Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The tide, revisited

I went to write an email to Kristy, and I realized it was a post anyway.

T's mother apparently gets regular emails from The Universe, and she forwarded one recently, which is a particular favorite of hers. It read:

Sometimes, [T's Mom], having more fun and being happier comes from looking for each in crazy, new places; instead of waiting for them to come from where you've found them before or where others are now finding them.

And I do mean crazy. Not just from the old standbys of travel, adventure, and romance, but from stretching, reaching, and growing. Accepting new responsibilities for your happiness, totally accepting others, and grasping even higher ideals. Philosophically taking yourself to places few have ever dared before.

Red hot smokin' love,

The Universe

Aside from the attractions of being offered red-hot, smokin' love from the Universe, I found it interesting she should send me this right now, because it feels like all the events in my life are converging into that one lesson: "Stretching, reaching, growing." I thought I had emerged from the divorce pretty well stretched, reached, and grown, but now it appears that those challenges were just preparation for the opportunities that lay ahead. To mix and torture metaphors, the atomic reorganization of my life opened a painfully creaky door, but I still had to walk through it, and explore the rooms beyond.

In the back of my mind I had this cute notion that I'd get divorced, spend a year not dating while I gave myself the perfectly prescribed time to "work on myself", move on, eventually find someone, have a great, normal relationship, move in together or perhaps marry, blend families if applicable, and look around one day with a self-satisfied smile and say "Look, see? I've done it right this time." Counseling would be required, of course, and probably a great deal of dating and sifting. It would be hard, but not too hard.

Wrong, kitten.

One of life's most effective disciplinary tools is the realization, whether abrupt or gradual, that your future and your life will look nothing like you thought they would.* There are deaths, illnesses, betrayals, divorces, accidents, losses, gains, and lessons. I had one very abrupt realization in May 2008 that my life would look radically different than I had hoped, expected, or thought. But I don't think I ever completely absorbed the lesson from that, which is to let go, to ride the tide, and to open myself to the possibilities of the unknown instead of rigidly adhering to my visions and plans.

There was no year of singleness. Instead, with perfect contrariness, the Universe served up T as if on cue, and he parachuted into my life via e-mail on the day my divorce was final. We have an in-joke in which we observe that he was single for ten years, and I was single for ten minutes.

And then, over the ensuing nine months, I have bobbed and weaved, vacillated and quivered, as I discovered that T was going to commit the shocking act of being human instead of, at all times, my preconceived ideal of a mate. But by then I was in quite the pickle, because I'd begun to love him.

Into this morass stepped Therapist C, as she so often does, with her quiet laugh and her empathetic smile and her gentle, forward-leaning stance, to remind me to stop trying to control life and start listening to it instead. What was I learning from this? What was life demanding of me?

Stretching, reaching, growing. Totally accepting others.

The lesson I'm learning from being with T is that loving fully involves risk -- that security can never be the currency with which love is bartered. Love must be given freely, without a purchase price, or it's no kind of love at all. Relationships are about growth, and about loving, not when and if you can blend households, or get married, or feel that you have once again gained admission to structure and normality.

T gets into my life and makes noise there. Sometimes he does it with a smile and a sharp wit, and sometimes he does it with his own pain and defenses. But I always feel loved, and valued -- more so than I've ever felt, really.

I didn't need someone to make me secure. I needed to learn to live without it, because, as Pema Chodron reminds us, there is no ground beneath us.

And that's where I am right now.

*Sometimes, in a particularly harsh version of this lesson, we discover that our past was also not what we thought it was. While even more painful in ways, this is just as effective a catalyst for change and growth.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Predation drama on the beach

This was the one interesting bit of wildlife activity I saw this weekend, near the Blowing Rocks Nature Conservancy site in Jupiter, Florida. I'm squeamish enough that I had to close my eyes for some of it, but not so squeamish as to chase the gulls away from the crab. To do that, of course, isn't merely saving the crab's life, it's a choice to put the gull's life at risk -- and on what grounds? To force the gull to find dinner that doesn't offend the sensibilities of some random and uninvolved human? So you let it go, but sometimes your eyes close involuntarily, and your camera misses the thick of the action.

Here is where I instinctively looked away briefly. Maybe someday I won't have to. Maybe someday I'll be able to sympathize with the doomed prey while still watching its demise. Or maybe not. I'll miss a lot of good shots, but I'm okay with that for now.

Having defeated the crab, the gull spent several minutes protecting its dinner from others. Much squawking occurred.

Eventually, the gull swallowed the crab and the crowd dispersed, and the minor drama came to an end.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Good bad travel and bad bad travel

Juvenile Stork, or, The One Decent Image I Got This Weekend

A friend of mine has categories for different kinds of fun: Type 1 fun is fun when you're doing it, and fun when you look back on it fondly. Type 2 fun is not so much fun when you're doing it, but improves significantly in the re-telling. Type 3 seems fun while you're doing it, but doesn't stand up well to the memory test. Type 4 fun isn't fun when you're doing it, and isn't fun a year later.

We had lots of Type 4 fun this weekend.

You all know I can write with relish about Type 2 fun, which, when on a trip, I have renamed "Good Bad Travel." It's undeniably a bad trip, but it's either interesting or adventurous, and so therefore is the good kind of bad travel. When my brother got pickpocketed by two Italian teenagers on the Gran Via in Madrid, it ended up being Good Bad Travel, because the ensuing story was hilarious: We went to the police station in the Puerto del Sol and reported the theft in our best Spanish. The desk cop listened to about three words of it before rolling his eyes and speaking to us in English, as if he were addressing two toddlers.

But in order to save a trip from a Bad Bad Travel designation, there must be some aspect of 1) humor, 2) danger or adventure or 3) some other interesting feature. There was none of that this weekend. When you pick the coldest weekend in a decade to visit Florida, when you are wilderness freaks who get stuck in a KOA campground on the weekend of the Daytona 500, when you go to a wildlife refuge known for its avian life and see approximately three very hardy birds*, then you are experiencing Bad Bad Travel.

*This may be a slight exaggeration.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Present and accounted for

No, I haven't abandoned ship again. But I'm very much behind the 8-ball in preparing for my trip to Florida tomorrow. We'll be doing an overnight canoe trip on the Santa Fe River in interior north Florida. And if the forecast is correct, we'll be freezing our tails off to boot, though not as badly as we would here.

My images got accepted to a new stock agency last week, so this trip is about continuing to build my stock. I'm still focusing a great deal on Indiana and Florida, though I still have more images from Montana than either of those. I'm very happy about getting images from the interior of Florida, which remains one of my favorite places from the years I lived in Gainesville so long ago.

I pick up T from the airport on Thursday and we're headed straight for a beachside campsite.

I'm irritated to be packing fleece and base layers for a trip to Florida, but like I said, it's a sight better than what we're getting here.

Tales of my adventures will be forthcoming after we get back to civilization this weekend.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happiness and the art of doing your thing

Lunch with my friend Niffy today, which reminds me that the people I'm most drawn to are the ones who are Doing Their Thing -- or, put another way, living their lives. I think I've mastered this, finally. For me the key has been Doing My Thing with no expectation of outcome other than simply doing it.

Guess where I'm going on Valentine's weekend?

It's February. Three guesses, and the first two don't count.