career in corporate operations to strike out as a professional writer. Three people who knew me intimately enabled this Great Leap Forward: my beloved sister Jenny, well acquainted with my bookishness and passion for social issues, as well as a frustrating tendency to play it safe; the tireless Dr. T., my longtime shrink, who patiently retrained me to believe it ok to want for myself; and my ex-husband, who provided the financial safety net without which I could never have considered the risk. Two of these three people are still very large parts of my life, and while the ex is now past, I am forever grateful to him for believing in my talent enough to temporarily underwrite it.

Those first efforts at professional writing were low paid, plentiful, and in retrospect, somewhat embarrassing. There wasn’t a job I didn’t say “yes” to, and apparently, no such thing as a run-on sentence. I stumbled upon an amazing female mentor, the Editor-in-Chief of StreetWise, a local Chicago newspaper, who trusted me with six feature stories that year, despite a wholesale lack of journalism experience. She also introduced me to the accomplished ladies of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, an organization of communication professionals founded in 1885. Upon joining the group, I enjoyed regular fellowship, networking opportunities and lo and behold, state and national awards for the urban agriculture pieces Suzanne challenged me to write.

As the demands of a nascent career expanded to include Chicago theater criticism, a weekly political column and achingly confessional blog, my profile began to rise, spare time began to fall and my marriage started to unravel. My version of Sophie’s Choice became clearer: relinquish heretofore-inexperienced professional satisfaction or the love of my life. Gut wrenchingly, painfully, debilitatingly, I opted for the latter. To say I never looked back would be a colossal lie. For the better part of a year after the initial separation, my head turned in circles with alarming speed, like the possessed child from The Exorcist. Alone, broke and panicked, I waited for someone with authority to bless me, to provide reassurance that I hadn’t thrown it all away for nothing.

Two and a half years of progressive responsibility followed: a temporary resume writer, an entry level web content production and project management position at a small publishing firm, culminating in a Head Writer role at a successful Direct Response TV marketing company. In the latter two spots, I became a better communicator. I learned to craft marketing content with succinct, actionable clarity (run-on sentences, never a solid sales pitch make). I learned to edit and revise not only my own work, but that of others. I found my voice and learned when to say “not yet,” beginning to trust my skills and experience. I felt it slowly, in increments. Yes, I was born to do this. I was in the right place.

Until I wasn’t. Until I found myself suddenly and spectacularly unemployed 60 days ago and I worried that the incremental growth of my career might come to a screeching halt. Hadn’t I spent hours reading anecdotes and talking with talented, amazing friends who’d been out of work for six months, a year or more? Didn’t I know a plethora of fascinating people who struggled to have their resume viewed? I was no different from any of them, and in many cases, far less accomplished.

I did have one advantage. After just three years of regular membership and two years of serving on the board as the group’s Newsletter Editor/Social Media Strategist, my fellow IWPA colleagues saw fit to elect me as the Association’s 47th President, a stunning development I have yet to fully comprehend. Though the work is volunteer in nature, work it certainly is: administrative manager, cheerleader, public relations, recruitment and retention, strategic planning. Sworn in just days after I lost my full-time job, the IWPA promotion seemed to lend a legitimacy I struggled to feel. I’d been vetted and verified by the vaunted. 

I filed for unemployment insurance. I applied ad nauseum. I temped. I took to the bed a couple times, unwashed, unfed, existentially haunted. Planning is impossible for those waiting in the crosshairs.

Then yesterday: the phone call. The Human Resources recruiter I’d been working with sounded stern and serious. Like a World War II widow shakily opening a telegram with Earth-shattering news she can already sense in her marrow, I braced myself to hear that I’d be the bridesmaid again. Stoically, I uttered the one word question: “Yes?”

This time was different. I was chosen. No screw that. I’d made it happen. Three interviews, one personality test, a nationwide background check, written references and a credit report later, I’m the new Marketing Manager at a multi-billion dollar, privately-held company. I’m President of the IWPA and in late August, I’ll travel to Salt Lake City to pick up an award from the National Federation of Press Women – Best Personal Blog of 2012. At this very instant, I find it difficult to believe it gets any better. It was all so worth it: the loose ends, the divorce, the ensuing depression, migraines and cancer, the poverty, the estrangement, the obscurity, the lost health coverage, fear and shame.

