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

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:


  1. Such wise words here, MamaP, and I completely agree. Trying your hardest at something leaves you with no need to reproach yourself, no need to justify anything and no shame. It doesn't actually matter what you achieve, or don't - its the quality of the effort you make. And someone inside is always keeping count! I should re-read this post every day! xxx

  2. Thank you Mrs. E! I re-read this post this morning myself, after a few days of general laziness and sitting about the house on the computer doing....not much. Sigh. It's good to have a reminder of what will make me feel much better about life in general. Thanks for your comment! Mama P


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