Thoughts

Migratory state of being

Every single day, I go around with a little pain in my heart. It’s the sort of pain that only certain people can understand. These people are called immigrants.

Sometime this month, a familiar date will pass, and I’ll know that I’ve been in the States for 17 years. I’ve been a naturalized citizen for a number of those years. Born and raised in Romania, I came here when I was almost 15. I’ve lived the better part of my life in this country, and yet I still do not feel entirely at home. The States feels familiar, but not familial; it feels like I belong, but I don’t entirely fit in; it feels like home, but I don’t feel at home.

I envy Americans born here, I really do. In some ways, they’re better off than me. They feel something, every day, which I cannot feel; they may not realize it, and they may not even appreciate it, but they feel at home. It’s a priceless sort of feeling, and you don’t understand its true value unless you’re away from home.

It’s a painful way to live. I look around me, at those fortunate enough to have been born here, and they haven’t got my problem. They are at home no matter what part of this great big country they happen to live in — especially those that have been born, raised, and now work in the same cities or regions. They benefit from familiarity with customs, habits, lifestyles, places, people, language, traditions — all those things that make home feel like home. If they’ve moved to another part of the country, no matter how different they think it is, it’s still the USA, and it’s still the same country. Some things still apply, and the overall feeling of home is there.

Although I live in the DC area now, and have done so for the last 4 years, I spent most of my years here in the States in Florida. Still, it doesn’t feel like home. Sure, I know the streets and the neighborhoods. I know the cities and the beaches. When I walk or drive down a certain street, memories from my life there evoke certain emotions that make it familiar. The best word to describe that kind of a feeling is comfortable. When I step into my parents’ home down there, I get the closest feeling of home I can get here in the States. It’s relaxing and peaceful, that’s true. But it’s still not home. And I think my parents understand what I mean, since all three of us came to the States as a family back in 1991.

It would be logical to assume that Romania would feel more like home, since it’s where I was born and raised. You’d only be partly correct. Yes, when I go back there, I feel more at home than here. The strings of my heart vibrate at the same frequency as my birthplace. When I’m there, the air is sweeter, the food tastes better, interactions with people are more meaningful, every sensation is accentuated by the vibrancy of my home land. Sleep is more restful, and life takes on a new, familial rhythm. I feel a peace that I cannot feel here. Yet I do not feel at peace.

There’s the awful rub. In the words of Charles Laughton from the movie “It Started With Eve” (1941), “I’ve been tampered with!” I’ve spent so much time in the States that I’ve grown accustomed to the way of living over here. Not the comfort and abundance of products, though that’s part of it, but the way of life, of doing business, of approaching situations. I no longer fit in, in Romania, and I still do not completely fit in over here, after 17 whole years.

I can function just about anywhere, but am at home nowhere. I’ve got a mongrel heart, a split state of being, and it’s a sad, painful way to go through life, at least for me. A piece of me exists in each country, and I’m forever torn between the two.

It must be even worse for Ligia. She’s only been here for 4 years. She spent her entire life in the same region of the country, in a very close-knit family, among friends and relatives, and the only reason she left all of that was to be with me. It’s probably safe to describe the way she feels every day as home sick. At least she’s lived enough in one country to know which one feels more like home. Although the more time she spends here, the more she’ll bond with this country, till she’ll be just like me, a mongrel spirit.

I think of the pilgrims that came to the new continent from Europe, hundreds of years ago. I wonder how they must have felt, knowing that the likelihood of ever going back to their home lands was next to nothing, and having to face the rough conditions that awaited them in untamed territories. Perhaps the tough lives they led, and the blood, sweat and tears they put into eking out an existence bonded them more to their new homes. Or maybe they sat down on quiet evenings and silently bore pangs of sorrow over the distance that separated them from their birthplaces and ancestral homes.

Then I envy their children, who didn’t (and don’t) have to worry about any of those things. And I yearn for the normalcy and peace which I don’t think I’ll ever reach.

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Thoughts

Wondering why I write less these days?

