Poppy The Fool

Recently in southern England, a couple took their friends’ Springer Spaniel, Poppy, on a walk by the sea. Poppy was trotting along, enjoying the fresh air, when she spotted a seagull circling beyond a cliff. Poppy charged full-speed toward the seagull … and leapt from the cliff.

She tumbled three-hundred feet, plunged into the ocean, and doggy-paddled back to the beach, where she waited for rescue. Her only known injury was a partially collapsed lung that re-inflated on its own.

Though the dog-walkers drew criticism for not leashing Poppy, there was general agreement that she was one lucky dog.

Her owner told the press, “What we think saved her was that she bolted off at full pelt and the momentum was enough to take her over the beach and the surf and into deeper water.” If Poppy had slowed down, she might have crashed onto the rocks or the beach.

I love dogs, and growing up I had a Springer Spaniel named Holly (who was totally nutty, but that’s besides the point).

There’s another reason I’m drawn to Poppy’s story. About five years ago a friend’s sister offered to read my tarot cards. Not knowing anything about tarot but open to a new experience, I agreed.

The first card she turned was The Fool card, which shows a carefree-looking man who doesn’t realize that he’s about to step right off the edge of a cliff. I expected her to point to this card and tell me that it means I’m a dolt, and that I have to start being more careful.

To the contrary, she explained that The Fool trusts in life, expects its twists and turns to be rewarding, and has no fear. As he steps out on his new journey, he carries no preconceived notions. He throws caution to the wind.

This interpretation of The Fool card struck me as relevant; I had just begun to work on my fiction in earnest. I knew little of the odds stacked against me, the rejection, self-doubt, and years of focused work soon to come. I simply dove in, as high and as far as I could, like Poppy. After a long while, good things started to happen. I got lucky.

Granted, in Poppy’s case, a little prior knowledge (not to mention a leash) might have been a good thing; if she realized the fall that awaited her, she might have steered clear of the edge altogether.

But the point is, she leapt, and she survived because she didn’t hesitate. Her momentum, her enthusiasm, made her lucky.

Most people agree that in order to get lucky, you need to take risks. (Nobody was calling Poppy lucky before she survived that crazy fall.) In other words, fortune favors the brave.

I think the trick is figuring out which risk is right for you. My big risk, which I took hand in hand with my husband Matt, was to sell our house, quit our jobs, and move back home to work on our fiction. That turned out to be the right leap for us. But, just as I don’t condone stepping off cliffs, I can’t recommend that same leap to someone else. Everyone’s path is different.

Take for example my friend, who gave up a nursing career in the U.S. to open a free medical clinic in the Peruvian jungle, which he operated successfully for several years. He had traveled there briefly, and surmised there was a need. But he knew few people there and only a little Spanish. His leap was certainly risky. I think it’s one he’d say was worth it in the end, and I think he considers himself lucky in more ways than one.

If there’s anything to learn from Poppy, maybe it’s this: if you’re going to look before you leap, don’t look too long, or you’ll find many reasons not to leap. And if there’s a goal that makes sense for you, and a calculated risk that could get you there, throw yourself at it with all your might, to hell with consequences. Trust your own momentum. Why not? After an exhilarating freefall, you just might get lucky and land on your feet.

Or least in a place where you can doggy-paddle to shore and be rescued.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. I’d love to hear your own tales of bravery and luck!

~Alicia Bessette

PS: For a news account of Poppy’s adventure click here. For previous posts about luck as it relates to publishing and writing, see here and here.

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14 thoughts on “Poppy The Fool

  1. Alicia–this is a beautifully written post, and it definitely gives me something to think about. I love the thoughtful and inspiring tone of your posts. Can’t wait for Simply from Scratch!

  2. I like leaping. Not that I think a seagull is worth a cliff, mind you!

    One of my big leaps was pursuing graduate school when I lacked the background credits necessary to get in and there was no school with that major near enough my parents’ house to make it financially feasible. I got all the course catalogs for the colleges in state, and read them cover to cover. I found a single course in my desired subject and cold-called the teacher. Turns out that a new graduate program was opening up and he needed a student in that very subject. He arranged a private meeting with the department head, and I was allowed to apply even though the deadline had passed. They accepted me provided I made up my missing undergrad credits before graduation. Whew! What an experience!