Four years and 60 days of doubt and recrimination. Four years and 60 days of “You’ll never make it. You’ll be sorry. Who do you think you are? How do you dare? (a voice that sounded remarkably like my own).” Four years and 60 days of introductions, writing samples and oh so much rejection. Four years and 60 days of growing-pain filled evolution that makes today a brilliantly lit vindication of a neurotic 30 year-old’s wonder. “What if there’s something else I’m meant to do?”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Supermoon and the Stanley Cup

Since May 9, 2013, "normal life" has been in an extended holding pattern. That was the day that I unexpectedly lost my full-time job and embarked on an exhausting scramble for temporary solvency and long-term employment security. These two goals overlap in the slightest of ways: the former designed to supplement unemployment insurance benefits and keep my household afloat, the latter a strategic, big-picture mission intended to provide career and bottom-line satisfaction for the next five years or so. The tension between these two immediately necessary concerns has resulted in late nights temping at a digital advertising agency in downtown Chicago, while slotting in phone and face to face interviews wherever possible. I have in the past likened my daily life to that of a plate spinning act on 1970s oddity fest, The Gong Show, but now the analogy has never seemed more appropriate.

The plates that I've had to let drop over the last six weeks include some serious sacred cows: the more-effective-than-antidepressants exercise routine, the bandwidth to visit my Cousin Carla and her latest arrival, my new nephew Bradley and the treasured romantic partnership, currently molting between first year infatuation and the steady, cohabiting rhythm of daily routine. Under different circumstances, today would also be a day of hitting "refresh" every five minutes on, awaiting a series of key decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States that relate to marriage equality, affirmative action and the college admissions process and more. Instead, I am staring at my Gmail inbox and waiting for the phone to ring, having completed the final interviewing stage with two very different, yet equally exciting companies. The fact that both of these outfits gave me a Friday deadline for determining a soul-crushing return to square one, versus a buoyant restoration of dignity, has done little to stop me from staring at the kettle. 

As I stumbled in the door last Friday afternoon, bleary-eyed and exhausted after four consecutive days of branding and advertising in front of committees with the power to render me professionally relevant again, I promised myself a break. Two days of relative normalcy where I would sleep, immerse myself in the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run and see what all the supermoon fuss was about. The edge-of-seat freneticism would surely return Monday morning (yep).

Wikipedia describes the supermoon phenomenon as "the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth." I think this makes a great metaphor for the professional crossroads at which I sit. Will the specter of possibility, looming large above my head, sit with fleeting promise before retreating unmemorably back into its regular position? Or will I be able to capture and hold that energy, bigger and brighter than I was before?

The Stanley Cup Series offers another accessible parallel for present circumstances. For it was Summer 2010 when I last cheered the black and red on their way to an eventual championship - the last year I faced a fork in the career road. Inside a foundering marriage, underpaid and underwhelmed in a full-time position afield of my stated goals, I channeled hope into the Hawks' improbable ascent. If a team that had been so terrible for most of my life could reach this ascent, surely anything was possible.

The last time the supermoon was visible was May 2012. So here we all are again: the bright, beautiful celestial body reminding humans of their innate smallness, the upstart sports team attempting to prove that their first trophy of the decade was no fluke, and me, the struggling writer desperate for additional career path vindication. The moon left its aesthetic imprint on those who ventured outdoors, not to be seen again until late 2014. The Hawks return to Beantown for Game 6 after dominating the Bruins at home last Saturday, momentum decidedly on their side. And me? Well, even I have learned never to count myself out. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mad Men Season 1: The Temp

Although I have 12 years’ expertise in the fields of Corporate and Marketing Communications, I have historically been locked out from positions where “agency experience is preferred.” I’ve never understood this. What is the difference, I ask you, in positioning a brand for an internal client (your own company) versus an external one? In either scenario, failure to get it right puts you at risk of losing the “account.” In fact I would argue that when the client is your boss, you have a lot more at stake, like your job and health insurance. As the character of Don Draper likes to say, “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” At an agency, client dissatisfaction is a blow, but there will be others.

Officially, I should not face this exclusion dilemma anymore. I’m heading toward the end of my fourth week as a temporary Proofreader at a high-profile digital advertising agency in downtown Chicago. Initially, I was only supposed to last five days but after converting a weeklong job into half of that time, the invitation to stay another week has been regularly repeated.

Of course as a rabid fan of the popular AMC drama Mad Men, and gifted with a wistful imagination, I was certain this was my chance to make like a swinging Madison Avenue power player. Visions of barking at my “girl,” commanding “Get me Jaguar on the phone! Now!” swam in my mind. Late morning cocktails, afternoon naps on the office couch, exquisitely tailored suits. Oh the fun I would have – minus the constant plumes of cigarette smoke.

Turns out that life at the bottom of the ad agency food chain is not the flashy glamour fest I envisioned. While I do get the late nights at the office and the free catered dinners that accompany after hours drudgery, I am not exchanging witty banter with Roger Sterling, getting soused on Old Fashioneds or engaging in blame game pissing wars with the accounts team. I look and feel much like Peggy Olson did on that very first episode of MM – nervous, ponytailed, possibly overdressed and eager for adventure, only to experience it vicariously by observing the insiders.