I came to the realization that too much work around the clock is not a sustainable lifestyle. When you hold down a full-time job, write on two websites, have a consulting practice and you’re also a photographer, there’s little time to decompress. And I’m determined to carve out more time for relaxation. I have to. It’s not really a choice. My body is telling me so.

It’s nice to see that a few weeks after I started writing less, other, more authoritative sources, have chimed in with their findings, validating my own thoughts. It’s not like this stuff is new. People have been saying for decades that our American lifestyle moves too fast. And I noticed the effects of too much work on my own body back in December of 2006, but failed to take proper action.

Now I’ve done something about it. I’ve rearranged my schedule so that my wife and I spend more time together. I work from 11 to 7 instead of the usual 9 to 5. Just one of the benefits is not having to deal with rush hour traffic during my commute. In return, Ligia and I use some of our free time to exercise, or just spend time at home. I write less, and I publish less photos. And I’ve cut back on my consulting work.

Sure, I miss not being able to say everything I want to say and giving full outlet to my creative side, but my health is more important than a few paragraphs or photos. There are real, tangible benefits to be gained from slowing down. Life gets more manageable, more enjoyable. I realized that in the end, I’m the one that sets the pace, and if I don’t take the initiative, I’ll keep going full tilt till I crash. I don’t want that to happen.

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Thoughts

Thankful

This is a bit after Thanksgiving, but it’s pertinent.

It was just last summer (in 2006) that I got frustrated with my photography, and decreed that I must improve. Even though I’d been taking photos since 1994, and I had a feel for what looked good, I had no idea what I was doing with the camera. I had no idea of the concepts of photography. I had no idea how to compose a photograph, and how to think about light. In a little more than a year, I’ve gotten pretty far. Now, I look at photos that I took just last summer and I cringe…

I’ve learned so much, and I still have a lot to learn.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about photography. It’s a wonderful occupation, and it relaxes me. I can see the world differently now. I’m a bit guilty of always thinking of photo ops, but I appreciate what I see a lot more nowadays.

I’m also thankful that I was able to afford a wonderful DSLR. I’m very happy with my Canon 5D. Its capabilities allow me to be very flexible and to exploit lighting situations that are simply unattainable with other, less expensive cameras. As I learned more and more about photography last year, I realized that some of the things I wanted to do just couldn’t be done without a DSLR. At that time, I thought the 5D was incredibly expensive. After all, when you’ve been paying $100-400 for your cameras, $2,800 is a big jump in price! Am I sorry I bought it now? No. It’s a great camera.

Here are a couple of photos I took during Thanksgiving dinner with close friends of ours. The wind howled outside and chilled me to the bones as soon as I stepped onto the balcony, but how could I resist such a beautiful dusk?

Thanksgiving sky

Thanksgiving dusk

By the way, I launched a new site last night. It features my photography and only my photography. It’s called, appropriately enough, Raoul Pop Photography.

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Thoughts

Finding myself more and more

Imagine this: you’re born with a desire to relate to others, to spend time talking and laughing with good friends who respect you and want to relate to you. But as you grow up, you find your confidence betrayed by false friends, derided by immature ones, or worse, you find yourself fending off unwanted advances from homosexuals who confuse your wish to socialize and relate to them as one human being to another for something else, something disgusting to you.

What do you do? You put up a wall. You become a loner. You choose to call yourself non-social. You make yourself believe you don’t need friends and you don’t need others. Alone, in the dark, you even start getting doubts about your sanity and sexuality, though you know better.

But then, after much prayer, you meet a girl who loves you for who you are. She respects you. She inspires you. She wants to be with you. She becomes your closest confidant, your best friend, the one you always go to for advice, and then, your wife. A dark, brooding veil begins to lift. You start seeing life through a different light. You meet her friends — decent, sociable people who enjoy good company the way God intended it, with laughter and talk and jokes and more laughter and help when you need it.

You begin to grow as a person. You start to make friends on your own now. People begin to discover you for who you really are, and the honest ones tell you that you’re a likable guy after all, that their first impression of you was wrong. All of a sudden, life is better. There’s more hope and joy in it. Friendship starts to take on the meaning you’ve always dreamed about. You find yourself.

