Tuesday, May 28, 2013

in a spring garden

This is the first year I've really felt good about my garden. Now, that being said, I have a few caveats. One is that I've enjoyed many, many small successes in gardening over the years: morning glories that took off at my apartment in Athens, Ohio; potted plants cheering many a front porch and entryway; a thriving peony transplanted from my dad's garden. I've got a few really hardy, flourishing lavender plants (my favorite herb), and my day lilies are pretty spectacular. The other caveat is that, though I'm pretty happy, we have a long way to go. We're reworking all of the landscaping right now, replanting the beds on the side of the house, and converting our backyard to sod and a fruit garden (it is currently gravel). The work appears to be endless. 

The difference this year is that I'm accepting that it's endless. If I do even one small gardening thing each day - even if its just deadheading something or making sure everything is watered - that's enough. All these years I've been frustrated and felt inadequate because I expected too much of myself, thought I'd have results and a full and productive garden in way less time than its taken.

There's a reason I've been so unrealistic. My mom was an exceptional gardener, and my dad still is. I grew up selling vegetables with them at the farmers market, way, way, WAY before selling at the farmers market was the cool thing to do. We sold tomatoes, beans, peppers, lettuce, herbs, and flowers, flowers, flowers. My mother grew many varieties, but some favorites were zinnias, snapdragons, globe amaranth, nicotiana, statice, cosmos, purple coneflower, sweet Annie. She would cut flowers Friday night and early Saturday morning, arranging them in old coffee cans and olive oil tins for sale at market. We would drive the flowers into town in crates in the back of our squeaky red and white Blazer, the whole car filled with the scent of plants, blooms, and earth.

With this as my backdrop, I thought I'd be a natural. After all, I literally grew up in the garden, eating raw green beans straight from the plant.

So when my first vegetable garden was an utter failure - choked with weeds, leggy and unproductive tomato plants, cucumbers and zucchini that cross-pollinated into a mushy, flavorless mess - I felt like I'd lost out, like some gardening gene that my mother surely had was lost in translation. Incidentally, her father was also a master gardener, champion roses still gracing the borders of homes he hasn't tended since well before his death 30 years ago.

Today, though, sitting in the shade, enjoying newly bloomed peonies, day lilies in full leaf, coriopsis covered in buds, I noticed Dora playing in the dirt. It struck me that perhaps gardening skill isn't what's inherited, but instead what we pass down is the desire to garden, the need to put our hands in the soil, the willingness to take a chance. It has never occurred to me before that my mother probably also had gardening failures, that there was probably also a time in her life when she wondered if Carl Brady's gardening prowess has skipped a generation. It was so freeing and forgiving for me to imagine that, to realize that perhaps there was a day, in a spring garden so many years ago, when my mom thought, "I feel good about the garden this year, finally".

It is so easy to see in ourselves only imperfection, while seeing in so many others all of the things we wish we could be and cannot. Consider this for a moment, though. In your chosen field, or in the field of your passions, imagine the master, the one you most admire, the one who appears to have it truly figured out. There was a time when they didn't know what they were doing either. Even the master was once the apprentice.

I don't know why this thought was so surprising to me, but it was. But what 's so great about it is not only that it allows me to forgive myself the garden failures, but it reminds me of my mother's humanity as well. And as I am finding now, as one whose mother has been gone for 8 years, those glimpses of her humanity are a precious and far too rare pathway to reconnection. If I can, for a moment, imagine us having the same shortcomings or uncertainties, then we are together again, even if for only a brief sliver of time. 

The new side garden will be planted soon - cleome, nicotiana, peonies - all things my mother grew. Dora and I will go out in the foggy morning to water our new plants, all of them stretching up to the heavens with spindly green arms and pink flowers. We will tend to them with gentleness and imperfection. We will spell out their names like memories.

Monday, May 6, 2013

on rejection

OK, I'm just gonna come right out and say it. I'm probably taking a risk here, dropping all that positivity we're supposed to exude in the cyber-world. But, here's the thing: I've been getting rejected a lot lately. I don't know what to make of it. It feels so bad. It feels like it could be a sign. It feels...like something I have to deal with, like something I have to figure out. It's like a rash, or a leaky faucet - there's got to be a reason this is happening, and I have to figure out why.

