Friday, December 17, 2010

Two Top Ten Lists from 2010, the Year of 52 New Things

I got some frustrating news yesterday.  I've been having some health issues and after yesterday's appointment the doctor told me no aerobic exercise or activities where I could potentially fall for the next three weeks.  That means that the ice climbing adventure I was supposed to go on today is off, as is my upcoming rock climbing adventure with Tigist and my first ski trip of the season and my ice skating plans.  Bummer.  But, as my sister Katrinka pointed out, it's all about "re-framing" so now I'm trying to think about all the activities I've wanted to get caught up on while I'm confined to walking and yoga as my only forms of physical activity.  I've still got plenty of grading to keep me busy, and it's also a nice opportunity for reflection I've wanted to do about the last year of new things, which is what this post seeks to begin.

Even before I began the year of 52 New Things I was a list-maker and that tendency has only gotten stronger through this exercise.  So, when I was thinking about the year that just was, of course I started thinking in lists and I decided to create three.  Two of them will be in this post, and then I'll do a second post with the third. One list is my own personal top ten -- people always ask me what's been my favorite thing to come out of the year, so I've decided to think of ten favorites.  Some are actual new things, and others are results of what's happened.  The other list is more of a curiosity factor -- the most popular postings  The blog program lets you track how many times a page has been viewed over the last six months, which is not quite the same as all time, but I thought would offer an interesting perspective in what other people have thought was interesting.  And finally, I wanted to do a Hall of Fame list to name the people who have been most active in this project in the last year.  Originally, I planned to put this in third list in this post, but once I started looking back and compiling who had done what I realized it's going to be a bit time-consuming, and therefore will put it up separately.

Top Ten According to Others
The most popular postings was easiest to compile because it's a straightforward matter of pulling it off the blog statistics.  Of course, postings that have been up longer have the advantage of more time to potentially be seen, but interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter much. In fact, the most popular new thing, in terms of page visits, is also the most recent -- 52. get a tattoo.  Another interesting thing is that the two most popular posts aren't actually new things at all, but rather Serendipity Posts.  So, here, in reverse order of popularity, are the ten most popular posts among blog visitors from the last six months:

10. 30. Visit Jordan, Happy Hour, Part II (July 1, 2010)
9.   39. Visit Sweden (August 9, 2010)
8.   32.  Give a Talk in Uganda (July 9, 2010)
7.   29.  Try Glassblowing (June 14, 2010)
6.   Serendipity 11.  A Most Unusual Birthday Celebration (October 27, 2010)
5.   List Update: So Much to Do, So Little Time (June 1, 2010)
4.  34.  See a Band at Nectar's and Eat at Pizza on Earth (July 15, 2010)
3.  52.  Get a Tattoo (December 11, 2010)
2.  Serendipity 1.  See a Sunrise over the Highest Mountain on Earth (January 8, 2010)
1.  Serendipity 7.  Start a Book During Alumni Weekend (September 20, 2010)

My Own Top Ten

At first I didn't want to try to make my own list, because it felt like I was being dismissive of everything I didn't put on it.  But I've reconsidered that.  Every single thing that became the subject of a post was memorable in its own way, and I think it's okay to single out a few things that particularly stand out for me when I review 2010.

So, here's my own personal top ten list:

10.  Blogging.  I entered this project thinking that blogging was a strange and mysterious thing, and now, a little more than a year later, I've discovered I love it.  I even love taking pictures for it -- another activity I used to avoid like the plague.  Many thanks to Julia for helping me get started.
9.    Seeing a New Side of Old Places.  New York City is a case in point.  I love going to New York anyway, but between trip skating at Rockefeller Center, doing a day of Broadway shows with Angela, and then later in the same year, having the 24 hours without sleep with Chris and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge together, all really drove home the point that a place you've visited many times can have all kinds of new facets and experiences waiting to be discovered.

I'd been to New York City lots of times, but it never occurred to me that the Brooklyn Bridge on foot is the way to see it, till Halloween 2010
 8.    Winter Sports. Yet another of the many gifts of this project is that it has resolved my long-standing conflict with Vermont winters.  I never knew that it could actually be fun to be outside in the cold  But thanks to Dan S, Nigel, Josh, Connor, Ryan, Dave, Drisk and a host of other teachers and friends, now I'm actually excited for the snow and the chance to get on skis, crampons or various other winter equipment.

