White Sands

"We looked. We were ready to believe. We were ready to see." (p. 120)

I found White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer in the new non-fiction/travel section in the used book store. The wrinkle of the broken spine down the middle of the simple white soft-cover was what initially made me pick it up. After reading a few pages I knew this would be a good book. Never have I laughed as much as I did reading this book, and paused to look up photos of the mysterious looking places mentioned in this collection. 

The book consists of 10 stand-alone essays, each prefaced with an interesting seemingly unrelated story that has a connecting theme to each piece. Dyer recounts a variety of travel experiences set in French Polynesia, China, New Mexico, the Arctic Circle, and California. His writing exudes curiosity and is rich with insight, mixed with a jaded traveler point of view that comes across as negative but also humorous with a relatable kind of honesty. Initially, I was slightly irritated but found his voice entertaining and enlightening. 

The overall theme is, "[e]verything that has happened stays happened. Everything has consequences." Meaning, even when things don't go as we would have liked and sometimes go terribly wrong, it's how we react and deal with it that makes or breaks a moment. The title, White Sands, refers to a national park in New Mexico. The title also brings to mind pristine white sand beaches, a postcard of an idolized vacation spot, so far from the truth. I searched for White Sands and zoomed in on the striking white park on Google maps, amazed how the area almost looks like a body of water when seen in contrast with the surrounding desert and patches of green. 

I laughed because this book brought back memories of my own travels, when I was at times frustrated and downright disappointed. Thinking back, those experiences are a source of endless internal jokes because they really were not so terrible even though they seemed at the time. When I read about Dyer and his wife being outsmarted by the evading Northern Lights on their "worst" trip, I remembered how we once flew to DC in the springtime solely for the purpose of seeing the cherry blossoms. It rained the entire time and there were no blossoms to be seen, except a brief sighting of pink from the plane window when we departed and the sun came out. 

I remembered the time we were stranded in the airport on Christmas, when I insisted we leave early in case of traffic. We ended up watching almost an entire season of Arrow, sitting on chairs we dragged closer together at a coffee shop at the terminal for hours. It wasn't so bad, we decided, at least we had brought a tablet with us to watch something together and had a cozy place to wait out the storm. 

I remembered the time the hotel bed seemed uncomfortably hard, and upon closer inspection found a sheet of plywood under the mattress that I decided to remove, after which the mattress had promptly collapsed. During this process, we also discovered a very large and fortunately very dead cockroach under the bed. When pointed out to the hotel manager, he said, "Oh good! The poison worked" and that seemed final enough.

I remembered the time I was nearly knocked down by an enormous umbrella that flew out of nowhere on the beach, slicing across my shoulder. The first thought I had was, at least it didn't hit me in the face and break my glasses, which made no sense at all. 

I remembered the many times when the places we wanted to visit where closed for the duration of our stay. All those memories now make me feel lighter when I laugh, even though when they happened I felt weighed down with worry. Often times, imperfect beaches are the more beautiful because there are fewer travelers there to ruin them. 

Simple and whimsical daisies

I walked a few steps backwards to peer through the window of a boutique shop today. The three plush headless mannequins were dressed in a mismatch of patterned skirts and tops, with large tote bags, summery yellows and blues. There were equally intricate postcards in the forefront, leaning on an assortment of tiny cardboard boxes wrapped with carefully placed bows. I decided to go in and was greeted by the cool air and friendly hellos. It is a cramped space with a long clothing rack lined up from the entrance with clothes on hangers on both sides, all the way to the two makeshift curtain changing rooms at the opposite end. 

The clothing wasn't my style, too colorful, too short, too long, too fast fashion, but I liked the tactile sensation of the various textures of fabrics on my fingertips as I perused. I stopped to examine a clean white long-sleeved collared shirt with one pocket on the front, a slightly translucent linen, with sparsely placed embroidered white daises, a simple and whimsical look. I was led to the available changing room, where I pinched a plastic pin to close the curtain. The motion reminded me of clipping the pins on a bag of crackers in our snacks cabinet.

Contemplating the reflection in the mirror, I heard a woman crying behind the other curtained room beside me. Her mother was in there with her, giving her commands to try on this and that, and the young woman whimpered that she gained a lot of weight and looks awful and the mirror makes her look even worse, while her mother pleaded to try one more dress and then perhaps pants and a blouse will be good enough for whatever event they are shopping for. Her sobs sounded like an echo rising from a deep dark well and made me feel sad and sorry. I could see the shifting of the light in the tiny crack in between the two curtains pulled tightly between us. While I buttoned and unbuttoned the shirt, I kept waiting to hear the mother shower her with compliments to make her feel better but those never came. 

I liked the way I looked in the shirt and how light it felt on my body. I stepped back out into the store and a few women squeezed past to avoid the discomfort of the sobs from behind the curtain. The girl's mother came out and was talking to the tall thin and fashionable woman who works there, explaining the situation and asking for advice on what to have her try on next. At the register, the cashier folded the shirt and told me she was surprised it was still there. It is a size Large and later I wondered, maybe that has some correlation. I can still hear the pitiful sobs of the girl in the changing room and while I feel sorry for her, I also feel a new found appreciation for myself knowing my fluctuating waistline doesn't define my self worth. 

A friend recently told me that I looked happy and healthy in a photo I shared with her. In the photo, I am standing behind my bicycle with a big grin on my face. Initially I felt a little sad, reading too much into the word healthy, assuming it implies I've gained weight because I have. Then I thought of the desperation in the sobbing I heard today and how heart-wrenching it was. I too am human and self conscious and insecure, but the older I get the more I appreciate my body and love myself as a whole regardless of its size.

On my walk home, I spoke with my mom on the phone and told her about the scene in the boutique and she told me - why of course, what's important is that you love yourself no matter what change your body is going through. She said it so matter of fact. I wish I had believed that when I was younger, because I truly believe it now. You're only young once. I wore a favorite pair of pants this week and by the time I came home, I exhaled in relief when I unzipped them. I could always put myself on an exercise and diet regimen, but I don't see it as important to my current quality of life.


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