24 Hours: Do I Dare?

What is it with me and challenges? I can’t resist them. Cannot. I never used to think of myself as a competitive person, but I so am. And that’s part of the driver behind my saying yes to challenges. I’m competing: against the ridiculousness of the challenge, against myself.

I think it throws me back to taking a dare as a kid. Someone would thrown down some petty or foolish gauntlet, and I would immediately feel the pull to dive in and prove … who knows what, but prove it all the same. Clearly, I’ve never outgrown the inability to resist that pull.

All this to say I can’t resist. Generally speaking, the challenges I take on are fairly mild. They come in the form of, say, doing NaNoWriMo. Or the 30/30 poetry month challenge … and sweetening the pot by choosing a poetry form and writing that form all month long. Not easy for me, but pretty harmless.

The 24 Hour Project is one of the challenges that keeps captivating me year after year. It tests me on different levels:

  1. Can I stay awake and mostly functional for 24 hours?
  2. Can I find something or someone to photograph every hour of the day?
  3. Will I be able to imagine a story to write for each photo I post each hour (this is the “sweetener” I’ve added to the basic rules of the 24HrPrj)?
  4. Will I be able to get all the photos of people that I want without being spotted (I fail this every year, always get busted at least once)?
  5. Will I venture into neighborhoods I haven’t visited on previous 24HrPrj days?
  6. Will I post all my “leftovers” after the day — all the pics that didn’t go up on the challenge day but which I still want to make stories for (I haven’t succeeded with this one this year … yet)?
  7. If I’m going out alone, will I settle into the fun of the challenge and not let the worry and discomfort of being alone on the street in the middle of the night sour my good mood and make it hard for me to take pictures (this one is really a crap shoot and has as much to do with me as it does with who else is out on the street in the middle of the night)?

Is it any wonder that I love this challenge when it has so many challenges baked in?

I had a lot of fun this year … after I managed to succeed at Number 7, calming down about being by myself. Both of the friends who’ve gone out with me in the past weren’t able to do the Project this year. I did wind up running into my friend S, the person who introduced me to the challenge. I spotted him in Times Square around 4 am and hung out with him and a few other 24 Hour Photogs for a couple of hours then met up with him for another couple of hours in the evening.

I was rusty with the story-making. Not only was the Project Covid-canceled last year, being in quarantine for the last forever has meant not being out and about that much, not taking pictures, not having the catalysts/inspiration to make up stories.

So yes, quite rusty. But after a couple of hours it began to feel easier. There’s a picture from the two o’clock hour that was the turning point. I had found an all-night diner (key establishments for making it through the Project, to be sure) and took a picture of a police officer who was having dinner and a very involved conversation with his partner. In the picture, he is studying the menu. The combination of his serious face and the fact that he reminded me of a friend’s son and echoed her older brother who had been a police officer all clicked for me and the story just fell into my head. From that point forward, the stories came more quickly and smoothly.


I miss my city. Eighteen months in my room is a long time to be separated from people watching, grabbing a coffee at a favorite café, chatting with store employees, having random and excellent encounters with strangers.

That last one is one of the things that struck me hardest during the 24 Hour Project. I miss talking to strangers, something I’ve always done quite a lot of … but not since Covid came to town. Around 7:30 Saturday morning, having seen my way through the long midnight-to-dawn of the challenge, I was headed home to charge my devices and recharge myself. I stopped in my grocery story because I still needed a photo for the hour. I saw an elderly woman I wanted to take a picture of. I did take a picture, but she surprised me by starting to talk to me.

Not only did she talk to me, but she was funny and sweet. At two moments in our conversation, she reached over and put her hand on my arm. You know, the way you reach for a friend’s arm when you’re talking and you want to emphasize your shared feeling at that instant. And she did it twice.

I am a toucher. I like affectionate physical contact. Not with everyone, of course, but yes, I like it. Having this woman touch me in this conversationally intimate way — after a forever of almost no physical contact, when we were strangers, when she was a tiny elderly white woman and I a big, Black woman — it was absolutely beautiful. It made my heart smile.

