somewhere I have traveled

#reverb15: surprises & photographs

Today, I'm combining Kat's prompt about surprises with a favorite photo prompt from Sarah and Kim because they blend together so nicely for me. I'm likely to do this throughout #reverb, choose prompts from multiple places or use one from the past that speaks to me. What surprised you this year? 

My body: I got on the scale in January this year with immense trepidation. In 2012-2013 I'd lost a significant amount of weight. I spent a good deal of 2014 having it slowly pile back on. This year, I wanted to get back not to the size I was in 2013 but to the healthy body I had, the one that could walk up stairs more easily, spend time walking, running, hiking, biking. I wanted to do a better job of honoring, appreciating and just doing better in terms of my health because I knew I could. I started slowly and used my word for the year, explore, to try classes, experiences, foods, I might not have otherwise tried. And while I know I shouldn't be surprised that all that effort made a difference, there are days I still am surprised at my own reflection, or the way clothes feel on my body, but moreso I'm surprised when I push my body and it carries me to the end of a Zumba class or rowing session, or treadmill/elliptical workouts. I'm surprised at the elation and sense of accomplishment I feel each time I'm able to move a little faster or increase resistance, or meet whatever small goal I have going on at the time. I don't want to ever be done with this work. I know that I can't be because I owe it to the people who love me and to myself to do the best I can to keep my body healthy and happy and strong.

Reconnecting: It's always surprising to be made aware of an impact you have on someone's life. This was a year when friends and exes reconnected with me in pretty brave ways, expressing how something I said or did made a difference. It's also interesting to see what people remember of you vs. your own recollections. I can tell you I feature much less favorably in my memories than in those of the ones who've been in touch with me this year.

My friends are awesome. Okay, this didn't really surprise me. But it's nice to see friends and colleagues get recognized for the work they do, to see them in a mode I don't often see: "pulled together professional person." Let's face it, if you're like me, you rarely feel like you have it worked out, and many of your friends are in that boat with you, so to see their brilliance in the world, to be reminded of how great and smart and talented your friends are gives you a little bit of hope that you might achieve some of that brightness one day. And it feels damn good to cheer on important people in my life.

The world doesn't end if you decide not to finish something. This didn't really surprise me either, but I have to say that I experienced a deep sense of relief when I stopped working on a project that felt a little like spinning my wheels to pursue something that felt a little indulgent. The only consequence was that I became passionate about some ideas I'd previously dismissed once I decided to see what would happen if I pursued them as a research project.

Ugh, I can be a snob. I guess this isn't totally surprising but it is something noticeable in certain situations. It's okay to like different things from your friends/loved ones. It's perfectly fine not to "get" something other people are into. I'm trying, however to be less snobby when I don't like something that everyone else does and less judgmental of myself when I like something everyone else does. Maybe it's also okay to be a little snobby. I'm trying, here.

A little kindness goes a long way. Again, not a surprise but something that I seemed to be reminded of this year whether it was someone showing me kindness or me doing something nice for others, being generous in time and spirit was a common theme of the year.

Share your favorite photo from this year. Why is it your favorite? What makes it so special?

This year, a little over a month ago, M and I drove across country to the Grand Canyon. It was a huge adventure for us. While we've driven on long road trips before, never one that far. One of my favorite parts of the journey was asking M "couples road-trip questions". I could have guessed some of the answers, but it was still fun to hear her responses. I think when you've been together a long time (11 years now) there's a comfort between you and an assumption that you know all there is to know. I also think that's sad because we should continue to evolve and grow as people and as a couple and that means regularly checking in, asking questions you think you know the answers. You might be surprised at what you discover about one another.