So, the other day, after receiving another "no" email, I posted something in a Facebook group I'm part of, and I asked people in the group what they do when it feels like the doors are closing. What do you take this as - a bump in the road, an obstacle I need to go around, or a sign I'm just on the wrong damn road?

Somewhere between eating a poorly thought-out lunch, ignoring a phone call, and texting with my husband about childcare logistics, it dawned on me. Here's what to do with the rejection. Put it out there. Write it out. Speak it. Just let it go. I mean, we've all seen those inspirational memes with portraits of Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan and Oprah and others, writing about how they got fired, rejected, thrown out. But how many times do you see the average, every day, "just like me" person say, "shit, I just got rejected again"? Well...never, I guess. Because somehow the experience of a regular Jane like myself isn't worth as much as Oprah's? Because little successes in the face of rejection aren't valued as much when from an average person as opposed to the richest woman in TV/guy in basketball/computer nerd? Because nobody has ever told the mortals among us that it's ok to be just that, mortals. Imperfect. Not always smiling and positive. And vulnerable, to the judgment of others, and to ourselves.

I have been trying desperately to find positivity in how things haven't been working out so well for me lately. For one, I have had more time with my kids and with Brian. The house is STILL a major mess, but not as bad. The garden still needs a ton of attention, but I've started this recycled brick edging project that's actually starting to look pretty cool. I've photographed some new and different things that I wouldn't have done otherwise if I'd had more of the jobs I've been seeking, and I've found I love it immensely. I've been there for friends who needed me. And, when my beloved Murphy was dying, I had space and time in my life to care for her, and my grieving daughter, and myself, which I would not have had if some of this rejection hadn't happened.

But I could only think about how rejection has it's positives for so long. The wonderful thing, and also the hard thing, about having little kids is that it forces you back to reality all the time. You can't sit around feeling sorry for yourself and wallow in the latest no. There are little hands to be held, meals to fix, boo-boos to kiss, homework to do. And usually being pulled back out of myself to tend to the needs of my children is, in fact, just what the doctor (or, in this case, the therapist) ordered. Because, though these tasks are great symbols of the mundaneity of life, they are also reminders of life's bottom line, love. To my children, I am perfect, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many dead ends, no matter how many no's. They love me, in their perfect, innocent, ideal, ferocious way. They see beyond my flaws, draw me with a big beaming smile surrounded by hearts, light up when I walk into the room. When there is a boo-boo to be kissed, or a meal to be made, I'm the right woman for the job. 

Part of what makes rejection so painful, at least for me, is that it feels so personal. This is particularly true, I think, when the part of you getting rejected is some creative outlet, some product that represents your vision of the world. It's that double whammy of both your work and your vision, YOU in the truest sense, being turned down. Beyond that, it only adds fuel to any fire of self-doubt already present within. When we're rejected by others, the negativity goes right from the words on the page, through your eyes, into your brain, and jumps into the pool with the other self-doubt party-goers, drinking martinis and doing cannonballs in the afternoon sun. It all gets mixed together, till we're swimming in our own uncertainty, surrounded with every negative sentiment ever directed our way. 

What if, though, instead of letting the pool party get totally out of control, we chose to set aside our own feelings of inadequacy for just a moment? What if instead we allowed ourselves to bask in the warm light of those who love us unconditionally, who see in us perfection (or, at least, lovable imperfection)? What if, when one door closed, the other door that opened let in the warmth and light of our partners, our pets, our friends, our families, our children? Instead of seeing ourselves through the eyes of those who tell us no, why not see ourselves through the eyes of those who would draw us with a big smile, surrounded by hearts?

If for no other reason, do it for those who love you like that. For me, I need to do it for my kids, to show them that turning towards the light is a possibility, to show them that love of oneself, even when things aren't going so well, is ok, is possible. I want them to love themselves as they love me, with innocence, without judgment, with warmth and perfection. I want them to bask in the light of their own love, as well as mine. 

If I can teach them that, then I really am the right woman for this job.