Passing milestones

I’m celebrating a couple of anniversaries this week, and I’d like to invite you to join me.

First off, believe it or not, Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Mike’s Circular File. My web-based bully pulpit went online on October 26, 2003 with an essay about the two things that make my life as a Cub fan miserable: the Cubs themselves, and White Sox fans. It’s a theme I’ve revisited on a few occasions — as recently as two weeks ago. Obviously nothing has changed on that front in the past five years.

I’m a frustrated columnist – I enjoy the form, but don’t have the discipline and inspiration required to meet a weekly deadline. It occurred to me that a website would be the ideal vehicle to get my stuff “out there” — on the occasions that an idea of mine merits more than a paragraph or two, which is roughly every six weeks on average.

On this auspicious occasion, I must thank you, Dear Reader. My site’s hit count will certainly not cause Google to sit up and take notice, but you’ve been a steady bunch, with new requests coming all the time. I must also thank you for remaining loyal in spite of my forays into political commentary, religion, and the aforementioned Chicago baseball culture war — topics that folks wiser than me know to avoid in polite company. However, I’ve enjoyed your feedback, and I’m pretty sure my mother is bluffing when she threatens to disown me.

The search engines send quite a few eyeballs my way as well — for quite some time, Googling “cilantro allergy” would return my article on cilantro as the top result. (It’s currently second.)

In the past year, the Circular File has been added to the blogrolls of two other sites, and I’ve gratefully returned the favor. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Sid Leavitt is the proprietor of Readers and writers blog, a site “for frustrated writers, for adventurous readers.” The site features a variety of written works submitted by their authors, from short poems to complete novels, including Sid’s own “Adrift in America.” Sid found the Circular File from a comment I’d left on another site and asked if he could add it to his blogroll of “well-written sites” (his term, not mine), along with a very complimentary site review. Sid recently announced that he’ll be taking a hiatus from his blog, but I highly recommend that you stop by and give it a look.

I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know the lovely and talented Lisa Guidarini, who posts at her very entertaining blog Bluestalking whenever she is not buried in her graduate school studies. Lisa is a librarian who’s going for her MLS, and probably the most well-read person I’ve ever met. When she tells me that I’m a good writer, I’m inclined to believe it.

I never intended this site to be a diary, but the past five years have ended up being a tumultuous time in my life. I found that writing was an outlet for coping with pain and loss, and I’m told that the results are some of my best work. Writing about my separation and eventual divorce was exceptionally difficult, but ultimately cathartic. However, the single most agonizing writing task I have ever undertaken was my piece on the death of my niece Ryanne this past February in the shooting at Northern Illinois University. Struck numb and helpless in the face of that tragedy, I had no choice. Sharing her story was the only thing I could do for her.

This is not to say that I would pass up the opportunity to share joyful things with you. And while I am not able to share the joy of a Cubs World Series championship this year as I had hoped, I have good news to share nonetheless.

Last October, I notified you that I had entered the world of online dating. Perhaps you are wondering if anything ever came of that.

Originally, I had put myself up on Yahoo! Personals, but after less than a week I found myself disappointed with the site and canceled, switching instead to I set about creating a masterpiece of a personal profile that would cause women to swoon over my creativity and intellectual depth. It’s called “marketing.” notifies you whenever someone views your profile. Next, you can break the ice with someone by sending them an electronic “wink.” It’s a safe, non-committal way to express initial interest.

I read through a bunch of profiles and sent out three or four winks. I wasn’t expecting much response at this point since I was new and my photo wasn’t displayed yet. Apparently has to review any photos before they’re posted, to make sure people aren’t putting up naked pictures of themselves. I figured my odds were already long enough without doing that.

On day two, I received a wink. It wasn’t one of my winks being returned. This was someone whose profile I’d looked at but not acted on. Her screen name was “shellsmags.” I quickly went back to see what I had missed.

