Peaks & Valleys

Last month, for the first time since February 2020, I boarded an airplane. The Delta variant had just started to kick up, but my backpacking friend and I took every possible precaution.

We had booked campsites in advance as well as kayaking and boating expeditions. We used a rideshare app called Turo to book automobiles in two places.

Alaska was incredibly awe-inspiring and I’m going to save going into depth for my upcoming environmental writing course. But I will mention one thing that impressed me: the Tlingit culture felt like an actual living, breathing culture, not just one that, like the Anasazi ruins, could only be imagined via the traces left behind. The Tlingit had been incorporated into the presentation and portrayal of their culture, with living descendants sharing about the customs and history, telling their own stories. It’s one of the few times I’ve found that a native culture has felt so experientially present and in connection with place in ways that well exceed the land acknowledgements.

The return was REALLY rocky. Stretching the travel muscle after being clamped down so long under covid lockdown was sort of like doing one of those yoga poses that unlock deep grief in the body. The trip was filled with joy, wonder, adventure, self-actualization, active learning, survival, adrenaline, friendship and inspiration, some of which I hadn’t experienced in such grandiose ways in a very long time. For two days after returning I was fairly inoperable and cried a lot, recovering slowly. Some of that may have been due to hormonal shifts too, but wow what a hard landing.

Then I helped my former partner move after she sold her condo, but it was actually really wonderful to feel I could be of help and support to her after she’d done so much to help and support me after my climbing accident.

Next, I visited my mom and my old summer camp where I’d been a summer camper from ages 10-17 and summer counselor for 3 years for a 100-year reunion. Returning to camp, seeing some familiar faces (the event was half-booked, which allowed for good social distancing), looking at familiar landscapes and the silhouettes of all the mountains I’d climbed and led others up and down, was extremely grounding. As lame as it may sound, singing all of the camp songs I know without having to look at the lyrics with others was incredibly healing and opened my chest up so that my heart could start to breathe again. The whole experience was a balm. Much of the camp experience was about learning to be a good person and accepting others. At the start of each term, the entire unit sits down and develops a Code of Living that identifies key virtues to embody. This creates an atmosphere of trust and safety to simply try to be the best human one can be, to “act spontaneously in the right,” as the camp mission statement says.

While I was a camper there, I sometimes felt very isolated especially as I was coming to terms with my sexuality, given the lack of and discouragement of queerness pretty much everywhere in the US at that time. It was really fun to return and to discover that while the reunion was very family-friendly with a number of children (including children of my former campers — now I feel old!!!!!!) running around, the administration employed a gay couple in the main office, and it was a very welcoming environment.

Further, I could, for the first time in a long time, see my own impact on former campers who remembered all sorts of things, like the time I had surprised them by carrying a watermelon on our hike up Long’s Peak to celebrate the 4th of July, and who told me phrases or ideas they still use that they’d heard from me. I returned in much better emotional health, it was a good recalibration of my compass. I could remember the kid I was at 13 and the following years and see how maybe life has more in store for me than I might sometimes give it credit for, and that I might be of more value and purpose than I at times give myself credit for. It also reminded me of other times I’d been resilient, and that it’s something I can find again.

I had expected another big crash after returning from camp, but instead I find myself buoyed and more optimistic than before. There was just so much sweetness, and it was safe to venture outside of my head.

In a different post I want to write about trust and safety because it’s something I think about a great deal.

I’ve never felt really clear about leaving academia, like leaving it wasn’t a decision I was fully ready to make, and I was no longer able to trust the people who had wanted to make that decision for me given all sorts of malfeasance. It wasn’t a clean departure in the very least, both on the part of the institution and on my own part. It had felt like every finger in my hands had been broken and had a gag tied around my mouth so I wasn’t able to write my papers or use my voice, and then after breaking me, they cast me out on the grounds that I wasn’t able to perform while handicapped. So I’ve tenuously explored more of the academic scene, which is a very small and insular community, even where one would think it would broaden out to be more inclusive where many languages and literatures are concerned. But just poking around and seeing if and, how, with distance, I could get basic needs met in a new way, has shown me how little due process, dispute resolution, commitment to fairness, or agreement about a code of conduct there actually is in most of the academic environments I’d be interested in. Without any mentoring guidance, documentation of those aspects would give me a sense of safety to hold onto. It’s been an extremely disappointing and dispiriting attempt at a return, but at least it has brought a little more clarity. I just don’t think I could ever really feel safe in academia again, and there doesn’t really seem to be anywhere for me to stand. It still hurts some.

September and October bring the start of new endeavors: new projects, new cybersec classes, a new set of career development meetings, a new writing group. So seasonally, I do get my autumn to be a time of new learning and new goals. Though these days I feel a bit bittersweet about it, I’m trying to get excited.

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