My DC in 2013: Ben

In a few short hours, 2013 will end and another year in this city begins.

When Jenn asked me to pen this story a few weeks ago, I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach it. I considered a monthly perspective, then a “best of” format. Perhaps a look at a list of the site’s best offerings from our talented writing pool? Or maybe a review in photos (and steal Mosley’s thunder)?

In the end, I figured I’d do what I do best: sit down, put fingers to keyboard, and reflect. Because in the end, this was a year of reflection for me. I’m not even sure this collection of rambling will make sense to most, but it’s better than nothing, right?

Don’t get me wrong; this was a good year for me overall, if you look at the positives overwhelming the negatives. But looming large over me for a good part of the year has been that of a directional “where do I go now?” struggle that is beginning to resolve as 2014 dawns.

The year started out in the dumps. My life-long love of hockey was threatened with extinction, thanks to greedy owners, a Napolean-in-a-suit commissioner, and one of the worst lockouts in recent memory. (Oh, right, there’s been three!) Fortunately, the puck dropped in mid-January and balance was restored…after a fashion.

As winter continued, a new/old issue resurfaced, putting heavy traction into one that area football team fans would wish just go away. The matter of the local NFL franchise’s nickname/mascot/behavior has once again become a hot-button issue. It’s one that I care about and I prepared for the inevitable counter-arguments whenever my friends and I gathered. It’s a volatile issue on both sides, wrought with threads of political angst and anger, fortified with innate stubbornness and the weight of history. (By comparison, discussions I’ve participated in about the government shutdown, healthcare, and the current incumbents are tea and crumpet affairs.) It’s also a critical matter that won’t be going away any time soon.

But then, spring came. And with it one of my absolute favorite times of the year here in DC: the blooming of the cherry blossoms. I’m not a big partaker of the National Cherry Blossom Festival (too many people) but I adore the scent, the color, the warmth of these beautiful trees. It’s a marker heralding the advent of spring and a time just before the summer crush of tourists. This year, my wife and I opted to experience the blossoms at night; that excursion is still one of my favorite memories of 2013. Wandering around the trees in the glow of the Tidal Basin street lamps on a cool spring evening is an experience to be savored. The absence of crowds, the stillness of the air, and the visual backdrop of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, not to mention the Washington Monument, are sharp reminders that we are in the midst of an iconic, historical, and globally important city.

As 2013 progressed, other celebrations made their mark. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream still holds strong and brought out recollections and poignancy. The incredible 125-year history of National Geographic showcased how exploration and photography has shaped how we see and experience the world. In July, this blog celebrated five years on the internet, which has spawned an incredible run of viewpoints, opinions, and stories from a talented group of writers, many of whom have moved on to other cities and endeavors while the “new blood” keeps it going.

Over the summer, my first non-fiction book hit national bookshelves. Its release marked a major milestone for me, as it moved me from a small publication market niche into the mainstream. It’s begun to open up doors in writing that I did not believe I would ever enter. It also capped a twenty-year goal that to that point, had been a central focus of my life. With this accomplishment, I’ve had to pause and reassess. Where do I go from here? What new and lofty mountains should I attempt to climb now? Or do I plateau, and maintain the status quo? These are questions I still wrestle with, though as the year progressed, the focus on the answers are much more clear.

September opened with a dual-anniversary of sorts. It marked the eighth year my wife and I have lived here in this town as we celebrated our eighteen years of marriage. We’ve been rooted in our current home for five years now, and to celebrate we undertook a somewhat-major renovation. After two months, our 1950s kitchen entered the twenty-first century.

Fall turned into winter and a government shutdown. The mood accurately reflecting my own as this “mini-crisis” pushed its way past. Floundering, the questions of my own direction threatened to overwhelm. Taking a cue from the city I work in and enjoy, I put my head down and bulled through it. Any step forward is better than none.

I began work on my first non-licensed novel, only to set it aside as a new opportunity presented itself. The chance to work with a decorated DC firefighter and tell his story in 2014 has re-lit the writing forge, though it also treads into new territory for me as a writer.

The holidays were quick and dizzying as I debuted a cantata at my church. The short story I’d written for the event was the first I’ve ever read aloud in public, making it equal parts terrifying and euphoric. Fortunately, I had periods of lucidity during these frantic weeks (such as hearing Moya’s etheral voice) to temper the frenzy. Having crested the middle-age marker a couple years past, Christmastime has taken on new meanings for me. This year, we viewed the DC celebrations from afar rather than diving right in. They provided a hopeful backdrop amongst our quiet reflections, oft punctuated with intimate holiday gatherings and family time.

And then, just like that, the end of the year has come.

I enter 2014 with a mix of caution, optimism, and excitement. It’s a never-ending journey, to be sure. All of us know we will have ups and downs, side trips and surprises, monotony and boredom. Whatever these next 365 days hold, I know it will sharpen me. And it’s that expanse of unknown that I’m anticipating the most.

This is true even for our city, the center of so much conflict and stability. WLDC will lose some writers and gain new ones. We’ll present our offerings week after week, our usual articles surrounding the surprising or the opinionated. It’s a dance we’re long familiar with as residents and visitors here, and one we love to share.

Thanks for hanging with us–with me–in 2013. As you celebrate the New Year, hoist a glass in memory of what’s passed us by, and the possibilities that lie ahead. For we are truly DC.

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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