Quote of Inspiration
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I always feel better when I practice yoga. Always. I love doing it. I love the way I feel after I do it. I love the way it makes me feel about my body, because the focus is on strength and appreciation of one's body rather than on the size of my thighs or the lifting of my ass. So, I think that if a woman is going to exercise, yoga is just about as good as it gets.
The reasons I've stopped doing yoga include: it's hard, it requires consistency and I usually like to listen to music while I exercise, and by music I mean tragic pop music like Katy Perry and John Cougar Mellencamp.
Well, last week, I took the yoga class at our gym. It was lovely. It was gentle, and the music was soft, and I felt so competent in all of the poses. It was a stretch without being a stretch, meaning I could do everything without any trouble at all. If anything, I felt a little disappointed that it wasn't more difficult. I have yoga DVDs at home that are much harder than gym yoga. But, it was a nice break and a gentle reminder of my body.
Well, based on my expertise and ease with yoga after that official gym class, I decided to take a class today at a yoga studio. I almost didn't make it, because I had to get the kids to school, so I was rushed. I also tried to talk myself out of it based on not having the right clothes. And then I almost forgot my mat.
Well, I gave myself a little talking-to in the car about doing vs. talking about doing, and I pulled up to the yoga studio with minutes to spare. The teacher was Chinese. I was thrilled. I still speak a little Chinese, and we chatted for a few minutes before class. Then, I walked into the heated room (hot yoga), and I saw the seriousness of the other students and I started to feel a little bit of fear in my heart. This wasn't the gym crowd. There was no chatting. These were all beautiful, lithe bodies stretched out on mats, composed and prepared for study.
Ping, the teacher from Taiwan, came into the room and we began. We got right down to it. There was no chatter, no sitting cross-legged for ten minutes. There was just movement. Today's yoga class was yin/yang yoga, and we started with yin. I'd tell you how we started, but I can't remember. I simply can't. It was only two hours ago, and I honestly can't remember what I did. I do remember that from the get-go, this wasn't my mother's yoga class. This was no simple gym class. This was YOGA. Sweet mama..........
I have never, ever, worked that hard at anything in my life other than childbirth. Ever. Tracy Anderson...........please. I mean, here's the thing. When you do at-home videos, there is nobody there to correct you, to tell you that you have more to give, to tell you to push harder, that you can do it, to throw your hips wider, to put your leg out further. There is only Tracy, with her perfectly coiffed hair and make-up, saying, "I know it's hard, but you really must do it."
Well, enter Ping. She is small and fit and at least 50. She won't let you get away with half-assing it. She will call you out: Amy, you can offer more. You must push harder. You are compensating.
And come on - it was only my first time, and she knew it!
I was shaking. I was obviously sweating, and by sweating I don't mean perspiring. No, that's what gentle southern women do. I was drenched in sweat. It was pouring down the sides of my arms and face. Just when I thought I couldn't stand a pose a second longer, she would tell us to go deeper, to stretch further. There was no sitting it out. There was no sense that if it was too hard you could simply go back to child's pose. And Ping was watching, all the time moving around the room. She must have re-positioned me at least 12 times. At least.
There were moments when I thought I'd collapse and give up and call out, in Chinese so the other students wouldn't understand: I can't do it. It's too hard.
But then I thought that maybe that's my problem in general. Whenever things get hard, I quit and tell myself it wasn't for me.
I kept going, even though I was shaking and I thought I'd die. I sort of actually longed to be in labor, because at least contractions only last a minute or so and then you have a breather. We held some of these positions for 3 minutes, and what seems feasible in the first thirty seconds becomes unbearable after a minute.
In the end, during our very last pose, before cool down, I was able to somehow contort my body into a bird-of-paradise pose, which I'd never before done and which only two other students were able to do. I did it. I stood up, and Ping saw me and she said, "Good Amy, keep going. Stretch your leg out. Kick it out straight."
I did. I kicked it out straight, and I somehow didn't collapse, and Ping said, "See everyone. She's doing it, and it's only her first day."
The woman next to me leaned over, when I had two feet back on the ground, and said, "That's amazing."
As we cooled-down, Ping talked about someone in our lives who might be suffering and how we could send them our healing energy. I thought of my daughter, Maggie, who is missing her father so much now and who is struggling with her anger and her emotions. I wanted to send her my healing energy because so much of the time I'm focused on dishes, or blogs or laundry or bopping around town, and I don't always know how to help Maggie deal with her emotions about her father's absence. So, I lay on the floor, my palms facing the sky, and I sent my daughter all of the healing thoughts I had, letting them flow out of that experience and into her soft little heart.
I think I'll give up the gym membership. It's time to get real. Three months. I can't wait to see what I can do.
Top 5 figs?
Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Write a letter to Aunt Marie
2. Visit Grandpa Bob
3. Write poems to my children
4. Ride in a motorcycle sidecar
5. Ride a horse fast, at a solid gallop
I realize that when I make lists, I start to work the list instead of living each experience. I find myself each week thinking about which fig to start, and my thinking is shifting from what I really want to do or experience to what I have time for or feel I can feasibly accomplish in a few days.
It's not at all the point.
So, thank you Chad, for the thoughtful reminder.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Just the words make me both excited and make me cringe. But, I'm determined to do it for several reasons. Those I will get to later in the week.
I have to admit that there is something nice about reading Siddhartha and purging my closet simultaneously. In fact, perhaps it's the reading of Siddhartha this weekend (though I still have half-way to go) that has inspired this desire to finally get cleaning.
More on my fascinating closet this week.........
Sunday, August 22, 2010
I have heard there are people who don't feel this way, and I guess I have to accept this is true. I mean, if someone tells it to you, then you have to believe it (I spent a lot of my youth not believing what people told me, and it was really exhausting). So, if someone tells me that he (let's face it - it's usually a he) doesn't want two mutually exclusive things at one time, that he doesn't think of life that way, that he isn't plagued by this sort of competing desire, well then I must believe it's true. It's just that there is a little place in the back of my mind that is screaming: liar. Okay, that's not very nice of me, and the fact is that it's not even accurate, because I think that it's likely true. I think there are people who want what life has to offer, who can take what comes and live in the moment and not want so much more that it makes them restless. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I am jealous of these people because it is torture to want so many mutually exclusive things at one time. It's exhausting and overwhelming, because my wanting of them is just as strong for one as it is for the other, so there really is no relief in choosing one - the wanting doesn't go away. I am jealous of people (really, I am) who don't have this internal battle, who want one thing or another thing but none of those things really compete with each other, and the wanting of things isn't so strong as to make a person miserable.
But then I can't imagine being any other way, being without the wanting and the desire. I think it would be the death of me, even if it's already the death of me, and I think life would be boring and tedious without it. It's so normal for me that I think I would feel naked if I didn't experience these conflicting/competing desires on a regular basis.
I'm learning, however, that it doesn't really matter what another person is or if our own person makes us neurotic as hell. We are who we are; we can't change it. I really don't believe we can change the core of what we're made of, so the only option we're left with is to embrace it, try our best to temper whatever makes us (or others) miserable and make the most of it.
Friday, August 20, 2010
I'm off to take a hot bath, read about selfless suffering and attempt to complete my fig for the week, which I think speaks more to my self-competitive streak than anything else.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Anyway, the only fig I can imagine mustering in my current state is reading Siddhartha. I figure it's short, and I also figure that in my post-European-vacation let-down/depression, I need something to give me perspective and to really compel me to think of anything other Berthillon ice cream and Hemingway. Thus, I'm not reading The Old Man and the Sea.
Siddhartha is a whisper of a book at only 105 pages. Of course, it's usually these books that pack the most punch, so I am hopeful. I can't even tell you why I've always wanted to read it. I have no idea what it's about. I know that my mother and brother both loved it, though, and since we all tend to appreciate the same literature in our family, I have the sense I'll love it too.
My great aunt once sent me her old copy, the one she used as an English teacher. I have tried to read it several times but always failed because I found all of her notes and scribblings in the margins to be a huge distraction. So, I ordered my own copy from Amazon before I left for Paris, and it sits here waiting for me to begin.
I will begin today. I figure it comes on the heels of having just re-read Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and if any of you have read it, you'll know that Larry's journey must in some way mirror Hesse's story - at least I have an inkling in that direction. So, maybe it's the perfect time for my mind to absorb it.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The wedding was the following day, and it was one of those weddings that makes you cry for the simplicity and sincerity of it. As I looked around the church, it was clear that every person there cared about the couple. There was none of that big-wedding-invite-everyone feeling. Nearly everyone in our row and in the rows above and behind us was all teary-eyed as the bride came down the aisle. It was touching because of the quiet emotion that sort of permeated this little Spanish cathedral perched on top of a hill overlooking the quaintest town I've seen in a long time.
Well, after the throwing of rose petals and pelting the couple with handfuls of rice, we all made our way to the reception, which ended up being a multi-course sit-down meal in a beautiful, sun-filled banquet hall that somehow makes American banquet halls seem all dingy and dark and missing a strobe light and disco ball.
Okay, I digress. Back to the food. I have to say that the dinner came on the heels of tapas, and I thought more than once of the ubiquitous Chinese expression: man, man chi. Slow, slow eat. They would always say it at dinners and banquets - eat slowly, enjoy yourself, have another glass of beer.........eat slowly.
So, the first course of our dinner was a fois gras and apple pate/terrine and slices of bread and toasts. It was lovely, and I had to stop myself half-way through eating it, reminding myself to slow, slow eat and wait for more to come.
Okay...........the second course was.........................SCALLOPS.
I know. Fig #28 on my list just happens to be EAT SCALLOPS.
I have to tell you why I've never eaten scallops. It all started back when I was a child, and my parents were divorced. My mother, sisters, brother and I all lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Oregon, and my mother was dating the man who would later become my step-father (for 7 years). I should also mention that I was raised Mormon, but my mother had sort of fallen off the wagon after her divorce (likely during my parents' marriage), and as much as we still went to church, there were these little paths taken that were definitely not sanctioned by the Joseph Smith.
For example, I found my mother in the back yard of the apartment complex one evening, on a lawn chair, in a bikini. I know. Well, as if being half-naked wasn't enough, my step-dad was there, and they were drinking wine. I think it might have been wine spritzers - those horrid Bartles and James things that were popular in the 80's - but whatever it was, the whole thing was very sordid and dangerous to my 8-year-old mind.
They were eating scallops. My step-dad offered one to me, and I declined. He insisted. I think I might have cried, and I think I was forced to take a bite, and of course I hated it and thought it was disgusting and have refused to even consider eating them again for the rest of my life.
So, there I am, at this lovely wedding reception, and along come a plate of scallops. I look across the table at a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and smile, because she follows me here at 52 Figs and she could appreciate the poignancy of this moment.
The scallops were actually not in full scallop form. They were mixed together with all sorts of cheese and cream, and they were served in big shells, all hot and bubbly, so it was sort of like eating scallops-light. I dug in, and I loved them of course. It's nice when it works out that way.
Luckily, my Peace Corps friend happens to be a fabulous photographer, and she took a photo of me with my surprise scallops. So, for those of you who don't know me, here I am - a plate of steaming, creamy scallops in my hands:
So, there it is. Me, eating scallops, at a gorgeous wedding of a great friend in a charming Spanish town. Does life get better?
