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!


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Missing My Work Family

I started my “new” job in the summer of 2019. I was still very much at the beginning of my aggressive learning curve when Covid came calling. When we got the email announcing the make-this-happen-practically-overnight transition to remote learning, my boss called me and said, “Welcome to your first crisis!”

My first crisis. Phew! Now I’m just over 18 months into this job, and a year of my work has been done in my house. All this time I would have spent working and hanging out with my team, seeing them every day, learning who they are and what they’re like. Instead, I’ve been in my room, seeing them occasionally in Brady Bunch boxes. It’s just so odd, not at all the way I know how to get familiar with people.

We’ve made it work, of course. Zoom and email have had to do the work seeing one another day in and day out would have done. In some ways, the changes brought on by quarantine have given me more contact with some people. My boss, for one. She and I work in different locations. We saw each other often in The Before Times, but quarantine has upped our communication dramatically, accelerated our relationship. Same with the large “outer tier” of folks I work with, people I might exchange emails or phone calls with but only see once a month. For the first semester of lockdown, we saw each other at least once a week, which gave them a chance to learn more about who I am and how I am different from the person they’d worked with before I arrived.

I’ve gotten to see a few folks in person during lockdown. I spent a morning working with my boss a few months ago. One coworker lives practically around the corner from me. It took us until summer, howeer, to realize we could meet up from time to time and go walk in the park together instead of meeting on zoom. Another coworker lives close to the office, and we met up for a walk along the river during one of my plant-watering trips. Each of those meetups has been excellent, so nice to have in-person conversations with people, so nice to be wholly present, not just a face on a screen.

Spending the day in my office today reminded me — as it does every time I go to the office — how much I miss the people I work with. Our office suite is a ghost town, so resoundingly empty. And, as we close in on a year since we all went home, I wonder how long it will be before we get to be face to face again. The work is getting done. Of course. But I want more.


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The Cure for Cabin Fever

(I just keep hearing the Styx song, “Too Much Time on My Hands” …)

The folks who work at the management company for my apartment building may have watched or read The Shining recently. They’re worried about all of us cooped up in our apartments day after day, slowly losing our minds.

How do I know? They sent out an email yesterday: “At Home Activities List for Residents.” This email is HUGE, full to bursting with ways to use your “corona-cation.” So many kinds of time-drainers, organized into categories like cooking, reading, games cleaning, crafting, creating … and on and on and on. There are activities for kids, ideas of things to do with your pets, online fitness classes, series to stream …

They are worried! They want to keep us focused and sane. No “Here’s Johnny!” meltdowns for us!

I can’t be mad at that. But I’m amused.

__________

Meanwhile, we seem to be pretty okay so far. Thank goodness, since these few days are just the opening beats of a long, complicated symphony. We’ve got several intricate movements to get through.

Today I went for a walk. A zoom meeting I had at lunchtime was canceled, so I took advantage of my surprise freedom and got out into the sunshine. It was lovely.

I walked up the hill to the park, then down the much steeper side of the hill to the grocery store (this is the second of my two grocery stores, not the store I visited last week, the one that was in apocalypse mode). And the store pleased me by having most of what I looked for, particularly toilet paper … not a lot of it, but some, and no one was fighting anyone else to get at it. None of my yogurts of choice, however. Sad times.

After the groceries, I walked a few blocks down … to. the. liquor. store … and picked up a couple of bottles of wine. Finally, my house is fully prepared for lockdown.

I’m glad I went out. it was only an hour out of the house, but it was welcome. It was great to feel the sun on my face, great to see just how carefully so many of my neighbors are observing the PAUSE. Good on them. Good on all of them. Grammarly says my writing in this post is mostly sad and gloomy. I don’t see that. I see caring in that comical email from the management company. I see pleasure in my walk in the sun. I see appreciation in my gratitude for my neighbors not being out on the street. Yes, all of that. Something else for me to remember: get out of the house! Go be in the sun for a few minutes. Be socially-distant but also breath fresh air.

Yes,


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 5

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! This will be, at last, the final story. It’s a little different from the others. It might also be a little more alarming for readers. Just remember that I’m right here, writing this blog post. This story happened a long time ago, and I’m totally fine. Nothing terrible befell me back then, I just made some foolish choices … and — as has often happened in my life of foolish choices — I had the gift of divine intervention and people turning out to be as worthy of my trust as I believed them to be.


In the mid 80s — 1986, I think — I went to Prague. It was my second trip there. The first trip had been magical but super short, and I’d been hoping to find my way back. (Comical aside: As I prepped for my trip, one of the men I worked for asked if people in Czechoslovakia would notice me, would recognize me as not being one of them. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t a particularly jokey person, so I thought I’d clarify and asked, “You mean, other than the fact that they will all be white, and I’m … not?” If ever there was an indicator that we needed better geography and world history in our schools …)

I got to Prague. I hooked up with my old friends. I made new friends. I wandered the beautiful streets of that beautiful city. I sat in coffee shops, ate excellent ice cream, went to wine bars.