This happened to me. I tell you, it feels like a long, dark night is giving way to breaking light. I doubt I’m alone in this. So what I want to say is, don’t lose hope. Hang in there. Pick your friends carefully. Don’t doubt who you really are for a minute. If you persist, you will succeed.

Thank you, Ligia, for making me see the light. It was through you that I grew and found myself. Thank you, and, though you already know it, I love you.

My wife Ligia

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Thoughts

What should your superpower be?

Blogthings is running a quiz on this, and I went through it. The questions were a bit loaded, and I wasn’t sure about a couple of the answers, but even after I went back and changed them, I still got the same result. That short fuse of mine shows through again… For the record, I don’t think I’m terrifying, and neither does my wife. And I’m not keen on that whole “world belongs to you” business either. But, I’ve got a short fuse, I’ll admit that. And I’m definitely intense, driven, passionate and obsessed — sometimes to my detriment.


Your Superpower Should Be Manipulating Fire
You are intense, internally driven, and passionate. Your emotions are unpredictable – and they often get the better of you. Both radiant and terrifying, people are drawn to you. At your most powerful, you feel like the world belongs to you.

Why you would be a good superhero: You are obsessive enough to give it your all.

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Your moodiness would make it difficult to control your powers.

What Should Your Superpower Be?

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Thoughts

The Simpsons me

I read a post over at Dawn Armfield’s blog today that resonated with me. It’s about one’s online identity, and whether you’re comfortable enough to be yourself even when you can be someone else. If you read my blog regularly, I think you pretty much know where I stand on that. I write in first person, my photo’s everywhere, I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, etc. I would ask where you stand on that, but it might be a moot point. I get the feeling that the people uncomfortable revealing their identity online, for whatever reason, won’t reply. I’ll only get comments from the ones like me.

Something fun did come out of it though, and I wanted to share that with you as well. Dawn built a Simpsons avatar for herself (you can see hers in her blog post) and inspired me to do the same. I headed over to the Simpsons Movie site, which is where you can partake in this fun little experience, and built one for myself. It was a bit difficult to find the bits and pieces that would make the character look like me, but in the end, I arrived at a reasonable facsimile. Have a look below. Ligia got a kick out of it. She said she liked it, and that it was really funny.

I don’t think I’ll be using this as my online avatar, but it’s fun to look at it. For example, I had no idea that I would like a hippie if I wore certain clothes. What do you think? And by all means, if you want to chime in on how you identify yourself online, please do so as well.

The Simpsons Me
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Events

Happy (belated) Birthday to ComeAcross!

After getting home this evening, I remembered (and it wasn’t the first time) that I’ve neglected to write about my blog’s first birthday. It is, after all, a momentous occasion, and needless to say, one I won’t encounter for some time again… 🙂

If you haven’t already, have a quick look at the About page. It’ll give you a bit of the background information about my blog, whose roots go back as early as 2000, which is when I started self-publishing articles on the internet, through other sites of mine such as LupusPernix, Amalgamy and Dignoscentia. You may get a chuckle out of this: when I first heard about blogging, I thought it a fad and dismissed it as such. But that “fad” didn’t die out, and what’s more, I started seeing some really nice content created by bloggers.

After some hemming and hawing I decided to jump right in, and wrote my own blog software over at Amalgamy in March of 2004. It worked nicely to get my feet wet. Then I discovered Blogger, and started writing there in February of 2006. That was fun, but I really wanted to host the blog on one of my own domains, and wasn’t enthralled with Blogger’s publish-through-FTP features. That’s when I discovered WordPress (Thank you Tony!), bought the ComeAcross domain, and after a lengthy process where I took old content and ported it over to my new blog, launched the site on May 3, 2006. Incidentally, it would have been nice if I’d written this post on May 3, 2007, but two months late is still okay, I suppose.

