monumentally awkward


I was browsing Instagram one night a couple of weeks ago and saw that The New York Times Travel section had asked people to post their #awkwardfamilytravels photos. The mother of all awkward family travel photos was sitting not two feet away from me on my laptop, so I couldn’t not post it. I was proud to post it.* Because while my family will never be the most beautiful, cultured, gracious, or fun, we hands down are among the most awkward people on the planet. Especially when we’re together: our awkwardness’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s nice to accept yourself and your family as is, and to embrace the thing that used to horrify you. (The thing I am talking about is our family’s awkwardness in general, but I could also be talking about my haircut here, which is the one that mortified me as a child, but which I now find rather elfin and cute.)

It didn’t surprise me one bit when @nytimestravel reposted my photo as their favorite. Of course it was their favorite. Why wouldn’t some of the most awkward people on the planet take one of the most awkward photos on the planet? If I had access to my parents’ photo albums right now, there are at least fifteen more where that came from. We could lap and double lap and triple lap other people’s #awkwardfamilytravels.

What I didn’t expect was for The Times to print the photo in the actual paper this past Sunday. I love love love this most dubious of honors and am overjoyed to have gotten such a low-brow photo into such a high-brow publication. (My parents bought a copy of the paper for me but I haven’t seen it yet. I really hope our pic is on the same page as some article about luxury ecotourism.)

*The reason I had it on my computer in the first place is because I had made it my Facebook picture after rediscovering it at my parents’ house a few years ago.

on sufferfest-ing

Sarah Marquis

The story in The New York Times Magazine about Sarah Marquis, a 42 year-old Swiss woman who walked 10,000 miles of wilderness in 3 years, alone, and endured all sorts of crazy natural and man-made calamities along the way, was excellent food for thought. Her need to test herself in isolation, to persevere over seemingly arbitrary challenges that she fashions for herself, to travel and experience huge swaths of the earth on rather trying terms – all in search of an “inchoate feeling” that gives her life substance – seems bonkers and maladjusted, yes, but somehow also completely self-actualized and inspiring.

This line especially spoke to me: But perhaps the reason to court a sufferfest – to explore or adventure, or whatever you want to call it – is that it makes a person feel alive.

I’m no Sarah Marquis by any stretch of the imagination. My personal extremes are about eight thousand times less extreme than hers. But the compulsion to go to them is familiar to me.

In fact, I seem to be courting sufferfests right and left these days. Learning French and (pretending to learn) Spanish are the ones I talk about here – but there are many more. Sometimes there is no reward, only suffering. But sometimes it all pays off and there is a feeling of extreme exhilaration and purpose. I am in the midst of a work-related sufferfest right now that I’m hoping will come out on the side of the latter. Only time will tell…

(Photo: Joel Marquis)