At the very least my expectations of boisterous office horseplay have come to fruition. It is Thursday afternoon and I have witnessed all of the following this week:

1.     A gentleman doing a non-contextualized soft shoe atop a conference room table.
2.     Mail cart drag races down the hallway, complete with crashes, injuries and first aid relief.
3.     A sleep-deprived intern walking into a glass door.
4.     Furtive office flirting replete with closed doors and hushed whispers.

It turns out that being an observer of chicanery, a chronicler if you will, rather than a direct participant, suits me. I don’t know these people and when my assignment ends, they will fade into my memory just as I will escape their collective consciousness. I have no real stake in the game and that permits me to let the experience wash over me, evaporating on my skin, leaving no permanent stain. I pause. I share a good-natured grin with other bystanders. I go back to my temporary desk.

Only an updated resume will prove I was here. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Best Blog in America?

Four and a half years ago, in the middle of January 2009, I began my blogging career with these words:

"I'd like to thank my dear younger sister for letting me in on this action. I don't know about all that 'smart one' stuff since she is the one who got something off the ground that I have only talked ad nauseum about doing myself. I may have the Master's in English Lit., but sometimes we overeducated end up being the most stagnant."

And it's true, without that first push toward online confession from my younger sister Jennifer, I have good reason to doubt that I would have let a closet writer's burning ambition see the light of day. I earned a comfortable living in those days as a manager of corporate standards, and came home each evening to make dinner for my then-husband. I had a clearly defined purpose that hid rather well some painful internal chafing. I was not! (screamed my buried soul) cut out for paperwork, motherhood and meal planning. There is nothing inherently wrong with those roles and for many women, filling them provides intense personal satisfaction, but the farther I traveled down the path of rote domesticity, the closer I moved to its expected tollgates, the more certain I became that I was lost.

Jenny knew it. And she wouldn't let me pretend otherwise. If I were lacking in personal bravery, well then she'd start the blog, give it a name and a theme and set me up as an administrator. No slouch a communicator herself, she produced the first few posts - in the voice of a harried, swamped suburban career woman, wife and mother - and challenged me to set myself apart.

That original blog, Which End is Up!?, "An in-depth look at the life of two very different Chicago sisters as it happens," evolved over time, eventually becoming the one-voice forum that I secretly believe Jenny always intended it to be. Months passed and as I gained a following, confidence and a certain amount of prolificacy, I migrated over to the Open Salon platform where Contemplating the U.S. Navel was born.

Through practice and self-discovery, I discovered a genuine passion for deconstructing our nation's increasingly fractured and broken political system. A long series of posts examining these themes led to professional recruitment from RootSpeak magazine in the form of a weekly column. When RootSpeak went on hiatus, I landed at PoliticusUSA where I've enjoyed my largest readership to date. That first push toward blogging from my baby sister has led to a diverse and satisfying professional writing career that includes national awards for journalism (the explosion of urban agriculture), newsletter editing (PenPoints, the quarterly communication of the Illinois Woman's Press Association) and theater criticism.

And now it is in June 2013 that I have a sense of a fledgling communications career (because a writer can never be too comfortable or established) coming full circle. For it is this year that the contest judges of National Federation of Press Women have deemed this very blog the best in the nation.

I still can't quite process and accept the mind-bending honor. For writing without varnish (and some in my life might argue, too nakedly) about the triple challenges of alopecia, cancer and divorce in 2012, I will travel to Salt Lake City to receive a honor the Becky of January 2009 could only experience as a daydream.

It's beautiful and satisfying whenever one's work is recognized by an esteemed body, but when that work is the very lifeblood and selfhood capsized across the screen, the victory becomes so much more gratifying - and humbling. The award I will collect from the NFPW at the end of August is not just a celebration of my words, it's a vindication of my voice, my experience. The emotions and thoughts I vomit onto the keyboard nearly every week are my most authentic self and somehow, a conglomerate of respected peers have deemed that worthy of consumption and acknowledgment.

I never got into blogging with ideas of grandeur. I always assumed that if anyone outside my immediate family read the words, I'd already won. Blogging was therapy, a way of wondering aloud on so many topics: "If this is how it's supposed to be, then how come...?"

But it now appears that the attempt to make sense of my self and the world around me has spoken to others. When I read this judge's feedback, I cried for that young, inexperienced 2009 self who had no idea she could use prose to speak to faceless others, badly inept at self-expression as she'd been to that point:

"This writer has no problem tapping a vein and bleeding onto the page, but she does so with humor and style. My kind of writing! Definitely worth the prize.""