Hmmm. Cute picture. Two years younger than me, lives in Morton Grove. Enjoys quilting and sells her pieces at shows and online. Has a career that involves travel all over the world. Okay, I’ll bite.

I winked back, and we started an e-mail exchange.

Have to say I like(d) your profile… I disagree with your comment that ALL music after 1986 is crap — there’s a few things out there….. but am definitely a huge fan of early 80’s and late 70’s myself…being a Cubs fan isn’t a reflection on intelligence but rather a huge loyalty issue — hey my grandfather is still hoping and he’s in his mid 80’s!

Cool. Agreeable but not a pushover.

I found out that her name was Shari, that she was fluent in French, and she was a fan of Monty Python.

I was starting to like her already.

We met face to face for coffee on Saturday, October 20, ten days after making first contact. It was Sweetest Day, a fact we both wisely chose not to acknowledge. We started to talk, and it was like two old friends chatting about familiar things. Not a trace of first-date awkwardness. She was intelligent and a good conversationalist, and she laughed at my jokes, which delighted me.

We left the Starbucks after a couple of hours to go and have lunch. By the time I walked her to her car and bid her farewell, it was 5 p.m. Our first date had lasted six hours.

Over e-mail, we both expressed our surprise and delight at how comfortable we had been with each other. Looking back on it, confidence was the key. Shari was self-assured and comfortable in her own skin. And I was enjoying the return of my own self-confidence after a prolonged absence.

We started meeting whenever our schedules would allow. And every time I saw her, it just got better and better. By Thanksgiving we were inseparable. Over Christmas we were arranging to meet each other’s families.

Our first vacation together was in February. Shari was in the UK on a business trip and I flew out to meet her afterward and spend a week there. We had a wonderful time, right up to the point where we returned to Chicago on separate flights and I almost died. Shari has traveled all over the globe and has never experienced an emergency landing. I, however, make the first overseas trip of my life, and my plane has hydraulic failure. Have you ever had the pleasure of watching flight attendants demonstrate how to brace yourself for a crash landing? I don’t recommend it.

This past April a birthday party gave me the opportunity to meet Shari’s extended circle of close friends. They refer to themselves as the Mags, each of the women adopting the identity of a character from Steel Magnolias. As the youngest member of the group, Shari was designated Shelby, the Julia Roberts character. (Ironic aside: I hated Shelby in that movie. When she died at the end, I felt she had it coming.)

Here’s a shot of us taken by her friends at the restaurant that evening:

Later that night, once I was assured that her friends approved of me, I proposed. We began making plans to move in together, accomplishing that by the end of July. Our wedding is planned for April 25, 2009.

This past Monday we celebrated our first year together. And in the course of that year, we have not had a single fight. Not one argument. Nary a cross word. Sometimes we just stare at each other in disbelief, as if the dream could evaporate at any moment.

And it’s not like I’ve been on my best behavior for the past year. I can report that I am still Mr. Smart Ass. Shari just seems to have this innate ability to deal with me.

Consider this: Shari has a habit of leaving drawers open. She opens a drawer, takes out what she needs, and then skips gaily away. Her beloved, who is just a teensy bit anal about things, finds this trait not at all charming. So one day he gets her attention, grasps a drawer handle, and stages a demonstration.

“Watch. Open. Closed. See the difference? Open, closed.”

Shari regards him dispassionately. “Well, if that bothers you, I guess you’ll be following me around closing drawers, won’t you?”

And I do. It has become my job, and I am content to do it. I still complain occasionally, but that’s just because I enjoy complaining.

When I ventured into the online dating pool, I had hopes, sure. But I could never have imagined it turning out like this – that the first person I met would turn out to be my be-all and end-all. If not for politics and baseball, I could be in genuine danger of losing my cynicism.

And so, those are the two anniversaries I’m celebrating this week. I’m so pleased to have some good news to share for a change.

Thank you for reading, and for being a part of my life, both online and off.

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