Proof of my new found love of winter -- smiling before diving in at the Penguin Plunge in February
7.     The MDG Book Project.  There is no way I would have thought this was possible a year ago.  But after so many new things and great experiences with past and current students, it just seemed like a natural extension.  It's such an exciting thing to be able to put together a Dream Team of past and current students who all spend lots of their time and brain power thinking about development questions.  Their energy, commitment and imagination are infectious and I think this is my favorite academic project on which I've ever collaborated.
6.    Nepal.  This was my first international trip in the year of new things, and it was completely unforgettable.  I made great new friends (Manish, Jane and Kirk), renewed wonderful existing friendships with Cliff, Nicole and Jai and saw some of the most amazing and beautiful things I can imagine.  This trip cemented for me the fact that life is about being open to opportunities, even when you're not sure if you're ready yet.
5.    Camel's Hump  I feel like Camel's Hump, that quintessential Vermont peak, became a huge part of my year.  Hiking it in all four seasons was such a fabulous way to experience a state that I love.  Plus, there were so many people who did the hikes with me -- the four I "counted" and more that I didn't.  I got to go in all kinds of weather, at all times of day (I did not one but two dark-to-dawn hikes -- first with Siham, Josh and Ali and then with Chris), and with all kinds of people (including Alex, Ali, Brian, Bridgit, Chris, Conor D, Gary, Josh, Katrinka (who, with Brian, came all the way from Washington State to do it), Ryan, Siham, and Will) , and I thoroughly loved each hike I took.
4.    A Whole New Type of Friendship.  The process of doing new things all the time changed my life in ways I didn't expect. One of the most profound changes is that it opened me up to all kinds of new friendships based on shared experiences.  I learned that some people I've known for years, like my colleague Paul, have a sense of adventure that I never knew about.  I learned that others, like my high school friend Angela and my graduate school friend, Lilly, were brimming with ideas that they could share from a distance. I learned that many of my students and former students have tons of talents that they are perfectly willing to share, and I learned that other people (even Rhodes Scholars like my former student, Jamila) are as intimidated as me by ordinary things, like learning to change a car tire. I'm ending the year with a huge wealth of friendships -- some new, some deepened -- courtesy of the many shared experiences catalogued in this blog.
3.    Hanging out with Leah and Siham.  From the night in October, 2009 that the idea of this project was born, Leah, Siham and I embarked on an adventure together.  We've climbed mountains with closed roads in the dead of winter and strolled through local sites in the heat of summer.  We've collectively burned lists of bad things and drawn up new lists of great aspirations. We've taken numerous trips together over the last year, and have plans for more far-flung ones in the year ahead.  When I think of my friendships with the two of them and the list of new things, it's a chicken and egg dynamic, because there's no doubt that our friendship bolstered the list, but the list also furthered our friendship.

Siham and Leah on one of the year's adventures -- this time in Quebec City
 2.    Rock climbing.  No one has been more surprised than me at how much I have liked this activity.  As I've noted elsewhere, it's not because I'm good at it (I'm not), or because it's easy (it's not)  or because it's a craze sweeping the nation (I think it's pretty obscure).  I think it has lots to do with how well it fits with thoughts that have been rolling around a lot in my head over the last year -- about challenges and fears and the processes we use (or run away from) in facing them both.  I also have been tremendously fortunate in having had marvelous instructors -- Cliff, Nicole, Conor D., Josh, Dan S., Amanda and Randall are all on my A-list forever -- and ultra-enthusiastic fellow newbies.  I've got tons to do in seeking to get better, so I'm hoping that will be one of the things I concentrate on in 2011, the Year of the Challenge, and that lots of friends will decide to do this one with me.
1.   Petra adventure in Jordan. I love to travel, and to me, our adventure in Petra epitomized absolutely everything that I love about travel.  I knew that the physical site of Petra would be amazing, but that was just one aspect of the experience.  On rare occasions (at least in my experience) everyone on a trip will be on the same wavelength -- interested in the same level of exploration and newness -- and that's what happened with Connor S., Siham and I.  At the same time, we had the great good fortune of being hosted by some of the warmest and most hospitable people I've ever met in Amman (with Khaled, the Omrans and Inas at the top of that list) and then again in a tea shop at the top of the Petra site, when we had yet more incredible luck in being befriended by our Beduoin hosts, Khaled and Ibrahim.  The night we spent in a cave in the desert with them ranks for all three of us as an adventure of a lifetime.  Whether it ever gets topped or not is not the point: the fact that it happened was a reminder and confirmation to the three of us that the world really is our oyster, if only we are willing to take a leap of faith and stretch as far out of our comfort zone as we're invited by others.

Ibrahim trying to teach me to dance by the light of the cave fire and the music of the truck during our cave camp-out
Khaled taking a break while leading us out of Petra into the desert

Khaled cooking us dinner at the cave

So, there are my two top ten lists for 2010.  What a great reminder of all that life has to offer.  Or, in the words of Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Call it chance or call it fate.  Either one is cause to celebrate.  But the question begs, why would you wait?  Don't be late for your life."


  1. "Strong as desert, soft as sand, move as the wind, free forever." Happy Hour. :)

    Thank you dear for allowing all of us to be part of something so great, and for inspiring us to live more broadly and lovingly, and reminding us of the richness and vastness of everyday. Much love.

  2. My top thing was spending time with you and Siham, for sure. I feel like everything done with good friends has a certain sweet richness to it that can't be defined, it gives memories a different texture and dimension to share them. I've always traveled alone; my friends here at home say I'm part nomad and it's been hard feeling like the only untethered person in my world. It was so nice to share these new places and experiences with you two, I never knew how much my adventures were lacking until now. 2011 is calling us, I know it'll be another spectacular year!

  3. This is such a great post (I think my favorite yet)! Hope you get better soon so that you can get back to doing all the new things you've come to love! xx

    PS:- I love that photo of Leah & Siham!

  4. Trish,
    beautiful summary. while you're gimpy, want to grab coffee? It'll give you a break from grading papers! I'll give you a call tomorrow.

  5. This is an awesome post Trish. I am in agreement with Jamila that it might just be my favorite because it so effortlessly links together your experiences and your reflections. As I have said through much of the year, you are a beautiful writer and this post simply captures your impressive capacities in that regard. It also provides a tour through not only your experiences (and adventures) but your thoughts on so many of them.
    Wonderful and mazel tov on such a richly lived year!