Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Ten Years Later: The Antarctica Post
I admit that I love lists. I make a TO DO list every week, every weekend, every other day. My lists keep my mind and my life in order, and there is something so completely satisfying about being able to cross an item off - so it looks like the strikethrough font, as Microsoft calls it. Every check mark, every line through a word, every time I scribble over A Thing To Do is like the moment a big toe crosses a finish line. I'm earning myself tiny medals everyday for completing my little goals, one To Do item at a time. Sometimes there are tasks I never conquer - like my taxes - and they sit there on my lists staring back at me, whole words unmarred by checks and lines and scribbles that get transferred from list to list, each time re-written with the hope of a future accomplishment, but sometimes... I don't win these little victories.
I've had one item on my To Do list since June (which isn't that bad when you consider the fact that my taxes have been on my lists since March). It's been written and re-written onto countless lists, even typed out into electronic task managers in the (glorious, glorious!) world of digital calendars. But tonight, at midnight, this item will disappear - not because I've gone and done it, but simply because I'm too late - it expires.
A few months ago, J sent me an email. It wasn't anything elaborate, just a fragment of a sentence and a link to something he thought I might be interested in. He wished me all the best before signing off. He had found a contest where the prize was a trip to Antarctica and all you had to do was blog your way there. Sure enough, I was interested - I've "always" wanted to go to Antarctica and yes(!) I can blog. This sounded like something that I could actually do. I checked out the site, read the rules, bookmarked it in my head, and told myself I'd have to do it later - hey, I was busy.
Days passed, and I went from city to city. Weeks came and went and I found myself overseas, country to country. But no matter where I was, his email, this contest, was always on my mind. I'm on holiday, I thought, I'll get to it when I'm home. Before I knew it, August arrived and I found myself in my desk chair in front of the computer with a week off before I went back to work. This is perfect! I said to myself, I've got a whole week to really write something good. Really GOOD. I pumped myself up. It's gonna be touching and DEEP. And I gotta make it funny, and COOL and ...awesome. Yeah, I can do that. But it's gotta be short and sweet because they only take 300 words... And then I freaked out because all of the sudden I didn't know what to say anymore.
I remember the first time he brought it up. We were in high school - I was 15 and him, maybe 17? - and volunteering at the local bingo hall one night. It was our turn to go into the smoking section, and my goodness, the smoke was so thick in there you could hardly see your friends through the glass walls. He came up to a friend and I and just threw it out there: "Hey, would you guys ever want to go to Antarctica?" Our friend thought it was a wild, ridiculous notion - just the kind of thing I liked. My eyes widened. I enthusiastically asked questions, nodded my head vigorously - and that's how it started.
He had found the website about a month before departure and the trip organizer was gracious enough to let us both on the expedition - on the condition that we pay the fee of $8,800 each. Ten years ago, that was a crap load of money for a teenager - it still is. We couldn't afford it without help, so we had to fundraise and solicit sponsors. The next couple of weeks found us writing letters and emails, making phone calls, faxing papers, leaving messages from home and from the office at school where we would spend all of our spare hours. We went store to store at the mall, I told old teachers from elementary school and called every local business listed in the yellow pages. We even got ourselves in the local paper and set up an account where community members could make donations. Someone deposited $20. A couple years later it got eaten up by bank fees.
Suffice to say, we never did get the money to go on the trip. The night before we officially gave up I was making phone calls at midnight, leaving messages on answering machines. I got scolded pretty badly when I woke a shopkeeper up - he thought it was an emergency. "But... it is an emergency," I thought.
For Christmas that year, my closest friends brought us to Antarctica - they had made stuffed penguins and polar bears and set up my friend's basement to be like the Antarctic journey we were 'supposed' to be going on. When I opened my eyes and saw what they had done, I cried. I still have that penguin they made.
J would go on to tell me that the whole Antarctica episode was what really brought us closer together - to him, at least. After a while, I admit that I started seeing the continent as our goal, our thing. The years that followed saw us as friends, lovers, and when we became strangers, he went on the expedition by himself. Of course, he never told me he was planning on it, that he had started fundraising - but I heard about it all the same (I really don't like sharing friends with ex's). It was a sobering moment when I found out he was going because our thing, of course, was no longer ours. His point was made pretty clear when he returned the cheque I wrote - a measly $100, but hey, I thought it would be nice to help. This was all his, and he didn't want any part of me, not my pennies and not even my goodwill, to be a part of it.
I guess I can understand that. Really, I do understand. And if I'm completely honest, I'll admit that I might have done the same if it was me. But here's the thing - since that moment in that smoky bingo hall, I've felt like I was a part of it and that the whole Antarctica thing was a part of me. For years, when people asked me where the first place I would travel to is, I said Antarctica. My eyes always wander in that direction on maps. And here's something I don't tell people often: every year when winter is about to come, I, without fail, visit the same website he found ten years ago. I look up the expeditions that are coming up, I check the prices ($12,500 nowadays), and read about people's experiences. A few times I downloaded the application to be a chaperone and almost started to fill it out. The newspaper article of us, yellow and fading, is saved in a folder. I still have the departure package we received in the mail, ten years ago, when the trip organizer thought that we might actually be able to find $8,800 each within a month and make it on the expedition. So when I got that email from him, I thought that I would actually do it.
Of course, I stopped myself. I didn't even try. I never drafted a single thing, never wrote even a word. Why? Because I didn't know how to say all of THIS in 300 words and make it fun, and cool, and awesome. In the end, I'm glad I didn't try to encapsulate this history and post it for all the world to see (er... I realize the irony). No one wants to read a sob story as an entry in a contest, and a sob story sure as heck wasn't going to garner me thousands upon thousands of votes. I realized I couldn't make it fun though; I couldn't be all, "Ooh! Look at me! Send me on this trip because I *heart* ice and penguins and I write good!" I'm still not able to think about Antarctica without getting all serious, and ...mopey. I mean, did you read what I just wrote or what?
Why do I want to go to Antarctica? For all the reasons anyone wants to go: I love to travel, I have an insatiable interest in the environment and different ecosystems, I want to do something different, it's the Last Continent, I sleep with a stuffed penguin every night and really - Why not? I have a million reasons to go, but there's got to be at least one reason why I don't want to go, because otherwise I wouldn't have chickened out so badly. The email wasn't even one full and complete sentence, but held in it a whole world of history and emotions that I didn't know what to do with. So I did nothing.
*breath* So there we go - a little victory that I didn't win (it's not the first time). I hope that my inner self can agree with my fingers when I type that while I didn't win, I don't feel like I lost anything. I hope that I have at least gained a sense of ... acknowledgment. I hope that I have come to terms with the fact that this was never my goal. Sure, one day I'd still like to go to Antarctica, but it'd be nice if I could stop giving it such significance. I guess J was right, it really was his. It wasn't even my idea. It was never my race to finish, never my battle to fight, never my war to win. Oh, Antarctica: never my To Do Item to cross off.