In one wine bar, a favorite spot of the new batch of friends I’d made, I met two guys whose names I no longer remember … and maybe I only knew one of their names in the first place? The guy whose name I knew got chummy really fast and spent the rest of the evening hovering too close. At the end of the night, he invited me to meet them the next day for sightseeing. That seemed harmless enough, so I agreed.

I met them at the astronomical clock, and we started walking around the Old Town. And then the guy — let’s call him Miloš, though that was definitely not his name — suggested a trip to … I don’t know, some beautiful attraction. When I agreed, we walked to the train station, not the metro, but the trains that went out of the city. That should have been the point where I demurred, the moment for me to end our encounter. Instead, I got on the train.

The whole way out, Miloš talked about his hard life as a writer and philosopher and how awful it was that his ex-girlfriend had smashed the windshield of his car and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. The other guy — we’ll call him Honza — never said anything. He was a big, shaggy presence beside Miloš or me wherever we went.

We got off the train at Černošice. Right. Who knows where that is? Certainly not me. I mean, I can find it on a map now — it’s about five kilometers outside of Prague — but that doesn’t really help 34-years-ago me. We got off the train and started walking.

We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more. Was it pretty? Maybe. Did there seem to be any reason at all for us to have left Prague to be there? Yeah, not so much. We were well out of whatever counted for “town” in Černošice, walking through a sparsely-residential area, occasional houses carved into the forest that surrounded us. We went to a house and were let in by a guy who seemed surprised but pleased to see us. Inside, there were three more men. There was a lot of conversation in Czech, a couple of phone calls, and then Miloš said we should leave our things in the house because we were going for a walk in the forest.

I had no “things,” since I’d left my house that morning for some casual sightseeing. Miloš said I could leave my purse because I wouldn’t need it, but that seemed silly.

Now here, of course, is yet another moment when I should have extricated myself from the situation. Somehow. I was who knew where, with a growing number of men I didn’t know. I was being invited to leave my identification behind before wandering off into the forest with the unknown men. I think about this now, and I marvel at how unbelievably stupid I was as a young woman. At the time, however, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was annoyed. I had a limited number of days in Prague, and I was annoyed to be wasting one of them — no beautiful attraction, no time spent with my friends, and no end in sight for this unplanned side trip.

We set off into the forest. There was a clear path we were following, so we weren’t lost, strictly speaking. I include this story in the “into the woods” series because I was lost. I had no idea where I was or how to return to anything familiar. I didn’t speak more than a dozen words in Czech and no one other than Miloš seemed to speak English. The men with me weren’t at all lost, but I most certainly was.

At one point in our walk, we came out of the trees into a pretty field of tall grass and wildflowers. We were on the crest of a hill and below us was a beautiful ribbon of river winding through a valley. That was lovely … though no one stopped to make note of it, and it was pretty far from where we were, so it was surely not our destination. We crossed the top of the hill and went back into the trees and didn’t see the river again.

After more walking, we were suddenly at a little beer garden. There were maybe ten people — including women! — waiting for us there. We got a big table and had drinks and sausage, cheese, and bread.

It was nice enough, but I couldn’t speak to anyone, the sun was going down, and I had no idea how to get back to anywhere. I asked Miloš how long before we headed for the train, and he looked shocked. He said he thought I’d understood that we’d be staying the night. He said there were no more trains to Prague at that hour, and the house where we’d stopped was where we’d sleep.

This story took place a lot of years ago, long before I began developing my rich and healthy relationship with my anger. I was still, at that time, afraid of expressing anger. But not in that moment. I was instantly furious, and — unlike most of the times I got angry back then — it was immediately obvious to Miloš, Honza, and everyone else sitting near me that I was furious. Miloš was apologetic but kept saying it wasn’t serious, that I’d get back in the morning and not to worry about it. This didn’t do anything to blunt my rage.

It was decided that, since I wasn’t enjoying myself, we should go. We started the walk back through the now-entirely-dark forest. Two of the women came with us, which was good, as both of them had flashlights. Miloš kept trying to apologize and assure me that there was no real problem and I shouldn’t be upset. Finally, one of the women made him shut up and walked with her arm through mine the rest of the way.

We made it back to the house, and it was decided that the two women and I would share the bedroom and the men … I don’t know, they slept somewhere else.

In the morning, Miloš, Honza, and I walked to the station and got the train to Prague … and Miloš spent the whole ride asking me to give him $500 so he could fix his windshield. Ugh.

Back in the city, I walked away from them at the station and went home, furious, grubby, hungry, exhausted.

Two nights later, I saw Miloš in the wine bar. He came right up — his face a dramatic display of distress — and told me that the most awful thing had happened, that some crazy person had smashed his windshield, and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. Could I give him $400? It wouldn’t be a problem for me, such a small amount, and he’d get it back to me someday.