  3. Using poppy as a metaphor…if I would have known then what I know now, i.e., had my leash on, I might not have jumped off the face of the earth into the jungle. And I would have missed out on the most interesting part of my life. But I figured I was fairly good at problem solving and could deal with whatever came up and, if not, I could always leap back up on the cliff (in a single bound!). Taking the risk was part of what made it interesting. The unknown is just that, the unknown, and nothing more. To make it the known can be incredibly rewarding, as I have discovered. The list of what I gained by leaping is long and wondrous and right there near the top is my friendship with Alicia and Matt, fellow leapers.
    As Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said – Buy the ticket, take the ride.

  4. Alicia, I always enjoy your posts. This is a great one.

    Skiing one afternoon, I dropped into a chute above a drop-off in Mammoth named “Balls to the Wall.” Then I became afraid and I was stuck in no man’s land. I couldn’t climb out and I was too afraid to ski off the giant rocks and into the big blue sky. It was so steep I couldn’t see my landing. My knees were actually knocking, I kid you not. They were banging together like those old click clack toys with round resin balls. Remember them?

    I was totally screwed, well off the beaten path. Then my friend, who had recently been killed in a car accident, was all around me. I could smell her hair and see her eyes. I felt the whisper of her angel’s wings. She was laughing really hard and she said, “Just let your skis go, Doll. I’ll race you to the bottom.” And she was off. I was no longer afraid. I laughed out loud and let my skiis go over the edge.

    She’s my angel Tara, and she watches over me.

    Happy St. Patty’s day Tara!!!

  5. Eve: I’m looking forward to Free To A Good Home. Everyone, check out http://evemariemont.com/Home.aspx to read all about Eve’s upcoming debut novel.

    Tonya: Thank you for reading.

    Emily and Scott: Here’s to life unleashed!

    Greg: That’s an amazing story. May Tara’s memory live on.

  6. I think in your case your hard work and brave decisions paid off rather than getting lucky. I was talking to Grid few weeks ago about what you and Matt have done with your lives and how far along you have come and I really and truly admire that. I don’t think there are too many people that would take such a big risk! But you did it and it paid off… congratulations 
    I know many people that are stuck in jobs and situations that they resent, but they don’t have the stomach to try anything else to get themselves out of that situation, or sometimes they don’t have a good support group to give them the confidence of being bold.

    My story…. Hmmmm…..
    Well, the one major risk that I took in my life was leaving my country when I was very young. I decided to come to the US and make my own life rather than following the path that was set for me. However, little I knew that I end up doing exactly what I would do if I would stay there, being an engineer!!! Ironic, ha?
    I left my family and my country when I was 19 and headed to the US. There were some obstacles with this move that if I wanted to look more into them, it would result in me never making that move. For example,
    1. I did not speak English and could not even ask a simple question!
    2. I only had a tourist visa that would allow me to stay in the US for 6 months and then I had to return, which in that case I could not go back to school. To understand my situation, you should know about college system in my country: due to the bad economy everybody wants to get educated. This results in high demand and not enough resources. Therefore, students need to prepare for college exam for almost 4 years. It is very intense preparation and sometimes ends in depression and suicide. Now you understand if I were to go back to my country, I would not have any future since I could not get back to school and finish my college degree!
    3. The third problem was financial issue. My father was not happy with my move so he made it clear that I should not count on him since I am acting against his will! Being extremely hard headed, I told him “as long as I have 2 legs, 2 hands, and I am healthy I should be able to do just fine on my own”…. So, due my big mouth and strong head I had to find a job ASAP! Oh and did I mention that I could not speak English to be able to find a job????!!! Now the question was, who would hire someone that can’t speak English or Spanish???? It turned out to be a Turkish restaurant in DC! God bless those people 