I have missed this type of sweetness my city has always given me. Yes, the city has given me some ugly moments, too, for sure. But I get much more of the random kindness and connection of that exchange in the chips and cookies aisle.

* * *

(My 24-Hour experience this year was a warm welcome back to my city. But what a difference a couple of weeks can make. I was out taking my pictures on July 24th … and now, Delta is threatening new lockdowns. I’m glad we got the Project in before the tide started to turn, and I really hope we can stay on the safer side of this variant wave.)

Do I dare? Well, I certainly always do when it comes to the 24 Hour Project. It’s such a great idea and a fun event, and I love following people from around the world, getting to see a day in their cities. This year I followed two Italians, a Pole, two Mexicans, one Turk, a couple of Australians, and a handful of people around this country. In a sense, I guess it’s a virtual way to have a random conversation with a stranger.

I need to get back to posting my leftovers … and some of the shots I’ve captured since the event. I’m already looking forward to next year!

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Slice of Life day!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

What I Would Give for Surprise

Officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha has returned from administrative leave. He will not face any disciplinary action for shooting James Blake.

And it’s Tuesday. A Tuesday like any other. Nothing shocking, nothing out of the ordinary. One more in the forever line of days of being at constant risk in this land of the free (whites) and home of the (trigger happy) brave.

* * *

Let’s talk about Golden Shovels, shall we? I’ve been so tired the last few days, I haven’t had time to think about how hard this form is for me. All I’ve been able to do is churn out a poem and get it posted. I posted a comment earlier that showed me at least part of what the road block is for me with these poems. Yes, having a prescribed set of words and word placement is restrictive. The bigger issue is that the lines I’m using as my source text are from Clifton’s poems. Using them feels rudely audacious and makes me even more self-conscious than I would normally be. So yes, the task I’ve set for myself for this month is specially designed to trip me up. Brilliant!

Despite all of this, I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the form. Not snuggled in the way I was with the tanka. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cozy in another form, but I am feeling less like a combatant, less under siege. That’s a good sign, of course, and it’s kind of right on time. It’s usually around the middle of the month that I stop approaching my chosen form as if we’re cage-fighting. It remains to be seen if I can approaching something closer to actual ease with this.

Tonight’s source text is from “the times.”

No Charges

That confidence, safety, certainty is so white,
so very, blindingly white, and
the heat of it burns, glowing, as I
watch it dance, saunter, flaunt its might.
I understand.
I do. I might be the same, except
nothing in this unwelcoming birthplace has afforded me that
freedom, that comfort. Instead, I
have built every good thing I am.
And today what I feel is tired,
as again I spit out a bitter draught of understanding.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Endings and Beginnings

We finished the giant work project that has been consuming so much of my brain space for the last three months. We finished it, in fact, a full day early. I am exceedingly grateful for the massive effort made by the team I work with. There were more than a few times in the last weeks when I wasn’t sure we would reach this place, wasn’t sure we would finish, but here we are.

I spent the evening on zoom working with Fox, my sister, mapping out a project that she and I will be undertaking. I feel as if she and I have just completed a couple of months of pre-reading activities and are about the dive into the book at last. (Today is also Fox’s birthday!}

Today is the last day of the 2021 edition of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. It’s been a long and often difficult slicing month for me. Yes, I’ve posted something every day, but I haven’t been as much a participant in the community as I usually am, and I’ve missed that. I haven’t had the strength to join in, all my energy sapped by work. I’ve missed catching up with some of my favorite veteran slicers, missed getting to discover new slicers. The end to this year’s challenge feels too soon, too soon.

And tomorrow is the start of National Poetry Month, the start of my 2021 poetry 30/30. I had thought I would give this month to exploring the pantoum again, but I’ve changed my mind. I was zooming with my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma) last night for our biweekly writing date, and she introduced me to a form I’d never heard of, the “Golden Shovel.” Apparently, poet Terrance Hayes created this form as an homage to Gwendolyn Brooks. The idea is to take a line from a poem or other text and use each work in the line as the end of a line in your poem. Hayes’ idea was to do this using lines from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems. Sonia learned about the Golden Shovel in a NYTimes article that introduced a twist on the form: use, instead of a line of poetry, a headline from a news story. Sonia’s going to do a 30/30 using the headline version of the Golden Shovel. And I’m going to do the Golden Shovel, too … but I’m going to use lines from Lucille Clifton poems. We’ll see how it goes.

And maybe, if I don’t chicken out, I’ve got another couple of beginnings on the horizon for April. We’ll see how they all play out.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Under the Sea

Okay, one last Grand Cayman story. At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there was a lot of snorkeling on that trip. It makes sense, of course. We were in the Caribbean, of course a lot of our activities would involve the water and seeing what was in the water with us.

I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim, and could probably swim well enough to swim out of trouble if trouble approached me slowly, but Diana Nyad, I’m not. I’m fascinated by the ocean, however, and by sea creatures.

Backstory on me and snorkeling: The first time I went to Jamaica, I was excited to go snorkeling. My friends and I got gear and marched ourselves into the water. And the ocean didn’t disappoint. I saw lots of fish — including a beautiful moment when a school of silversides swam around me. I saw sea urchins, a conch, lots of coral … After I’d been paddling around a while, I was annoyed because there was a terrible noise that was distracting me from my leisurely sea-gazing. It was a loud, rasping noise, as if Darth Vader was about to tell me he was my father. I kept looking for what could be the source of the nuisance. Finally I realized that I was the source. What I was hearing was the sound of my own panic breathing, loud and terrified, amplified by the snorkel and maybe by the water. I don’t know, but it was LOUD.

Panic breathing even though I was totally fine … and would always have been totally fine because I was snorkeling in such shallow water I could just stand up when the going got too unnerving. Seriously. The second place we snorkeled on that trip was a sand bar. I couldn’t even swim there. I just lay on the ocean floor and looked around.

Why panic breathing? Because I am fascinated by the ocean, but I’m also pretty entirely afraid of it. And when I’m fully in it, swimming around with the beings that live there, I’m out of place. I’m the alien, unable to adapt, inserting myself into someone else’s territory. The landscape is foreign, the atmosphere is inhospitable — I can’t breathe there unless I have special equipment — and no one speaks my language.

And being underwater in the ocean, I discovered, makes me feel claustrophobic. Really, really claustrophobic.

All of this adds up to panic breathing. I consciously calmed my breath and forced myself to keep going. There was so much I wanted to see. And I got to see a lot, but my snorkeling fear took hold from that first day. I snorkeled a few more times on that trip — even had a barracuda swim on his own leisurely path right in front of my nose! I kept snorkeling, but my fear didn’t abate.

So when I agreed to be a chaperone on the Grand Cayman trip, I knew there would be snorkeling on our agenda. I figured it would be like what I’d done in Jamaica, and I’d make it work. I also figured that, with two other adults sharing the chaperone duties, there would be times when I could opt out of being in the water. And then the other chaperones announced that they had no intention of swimming because they couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water. So I would have to do all the snorkeling. All. And keep a brave face on while doing it so the kids who were nervous would feel better about giving it a try.

Our first outing, we got on a boat, and motored out further from shore than I’d ever snorkeled before. Our captain and guide announced that the spot he was taking us to would be great for seeing lots of things … and would be between 75 and 80 feet deep. And, while the kids were oohing and aahing at the thought of such deep water, I was repeatedly confirming for myself that no, in fact I wouldn’t be able to just stand up if I was freaking out. I’m tall, but I am woefully human-sized, so no toes on in the sand and head above the waves options there.

We put on our gear when we reached the designated spot, and our guide and his crew began helping the kids into the water. I descended the ladder and pushed off from the boat and, before I even put my face in the water, I could feel my panic breathing start. Under the guise of monitoring the kids, I treaded water and did some deep breathing exercises to calm myself. I finally got my breath back to something that could pass for normal, and went under.