I kid you not.

In the years since that crazy experience, I’ve wondered what Miloš had actually planned for that day. Was he hoping to rob me — assuming I’d have crazy amounts of money in my wallet because I’m American? Was he hoping to seduce me so I’d feel inclined to give him lots of my American money? Or was he just an idiot? I also wonder about the women who slept with me that night. What made them come back to the house with us? What had they heard or seen that made them decide to stay with me until morning? Neither of them could speak to me, but they stayed with me, and I felt comfortable with them, having them around me.

See? I came through it all unscathed. And that’s the last of my into-the-woods stories. I’m glad I’m here to tell it, and hopeful that I won’t have any (many?) future ones to add to the list!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 4

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! In my last tale, I told a story about summer camp. And, this story is about summer camp, too!


The summer after high school, I had snagged for myself what I thought would be the perfect job: counselor at the beloved camp I’d attended as a child. It didn’t turn out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but seeing behind the curtain took some of the shine off for me.

Before camp started, counselors and staff had lots of work to do: setting up tents and bunks, organizing the craft, ceramic, and wood shops, anchoring floating donuts in the lake, cleaning the barn and getting all of the animals in kid-ready condition …

And while all of those chores were team activities, there were also specific team-building activities. Counselors went off on day trips to get to know each other and the area. I went on a hiking day trip, a climb up Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Just a little backstory on Van Hoevenberg. It’s 2,940 feet tall — not one of the high peaks of the Adirondacks (the 46 highest mountains in the range, all over 4,000 feet). It’s considered an easy hike, good for kids. It’s named for Henry Van Hoevenberg who build trails in the high peaks decades before the creation of the Appalachian Trail (no competition here, just a time marker for historical context). It’s home to the Olympic bobsled runs from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.

It’s also the first mountain I ever climbed. As I said in my last into the woods post, most campers’ first climb is the tiny, not-a-mountain-really that The Boy and I snuck away to climb. My first trek, as a seven-year-old, was Van Hoevenberg. So it felt only right to go on the counselor hike and start my life as an adult at camp on the same mountain.

I have no memory of my childhood climb other than walking down the bobsled run on the descent from the summit. I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics then, and certainly not a single thing about bobsledding, but I thought the runs were cool.

Our counselor crew set out, led by a man who’d been a counselor when I’d been a camper, a really funny man who made everything seem possible and fun, a good leader for a day hike that would have some rough patches.

There was a lot of singing and laughter. There were discoveries of wild raspberries and bear tracks and a field of Indian Paintbrushes. There was even a stop in a clearing for some impromptu square-dancing and the high drama of crossing a rushing stream by waling across a tree that had fallen and created a bridge to the other side.

For a person who has no relationship with her center of gravity, walking over that fallen tree was a trauma. I was certain I’d end up in the water, which would have been embarrassing and also painful because it was full of small boulders and about 8 feet below. But I had divine intervention on my side and I made it across just fine. I didn’t look forward to doing that on the return trip when I’d be tired, but I needn’t have worried: there was no way we’d find our way back to that path!

In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that crossing that tree was the start of our problem. There are no hiking trails that include such an unstable and impermanent feature. And yet, no one expressed any concern about learning the for-real path. Maybe we thought John’s good mood would steer us true. You know, or something. Turns out, this is really not a thing. Quel surprise.

We’d been hiking close to two hours when we acknowledged that we weren’t on a trail and no one knew where we were. Someone made up a song about bushwhacking and — as The Boy and I did on our hike — we decided to keep trying to find the summit rather than immediately trying to find our way back to the base. Maybe it’s something in that not-at-all-thin mountain air that inspires this ridiculous decision.

We made a weird, stair-step path — hiking sideways, hiking up, hiking sideways, hiking up. We had another impromptu square-dance in another clearing. We ate our cheese and crackers and PB&J lunch.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there, scrabbling around the side of that mountain. We probably would have stayed longer. John kept us in good spirits and seemed perpetually convince that we’d magically find the trail if we just pushed ourselves a little further, convinced that we could come down the train if we just made it to the summit.

We never reached the summit. Instead, we reached the top of a bobsled run. Seeing that formal structure, we knew we could get back to camp, and the decision to head down the shuttle was unanimous and made without words. We all just stepped into the track and started walking down.

Walking the bobsled run was as fun to me as a 17-year old as it had been to me as a 7-year-old. At the bottom, we poured out into the stadium. In one of my photo albums, I’ve got snapshots of counselors walking onto the field with their arms raised in a victory V. 🙂 We left the stadium and finished our hike the same way my sister’s Girl Scout troop did: on the road. We walked up that quiet road back to the entrance to camp, still singing, still laughing, and with a little bit of impromptu square-dancing. Lost and then found.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot