I had been tossing and turning beneath the snuggly comfort of my toasty warm covers for two endless hours in the middle of a winter night trying to figure out why I was so uncharacteristically restless. It wasn’t because my beloved had been sawing logs beside me like a woolly mammoth with a head cold. It wasn’t because I was stressed over how I was probably setting my kids up for a lifetime of failure because I let them watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of Dora the Explorer and eat their dinner in front of the television twice that week (gasp!). Then, in one of those cheesy made-for-tv moments, I surprised even myself when I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed (who does that?!). A calmness I’ll never forget wrapped itself around my shoulders and I breathed a sigh of relief, then said out loud to Brian, “I have to do something tomorrow.” He didn’t hear me. It didn’t matter. I knew.

I submitted my SOAR! application video two weeks later.

Thirty-six blog posts, seven video blogs, one hundred twenty-six images, ninety-seven slices of cheese pizza, forty-five glasses of wine (not all in a row) and nearly 365 days later, I am utterly and blissfully exhausted (yep, a whole lot of pizza and a glass of wine gets many a blog post written, my friends).

I imagine it’s the mental version of exhausted that a marathoner feels as she approaches the finish line. We’ve established my three criteria for running, right? (If you need a refresher, click here). Even if Robert Downey, Jr. was waiting at the finish line for me with a plate of cupcakes and a foot rub, I still wouldn’t run 26.2 miles to get a long-lasting congratulatory smooch from the guy. Sorry, love.

All the hours spent training, the blisters, chafing and tendinitis aside though, I get it. I get why marathoners do it. They do it for the same reason I applied for SOAR: I knew I could do it. Thankfully I don’t have the black toenails to show for it, but I’ve been steadily logging mile after mile, week after week, heading in the direction of a start line disguised as a finish line.

I’ve seen so many of you along the side of the road, enthusiastically waving your signs and shouting words of much-needed encouragement in your blog comments to me. We’ve shared dinners and drinks, Skyped, Facebooked, messaged and even shot together along the way. I’ve even gotten the pleasure of meeting some of you in person (truly a highlight for me) in a few of Me Ra’s CONFIDENCE workshops this past year. You all can’t possibly know how much I treasure these unexpected gifts from my year as a SOAR Recipient.

No one has cheered more loudly, pushed me harder, or believed in me more than the voice you heard in the outtakes of all those video blogs. I can write volumes about this guy, but really, this just about says it all: Brian, my love, I will always pick up the cat puke spray on the way back home to you. photo of ali and brian courtesy of jenn johnston at the 2011 DC workshop

I didn’t buy a camera to take pictures of my kids. I bought a camera because I lacked a piano. Since entering Smotherhood, I desperately needed to reconnect with the creative person inside of me and it was easier to store a camera in my closet than a piano. Everyone has to start somewhere, but when I think about where I started, I get a little embarrassed of things like sun spots on people’s heads, shooting with the wrong white balance, and funky skin tones:

In reality though, failures like those gave birth to images like these over the past year:



I know (and even hope) I will continue to make mistakes, although less frequently. It’s probably the most effective way I know of to improve.

As I approach the start line disguised as a finish line, I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. Does anyone really? With my list of What Ifs in hand, I know that I will put beautiful images into the world. I know that I will continue to tell the stories that surround them. Most of all, I know that when you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear the voice that says, “take this risk,” you should always, always listen.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks for SOARing alongside me this year.


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