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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

THE Fig....Perspective

Two weeks ago, I spotted a red motor cycle side car.  It's driver was nearby, so I came to a screeching halt (kids in tow), rolled down the window of my own car and said, "Is that your husband's motor cycle?"

The woman laughed and said, "No, it's mine."

God, I loved her right then and there.

"Riding in one of those is my dream...I mean, it's number one on my bucket list," I said.

She laughed and ten minutes later I had her cell number, name (Melissa) and an overview of her schedule for the next few weeks, when she assured me she could fit me in for a ride.

I was thrilled.  My kids were excited beyond measure.  They know, as does all my family, of my deep desire to ride in a motor cycle side car.

And then....nothing.  I didn't text her.  Can you believe it?  I can't.  Well, if I really think about it, I can.  It's a pattern of mine.  I get very excited about something.  I go all gung-ho about it.  I research, plan and even put into action small pieces of the puzzle until I'm very close to getting what I want....and then I stop.  I stop writing.  I stop exercising.  I stop working.  I stop cleaning.  I stop......and for what reason, I have no earthly clue.  None.  I don't feel afraid.  I don't feel that I can't accomplish stuff.  I just....stop.

And so it went with the side car.  Here I had a woman ready to take me for a ride.  She lives in my town.  The side car, for heaven's sake, is red.

And I didn't text.  My kids asked about it, and when they did I would say, "Oh, right.  I need to text her."

But I didn't do it.  My husband asked and friends asked, and every time I gave vague answers about getting around to that initial text.  But I didn't do it.  Then, I did it.  She texted back.  We talked about times, and then.....I stopped.

Seriously.  I just didn't get back to her for a few days.

Then, I asked myself point-blank:  what are you afraid of?  Why are you putting off something you've dreamed of doing for years?  YEARS........

And my answer wasn't surprising at all.

What if it isn't as good as I've built it up in my mind?  What if I'm disappointed?

Because sometimes, it's the dream itself we love.  It's the planning, the ideas, the talking it over, the struggling to get to the end goal.......sometimes, that's the love.  And then, when we get there, the thing itself is disappointing or, worse.....over.

I've talked about the side car dream for so long, I wasn't sure I was ready to give up on the dream itself.

But then, I texted Melissa back.  And she was free.  And I had time.

Even today, when we were getting the details of our big ride together, I had a funny feeling in my chest.  It was a combination of dread, excitement and anxiety.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  I just knew I didn't want to be disappointed.  I knew that it would be easier to continue pursuing the idea of the side car ride rather than doing it and possibly not enjoying it.....

But I met Melissa downtown at 3:30 today....kids, husband and camera in tow.

The side car was cooler than I'd remembered.  Her husband was nicer than I could have imagined.  The helmet was retro and vintagey and the leather jacket had enough edge that I felt, ever-so-slightly, like a badass.

And from there, opposite the Southern Pines train station, we departed the curb, my kids on the sidewalk.....for parts unknown.

I'll post later about the ride itself, if it was actually that fabulous and what I learned about life and myself in the 20 minutes we hit the road.  The experience was different than I imagined and better than I'd hoped.

For now............

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Quote 24 of 52

This past week I've been thinking a lot about two things: Hemingway and hard work.

I've been thinking about Hemingway because last week's church sermon was based on a Hemingway short story, "The Capital of the World." The sermon was based on the story within the story, of a father who is estranged from his teenage son, Paco. He finally puts a note at the Hotel Montana, reading, "Paco, meet at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday...all is forgiven, Papa."

When the father returns the hotel, the police have been called out because 800 Pacos are all waiting for their Papas.

So, the sermon was (obviously) about the return of the prodigal son and the idea that we are never too far away from God. That He wants nothing more than a relationship with us, no matter the circumstances of our past. It was a lovely sermon, because I love Hemingway and I also love religion when it's not angry, judgmental and based on hell-fire-and-damnation.

I want to read that book of stories now. I've read quite a bit of Hemingway's work, and he's my favorite author. But I haven't read that, and I think today I'll put that book in my Amazon list.

