figs

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 Attila 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, Chapter 7

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The True Education

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It doesn’t matter how many textbooks you study, nothing teaches a person faster about the ways of the world than travel. And I don’t mean hoity-toity resorts, hotels, and cruises, I mean actually getting out there and exploring less-than-perfect destinations from the perspective of a local. While I was living in Benin this past year, I read a book called “Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo” which helped me understand just that and really learn to absorb what was around me. Don’t get me wrong; an education is important to help us understand the sciences and histories of the world, but it lends us nothing to culture and the people. You can’t study what it’s like to be someone without stepping into his or her world, much like you can’t experience art by looking a photocopies in a book and never trying to replicate a piece with your own hands. Travel and opening your mind to other views and lifestyles will cause you to understand things you thought didn’t make sense and will even help you learn yourself better. So, yes, travel is a nomadic education of the highest value.

See how I’ve learned these lessons in my recent travels at kfdevault.wordpress.com – that is, if you don’t already follow and thanks to those who do!

Coffee & Whiskey

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“Give coffee to change the things I change… and whiskey to accept the things I cannot.”
I saw this quote while surfing briefly on Pinterest and thought it was funny – and quite true.  Although I don’t condone turning to liquor as a way to handle your problems, I choose to interpret this silly meme with light humor.  I do like my whiskey, but I am a huge craft beer fan.  As a cook and an artist, I think craft beer is just another form of culinary art – and perhaps one of the most finicky.  Whiskey, too, is that way.  So there is no wonder than my two favorite places to be are in a fair trade coffee shop or a quirky microbrewery, one generally for work and the other for entertainment.
So, yes, I’ll take that coffee or tea as my moment of indulgence without interrupting a stream of constant work.  It keeps me alert and relaxes me at the same time.  It can be my motivation to get up and get going, and it can be as subtly a form of art at the hands of a barista as brewing alcohol is to the brewer.  Of course, when I’m not working hard at something or meeting up with people to plan, develop, and execute new ideas, I’m likely going with a group of friends or even venturing into a new city on my own and meeting all kinds of people at some kind of microbrew joint.  In a way, it is me accepting things I don’t want to accept, like unwinding after a long week that maybe didn’t go as well as I had hoped.  But instead of moping around, I make a treat out of my time spent experiencing new places and talking with new people.  It’s my way of realizing that there’s more to life than whatever’s been on my mind while simultaneously indulging with like-troubled people over a great glass of whatever the house recommends.
This week, take a moment to enjoy your coffee while you work, and don’t be afraid to brave a new bar seat, different conversation, and perhaps a drink you hadn’t been willing to try quite yet.

Learning from Lessons.

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Buddha, or  Siddhārtha Gautama, was a sage whose methods became the basis of Buddhism.  The Buddha introduced the concept of dharma and acknowledged that life is full of suffering.  Through the suffering, one must find enlightenment.  Thus, this quote is honorable reflection on life in a Buddhist light: “Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind.  The goal is to find it.”

I hate when someone is a successful person and all of his or her peers complain that “(S)he’s got it easy” or that “Everything always falls in his/her lap”.  When is that ever the case?  I’ve never known that to be the case, but people have certainly said that behind my back… and I know nothing has ever come easily to me.  Maybe I didn’t grow up on the streets, but I had been then maybe the expectations placed on me would have been less tantalizing.  Maybe small life strides would have appeared as larger leaps in their respective circumstances.  Rather than seeing what someone has, I therefore prefer to see how far he or she has come and the choices he/she has made – but only in conjunction with the way he/she has handled the consequences.

So in thinking about the measures of success and the decisions we make in life, I like to reflect on this quote of the Buddha’s to keep our aspirations grounded, not with restraint but as a demonstration of displacement to remind us of how far we go every time in take a leap forwards or backwards, to look back and see how much of the scenery we did or didn’t miss along the way.  In the same way that I think it is important for us, as this quote suggests, to reflect on how far we have come and what lessons we have taken from both our successes and failures, I also think it’s important to refrain from judging anyone who has made the same choices or strode to the same destination.

“Every bad thing happens for a reason” is something my mom always reminds me of.  Why did I forget my wallet and have to come home, making me late?  Because I might have hit that deer that is now long gone, and I was not meant to hit that deer.  Not today.  It grounds me to realize being a few minutes late is trivial, to remember what bad things could happen, and to be glad that things worked out the way they will always work out.

But even when I make bad choices, it’s always a door-opener.  Maybe I feel like it opens a door to a place farther backwards from where I was standing before I made that choice, but in choosing to open the best door I make that commitment to going forward again.  And if we never made those little mishaps along the way, wouldn’t we in turn be missing more doors and missing what it looks like to be standing behind ourselves?  It’s what you take from it that defines you.  So keep that in mind and listen to Buddha!