    Now of course there were many issues after I got here such as:
    I am a middle eastern and from my great LUCK, 1 month after I got here 9/11 happened and all immigration laws changed for us. Now I had to change my visa from tourist visa to student visa, but the problem was they did not even want to listen to me! I went to INS 4 months on a row, every business day @ 5 am till I made it happen!
    The other problem was to pay for school. If you are on student visa, they won’t give you loans for undergraduate studies. Therefore, I had to change my visa status again. To do that I needed an immigration lawyer and did not have a penny to spare. I found a lawyer who is from my country and I asked her if I can work for her and she takes ½ of my paychecks as legal fees! She accepted it and this is how I got my green card!!!! Yey!
    After changing my visa status, I could apply for scholarship and grants! Make long story short I finished my BS and MS with only 5K! The rest of it was paid by scholarship and FAFSA! It is good to mention that in order to keep the scholarship I needed to maintain ridiculously high GPA while I was working 40-60 hours a week in three different jobs! Thankfully, I managed to do that (don’t think if I can do it again though)

    I have two things that I think helped me survive: 1- Pride 2- Persistence
    Now after 9 years being in the US I have my BS and MS in Engineering, have 3 years of work experience, married to a great guy for past 3 years and don’t have any loans to pay off! Oh, and did I mention that I will become a US citizen this year? Yey!

    But after all this hard work, I still think there is much more that I can do with my life. I am thinking of going back to school and maybe at some point down the road change my career, who knows! I LOVE challenges! I am not sure if my husband knew what he was getting himself into! Hahaha… But by having him by my side, I think I can do anything and everything.

  7. Amazing stories above. Amazing!

    One thing that I have come to believe, if you want experiences that the people around you aren’t having, you must move away from those people in some way. This is often hard, because going solo is always more dangerous, and people don’t want to lose members of the herd, people will be angry. In almost every story, especially if the story is about a hero, the first step is leaving home metaphorically or even literally. The Wizard of Oz. Alice In Wonderland. Even Jesus had to leave his hometown. The adventure doesn’t start until you take that step away from whatever herd claims you. Leaving, taking the jump is hard. You can go back, but it’s never the same. And you make sacrifices, once you leave. Sometimes those sacrifices are hard. We’ve made many sacrifices to be doing what we do. Another thing I have learned is that there are consequences for everything you do. Positive and negative consequences. In my experience it’s the people who can face, navigate, handle the negative consequences who keep journeying. Every successful person I have met, they usually tell some version of a very similar story.

  8. Q makes some good points. I would add that having to make some sacrifices and face some negative consequences makes the experience richer and also makes us stronger people.
    Sogol – Your story is a great one and I admire and congratulate you.

    I’m very glad we all can meet up on Wednesdays at The Deb and share thoughts and ideas. Salud!

  9. Very apt post Alicia considering that I’m leaping again!!

    I suppose you could call it “crawling through the open window, not staring at the closed door.” So many people get entranced with closed doors that they neglect to see an open window. Did I just explain myself as though you and your readers wouldn’t understand my analogy??
    Sorry:-)

    The biggest payoff for all my “leaps into the unknown” has been the enormous number of friends that I have acquired in the process. Fear is a constant companion every time I do it, however. But, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you a better person. Some cliches do make sense.

    Keep up the good work! Looking forward to your book in August.

  10. I love this story, Alicia! I’m a dog lover, and aside from that, for me, it brings to mind the astrologer I saw on my 30th birthday who helped me to realize that setbacks or stumbling blocks or all those things that seem “wrong” are the things that make us stronger and bring us to this place now. We learn! They aren’t embarrassments as I sometimes mistakenly think. They’re just a little patchwork of who we are.

    Your novel sounds incredible. I can’t wait to read it. Sending good vibes your way.

    Love,
    michele
    author of THE HANDBOOK FOR LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS, April 13, 2010

  11. Q I really like your thinking 🙂 and I can say that there was a time that I had to distance myself from people around me in order to do what I needed to do.

    Scott, thank you so much for the kind words.

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