Anyhow, I've also been thinking a lot this past week about hard work. You know this idea of building self-esteem that is very popular right now? I think about it often, in part because I have kids and in part because being a stay-at-home mom and Army wife has done a number on my own sense of self, which is sometimes hard to define when one is moving about, staying at home and generally defining herself by the exterior (kids, house, husband, location).

So, there are all of these theories about self-esteem. You have positive self-talk, parodied on Saturday Night Live in the 90's with Jack Handy quotes.

You have journaling and praying and thinking and pondering about what you want in life, who you are and who you will become.

You have the idea of putting out positive thoughts, imagining what your future will hold and being still and 'in the moment' so that your life will come to you exactly as you imagined it would.

I think all of that is well and good, but I have come to realize that whatever it is I feel 'bad' about is usually what I've been good and lazy about. I never feel the house is clean enough, and the truth is: it's not. And it's not clean enough because I'm doing other fabulous stuff. It's messy because I don't get off my butt and clean it. Period.

I usually feel bad about my mothering because I'm not patient enough and because I sit on the computer instead of playing games, teaching them to cook, helping them with chores and reading books together. People can tell me all day long to cut myself some slack, not to strive for perfection, etc. But the truth is, if I turn off this computer and go outside and play tennis with my kids, it will be better for all of us. I have the time and the energy to do it.

I feel bad about not working. About not writing. About not studying Chinese.

And I can either sit here and put my energy into the universe, journal about it, stand in front of the mirror and tell myself I'm good enough.....or I can put on my clothes and get busy doing what will make me feel better about myself. And I think that the doing, the actual self-discipline and hard work is what builds self-esteem and confidence. It's not the thinking, planning and pondering. It's the DOING.

A few nights ago, when my husband came home from work, we ate dinner. After dinner, I cleaned the kitchen instead of flopping down on the sofa to surf the web. I actually thought to myself: if I flop down, I won't get back up. Now, go clean the kitchen.

Then, I asked my husband to get the kids to bed. He did his usual sighing bit, and normally I would have felt guilty for asking. I would have felt guilty because I would have known that I spent most of the day on the computer, taking a nap, riding horses or chatting with my sisters on the phone. But that day, I'd spent the day running errands, cleaning house, cooking and playing with the kids. The house was clean, the laundry caught up and the dry cleaning dropped off, prescriptions picked up and yoga lessons attended. So, when he sighed and acted like he was put out, I wasn't plagued by feelings of guilt. Because I had nothing to feel guilty about. I'd worked all day, as hard as he had. Then, I cooked dinner and cleaned it up while he sat on his computer and surfed the web. So, when I asked for his help I felt good about it. And his sighing didn't take that away.

When I eat well and exercise I am much more accepting of my body than when I binge on Frosted Flakes and then flop around the house trying to convince myself that I deserved it.

I think a lot of self-talk is simply trying to justify lack of self-discipline and laziness. I think we wouldn't need so much self-talk, counseling and journaling if we simply got up, got dressed and got busy.

I think self-esteem is the feeling we get when we work hard. I don't think there is any substitute for it. It doesn't mean we'll always be 'successful' or the outcome will be perfect, but the process of hard work itself is the ultimate success. Nothing feels better than getting into bed each night and knowing that we put in our all. I think we've gone a bit soft as a country, frankly. All we talk about is how we need time alone, time to rest, time to reflect, time to meditate about our feelings.

Is it me or does anyone else think we might need to just work harder?

I could go on...but I'll just put up the quote for the week, which combines both Hemingway and hard work.

If the book is good, is about something that you know, and is truly written, and reading it over you see that it is so, you can let the boys yip and the noise will have that pleasant sound coyotes make on a very cold night when they are out in the snow and you are in your own cabin that you have built and paid for with you work.

Ernest Hemingway

And in that spirit:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Garden

Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was sitting on the sofa today researching lavender and gardening, and then I was reminded of the importance of action vs. planning vs. sitting on the sofa planning to death.

So, I just went outside, in my running shoes and workout clothes, and dug up one flower bed.

It wasn't at all pretty. I had no gloves. I know now why gardeners use gloves. And I wasn't using the right tools at the right times. Add to that the presence of my little 5-year-old helper who kept flinging dirt in my face with the small shovel, and we were a sight.

I'll post this week about why I want to garden at all, my past experiences with gardening and where I hope to go with these flower beds.

Until then, here are a few pics of today's before and after shots.

My helper (who assured me he didn't have to go to the bathroom)......

The beds.....there are two....I worked on the lower bed today.

I have no idea where we got this, but I'm using it.

Some of the clover I started with......

I noticed some patches of white stuff on the soil in parts.....I'm assuming some sort of dodgy mold? I need someone to identify please.....

Is it me, or are all those root thingies waffle?

This ol' girl gave me a run for my money.....who knew a plant could be so hard to dig out? Clover looks so nice and gentle and sweet. It's not so sweet underneath. But....after all....what is?

BW brought his plastic slide over to the wheel barrow to create some slide-action for the plants. It was super helpful and thoughtful of him. He has a lovely brain.

The 'after' shot.....that's all I can muster today.

Our little man....next to the full-up wheel barrow. I have no idea what to do with all that stuff, so it's still sitting next to the flower bed!

Monday, February 27, 2012

My First Lent

I went to church yesterday, with the entire brood, and as I sat listening to a small talk about Lent, I thought: why don't I give stuff up for Lent? Being raised Mormon, of course, we didn't do this Lent business, but now that my daughter is in Catholic school and bopping all over the house crossing herself, I figure I should have a go at it. I'm making it sound like I'm cavalier about it or making fun of it. That's not the case at all. I admit to not understanding it all exactly, having attended Episcopalian services only once (yesterday).

BUT, any sermon that is based on a Hemingway novel (yesterday's was), gets me at hello. Add a living historic church, wooden pews, traditional hymns and not one raised-hand, pair of khaki pants or man-guitar-band, and I'm willing to sign on the dotted line. I can't remember the last time I attended church services and actually wanted to hear the sermon. I mean, I wanted my son (sitting in my lap) to hush up about coloring and being bored so I could hear. I want to listen. Usually, even pre-kids, as soon as a sermon begins I start a mental grocery list or daydreaming about expensive and fabulous vacations.

I was beginning to think I just wasn't religious.

But yesterday, sitting next to a window with a view of the old bell, which rang before we began service, and smelling the smells of generations of people who had gone before me, I wanted to listen, I felt inspired and I was thoughtful about not only what was being said but what it was that keeps me trying (and trying) to find a church where I fit in and feel comfortable.

So, when the notion of Lent was broached, I listened. Turns out, you are supposed to give something up, and then you're supposed to use the money you would otherwise use on that item (wine, chocolate, gambling) and give it back to the church/needy.

I really love that idea. My sister's father-in-law says, "Ya, but who actually does that?"

Well, I'm going to. For the entire season of Lent (I'm still unsure as to the exact dates), I'm giving up dessert.

I know. That's big.

I'll figure up how much I would have spent on all my sweet treats, and then I'm putting it in the collection plate at the end of Lent.

It may only be $50, but I think there is something in the act of giving up, paying attention and giving back that feeds our soul.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quote 23 of 52

I've been thinking lately about action vs. discussion. As a person who struggles with self discipline, motivation and general follow-through, this week's quote is particularly relevant to my life.

It is from the man himself: Benjamin Franklin:

Well done is better than well said.

I officially dedicate this week to action.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Replacement Figs

I am going to replace two figs. They are:

1. taking my kids on an airplane flight alone

2. taking my kids to a fancy restaurant

I'm sure I'll have the chance to do both of those things in the future, but I have no desire to do them now.

So, I'm replacing them with:

1. redecorate my bedroom

2. plant an herb garden

I've wanted to redecorate my bedroom for at least 2 years. And I've actually tried to plant an herb garden. I'll try to hunt down photographic evidence of that very soon.

So, there they are.....the replacements. As I've done historically, I'll start by discussing why I want to do whatever I'm doing, why I haven't yet done it and then describe both the doing it and my reactions when it's done.

I'm off. Happy Saturday....Sunday....entire weekend. We're snug here in North Carolina. Ray built a fire. Bobby Wade is coloring a castle with PipSqueak markers. Maggie is coloring a picture of teapots in the kitchen, listening to an Elizabeth Mitchell CD and humming along.

So, life is good.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Romancing the Fig

I know....that's a bad post title. But, today, I sat down at my computer and wrote a query letter and synopsis for my long-ago-written romance novel. I did get stuck at one part, and I got up to get water, and while I was up I thought: this is silly. I should just wait until I have more time and don't feel stressed.

Then I reminded myself that I wrote this novel in 2008. I wrote the first query letter and synopsis in 2010.

It is now 2012.

So, I went back to the computer, wiped the synopsis clean and started fresh. I free-wrote the whole thing, edited the query letter, copied the address of the editor into my e-mail page and pressed: SEND.

I don't have huge hopes and/or expectations about this novel. I wrote it before taking an online course about romance novel writing, so I am realistic about the flaws of the book. BUT, I am done trying to make things perfect. I have several Harlequin romance novels, and mine is as good as the ones I have on my bedside table. So I sent in the query and will wait to hear back. If I wait, telling myself I'll over-haul the novel, I'll never do it. It will sit there, as it has for 3 years. And even if they reject it, which they likely will, I will have done it. I can only hope they might offer some positive feedback or suggestions. That would be helpful.

You may wonder why I want to write romance novels at all. I don't have a very good answer for that. I once thought it would be super easy, that I could knock one out in a week or so and make some quick cash. I have since been disabused of that idea. Seems readers want a real connection between the hero and heroine, and they don't go for dodgy 80's plot-lines anymore, like the unforeseeable avalanche resulting in two opposite people spending a week together in a run-down mountainside cabin with only melted snow for water.

I should probably read a few romance novels before I try to write them. I actually have read a few, and I'm not ashamed to say I enjoyed several of them. When I read Outlander, I pretty much couldn't do anything else and was reading in the bathroom so my family wouldn't distract me with things like dinner, bedtime routines and other necessities of family life. When I finished that book, a romance about a heart-throbbing Highlander named Jamie, I read the ending again. Then, I closed the book, looked over at my sleeping husband and thought: hmmm....this may not work out between us.

Obviously, I'm still married. But, I continue to think of ol' Jamie Frasier and his horseback riding, dagger throwing, kilt-wearing and standing up for the needs of his woman.

By God.

I have also been somewhat glued to some Judith McNaught books, devouring them in the backyard of our California home while the kids threw rocks at each other.

So, I guess I do have an appreciation for the whole romance genre. The thing is, after you have kids, the last thing you want to do is read some drag-you-down depressing book about some poor woman's awful lot in life and how she had to rise about it all only to find herself sunk again in some other hole of darkness.

It's why I don't watch those CSI shows and the evening news. Who needs that?

I know that you all are wondering if I'm going to go off and get a few cats next....cause that's what romance-reading and romance-writing women do....re-use tea bags numerous times, drink from a favorite mug (with a Cathy cartoon on the side), wear fuzzy heavily-pilled sweaters in colors like Chianti Rose and Loganberry, and curl up in self-knitted socks, a hot water bottle and a couple of cats to read the latest Wal-Mart purchased bodice ripper.

Don't hold your breath.....my little sister is the crazy cat lady of the family!

But, even as I think this particular novel will likely meet the rejected fate of the many who have gone before me, I feel inspired to begin anew, with another hero and heroine, a stronger plot line and some dynamic supporting characters who are memorable but don't steal the show.

Meanwhile, I'll wait to hear back from the editors.........

