Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yes Woman

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way--something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way." - Alfred D'Souza

A few years ago, I had a revelation. I had been defining so much of who I was through what I was not. Consciously or not, I'd been saying "no" to many things. Or "maybe later."

I decided to turn that around. When's the time? Now. I just can't seem to get enough of trying new things. I've become a Yes Woman.

My recent firsts have included attending a boxing match, going to the horse races, learning to ski and snowshoe, attending numerous concerts (by new-to-me groups in new-to-me-venues), going to a three-day music festival, riding my bike 72 miles around Lake Tahoe, travelling alone throughout Italy and Spain, hiking 5 hours alone across a volcano in Hawaii, kayaking in the open ocean, teaching new classes ... and then there's been this summer. The summer of the Odyssey.

It all began Memorial Day Weekend when Dave and I went skiing. Yes, snow-skiing in May. The epic year of snow continued with another storm, so we went for it in Tahoe. On the heels of that came two months of travelling throughout the West: L.A., San Diego, Seattle, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Here are some of the things this Odyssey has illuminated:

1. When people invite you, say yes. We stayed in the homes of 10 different sets of friends on our journey. There is nothing like drinking coffee together in the mornings with sleep-encrusted eyes, or tootling throughout their neighborhoods on bikes, or going to their favorite restaurants and theaters and places of worship, or hiking on their favorite trail, or visiting their child's classroom, or helping set up a party and raging together to really get to know the people in your lives. New experiences add a new layer of richness to relationships.

2. Boas make anything fun. You can't wear a boa without bringing out your inner diva in a silly, ironic way. And it's better when everyone's wearing them! Party stores are great places to buy boas and other accoutrements. I'm learning how to mix anything (like striped stockings, costume jewelry, funny hats) with my regular clothes. Do this, and you're a party in the making.

3. You don't have to go to Africa for safari. Okay, you won't see zebras and elephants, but in the pristine environments of Alaska, Yellowstone and--especially for us--the Grand Tetons, you can see all kinds of wild animals in their natural environments. We saw bears, elk, mountain goats, moose (a mama and her 1-week old baby), bald eagles, whales, bison. At times I imagined I experienced, if even for a few seconds, what early Native Americans and early settlers must have felt. We'd been warned that these areas would be very crowded in the summer, but we discovered it's not that difficult to be alone in vast swaths of nature just barely off the beaten paths.

4. A cruise is a great way to meet people from all over the world. We met people who live throughout Canada and the U.S., as well as England, India, Brazil and Australia. Spending time together on the boat and on shore brought many of these friendships into fruition. We now have invitations to come visit many of these places (see Item 1 above)! We also learned that the more eager, excited and positive we were about everything we were experiencing, the more we attracted people who are passionate about life.

5. Music is everywhere. We experienced live music wherever we went, which always elicited joy and sense of community. Musical events included singing with guitars in living rooms and on a boat, going to local clubs and outdoor venues to dance to live bands, and attending a free festival that happened to feature one of Dave's favorite musicians. Almost all of these events felt like family weddings, with the little kids twirling around, teenagers giggling on the dance floor, a few couples gliding around like pros, and people of all ages boogying to the beat of their own drum.

6. It's the journey, not the destination. Our methods of transportation included car, airplane, bus, numerous different types of boats, zipline...Okay, zipline may be pushing the definition of "transportation" but the point is that each method wasn't just about getting from Point A to Point B. Each one had its special aspects that reminded us to revel in the journey. In Tahoe, we nestled into our Subaru's heated seats--and as we drove it across four states, we appreciated our expansive view through its windows and our awareness of its all-wheel-drive Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang power. In Marina del Rey, we cruised the bay in our friends' boat and we explored La Jolla cove in kayaks--wandering on the water as travel. The cruise ship was a remarkable glass-and-steel transport that cradled us with gentle rocking at night. From a huge inflatable raft expertly handled by our guide down the Snake River, we watched the sun rise over the Tetons. With friends we rode bicycles along Venice Beach, and along the greenbelt of the Boise River in Idaho. And we flew across the canopy in Juneau on a zipline--meaning we were held aloft hundreds of feet by two cables. Talk about an exhilarating way to experience movement across time and space!

7. Continue the journey at home. Our travels may be over for the summer, but my sense of journeying through yes-land is not. The day we returned, we went to my cousin's wedding. She had asked me to read a passage at the event. My initial thought had been that reading Bible passages is not my forte, but I said yes anyway. Then she told me she wanted me to read a version of Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" Perfect. Sometimes these things snowball. Or perhaps a better way to put it is like attracts like. The day after my cousin asked me to be part of her wedding, a friend asked me to perform her wedding. Guess what I said? And so now I embark on the journey of discovering how to most meaningfully perform such an important task. I can feel the richness of the experience that has yet to happen. It's about reaching for the feeling. And then the manifestation matches. It's just like another part of the journey I'm embarking on in the next few weeks: Planning my fall classes. So many books. So many hours with students. So many possibilities. And it's not about reaching the end of the semester. It's about taking the journey there together.