Friday, August 13, 2010
My desire to watch the sun rise in Paris stems from a particular and unexpected moment 10 years ago, in Cambodia. I was traveling then with another Peace Corps volunteer, Sean, and he insisted that we watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We woke early, dressed in the dark and took off via moped to the temples. Sean, a budding photographer, was busy setting up his camera equipment and tripod, and I was sitting at the edge of the moat that surrounds the temple. I was tired. It was muggy but not yet hot, and it wasn't unpleasant. There were a lot of tourists there, given how early it was, and there was a kind of electricity in the air with everyone checking lenses, positioning tripods and then, finally, waiting for the sun.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a little Cambodian girl walking toward me, down the dirt road, barefoot, her hair ratty and falling at her shoulders. She approached me and said, in broken English, "You come with me. Mother have restaurant with coffee for you."
I shook my head, smiled and said, "No, no. I have to stay and watch the sun rise."
She looked at the temple and then back at me and smiled again. Then, she turned back down the dirt road and disappeared into the jungle. I turned back to the moat, a little disappointed because one of the truly great aspects of traveling in Cambodia is the wonderful coffee and freshly baked baguette that litter the roadsides.
The sky began shifting color, and the darkness that had carried me to the moat slowly began to creep away, until there was enough light for all of the cameras to begin clicking. I hung my feet over the edge of the moat, tilted my head back and waited for day.
Then, I heard the clinking of metal against glass and opened my eyes. The girl was back, this time carrying a tray that was bigger than she was, tottering along as best she could in those bare feet toward me. She wore the widest smile I've ever seen, and she stopped in front of me bearing a pot of French press coffee, a slim, hot baguette and a small bowl of jam.
I sat at the edge of the moat, watching the sun rise, eating warm bread and jam and swilling the best coffee in the world. The color of the sky changed from black to pale gray, to pink, to orange and finally to the bright blue of a hot jungle sun.
I always remember that morning, and when I think of Paris, I think I want to have a moment like that in Paris, since Paris is always my favorite city. I visited Paris the first and (until now) the only time in 1997, for the New Year weekend, with my sister and her British boyfriend. It was a wonderful weekend, and I remember loving all things Paris: the food, the coffee, the Seine, the Louvre, the pastries. One night, while my sister and James sat in their hotel room eating bread and cheese and watching CNN, I headed out into the streets in search of a phone card. I never found a phone card, but I did run into a young Parisian guy named Ludo who ended up giving me a personal tour of the city from about 10PM until 3AM the next morning. I remember watching the bakers on their way to work as we strolled, hand-in-hand, past this-and-that historic plaza, tomb or garden. It was a lovey way to see the city, and I think it was that night that I fell in love with Paris. Incidentally, I did not fall in love with Ludo because he was wearing a purple sweatshirt and a pair of ladies over-sized sunglasses - well into the night - which I think made him pretty much out of my league in more ways than one.
So, last week, while in Paris, I thought of the sunrise. It should have been easy, since the jet lag was awful. I had trouble sleeping at all, regardless of day or night, and I found myself wandering the streets in a sort of sleep-deprived haze. My hotel was safe and clean though a little uninspiring, and it wasn't until Thursday morning, three days into my trip, that I finally gave up on sleep altogether and set out to watch the sunrise. I was excited, if tired, because I was sure that if the sunrise in Cambodia was wonderful, the sunrise in Paris would be magnificent. I imagined a flood of color bouncing off the rooftops of the world's most romantic city. It was enough to compel me into a pair of pants, a sweater and ballet flats. I got coffee in the cafe, which was willing to make me a cup at 3AM, and that cup of coffee was very good, even if it came out of a machine, because I'm convinced that all coffee in Paris is good. It's like their greatest natural resource - some countries have diamonds or oil - Paris has the capacity for excellent coffee.
I sat outside my hotel, on a bench, sipping coffee and waiting for the magic to begin. I waited at least two hours. The city wasn't quiet. It was, even at 4AM, full of life. There were car horns blaring in the distance. I heard the sound of sirens flush past the hotel, to the north. The trash trucks and street sweepers were making their morning rounds, so the resounding thud of trash barrels hitting the pavement was the symphony of this particular experience.
The sun never did make an appearance in my sunrise over Paris. The sky just sort of changed color, gradually and slowly, without emphasis or aplomb. It was a dark gray and starless night (never really pitch black) and then it was the color of wet cement and then it was, finally, dove gray, the sun hiding behind a mass of shapeless clouds, obscured by a light drizzle of rain. I was so tired and disappointed that I didn't have the energy to even give up on the experience. Instead, I sat in the rain, my hair matted slightly against my cheek. I mean, the city didn't even have the courage to have an all-out thunderstorm. It was only a drizzle, which was even more depressing than if I had sat through torrid rains and somehow come out unscathed. No, there was nothing extraordinary in this moment, and when my hands were finally unable to properly hold my now-cold coffee cup (Styrofoam at that), I finally had to admit defeat and head back into the hotel.
The front-desk staff looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles and as if they wondered if they should call someone. I smiled, tossed the coffee into a trash bin and went back upstairs.
I undressed and got into bed and thought: that was a complete waste of a sunrise.
Then, as I drifted in and out of a restless sleep (why are people in hotels so loud? really, is it impossible to shut a door rather than letting it slam closed behind you?), I realized my mistake. My mistake was trying to recreate the magic I'd experienced in Cambodia. I thought that if I just happened upon something so extraordinary as that Cambodian sunrise, with my freshly pressed coffee and warm baguette, in the middle of the jungle, with a little Cambodian girl my ambassador to another hot, bright day - well, I thought I should be able to do even better in a city like Paris, a city of light, a city of love, a city that inspired Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Pound.
But my problem, I realized while listening to the couple next door argue over which museum to visit, was that you can't stage the extraordinary. When something is contrived, it loses its wonder. The Cambodian sunrise, which has remained a favorite among my memories for a decade now, was exceptional because I had no expectation of it. I was surprised by it, but I was also open to it, so that when it came out of nowhere (well, out of the jungle on a little metal tray), I embraced it and sat up to greet it without any idea of what it was I was greeting.
I realized that I have, for most of my life, tried to control my happiness. I mean, it sounds logical, right? We are Americans, after all. If we can't control our own destiny, what can we control?
But I think it's just that sense of control, or that fear perhaps of letting go, that restricts my experiences to the dull, one-dimensional events of a life that is only half-lived. It's hard to know when to push for something, when to take the proverbial bull-by-the-horns, and when to simply let life happen and be open to whichever experiences come our way.
Maybe life is a combination of both. Maybe we can only control up to a point, and then we have to close our eyes and jump.
Whatever it is we are supposed to do, I can tell you that I won't ever forget the Cambodian sunrise..........or the Paris half-sunrise either.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I spent the first four days of my trip abroad in Paris, and while in Paris I spent a good deal of time drinking coffee, eating bread and reading Hemingway. I read, of course, A Moveable Feast, and this is my favorite quote from the book:
I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know."
I love this quote obviously as an aspiring writer, but I love it just as much in the context of life in general. I think that as we age, we come to appreciate the value of truth and we have less patience with or interest in falseness and/or facade. I find a certain freedom in being myself, and as I age, there is less fear surrounding truth, particularly as it applies to myself.
I love the last bit of Hemingway's quote: Write the truest sentence you know.
I think that I will apply it to life in general: be the truest person you know.
Oh well. It was worth it. I mean, if you're going to be miserable with jet lag and hives, at least it's on the heels of a fabulous vacation that included a seven-course Spanish dinner, a private tour of the Paris police station (totally unexpected and slightly dodgy), Brazilian mojitos with a kick and the sweetest wedding ever. Toss in a mini-Peace Corps reunion and a harrowing car ride from Burgos to Madrid, and it was pretty much good times all around.
I have much to write, and I realize now that I still haven't posted about my last fig - camping with my children. I will write about that asap.
More on Paris and Spain soon to come. Incidentally I can mark off 2 figs from the list, but they're not necessarily the ones I had in mind.........
Monday, August 2, 2010
*Photo taken from ParisDailyPhoto.com, Eric Tenin
Sunday, August 1, 2010
*Hemingway, Paris, 1924