And I saw lots of fabulousness, including rainbow parrotfish, who I fell in love with instantly, and gorgeous, enormous sea fan coral (gorgonia ventalina), which is one of my favorite corals. I also saw how far the floor was below me, and I had to fight back the panic breathing again. And I saw a stingray … and I decided to swim back to the boat … which at first I couldn’t find but located before a full panic attack could erupt.

I don’t remember how many snorkeling outings we had during that week. At least five, including one day when we snorkeled at two different venues. Vidalys, one of the older girls who had held my hand across the aisle on the plane because she was terrified of flying, told me she was excited to get better at snorkeling because she could see how much I loved it. I almost laughed. Then I realized that a) my “Whistle a Happy Tune” approach to being a snorkeling chaperone had worked for both Vidalys and for me because b) I was loving the snorkeling. I was loving seeing all those rainbow parrotfish and seeing corals and seeing all the other underwater-world things there were to see. And by the last couple of excursions, I no longer had to calm myself because the panic breathing had stopped clawing at my throat.

I’m still not Diana Nyad, nor will I ever be. I am, however, making some undersea plans. I have a gift I want to give myself when I hit my 60s, and it involves some serious undersea activity. Just thinking about it calls up the old panic, but Grand Cayman taught me the cure for that: I just have to keep diving in.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Epic Fails in Child-Minding History

After yesterday’s post, I thought of so many other stories from the Fresh Air Fund trip. But SOLSC is almost over, so I’m going to tell the big, dramatic one that comes with a sweet little one embedded in the middle.

First let me be clear that I have always been a terrible babysitter. My very first job as a babysitter when I was a kid, I fell asleep on the couch … so deeply asleep, that I didn’t hear the parents knocking on the door or ringing the bell to be let into the house at the end of the night (no, I have no idea why these adults didn’t have keys to their own home). They had to go to the back of the house and rouse one of their children by banging on his window so he could let them in. I didn’t wake up until they came into the living room and gave me a little shake. (They hired me a few times after that, another unexplainable thing about them.) I was a babysitter all through high school, and trust me when I say that I never got much better at it.

After college, when I was living in Connecticut, I was a chaperone for a church youth group trip to see the tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. I had six teen girls I was supposed to keep and eye on. I lost four of them. I’m not kidding. Yes, it’s true that the four friends made the decision to not stay close to the group, which led to them losing us in the crowd, but it was my job to notice them disappearing, and I didn’t. They were fine — as soon as they realized they’d lost us, they went back to Grand Central and took the train back to Stamford. In those no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone days, that was a super smart thing for them to do … but it made for some scary time for me and the other chaperone. We imagined all kinds of awfulness befalling them, cut short the outing for the kids we hadn’t lost, enlisted the search-party help of Radio City security guards and several police officers, and finally gave up searching and dragged ourselves back to Connecticut … only to get off the train and find one of the “missing” girl’s dads waiting to a) let us know all the girls were safe and sound and b) chew us out for being such crappy chaperones.

I say all that to make it as clear as possible why I should never be entrusted with the care of anyone’s child. I mean, no child has ever been harmed in my care, but that’s surely more about divine intervention than about my skill as a caretaker.

And then I decided to fly off to Grand Cayman with ten kids and two other adults. Because I don’t learn from my own mistakes. Or I just really believe in the reliability of divine intervention.

The kids were all going to be staying with host families, and the chaperones were all going to be staying at a fancy beachfront hotel. The kids wouldn’t meet their families until dinner the first night. The plan was for us to check into the hotel, for each chaperone to take three or four kids to our rooms and change into swim gear and go hang out in the pool or on the beach for a bit and then go back to our rooms and get everyone ready for the swanky dinner at which they would meet their host families.

The three boys on the trip immediately voted for being assigned to me. “We already know we like you best,” was the explanation given by Bradley, an 11-year-old who’d get to celebrate his 12th birthday on the trip. As I said in yesterday’s post, children can spot me a mile away. While it may have been true that the boys liked me, it’s more likely that all four boys sussed that I was (am) a total pushover and chose me for that specific reason.

In my room, they proceeded to lose their minds — dancing on the bed, emptying the contents of their suitcases all over the floor, trying to lock each other out on the balcony, trying to guess the combination of the room safe and succeeding in making sure it would stay locked by guessing wrong combinations in rapid-fire succession, unpacking the mini-fridge. All in the few minutes it took for me to change into my swim gear in the bathroom.

They all opted for the pool over the beach, as did the other kids and chaperones. I checked in with the other women and we agreed that I’d take a short walk on the beach and then come back to the pool. Gorgeous beach, gorgeous afternoon, way too many people, but really lovely place.

Back at the pool, there were all sorts of shenanigans and everyone was having a great time. And then it was time to gather the kids and go get ready for dinner. I got the boys together — Joshua (of SpongeBob fame), Bradley, and Rafael, the youngest of the kids on the trip) — and we headed back into the hotel.

And then I lost Joshua and Bradley.

From one moment of walking and talking with all three kids to the next minute of only talking to Rafael, Bradley and Joshua vanished. And then it was my turn to lose my mind. And to lose my mind while trying not to freak Rafael out. We retraced our steps, we looked down every path that branched off the path we’d taken, we wandered the whole of the first floor of the hotel.

I went to the front desk to report the boys missing and get some help searching. (And here is the sweet story I promised at the beginning). As we waited to speak to someone, a man beside us at the desk was changing money. Quite a lot of money. He was counting through a stack of beautiful Caymanian money, and Rafael pointed and laughed.

“Look at all that play money,” he said.

“Oh, no, sweetie, that real money. It’s the money they use in this country.”

He looked at me, open-mouthed, his eyes big. “Other countries have other money? Wait til I tell the guys.”

I love that, even though Rafael knew the other boys were lost, he wasn’t freaked out and could still find something to be amused by. I love that the concept of money other than the dollars he was familiar with was so mind blowing. And that it would be a cool thing to tell Joshua and Bradley. And that he was so sure that we would absolutely find Joshua and Bradley. I wasn’t sure of that. I was pretty certain I had really and truly lost my charges that time, but they were little kids instead of teenagers and couldn’t just go to Grand Central take the train home.

We did, of course, find Joshua and Bradley. After getting the hotel staff searching, the concierge suggested I take Rafael upstairs so we could get changed and then come back down. I took my brave-faced-but-terrified self upstairs and, as Rafael and I walked toward the room, Joshua and Bradley jumped out from the hiding place they’d been waiting for us in and scared the crap out of us both.

Because yes, as we’d left the pool, Bradley had had the idea of running ahead and hiding so they could scare us. How did I not notice them running ahead of us? How did no one see these two boys hiding in the hallway and bring them downstairs? Why did they stay there for so long? Joshua said they were sure Rafael and I would come up at any moment, so they kept hiding … but they did wonder what was taking us so long.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as terrified as I was when I thought I’d lost those boys. How could I go back to New York and tell their parents they’d never see their beautiful babies again? Ugh. Such a complete nightmare. And yes, I was furious with both boys … and I was also so happy to see them, so happy they weren’t in the hands of some terrible, kidnapping adult, that my anger dissolved.

The boys turned my hotel room inside out during the shower and dress for dinner portion of the day. Such a disaster that I left and obscene tip for the housekeeping staff and a note of apology with the promise that the rest of my stay would not include such messes. We went to dinner and handed the kids off to their host families, and our trip got under way in earnest.

And aside from that heart-attack-inducing start, things ran pretty smoothly for the rest of the week. Even after it was revealed that neither of the other chaperones could swim or had any intention of getting in the water … on a trip for which most of the planned activities involved getting in the water. This weirdness meant I was the only chaperone when we went snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling, and snorkeling (SO MUCH SNORKELING!), and playing with stingrays, and … Seriously.

I have had any number of entirely successful child-minding experiences, but losing Joshua and Bradley is pretty glaring, and easily aged me ten years. Don’t ask me to take care of your kids, people! I am not to be trusted.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot