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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Fig for my Kids.........

Last week my son asked if he could climb the rock wall at the gym. He's finally heavy enough - 35 lbs. So, we got him in the harness and hooked him up so that he could climb and rappel. Then, he sort of froze and looked at the guy and said, "I don't want to do it. I'm scared." Then, the gym worker told my son, "Oh, don't worry. Look, your mom will do it first and show you."

And I'm all.......what?????

To rappel is on my list of 52 figs, sure. But it's one of those distant, hazy figs that I know one day I'll do because I started this list and will lose face if I can't finish it. It was never something I thought I'd do just because, even though the gym rock wall stares me in the face every week and even though there are harnesses and lines for rappelling just waiting to be used. No, I thought I'd wait for my husband to get home, to pump me full of Army-issued courage and bravery. He could yell things to me like, "Don't worry, dear. Pain is just fear leaving your body!"

But there I was, with my son's enormous blue eyes looking up at me. My kids know I'm afraid of heights, so I looked down at him and said, "Oh, son, I would but I'm afraid of heights."

Then, of course, I realized my moment to show my kids that even if you're afraid of something, you can still try. It was one of those after-school Hallmark moments, and I took it. I put on the harness and thought: I'll just climb a bit, not look down and be done with it.

I got about a quarter of the way up the wall and froze. My hands were shaking, and I had somehow (in less than three minutes) broken out into a crazy flop sweat. I couldn't go up and I couldn't go down. The gym guy was yelling, "It's okay, just let go." But I couldn't. Even though I was in a harness and linked to a wire, I was sure that if I let go I flop to the ground in a massive heap and probably break every bone in my body. I literally hung there in a slippery death-grip, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that I was only about five feet off the ground.

I slowly climbed back down. Forget rappelling. It was all I could do manage my feet on those slippery little rocks, one wobbly step at a time.

It took me three tries before I would let go and use the rope to rappel down. My kids were so excited, you can't believe it. I made it a third of the way up the wall that day, and even though I landed straight on my ass every time I got down, my kids were really just pumped.

We went to the rock wall three more times before I got it. Every time I do it, my hands shake and sweat. I can't look down. I just have to keep going. But yesterday, I got to the top and rappelled down, three times no less.
Fig.....checked. I have officially rappelled.

It feels great. I don't think I'll go climbing any mountains or anything crazy, but it feels good to know that I can face heights and get over it and do something I'm afraid of. I mean, this AND being able to braid challah. Is there anything I can't do?


Monday, November 29, 2010

A Whole Book of Poetry

November is coming to a close, and I haven't finished an entire book of poetry. I have one I have been reading, and it's lovely and wonderful and I enjoy it more than any other poetry I've ever read. It's an anthology entitled Good Poems and it's edited by Garrison Keillor (who doesn't love GK?). But it's long, and I'm only a third of the way through it.

So, the other day I thought: geez, I'll never finish in time. So, I got a slim little Lucille Clifton volume out and started reading that instead, which is wonderful too but isn't what I really want to be reading. I was just doing it because it's feasible and I could finish in a few days.

And then I thought: really, Amy? Really? You're competing with yourself and stressing out over reading a book of poetry, something that you should be enjoying and loving and doing in those few moments you have to settle down, sit with a cup of tea and relax?

So, the book of poetry will take some time. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that those of you who read this blog (are there four now?) aren't going to gasp in horror that it didn't get done "in time."


Sunday, November 28, 2010


I'll admit I've lost track of which fig I'm supposed to be tackling in terms of numbers. It's all a blur now. But I have done yoga now, for three months straight, at least once a week. Whew. It took some determination, because there were certainly times I didn't want to do it. What is it about us that makes us dread doing stuff we actually love doing, once we get going? Anyway, I did it. Insert Fist Pump.

Here's the thing. I believe yoga could "change my life." I do. It's a beautiful expression of the harmony between one's mind and one's body. I think yoga is a form of meditation, because if you're really doing the poses and pushing yourself to go further, you can't be thinking about the grocery list or the kids or whatever it is we think about when we go for a jog. In fact, I never understood what people meant when they said running helps clear their head. For me, it only gets me further inside my head. And being further inside my head isn't always a place I need to go.

Yoga is different. You certainly use your body, push it to its limits, stretch it. And since there are different forms of yoga, you can be very active about it all, flowing through sun salutations so quickly and fluidly that you build up quite the sweat - especially in a heated room. So, I think yoga is a great "workout" if you're trying to workout. Of course, like anything, it matters the level and the amount of effort you put into it. You can slog through it and see any real benefit, and I don't even think you would get much mental benefit in slogging through it. I think that for yoga to truly be beneficial, you have to be stretching yourself. Otherwise, it's just going through the motions.

The thing I love about yoga, above all else, is that the focus isn't on being thin. It's not about whittling down this or that "problem" area (or at least it's not meant to be about that - we Americans have certainly bastardized it to that level in some areas). Yoga is about flow and balance, and while I practiced it in a room full of other students, everyone seemed so graceful and present. I saw people of all shapes and sizes. I remember one day, a woman in front of me was much larger than me. Normally, when it comes to sports/athletics, size matters. The slim girl is "better" than the heavier girl. Not so in yoga. This woman was so lovely, holding her poses with such grace and stability. I remember how nice her face looked as she held a pose, very calm and quiet. And there I was, the slim girl, all wobbly and half-tipping over. I used to look around the room and watch all the bodies, and yoga gives you such an appreciation for the body itself and for the strength and beauty of the body. I think this is something that makes yoga worth it if for no other reason. It reminded me of the purpose of a body and of how strong we can be when we're not focusing on bat-wing flab.

Having said all of this, I don't think I was supposed to be looking around the room at all the bodies. I mean, I think I was pretty much missing the point as I tipped over in triangle and arched my neck to see if the guy in front of me had his hand on his shin or on the floor. Really, why did I care? I'm not sure, but I did. I found studying yoga in a classroom setting to be HIGHLY distracting. But that's me. I'm fascinated by people. I'm fascinated by what they wear, how they talk, which hand gestures they use, how they talk to their children and spouses. The other day I saw a woman get into a car with a leopard-print steering-wheel cover. I have thought about that for weeks. Weeks. Leopard-print. Fascinating.

Thus, I found, in my three months, that studying yoga at home works best for me. I don't think it's any easier, if you push yourself from inside rather than from competing with others or having teacher Ping tell you, "You have more to give, Amy." I found a few yoga DVDs I like. I can put them into the player while the kids are sleeping and get a full 60 to 90 minutes at home. Then, I can shut it off and do the dishes.

And that brings me to my biggest issues with yoga. First, it takes a lot of time. It's at least 2 hrs. I have to drive to the studio. I have to get a spot and lay out my mat and wait. Then, we do the 75 or 90 minute class. Then, we get up and put our things away and get into our cars. Then I go home. It's at least 2 hrs. And I don't have 2 hrs. away from the house, without my kids for that. The precious time I have while the kids are at school is filled with errands, house keeping issues, appointments, etc. So, for me, right now, I can't fit yoga into my schedule more than once or twice a week. Well, I can but I won't. Because doing it would mean I would spend the rest of my day scurrying around to get everything else done, and that would stress me out. I do think I'll practice yoga regularly at some point. But it will have to be when I have more time.

Second, and here is my real issue, as wonderful as yoga is, it's not as good for keeping trim and fit as Tracy Anderson. I have yet to find anything that is. Anything. And Tracy Anderson is a commitment. Her videos are hard and time consuming. Even doing only one a day, it's an hour of working out. And I frankly can't work out more than an hour a day nor do I want to. I have struggled with this issue. On the one hand, Tracy is very effective, but her focus is very much on slimming, targeting "problem" areas and whittling one's thighs down. On the other hand, it works. Yoga is a beautiful practice and one that, coupled with a great diet, could definitely keep you slim and toned. But I'm going to say it. It just doesn't work as well as Tracy.

Third, and finally, I don't think yoga is beneficial (truly) unless you commit to it and do it at least five times a week. Doing it once or twice, even three times a week, was okay but I didn't notice any change in my mental state or in my body. I didn't feel even more flexible. I enjoyed the yoga. I liked how it made me feel. And I think true practice would be amazing, but once a week for three months was, if I'm honest, not at all amazing.

I'm learning in life that it's time to make choices. I can't be all things or do all things. I have to focus. I don't have the time or energy to pursue every goal I have ever made or seen or thought of in my life. Just like cleaning out one's closet, I think we have clean out our goals so that we make priorities and then see them through. This year has been especially helpful in doing this for me. As I work my way through this list, I'm able to see what really matters to me, what I am passionate about and how I want to spend my time.

For now, as much as I loved yoga, I'm shelving it. And moving on.


Quote 15 of 52

This week's quote is from a woman I read in college: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans of Middlemarch fame). I love this quote, and I think it's true.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

And so, in that vein, I plan to spend the week contemplating where I am, where I thought I'd be and what I want to be.


Monday, November 15, 2010


I have not been meditating. I know. I'm cringing.

I skipped one night, and then I skipped another night and then I thought to hell with it, I'd have to start over anyway. And there it is. I've not been meditating.

The thing about it is that it's really hard. I'm not sure why. It's only 10 minutes a day, and I do it when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. But it's hard. I sit there and try to quiet my mind, and that's exhausting. It's not relaxing. I thought it would be relaxing, and I'd be all Zen about it, my knees crossed, my fingers held out just-so. But it's hard on my back, and focusing on my breathing isn't at all fun, and then my mind goes wandering down roads that have been left for so long they're now unpaved - for good reason. I hate those roads.

But I will start again. Tonight. I will start again because it's hard and when things are hard (especially mental things) that's usually when we need to commit to them the most. I'm not so good about doing the hard stuff, which is why there are still those unpaved roads.


Quote 14 of 52

I am late this week. But I am here nonetheless.....

This week's quote is from The Old Man and the Sea, which I should finish tonight. But I will blog about that later. For now, here is the quote:

But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it.

I love this line, and I've re-read it several times and think about it throughout my day. The idea that a hand can be a traitor. Hemingway was brilliant. Just brilliant. It's only 26 words, and yet it tells the reader so much about the old man.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thoughts on Siddhartha

There are books in one's life that are, well, life-changing. They resonate and stay with us, and we think about them years and decades later, and we sometimes return to them. I wondered, recently, if the book that has had the greatest and most profound impact on me (which I read at the age of 20) would today have as strong an impact on me if I read it again. I did read it again, and I have to say that the impact was not so surprising (I was anticipating it after all), but it was no less profound, 15 years later. I read the book three months ago, and I still think of it every day. It is Maugham's The Razor's Edge.

So it is with Siddhartha. Again, my experience with Siddhartha is not so surprising as my reaction to other books, simply because I was prepared for it. It's stronger when you find a book and have no idea it will impact you in any deep way. But when you purposely choose a book that has impacted so many others, your own reaction to it is tinged in a way, shaped to some extent by your expectation of it.

It doesn't, however, make the impact any less strong.

I think I was supposed to read Siddhartha at this exact moment in my life, because the ultimate message I take from this book is particularly comforting to me at this time. That message, if I have to filter it down to one, is that life is a journey, that it's never done, that we are never there, and if there is one goal, it is perhaps to end our lives at peace with ourselves. Making peace with any and everyone else are only steps toward that end-goal.

Reading this book makes me less afraid - of people, of experiences, of pain. Even in the end, when Siddhartha had gained and lost, was so disgusted with himself he wanted to throw his life away, even in the end, when he had quieted his spirit and was at peace with so little, his road lay out ahead of him, bumps and all. And perhaps his greatest bump, his hardest moment, came in the end of his life instead of the beginning or the middle. It came when he least expected it and he found himself suffering again.

I read once that Buddha said something to the effect of: All life is suffering, and all suffering is life.

I find this quote comforting and have always repeated it to myself in times of hardship, because I think we all need to believe that hardship has purpose. I was raised a Christian, so I was taught that suffering is punishment and that if one wants suffering to end, one has to only be good enough.

I think this is kind of a crock of shit.

Maybe suffering is just living, it's just part of what it means to be human, and we can't be good enough to escape it, because without it we wouldn't be living any more than if we never experienced joy.

In the end, I think Siddhartha's suffering taught him the ultimate lesson - to have empathy for others. I think that when we have compassion and empathy for others, we have somehow found a way to have empathy and compassion for ourselves.

I would recommend this book to others, but somehow, I feel that after reading it, recommending a book to others would kind of be missing the point.

I have thought, however, of the books that have most greatly impacted me and my life. I have come up with a list of 5, a monumental task of narrowing and cutting-down. Here are my top five books:

1. The Razor's Edge
2. Atlas Shrugged
3. The Bell Jar
4. Man's Search for Meaning
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God

I'm curious to hear yours.......please.


Quote 13 of 52

This week's quote is yet another from Siddhartha. I have been thinking about the book all week, and I have thought of this quote more than once, promising myself I will try to absorb it into my daily life:

I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Meditation

I have been meditating each night. I meditate until I feel compelled to open my eyes, which has been 7 to 8 minutes. It's hard. It's harder than I could have imagined. I usually do it lying down, before I sleep, which is arguably not the "right" way to meditate. And it's still hard.

What's so hard? Well, it's hard to try to clear one's mind, to focus on breathing instead of the grocery list, whether or not the children have been properly raised and if my husband is safe and sound. My mind wants to run through that night's episode of Without a Trace, and then while it's reviewing the slides of that particular program, my mind wants to tell me that I shouldn't be watching that stuff anyway.

Then, I have to bring my mind back on track, which means focusing on the breath going in and out of my nose, hesitating at the top and the bottom of each breath before beginning again.

It goes like this for 7 minutes, and then I open my eyes. My mind has only been quiet a few seconds of that time, maybe. I have to continually bring my mind back to my breathing, where it sits for a second or two before moving on.....again.

I am reading a book entitled Mindfulness in Plain English (Gunaratana, 1996). It is a simple examination of meditation and explanation of how to apply and practice it in one's life.

I am hopeful meditation will be useful for me. There is a lot of mind that needs quieting up there.

Does anyone have any experience with meditation?


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1 Month, 4 Weeks, 30 Days: 4 Figs

Instead of thinking in terms of a fig-a-week this month, I am thinking big, broad strokes. This month, I will take 4 figs and work them simultaneously. In fact, I've already started several.

1. Meditate Everyday For 1 Month

2. Submit a Romance Novel

3. Practice Yoga Regularly (at least once a week) for 3 months

4. Read an Entire Book of Poetry

So, by the end of November, I should have each of these figs under my belt. This week, I will write about why each fig made it onto the list and why I haven't yet done any of them.

The list is filling in.......


PS - thoughts today on Siddhartha. I've been thinking..........
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...