So....done. Submitted a romance novel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Updated List

I updated my list this morning, filling in red those figs I've already done. It's been a while since I've actually done anything, except ride a horse. And that I've not yet done at a full gallop. But, more on that later.

I have also decided that two of my figs are no longer desires of mine. They include: take my kids on an airline flight alone and take my kids to a fancy restaurant.

At the time of writing this list, I was in the beginning of my year alone with my kids, as my husband had recently deployed to Afghanistan for a year. I was scared to death of that year. I worried I wouldn't be able to take care of the kids myself, that I'd yell too much, sleep too late, somehow muck up Maggie's first day of kindergarten....and on and on and on.

A few months into the year, I realized I was living my life pretty much crippled by fear, just waiting for the days to pass until Ray came home, hoping I didn't mess anything up in the meantime. I decided to write this list because of that quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy says to Red, "I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying."

My best friend from Peace Corps quotes that all the time. I think that quote is saying, in simpler terms, what Plath is ultimately saying in the fig quote. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

I realized that while Ray was deployed, while I was living there in California scared to make a mistake, to take care of my kids, to be a 'bad' mom, I was dying a little bit. So, this list was a kind of way for me to get busy living.

Part of that living was to tackle some of the parenting fears I had, such as riding in an airplane alone with two toddlers and taking them to a fancy restaurant, forcing them to behave well and thereby feeling like a successful (and partly French) parent because my kids could feast on filet mignon or upscale pasta.

A funny thing happened, though, with my husband's deployment. I didn't fall apart. I didn't ruin my children. I didn't sleep too late, muck up kindergarten or fail to pay the bills on time. I took care of the house and kids. I made friends. I tackled figs, repelling the rock wall at the gym, watching the sun rise in Paris, reading Hemingway. This list very much helped to push me from inside my house and myself to outside my house, into the kitchens of friends, to the park with my kids, to Spain for a wedding and so on. By the end of the year, I no longer feared any of it, and of all the feelings of confidence I gained, the confidence I now have as a parent is by far the greatest.

I wanted to take my kids on an airplane and to a fancy restaurant not because I thought any of us would enjoy it, but because I felt I had something to prove. If I could accomplish those things, it meant I was in control, and if I was in control, I suppose I think that meant I was a good mother.

I am happy to report I no longer have any desire to force my kids to a fancy restaurant and I no longer hover on the cusp of feeling like a failure because my kids don't eat foie gras.

So, I'm going to strike those from my list of 52 Figs and replace them.

I'll post about the replacements later this week. I have some ideas....but I want to be sure.

Happy Saturday! Ray let me go back t bed until 10 and took the kids to the airport all by himself. Bless his heart!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Returning....with Quote 22 of 52

I am coming back to 52 Figs, having been gone a long time now. In large part, my focus and energy has simply been elsewhere; though elsewhere is, ironically, directly related to 52 Figs after all. Most of my free time, energy, thought and focus has been consumed with horseback riding, a fig that seemed quite simple (almost easy) when I added it to my list over ago.

The past 10 months have shown me that I was wrong to think I could go galloping across an open field after a few lessons on top of a horse. I have been surprised, even amazed, by the whole process of learning to ride a horse. It's much like learning to speak a language, just when you think you can carry on a conversation or speak with some level of fluency, you realize you haven't a clue how to say something as simple as: where is the restroom?

I will write a complete update about the fig of horse riding at another point. It requires and deserves much more time than I have at the moment. But for now, I am back after a necessary rest, and I am looking again at my list of figs and thinking about which ones are calling to me next. I have learned, through this experience, that the figs can't be plucked too early. They ripen on their own, so to speak. So, when I'm ready and when they're ready, we come together at some middle ground and get to work.

This morning, I have begun to review the list and think again, beyond horses, of what comes next. I was thinking this morning of a Buddhist quote I heard somewhere, someday, along the way, and it seems apropos to this moment.

What you are is what you have been. What you'll be is what you do now.


Happy Thursday and Happy 2012.

Photo above is the Buddha at Leshan.
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