In the early stages of planning this trip out West (I had to go because of a conference) I wasn't particularly excited about the Grand Canyon. I thought, "I'll go. It will be cool. M is excited. I'll go for her." But the closer the trip got, the more interested in the canyon I became. Nothing I could have read or imagined prepared me for what I felt being there. The sense of awe I experienced; it's something sacred. I kept feeling like I shouldn't be there, that I was somehow out of time and space. It's just spectacular. My continuously awed reaction surprised me, though I suppose it shouldn't have. Each time we rounded a corner, I felt my breath hitch and was overwhelmed at the beauty and power of being in such a place.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip:

M and I at the Grand Canyon
M and I at the Grand Canyon

We never have photos of us that don't look like selfies. A nice guy took this one for us and did a good job of framing the area around us. It's really windy and our hair is out of place; we both have sunglasses on.But somehow it still perfectly captures the moment we first saw the Grand Canyon, and all those ridges and colors and rocks spread before us. The entire trip was a constant reminder to pay attention to the view around you. In the Grand Canyon, I couldn't help it. There was no other thing to do but to contemplate what was in front of you and appreciate it.

I couldn't imagine this trip at any other time in my life with anyone else. No surprise there.

#reverb 15: summer is for being reckless

I've spent practically all my life on an academic schedule, one where Summer holds a bit less responsibility, a certain kind of promise, even though I often worked through Summer, took classes, researched, wrote papers and poems and dissertations. I've written before about the summers of my past, the ghosts I face and confront every time I visit Alabama, the way I live in-between places, pulled between my roots and wings.

These days I am awash in nostalgia. Old friends, exes email me, become Facebook friends. The "do you remember when" stories pull the girl I was into the forefront of mind, flashing by like a slide show. This is Your Life: weekends at the river, nights on balconies telling stories, singing to friends playing the guitar, going to breakfast in the clothes I wore the night before, sitting on cars in parking lots when the conversations were just too good to leave, falling in love, in beds and out again, spontaneous trips to the beach, the sound of the waves comforting, quieting my restlessness.

The past and present collide in the Summer and I'm always taken aback by my response to Alabama, the sway of memories, the taste of sweet tea, the way heat stays on your skin long after you come inside from it.

Alabama is a place I can travel to, and visit but not somewhere I can really belong, not anymore. Each time I am there, I feel at ease in this fact. Each time, I feel a bit further and further away and I also feel home, kind of… which, I suppose is as good of a description as any and perhaps the only way to manage the tension of living in-between. This is a tension I face often, the kind of reconciliation I don’t know how to make because there may be no way to really make it. 

The ghosts I face, the ones built of what once was, matter. They matter because they shaped who I am, the good and bad, the complex and silly, the selfish and the generous. And while I don’t want to reminisce to the point of exhaustion, I don’t want to forget who I am, nor the girl I’ve been.

Something about Summer will always draw me into memories, waves of nostalgia for the smell of honeysuckle, peeling shrimp in my grandmother's kitchen, watching The Price is Right with my Granny, diving off docks, swimming in the moonlight, Keds caked with mud, furtive glances at Summer crushes you'd never see again. I loved Summer as a kid, loved leaving my house after breakfast and returning just before dinner. I loved the freedom of being outside, away from authority, from rules. I loved riding my bike to the ice-cream shop, to the library, stacks and stacks of books, stories waiting for me to discover them. Even as I got older and worked through the Summers, there was a hint of recklessness to our decisions we might have overlooked when class was in session. We stayed awake a bit longer, drank one or two or four more drinks. We smiled more easily, worried only about getting too much sun. I've always been a bit too serious, and Summer gave me a chance to let things slide, to say things I might not otherwise say, to share more of myself, to run into the crashing waves, or hold hands a moment too long. Summer has never been about standing still, not for me.

Today, summer is time to think, to read, to listen to music a bit too loud, to eat plums, fresh seafood and ignore the way your clothes stick to you in the heat. It is for staying up too late, traveling, reading, and rolling down the windows for the almost cool night air. It is for secrets told on back porches, laughter drifting across lawns, for remembering and forgetting, for throwing yourself into projects, into conversations, into something new.

But never far behind, at least not for me, are all the Summer memories, the promises and possibilities, the yearning to be a little reckless, just a little, once again.