Why comeacross.info, when there are so many splogs on the .info TLD? Well, I thought the title (come across) and TLD nomenclature (.info) meshed nicely with the scope of my blog, which is to present interesting information to people. It may sound corny, but to me, comeacross.info = come across information. I like to think of my blog as a nice surprise among the many crappy splogs you’ll find among the .info domains. I may at some point move it to a .com TLD, but for now, it works nicely right where it is.

Last October, I wrote a post entitled Who We Are, which was meant to give you, the readers, a nice, transparent look behind the scenes at ComeAcross. It accomplished its purpose, and I kind of like that post’s transparency. In that same spirit, I wanted to offer some updated stats on ComeAcross, via screenshots from my WordPress, FeedBurner and Google Analytics dashboards.

The first is right from my blog’s dashboard. As you can see, I’ve got 890 posts and 661 comments. Those 61 categories are weighing heavily on my mind. I really need to cut them down somehow, but it’s so hard for me to pigeonhole my content. The other cool stat comes from Akismet, my comment spam plugin. It has protected ComeAcross from 152,982 spam comments. None of them made it to the blog! That’s beautiful!

ComeAcross -- WordPress Dashboard

Next up are my feed subscriber stats, courtesy of FeedBurner. The feed subscribers are the folks who have clicked on the orange feed icon in the top right portion of my site, and added ComeAcross to their daily list of sites they read through their favorite feed reader.

💡 If you haven’t already, you’re welcome to do the same. It’s easy and it’s free. I recommend Google Reader. It’s also free and very easy to use. If you don’t like feeds and prefer to get my content via email, enter your email address in the field under “Get ComeAcross by Email” title in the right column, and click on Subscribe. Look for a confirmation email, click on the link, and you’ll be done. You can unsubscribe at any time, and this is also free.

What’s cool about my feed subscribers is that the number has been steadily growing since I started my blog. It’s really nice to see, and it’s very encouraging for me to see so many people enjoy reading my posts.

ComeAcross -- Feed Stats Dashboard

Now for some fun traffic stats, courtesy of Google Analytics. Apparently, over 42,000 people visited ComeAcross since I’ve launched it. That’s a huge number of people, and it’s humbling to see that my writing has reached such a large audience.

ComeAcross -- Site Visitor Stats

The pages on the site were viewed over 73,000 times, and if you’ll look below, you’ll see that my most-read pages to date are the index (as expected), the one about Zooomr’s Mark III release, the review of the HP laptops, my caveat emptor post about Davison Inventegration, and my post about our Betta fish. I’m truly amazed that I still get traffic to the Betta fish post. It was originally an article at Amalgamy, and I ported it over in 2006. I wrote it back in 2005, and we don’t even have Betta fish any more. 😕

ComeAcross -- Site Content Stats

Finally, I have to thank Google big time, because they send the most traffic to ComeAcross. I truly benefit from the long tail of web searches. Over 53% of my traffic comes from search engines, and more than 46% of my total traffic comes from Google. As you can see, I got some Digg and StumbleUpon traffic as well, along with some other Yahoo traffic.

If I had to choose between Digg and StumbleUpon traffic, I’d choose StumbleUpon any day. Digg traffic occurs in bursts that risk crashing my web server, it doesn’t monetize well, because the visitors only care about skimming the content, and it also doesn’t convert well (from casual visitor to subscriber). StumbleUpon traffic, on the other hand, grows slowly, is more constant, monetizes very well (people actually click on the ads once in a while) and some of the casual readers even turn into regular readers. So, StumbleUpon, thank you!

💡 Incidentally, if you, the reader, would like to do me a great service, submit either sections of the site or particular posts that are of interest to StumbleUpon. You can use either the StumbleUpon toolbar, or the “StumbleIt!” link below each post of mine. You have my thanks in advance for that!

ComeAcross -- Site Traffic Stats

With this, I close my post, and wish my blog a Happy, if belated, Birthday! 😀 It’s been a very interesting first year, and I look forward to more of them ahead! In the interest of increased transparency, I spent approximately one and a half hours researching and writing this blog post. It probably took you 5 minutes or less to read it.

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