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Looking Back, Moving Forward

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” – Rainer Maria Wilke

I admit I have trouble letting go. On each eve of a new year, I feel nostalgic to the point of weepiness. I don’t recall ever uttering those words I so often hear from friends, “Good riddance to this year! I can’t wait for it to be over!”, perhaps because I believe that nothing is all bad. Ever. Negative knowledge, while certainly unpleasant, is still knowledge. And no matter what you learn, you walk away a changed person, and I’ve come to love this.

I traveled to Africa for the first time in January.  I went on safari and the monkeys had a party—twice—in our tent. I imagined them dancing around with my underwear on their heads, swinging through the trees and shouting to their friends, “Party in tent number 1!”  One brave simian, the one I figured was the leader of the invasion crew, came back while we were IN the tent and brazenly stole a box of tissues as we watched, then promptly ran up a tree and pulled every tissue out of the box and hung them on the tree branches while maintaining eye contact.  It was hilarious, and at the same time completely cured my childhood desire to have a pet monkey.

I found that lugging a humongous lens brings on “camera elbow,” but then I found an amazing chiropractor who alleviated that pain and I am now ready to go back to Africa and do it all over again . . . and I am, in one week. Those sexy savannahs are calling my name.

I found the elephants beautiful, graceful and elegant. They move through the grasses nearly stealth-like; you can barely hear them.  I’m fascinated how they travel in tightly-knit herds and touched that they mourn loss just like we do. My hoarder-type memory brings about a deep relativity to these gentle beasts: the saying that “elephants never forget” is definitely not lost on me.

I went on my first hot air balloon ride, gliding over those sumptuous savannahs at sunrise. We landed in the dewy grasses that I came to love – the grasses I spent hours photographing – and were served a champagne breakfast.  Ummmmm . . . yes, please. I would like more of that.

I found that animals in the wild are magnificent. I also found that I had little desire to take tack-sharp photographs; I don’t want or need to see the saliva between the lion’s teeth when he yawns.  Instead, I came to appreciate the subtle patterns of the softer and sensual lines created by intentional camera movement.  Yummy.

I went out on the sea with a captain named Simba in a boat that looked like it was carved solely with spoons, propelled by sails that were made of sewn-together rice sacks. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  And the boat didn’t sink, so there’s that.

I stepped on a sea urchin and was stung by a jellyfish within a 24-hour period.  I smoked a shisha pipe and discovered that I would happily dine on beef carpaccio three times a day while soaking up the ocean breeze in Zanzibar. ‘Twas absolute bliss.
I experienced the entire country of Canada – from sea to shining sea – in the dead of winter.  Waist-deep snow.  Sub-zero temperatures.  Crazy winds.  Frozen fingers that couldn’t even feel the shutter to press it.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I put miles and miles on my boots, loving each step in every city.  So, so grateful for the opportunity to visit parts of the planet I never dreamed would make it onto my world map.

I went on my first float plane and saw my heartown Vancouver from the air.  The plane, gliding off and onto the water, was an insanely surreal experience.  Soft, sensual, powerful . . . and completely fanfreakintastic.

I found the beautiful female form in various and unexpected places.   Always a total kick when people ask me what the hell it is that I’m photographing.

I went to my very first cooking class.  I never thought I enjoyed cooking.  I never thought I was remotely good at it.  Turns out, it wasn’t nearly the droll and awful activity that I believed it to be.  Turns out, I loved the creative process of it all.  Turns out, I can do more than stir stuff.  Who knew?

I went four wheeling for the first time since high school.  We sat at the bottom of that very first hill, staring up at the grade and feeling more than a bit trepidacious, and then we slid, bumped and ground our way to the top.  Sitting at the bottom, it felt a bit impossible.  But from the victorious vantage point at the top, I realized that I didn’t forget the fear along the climb, but that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  In fact, the journey on the unknown path was exciting:  truly the road less traveled.  I smiled. I was braver than I thought I was.  And by taking the road that scared me, I was able to see and experience things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I had my first exhibit.  To my delight, people came.

I told my story to women I’d never met before, and saw reflected in their eyes and on their faces a kindness, beauty, power and resolve that I rarely afford myself.

I broke promises to myself and to others, and that makes me sad.  I want to be better than that.

I loved deeply, honestly and incredibly in ways I’ve never before experienced.  I feel my heart growing every day.

I met people from all over the world, people who continue to inspire me to want to be a better person.

I sat across the table from my friend, tears rolling down her cheeks as she said how proud she was of me, how much I’d inspired her by taking the risks that I finally took.  She eloquently phrased it in the gentlest of ways: “You’re no longer clinging to the edge of the pool.”  Amen, sister.  I am not.  I am swimming in the deep end.

I wholeheartedly thank 2012 for providing me time and space to exercise both my timid and my big risks.  For continually challenging me to be more, to act braver, to embrace my every day.  And as I shake hands with 2013 – regardless of my propensity for not easily letting go of my yesterdays – I can’t wait to see where we’re going to go together.  I’ve got my ass-kickin’ boots on.  Let’s do this thing. 

Happy new year, all.  Wishing you every happiness.

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
– John Lennon


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  • Vanessa

    You inspire me more and more. Moment by glorious moment, you inspire. Fierce love has developed for you in my heart. Go girl. xx

  • heather binns

    wow – what an incredible year! a beautiful post – and i look forward to hearing all about your 2013. I am facing my ‘stop clinging to the side of the pool’ moment right about now – and you are an inspiration.

  • I love love love this post Cythia. You will kick 2013’s ass no doubt. I used that song in my brother’s funeral slide show. this post brought tears to my eyes. You rock!

  • Stephen Starkman

    Lovely images. Lovely words.