May 2010 Archives

I've developed this tendency lately to assume omniscience on the part of the internet and my friends and family. Alternately, I forget that the internet is not one entirely continuous repository of information that distributes whatever I type in the status boxes of Facebook or Twitter to anyone who might be interested (yet).

So, while I first wrote that title in jest, because I've been accused lately of name-droppy tendencies with Iceland, it occurs to me that I very well might not have mentioned here that, hey, I AM GOING TO ICELAND!!!!!

My mom has been wanting to travel to Iceland since she was a little girl. She wrote every possible school assignment she could on Iceland or geysers, she drew pictures of puffins, she studied the country's history and legends, and has always been both fascinated by and remarkably knowledgeable about it. When she and I were thinking out loud about places we might like to travel, she threw out Iceland, and I was immediately intrigued. The more we researched, the more ridiculously excited I became about it, and this winter we booked our trip for the peak of the season, June 21st through July 2nd! (I feel like that sentence should end with about thirty exclamation points, but I'm trying to keep it together.)

Ironically, once our trip was paid in full and we were committed to going, our buddy Eyjafjallaj√∂kull had to start making trouble for the whole world (check out some pretty stunning time-lapse footage). We've had a running joke for years now that the type of adventure travel we enjoy is not sitting on a guide bus looking out the window at the country going by, but it's also not riding bicycles up the side of active volcanoes. This shared preference, by the way, is just one of the many thousands of reasons why my mom is such an awesome travel companion. We agree that it's important to actually experience a country's culture and heritage, but we also want to get out in it and explore. When the big E started erupting, I did double-check our itinerary to see if we were, in fact, bicycling up its side (we're not), but so far we're only scheduled to visit it and a nearby glacier, seismic activity pending.

Among other things, we'll be doing a lot of hiking, checking out horses and a puffin rookery, whale-watching, looking at infinite glacial rivers and waterfalls, taking a dip in hot springs, visiting the gigantic Geysir for which all other geysers are named, walking on glaciers, and going glacial river-rafting (!!!!!!!). Right now the glacial river-rafting is probably the activity for which I am most excited, but I know that once I get there I'm going to be blown away by the wildly different natural beauty.

It goes without saying my shutter finger is already twitching with excitement. As an added bonus, the time when we're there is during the Midnight Sun, when there is nearly continuous daylight (more info on climate). While I'm happy to tote my SLR most places, I learned in Costa Rica that there is no way to protect it on certain hikes and of course rafting. I started researching an underwater housing for the little pocket camera I bought last summer (Nikon Coolpix S630), but they were so expensive that I realized I could as easily just buy a new waterproof, shock-proof camera, which had 14 megapixels instead of 12.

Hello, dollface.

I researched a bunch of waterproof/underwater cameras and went with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2, which dominated the alternatives in light sensitivity and exposure options. I was also considering theCanon Powershot D10 because I genuinely love Canon cameras. I was seriously tempted by the Canon last summer as well, but it just didn't match the Lumix for things that really mattered to me. I also felt like its design was a little clunky, whereas the Lumix is slick and streamlined.

In addition to bringing it to Iceland, I'm also planning to bring this camera with me sailing and kayaking (which is why it's important that it take nice photos out of the water too) because I see so many amazing things out on the river, but of course I am not going to bring my SLR in my little frog fleet.*

* The sailboat being named Kermit and my kayak called La piccola rana, Italian for "the little frog" because it's so cute and green and allows me to be sort of amphibious.

Fortunately, because I've traveled in various climates and circumstances in the past few years, I have most of the stuff I'll need already, like a great waterproof hiking backpack with water bottle holders on the sides and the most amazingly wonderful pair of insulated, waterproof leather hiking boots I could have imagined. My last trip to Italy in November (which doesn't sound like it should be cold, but we were working outdoors on a freezing site and it rained a lot) taught me the wonder of silk base layers for warmth without bulk, and I've experimented a lot with layering systems (with varying degrees of success) to know what works for me. Heck, I've even figured out how to style my hair so it stays out of my face all day but looks (more or less) presentable in photos.

I guess what I'm saying is I feel really, fantastically prepared, which is an exceptionally rare thing for me. Instead of fretting or experiencing vast expanses of anxiety, I just feel excitement and dizzy anticipation. Now let's just hope that volcano doesn't get any bad ideas...

Choosing

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I think that apart from a few big, irreversible life decisions (whether or not to marry, and to whom, whether or not to have children, how many, etc.), it's hard to see yourself in the process of choosing who you are going to become. We rarely have the distance or perspective to be able to wrap our heads around what the implications of seemingly small day-to-day decisions add up to be, nor to grasp what it really means to be a person who buys organic produce or supports the arts.

Periodically, I find myself at crossroads where I am keenly aware that I am making a decision that will probably impact the rest of my life. I get into a slow motion she-moves-like-they-do kind of detachment and really think hard about who I want to be, what my life will look like if I go for A, B, or the as yet great unknown. A friend of mine is going through the same type of thing right now, and she and I spent a good deal of time sketching out what we imagine our lives could be in the next few years.

Life being what it is, any time I've found myself at similar crossroads, I never could have imagined what was coming down the path at me, or the drastic difference between what I planned for and what I lived. There are so many variables of chance, circumstances, the fickle nature of human emotions... you just never know who you are going to be, when, and what life will throw at you in that moment. (Am I full of cliched truisms today, or what??)

I've thought about the things I've never regretted, and it's a pretty small list:

- Traveling
- Buying books
- Going to concerts, the opera, plays, etc.
- Starting new paintings
- Falling in love

(The temptation to buy a new book, pack my sketching supplies, leave the country and fall in love during intermission for an opera is extraordinary.)

I guess the thing I have to keep reminding myself is that even if I choose one path over another, or I tell myself what I'm going to feel, I ultimately have no control over the universe outside of what I do in it. The fact that I could meet my soul mate on the train tomorrow morning is equally exhilarating and terrifying. The possibility that I've already met him and missed my chance weighs pretty heavy on my heart. Maybe I go to one school and become a pioneer in my field. Maybe I go to another and decide to give it up and work in industry developing cleaning products. Maybe I live in New York again and have all the experiences I've been meaning to. Maybe it's just like the last time, or worse.

All I can really choose is whether I'm open to these possibilities or not, and whether I make my choices from a place of fear and insecurity or hope and boldness. I guess for now, I choose the latter. Saying yes to everything, and letting the universe sort out who I become.

It's really real

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Two days after my last post, my grandmother died. It was really upsetting and hard for all of us - and continues to be - and I've been at a bit of a loss for what to say or think about it all.

I think I was repressing my feelings, channeling them all into over-the-top stress about my thesis. As long as I was sitting at the dining room table frantically typing and editing all day and night, I felt like I could stave off how sad I was about it. I think my dad has been going through it the same way, and when I see his face crumple and his shoulders go soft whenever a new sympathy card arrives, I understand the reluctance to accept that this has really happened. Maybe, collectively, we've been thinking that if we just don't talk about it and act like it isn't our reality, we could escape the sorrow and hurt caused by losing someone so special and dear to us.

But that's not really the way the heart works, or the brain, and whenever I find myself with some time to think, like during a sad song at a concert, a little trickle of emotion would open the floodgates. You find yourself crying in public more than once, and you start to wonder if there isn't maybe something you need to spend a little more time dealing with.

Last week I was driving to Brooklyn for a stressful meeting, and I guess I hadn't really made that drive since my gram had the stroke. I wasn't at all prepared for the way my heart and brain lit up with hurt and overflowed with the reality that my gram was gone. I talked about this phenomenon with a friend a little last summer when my aunt died, and he agreed that things always hit him hardest when he's alone in the car. I turned into one of those gulping, sobbing messes you see in movies (and always wonder - wouldn't it be safer to pull over?) and cried nearly the whole drive from New Jersey. At first it was with that devastating realization that I'd never get to talk with my gram again or hear her voice. Then I fell apart when I realized she'd never touch my hand the way she does, and I'd never get to hug her and smell her nice gram smell, which I adore because she bathed with lavender soap. I'd never get to hear her voice, her boisterous laugh, or to have access to her marvelous thoughts and insights into things.

I think it hit my mother this week on May 10th, which is both my parents' wedding anniversary and the frost date for this region. My parents were planting flowers, and my mom had a gardening question. Of course, her first instinct was to call my gram and ask her, because as much as her short-term memory was affected by Alzheimer's, she knew gardening better than anyone. Suddenly, I think my mom recognized, she'd never get to call her again, and that while she might get her question answered by a book or the internet, she'd never get it the way my grandmother knew things, out of the habit of nurturing and doing things her whole life.

We've all been quietly, privately eulogizing my gram with this type of memory, talking about her intellectual curiosity and appreciation for music and the opera, or about how charming it was that when she moved to Hawaii she promised her feet she'd never put them in shoes again, and she wore flip-flops damn near every day of the rest of her life. I got all teary writing the acknowledgments to my thesis, which I dedicated to my gram because some of my earliest memories of her were when she'd stop in the middle of the street to look at a type of bromeliad she'd never seen before, and no matter what kind of hurry everyone else was in, or if they snipped "oh it's just some decorative thing in a planter, let's go," she would insist on staying and having her look because she positively needed to know what it was. That observation of life, and the tenacity to follow one's instincts about what's actually important in the grand scheme of things, are just two of the many things I genuinely admired about my gram, and I hope, every day, that I have some of that in me.

I can hear her voice, when some aspect of the world charmed her, saying "Oh aren't you cute," or "Look at you, you lovely thing!" and touching flowers with the tenderness of a lover. I think of her so literally stopping to smell the roses, and gasping "My GOD, what a heavenly scent!" and that sense of urgency and freaking-out about deadlines and drafts and sources and oh-no-oh-no rushing that I've been feeling immediately dissipates, as utterly absurd by comparison.

I've come to this realization many times before in the course of my graduate degrees, but it's important to remember that while I'm focusing all my time and energy on school, I'm still alive, in the world, and even if I have a lot of work to do, this is still my only chance at that. That day crying in the car might have been a lot of things, but it was also sunny, with a gentle breeze, and that night I saw an amazing opera. I'm really going to make an effort to pay more attention to that type of joy, the way my gram did, and stop taking everything else so damn seriously. I mean really, is anything more important than living and loving?

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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