I’ve retreated outside today. Retreated from the storm of papers, pencil shavings and cold, half empty cups of tea that have taken over bedroom/ office/ panic cave. The walls are a frantic mass of post-its, my bed is a foreign country from which I am separated by a sea of semi-petrified washing that is about to walk itself to the machine.
But with all the willpower I possess I’ve pried my fingers from the keys and come outside.
I need some air.
Deep breath in. Out.
It’s nice out here.
What’s not so nice is the snarling, neglected, overgrown cesspit that is my garden.
This tangled mess of weeds is the result of too much ‘yes’ manure. (See fig. 7)
Some people use horse poo, others use sheep. I prefer ‘yes’; it gets the garden growing nicely – just in all the wrong directions.
All this ‘yes’ means that I’ve been holed up in my office writing and marking essays and researching and footnoting and working on all the things that I should not have said ‘yes’ to but did because I have a crippling sense of inadequacy that only gets worse if I actually try and take care of myself by saying ‘no’ to people.
This is not my garden.
This is not the garden pinterest told me I would have when I planted those seeds a year ago. I was promised topiary hedges and cute bushels of basil and parsley encircling vines bursting with plump tomatoes.
I was promised an Italian oasis that would make me feel I like I was living in some boho organic retreat and not on a main road in the Auckland suburbs.
But no. Thanks to ‘yes’, my mess has followed me.
My brain, my beds (both varieties) are a tangle of weeds, to do lists, overgrown hedges, deadlines, and basil that’s gone to seed, bitter with neglect. (See fig. 1)
How did it get this way?
Come walk with me and let’s review, shall we?
On our left we have the pot of YesICan, planted when I took on a new research project (see fig 2.). This plant is a curious variety, not often found in one’s average King’s Plant Barn. This seedy weed was much more needy than I was lead to believe by the packet instructions. It requires constant attention, must be nourished with midnight oil, caffeine, and bites if left alone for more than two minutes.
It was meant to look pretty with decorative flowers and be a nice addition to the I’veGotThis bush. Instead it looks like the kind of wig in the costume box that no one wants to wear.
Let’s take another step down ‘look what you’ve done lane’ and see here, on our right, the bed of Pointless Pansies. (See fig. 3) These were yet another addition to an already busy garden that add nothing to its aesthetic appeal and yet they were going for free and if I didn’t take them, who would? I felt obligated to take on the challenge and now, instead of pretty pink and lavender blooms, I have some dead twigs drooping over dry soil. Well done me.
Don’t dawdle, much more incompetence to see.
Oh, look! Here we have the Fruitless Fig Tree. Another interesting project that could have been left for someone else. Must be planted exactly 2 cm deep in well ventilated soil and sung to every evening at exactly 7:01 or will spontaneously combust.
And here, at the end of the garden, we have the piece de resistance, the NoI’mNotTooBusy Tree. (See fig. 5)
To its left is the overgrown Iforgotto hedge. But we won’t look at that.
Back to the tree. This tree was meant to produce stunning certificates of congratulations that bloom in summer into gold medals and research grants to exotic countries.
Why? Because I didn’t have the 27+ daily hours it takes to prune this monster, or the time to water it with a spray bottle while playing Mozart on the cello. This is the tree whose every need must be seen to immediately but whose requirements are so plentiful that it is inevitable that at least ten will fall through the cracks.
Therefore, it is not blooming with congratulations.
I see no medals on its scrawny branches.
Instead I see a wasted stump that looks as vibrant as the contents of my fridge, which has not been stocked in exactly 8435 ¼ days.
There, that’s our tour.
Now. Review questions.
Did your overtired tour guide get herself into this ludicrous position where she lives at risk of being consumed by flesh-eating flora by:
a) thinking too much
b) not thinking enough
c) thinking she can do it all
d) thinking too much about what everyone will think of her
e) thinking up consequences to situations that don’t even exist
f) all of the above.
You’re right! The answer is F! Stands for fuck yes, I am an idiot who gave up her sanity for the approval and applause of strangers for whom I do favours that inevitably cost me more (in lives and grey hairs) than any sum they could ever pay.
But I’m not blaming them. No, I’m blaming my lack of spine and self-respect, the combination of which meant I said ‘yes’ to everything and have since drowned myself in immortal post-its and endless To Do lists.
So here’s what I’m learning.
Our thoughts and deeds are seeds- plant good ones. Ones that are easy to take care of because they only grow good things, like lavender and countdown vouchers and home deposits.
Plant too many things and you’ll wind up taking care of nothing.
While I am by no means an expert on how to plant a perfect mind, I do seem to be an expert on how NOT to do it.
So, by some complicated physics that I don’t understand (see fig. 6), I am proof of a negative outcome, and am therefore an expert in achieving the opposite.
Translation: Perhaps turning my garden into a place of hellfire and damnation is what qualifies me to stand at the gate of the nearest plant emporium screaming ‘STOP!’ at people as they drive away with their boots full of ‘yes’ manure and satanic shrubs.
I don’t care, I’m standing on my soap box anyway. Because I wish someone had screamed at me when I came home with all these plant projects and said that I could get it all done. (Though, realistically, would I have listened? Or would I have smiled and said ‘of course I can manage’ while sipping my third triple shot espresso.)
I wish I had stopped to look at all of it and measure what I had given myself against what I could actually achieve.
But now I’m here.
And while crying is therapeutic and necessary for a bit, is not going to help me.
So I get stuck in.
I pull out weeds. I make new lists to replace the ones I chewed (either out of stress or because in my sleep-deprived state I thought they were noodles). I clear out that garden to make calm come out of the chaos. There’s a lot of tears, a lot of screaming, and a lot of naughty words, but I do it.
And I resolve that next time, I will plant one thing.
Just one. (See fig. 8)
I will give all my time and attention to that one special plant and make it my baby. I will not crowd it out with decorative topiary and mosaic tiles and fountains and gnomes fishing.
Instead I will focus on making that one thing that one plant, beautiful. And because I chose just one, I will actually have the time and the headspace to do that. (See fig. 9)
I will sit with that one thing, let the thoughts that tell me I am not doing enough, I am not impressive enough, and I have spare time that ought to be filled with things because having spare time means I’m lazy and there are people working harder than me getting head of me, and I am falling behind and going to wind up living in my grandmother’s basement among all the copies of The Listener that she’s been hoarding since 1976, eating cold baked beans out of the can with a plastic spork.
That will not be me.
Because I rest now, enjoy what I am doing, learn to be content with doing one thing well, I will succeed at that one thing and enjoy the process of completing it.
I will look at my garden and think, I made this.
Not, ‘how the hell did I get here?????’ And run away screaming to my pile of semi-petrified laundry.
So, learn from me dear reader.
Plant good seeds. Beware the weeds. Beware plant packet instructions. They lie.
Know what you can do. And do just that. Don’t expect more, embrace and love what you’re capable of. Extend yourself, sure, but not to the detriment of your sanity or self respect. You are enough.
Breathe in. Out.