I was floating in a pool yesterday, just a normal, average, everyday pool. It was at the gym, actually, and it was mid-morning. It was noteworthy not because the day was especially beautiful or because I was floating in the sea off the Italian coast. But my floating was noteworthy because as I lay there, under the big, hot California sun, I couldn't recall the last time I'd done any of those things: floated in water, been at a pool or worn a bathing suit.
If I dug deep into my mind, I seem to recall wearing a bathing suit last summer, for a brief period of time, because we'd been invited to a neighbor's pool party and because my kids couldn't have gone swimming without me. I remember feeling shy and embarrassed then, and I got straight into the pool (the water rigidly cold) and only stayed as long as it took to pacify my kids' desire to have a quick swim. I was happy when that desire abated and they ran off for hot dogs and juice boxes. Whew, I thought. I can get back to my black-and-white Ann Taylor cover up and hide these legs.
I have, since I can remember, hated wearing a bathing suit. Like many women, I am insecure about my body, but my insecurities are perhaps different from most women's insecurities. I am insecure, of course, about the size of my thighs, cellulite and the fact that my stomach pooches out a bit. But more so, I am insecure about the color of my skin, which is a glaring, in-your-face, smack-you-upside-the-head white. WHITE. Not pale. Not alabaster. Not ivory. There is no peaches-and-cream going on over these arms and legs. I am just a pasty, run-of-the-mill, glow-in-the-daylight white.
And since I can remember, I have been teased about this. Well, I shouldn't say teased. That's not the right word. The proper word would be closer to taunted and/or ridiculed.
As a child, I remember being called Casper. I remember lying in bed at night (really, I'm not exaggerating), and I would pray to God (I was raised Mormon so I thought this really would work) to make me tan by morning. I would fall off to sleep that way, and when I woke, I'd open my eyes and shut them again, remembering my prayer. My heart beat twice as fast, and I would think: maybe today.
Of course, I always opened my eyes to utter disappointment, throwing my chalky legs over the side of the bed and padding off down the hall to the bathroom, fighting tears, my head slumped in sullen resignation. And that was while I was young, growing up in Oregon. OREGON. I mean, come on. OREGON. It rains all the time in Oregon, and the people are pasty and ghastly and look as though they spent most of the year underneath a moss-covered rock. So, to be so teased and called-out for my white skin in a place full of people in my same predicament? Well, that should clue you in to the exact extent of what I'm talking about.
When I moved to Texas it was worse. Worse because Texas is an utter celebration of blond hair, blue eyes and tanned skin. It's like the human equivalent of the state flower (yellow rose) or that ubiquitous Lone Star. Texans like short shorts on a pair of long legs, and those legs are all the longer with glowing, golden skin and a pair of flip-flops at the end. I think Texas is even worse than California, because at least in California there is a little bit of diversity, some pale-skinned foreigners, the open-mindedness of places like LA and San Francisco, where you might have the faintest hope of at least being deemed interesting and unique.
In Texas, however, diversity comes in the form of the huge Hispanic population, which isn't exactly a bastion of paleness either.
The only time I ever felt good about my skin was when I lived in Asia, where white skin is ALL THE RAGE. I mean, it was crazy. People thought I was rich because my skin was so pale. I recall being at a department store once, and the ladies behind me whispering to each other about the beauty of my legs. I turned around to make sure they were talking about me, and one of the women smiled a big, wide, toothless smile and gave me a thumbs-up! Wow. For my skin.
Asian women often go about during summer months under the protective cover of an umbrella to save their skin from turning brown. They buy pots and tubes of crazy-expensive skin-whitening creams. They think a freckle is akin to a big, oozing, boiling zit.
But, alas, I live in America. I live in California.
So, I was floating, under that big sun, and as my feet bobbed and my arms drifted beyond my shoulders, I realized how lovey it was. The warmth of the sun beat against my face, and I felt my eyelids tingle against the brightness of it. I marveled in the juxtaposition of being on one side so cool against the water and on the other side so warm against the sun. It was quiet there, my ears submerged, and I thought: why have I not been doing this all summer long?
It hit me, immediately, that I've not been to the pool because of those long-standing fears that someone would stare at me, point at me, laugh at me or simply say (as has been said SO MANY times before): you'd be so pretty if you only had a tan.
I almost laughed out loud, to think that I'd been missing out on a summer spent floating on my back because I was afraid. Afraid.
I started to think about all of the things I haven't done because I have been afraid. It's not always a direct fear - like being afraid of someone laughing at me. Sometimes I'm afraid to spend the money. Sometimes I'm afraid to learn a new skill. Sometimes I'm afraid I won't have the time or the energy or the resources necessary to complete a task. I'm afraid of what people will say and (perhaps more often) of what they won't say. I am afraid of the future and of the past. I have let, I realized, fear dictate where I go and how I go about my daily life.
I realized that if I was missing out on something as simple as floating in a swimming pool on a Friday morning, I was likely missing out on much, much more. I got home, sat down and wrote out a list of things I've put off (for one reason or another), and I said to myself: Mama P - now is your time.
So, in the vein of Sylvia Plath's quotation above, I am going to stand up from the crotch of this fig tree and I'm going to pluck off as many figs this year as I possibly can. I expect some of them will be disappointing. Some of them may well be too ripe and others not ripe enough, but I am committed to the experience itself rather than finding the perfect moment, the perfect place, the perfect time so that everything will come out just right. Because I realized in that pool, that the only thing I know for certain is that life is NOW. I can live it or I can watch it wither and die.
Much of my bucket list (if you will) is comprised of small tasks or experiences, and as I wrote them all down I nearly laughed with the simplicity of most of them. They are easy. They are cheap. They often take only time, and not much of it. They sometimes take money, but they are all DO-ABLE. They are all within my reach, even if I might have to stretch a bit. When I thought about why I've not done them until now, I was torn between laughing or crying, such was the recognition that I've allowed myself to become stagnate and fearful for no good reason at all. The only thing holding me back is ME.
So, for the next year, for the next 52 weeks, I'll be checking off one experience off my list and writing about why it was I didn't do it to begin with, what it was like to do it and my impression after having completed it. Some tasks or goals will take longer than one week, and I suppose there will be weeks where I double-up on plucking these figs from my tree. But, I will blog each week about a different experience, and at the end of my year, I think (I'm almost certain) I will be changed by having completed all of it. There are times to sit still and to be quiet and to let the world come to you. And then there are times to go out and grab it.
Quote of Inspiration
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar