Saturday, May 22, 2010

Talking Art: Life as a Fixer-Upper

By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing

I have always enjoyed stories of rebirth – particularly ones involving modern-day heroines who overcome trying circumstances to carve out a new, more satisfying life for themselves. For example, Anna Rossi, the main character in Hunger, a novel by my friend Jane Ward, leaves her lifeless marriage for a life shaped by her passion for food.

I also enjoy reading nonfiction accounts of triumphs over adversity, such as the new memoir by former House & Garden editor, Dominique Browning. Its title, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas & Found Happiness, is a siren song to those of us who yearn to live life at our own pace with the time and freedom to discover and explore the things that interest us.

My fascination with rejuvenation extends to objects as well. For example, I enjoy articles and books about home renovations, and study the before and after shots with the fervor of one preparing for an important exam. I want to understand how they transformed that wreck of a place into a home.

Its time to approach my own life as though it were one of those fixer-uppers. It has sheltered me during more than a few severe storms and given me much pleasure. But some rooms need cleaning. No. Some rooms need gutting. Change is terrifying.

Risk-taking doesn't come easily to me. Living in the moment -- rather than envisioning how a possible disaster will unfold -- is a habit I need to develop. Yet I'm certain that if I don’t find the courage to take some chances, I will never experience the satisfaction of achieving success on my own terms.

And so I am drawn to this image by Nashville-based artist, Bridgett Ezzard. The lush green garden beyond the wooden grid beckons me. “Take a chance,” it says. “You’ll get there. But first you have to unlatch the gate.”


  1. Judith, thanks so much for your honest thoughts and for this wonderful photograph.

    Having recently made an enormous change in my life, I completely understand your feelings. It's both terrifying and rewarding. But I now wake up each morning feeling very happy that I took the risk. I'm also determined to never lose sight of what I want to achieve as a writer and to diligently work toward those goals.

    Go for it!

  2. Judith, this is a beautiful post, and I love that image of life as a fixer-upper. I wonder if the fixing is ever done. Doubtful.

    One thing that's so evocative about the gate image is how amorphous the world seems beyond the safety latch. It is scary. You should definitely open that gate and walk into the unknown -- but I say respect your defenses, too, and the distance you've already traveled.

  3. Hi Judith
    I never imagined that I, or for that matter anyone I knew, could possibly arrive at middle-age; but your lovely essay brings me to my own awareness that at 55, the "when I grow up" mentality that I have carted around for all these years, (when I finally arrive at the perfect evolution of my life that allows me to be who I dreamed I would be) is, well...a lot like saying I will go on a diet when every chocolate cake has been wiped off the face of the earth. The dainty relationship between my primordial self, the circumstances that primordial self struggled against to form a personality, the history and life I have created for myself, and the view through the lattice gate, is fascinating. Underneath the vicissitudes and unveilings is the depth of our self-knowledge, and self-awareness, which in the dizzying din and distractions of our everyday life, can become a very foreign chasm. Something we may not have really stared at head-on since the last time psychedelics ignited those neurons. Is who we think we are, and how we live, simply the scar tissue around our habits of living? You describe a fascinating point of departure. Laurie Weisz

  4. I find the photo interesting. The garden beyond is out of focus, the gridded lath so close, so in focus that the grain of wood can be felt. I wonder, why does the photographer choose to let the "gate" or barrier dominate this picture? And not the garden. It would seem to me that until we stop focusing on that which we perceive to block us from going forward, we will never get through the gate. To put it yet another way, by choosing to focus on the impediments to our success we only divert the energy and focus from the goal.

  5. Stepping through a gate into a garden that can be seen on the other side is easy. When the barrier is a solid door, however, we must muster great faith to step through to the other side, for how do we know for certain the Great Unknown will welcome us? There is a wonderful Chinese proverb I've lived by for years. It states, "Fear knocked; faith answered and found no one there."

    Go for it Judith! Step through the gate into that secret garden. You won't be sorry, even if the landscape on the other side doesn't turn out to be quite what you expected. You'll have had the adventure of striding forth into the Unknown and living to write about it.

  6. Thank you all for your encouragement to go forward. Gulp! As Kathleen notes, it is too easy to focus on the impediments rather than the goal. I expect the 'big change' will ultimately happen through small, clumsy, steps rather than one soaring leap. But however it happens, I am sure the risk will be well worth the effort.


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