This was a tough one. Even now, as I force myself to sit down and write this thing more than a week after it is due, I am still fidgeting, still looking for a way out. Hoping for some little task of not so great importance to divert my attention.
“I should really clean my desk!”
“Are there any aphids on this pepper plant?”
“You know, the rug could do with a quick vacuuming.”
Grow Write Guild Prompt #2: Describe your fantasy garden.
I am blocked. The brain does not want to think about a dream garden. The brain really doesn’t want to put it into sentences and paragraphs. As time passes, it is getting harder and harder to do. I have noticed that the block is seeping into other writing assignments. I am growing unsure again about the words that I allow to come out of my fingers. So now it’s not just that I haven’t done this assignment that I assigned (you see, I do not write these prompts with my own ease in mind), or the feeling that I am asking others to step outside of their comfort zones and that I must do the same. Now it is like an infection or a poison that must be drawn out.
I could not understand why it was so hard for me to do this so I talked about it in therapy. So now my therapist asks about it, too. “Did you write that thing yet?”
Even now I am avoiding writing about it by writing about how I keep avoiding writing about it.
[And then I picked up a book that was sitting on my desk and procrastinated further by underlining passages.]
The book I picked up was “There is a Season: A Memoir” by Patrick Lane. I picked it up at the thrift store last week and have only just begun to read it. The passage I underlined was something that I read the other night that stuck out. I didn’t have a pen nearby at the time, but had kept it in my head that I needed to go back and revisit it.
The following is my response to the first prompt. It isn’t about my first plant. I decided to go in another direction because I have already written about my first plant and didn’t have anything further to say. Instead, I jumped ahead several years to another time in my life when the impulse to grow things appeared unexpectedly. There was actually another time before this, but this is the story that came to mind and I went with it. I’m feeling a little nervous about posting this because I wrote it in one go last night (with a few edits and a break for dinner) so it’s probably full of errors.
Grow Write Guild Prompt #1: Write about your first plant.
In my eighteenth year I moved away from my hometown in order to put some healthy distance between my childhood and the adult life I hoped to make going forward. My new life started out scary, but promising. I enrolled in a local high school so that I could finish out grade 13 and obtain the credits I needed in order to attend university the following fall. I found an apartment, and for the first time in my life got a taste for the true meaning of the word home. I acquired a retail position at a dollar store that was just opening up (I took the job without knowing what a dollar store was!) and soon found myself experiencing another personal first: the insane inner workings and anthropological weirdness that is mall culture.
I learned a lot of new things at this job. I learned how to stock shelves, order items, create schedules, and manage a store. I also learned about people. I have always been a people watcher, a child with a need to understand why the people in my life were, well, so f*cking crazy. But there is a difference between observing the human condition from a distance and confronting the honesty and vulnerability that reveals itself clearly from inside a person’s eyes. I was out on my own now, a burgeoning adult entering the adult world, and in a way, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and looking directly at people for the first time. I did not like what I saw. I had always wrongly assumed — probably out of a need for self-preservation — that the pain and world-weariness I saw in my neighbors did not exist beyond our subdivision’s boundaries, and certainly — no, definitely — not outside of the town. It would be another decade still before I could look strangers directly in the eye without flinching.
But this is not what I meant to tell you. It seems that I never mean to tell you the things that I eventually reveal. My own vulnerability pours out from my fingers; rarely my face.
My friend and fellow plant/collecting enthusiast Uli Havermann (you may remember her from this incredible succulent pot, this stunning blue sea holly, and these beautiful urns) is a member of a large community greenhouse here in Toronto. Last week she treated me to a glimpse inside. Like community gardens and allotments, community greenhouses are not all created equal. Each function in their own way to achieve varying goals. Years back I was a member of a small community greenhouse that functioned more like a collective in which each member had a particular job or role and worked to help care for each other’s plants.
The greenhouse I visited last week is much, much, much larger and functions more like an allotment garden in which members pay an annual fee for a large, multi-tiered wooden bench (I don’t recall the dimensions) on which to house their plants. Taking care of other members’ plants is not expected, and I would imagine, discouraged.
Regardless of the model, a greenhouse like this is an invaluable resource for city dwellers who don’t have the space in their own homes to overwinter beloved houseplants and start seedlings. I can also see its benefit as a green refuge to enjoy on days like today when the garden is buried in snow and the temperature is too cold for life. Within just an hour-long(ish) visit I was practically wobbling down the aisles drunk on the scent and sight of plant life. I left feeling reinvigorated and positively giddy about the approaching garden season.
Happy New Year!
I wrote my first year-end wrap-up post in 2010 and continued with it in 2011. As I sit here at my desk the end of 2012 [note that I began compiling this post just before the New Year], the garden buried underneath a blanket of snow, I feel compelled to continue the exercise, in part, because I can hardly remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, never mind what I did over the last year! I have a tendency to be onto the next thing the second the last thing is done. Exercises like this are a good memory jog and a way to slow down, look back, and remind myself of the things I accomplished in the recent past.
2012 began with a tranquil week in the desert or more specifically, coastal Baja California desert chaparral. Oh, how wonderful it smelled. There was rosemary in bloom and sunshine on my face. There was an organic farm with a head gardener who could match me in his enthusiasm for seeds and interesting edibles. We plunged our hands into warm soil and pulled out fresh carrots. We spent our nights cozying up to a fragrant wood fire and toasted our escape from the frozen, scentless world at home. I loved every minute of it.
Please forgive my tardiness with this week’s Herbaria. I took the photo last week, but haven’t had the time since to sit down and write the text. These things are becoming a record of my working life as well as the garden. If I were to continue doing them over time I would find that the weeks around mid-June are always the same. The rush to get lingering transplants in the ground amidst the struggle to stay on top of the maintenance that comes with the heat, and around all of that the work deadlines. Growing a garden is a big part of my job, but its the writing and photography around those experiences that make my living. They all seem to collide at this time of year, each one as critically important as the other. To which do I focus my attention first? That’s the question I ask myself each day, and I find that I am often running back and forth between my desk, the kitchen, and the garden like a deranged lunatic. It’s not uncommon for me to stop at each of these destinations without a clue as to why I was headed there. But then some new task catches my eye and I turn my attention to it and 15 minutes or an hour passes before I recall why I was there in the first place. The neighbours must find me confusing. I exhaust myself.
I suppose I wouldn’t have it any other way, although I really could use an assistant…. (so she says every year, and every spring she finds another reason not to make that leap.)
On to the plants!