expiration dates


I spent a bit of time looking for my passport today. I realized that I hadn't seen it in a couple of years, which became an issue since I'm trying to book a flight to Nigeria. I found it more easily than I thought I would and, like I suspected, it's expiring soon. It's slightly depressing that I haven't used it more in the past ten years since I renewed it last.

I went to Ghana in 2001, the summer of my sophomore year of college. I have this crazy video of myself, rehearsing with a dance troupe in the dead of night in a suburb of Accra. A lone lightbulb casts a triangle of light across a cement enclosure lined with a fence, flanked with a battalion of drummers. I am whirling around in the middle of a circle of dancers, my hair in a short afro, wearing a gauzy black shirt over a floor-length skirt.

I forgot my change of clothes that day, the last rehearsal before my plane ride back to US. I had gotten lost on my way to the enclosure, coming from a different part of town than usual. I was wandering through the darkened street, when a pair of headlights approached me, and a kind taxi driver offered to help me find the place. We drove around madly for a half hour, before we stumbled upon another black woman wandering the streets who was also in need of a ride.

It turned out that she was a Stanford alum, though a decade older than me, and a former member of Kuumba Dance Ensemble, also like me. She had a video camera with her and agreed to come with me to rehearsal and tape us, so that I would have something to show for my time spent (I took no photos of rehearsals out of respect). My karma restored, we found the enclosure. Cut to me whirling around in the dark, the vision of which now simply amazes me. I am trying to remember this young woman I once was, the steps I took along the path to get where I am now. Wiser, I suppose, but in many ways missing my youthful bravado.

All of this to say. There are various colored stamps inside this tiny book with my picture in it -- Belize, South Africa (a couple of times), Brazil, Ghana, Botswana, Nigeria (a couple of times) -- but there are far too many empty spaces for it to be expiring. Maybe it is my own will that has expired? I dreamt of London and Paris and Havana and Marrakesh, but perhaps I lacked the courage to do more than dream. When I was younger, I did not dwell on dreams and I did not plan; I simply left.

I met a woman at Hedgebrook who has lived everywhere in the world, from Yosemite to Amsterdam and Kenya. She took her first semester college tuition, twenty years or so ago, and traveled cross country with it. She hasn't stopped since, although she recently purchased a home in New Jersey and is now, from what I gather, reconsidering it.

She does not know this, but she is my hero. I think there is wisdom in stones, especially those that roll -- gathering no moss, being shaped by time and the earth and universal flow. There is a natural order in remaining in motion, in seeking disorder.

I only wish I could say this to her in a way that she would believe it. I think she may feel flighty and haphazard about her lifestyle, but I think that life is full of expiration dates -- on relationships, jobs, leases, countries of residence -- and one need only know how to recognize and respond to them. The truly courageous and unstuck people simply let it expire, and move on. That said, I don't think most people do.

I certainly have expired on many fronts, but am hanging on for dear life. I have wanted to do some drastic thing with my appearance for some time now, be it cutting my locks, or dying them again, getting a new wardrobe, but I inevitably find myself still feeling awkward in my skin. I have wanted to simply move anywhere else in the world for no reason at all but to encounter my own difference in that environment and thereby discover myself again, yet find myself straggling here in NYC. I have wanted to really be a starving artist, instead of a gainfully employed professional sneaking her writing in on the subway and on her lunch break; but for some reason, here I sit, and here I stay.

I don't know what any of that means, but I do think expiration dates can be used to reevaluate the status quo. If it hasn't been working for you, let the universe help you change it. For now, I definitely need some more stamps in my passport. That much I know is true.

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  1. This reminds me of a few lines from one of my poems, FOOTPRINTS:

    . . . .

    Will it
    hold my spirit?
    will it
    my soul?

    as visions lay,
    wombed by impotent
    longings withering
    in the stale breath of years
    as I lay, snared
    by dreams unlived.

    will these offsprings crumble too,
    a specter
    of bygone years?

    will my
    footprints grow sunbaked
    with no sprout of green?

    . . ..

    I get the essence of the point you are trying to make in this write up and believe me I feel like that most days, but an itinerant life also has its shortfalls ; there are times when to "get up and go" might be the right choice but there are other times when the surety of the familiar is what is required. I guess that like most things in life, balance and moderation is the word.

    It does take courage to "let it expire, and move on" but there are situations were it takes as much courage and perhaps even more, to believe in something enough "not to let it expire, and not to move on". Either way, it is always a gamble we take and we are never certain of the outcome; we can only pray that our labours and our efforts meet with favourable winds.


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