This (in)famous explanation of perennial versus annual plants is one that I stumbled across about ten years ago, when I was gung-ho for gardening. It’s accurate: several perennials I carefully placed in the ground at fall planting time have showed nary a slender stem of themselves aboveground the following spring. Maybe the groundhogs ate the bulbs, maybe there was too much rain and the roots rotted in the damp soil. A more-experienced, faithful gardener could probably posit a few other reasons and make an educated guess about which was the most likely culprit.
But I’ve discovered that focusing on writing is not compatible with gung-ho gardening: each demands attention to detail at a level that precludes the other. So the rhubarb flowered before I harvested it, and the black-eyed Susans are running amok over the thinly-mulched paths, and the foxglove is begging to be divided. My only gardening indulgence thus far was on Mother’s Day, when I requested a gift of labor from my sons and Engineer Hubby. We cleared a grassy bed and put in tomatoes, basil, and tomatillos. That’s gonna be it for the year. I swear. I will not procrastinate by weeding. I will not avoid the blank page by deadheading any flowers. I will not wander in the garden humming a song of despair about my lack of productivity.
Yeah, I don’t believe me either.
Besides, as Dr. Noa Kageyama notes in his blog post “Pride Yourself on Your Work Ethic? Why You Might be More of a Slacker than You Think,” forcing ourselves to sit down and “practice” when we really really really wanna take a nap or a walk or drink a cappuccino may be counterproductive — we’re not working efficiently or effectively when we’re tired, or dispirited, or hungry. That said, today I really really really didn’t wanna sit down and write. I wanted to, well, weed the garden and deadhead the purple petunias.
Discerning whether or not my resistance is grounded in a real need for rest, or not, is the tricky part. The most effective tool for discernment, for me, is writing. The type of writing I intend to burn before I die. Whiney, self-indulgent, wallow-in-my-first-world-problems writing. But here’s the thing. It works. When I put my whiney self into words, on paper, then they become just words. Words that I can re-read after the second cup of tea, words that I can then consider and compare to my now-cleared heart and head.
Today, I smiled at my words of angst — they were eerily similar to my angst as a younger woman, when I was parenting younger children, when 45 minutes to write was the highlight of the week. I hadn’t noticed, before I whined into my journal, that although I still feel I don’t have *quite* enough hours in the day, I have many, many more hours than I once did — and that I am doing much, much more writing than I did then. That the sense of “not enough” was based in my own choices to add (writing) work to my plate. How fascinating that I nonetheless was telling myself I didn’t have enough. Is that inherent to me as a human being: whatever we get we want more? Or is that unique to just me, the individual? Or a subset of humans, all of us sharing a delusion about time, energy and capacity?
I decided I don’t need to answer those particular questions today. Today, it is enough to notice that the stories I’m telling myself are perennials – they come back year after year. And to know that today, I can plant a different story. A big bushy annual that will shade out the perennial. Or I could dig up that tiresome perennial and relegate it to the compost bin.
Ah, the joy and power of words and overused metaphors. Onward to the blank page!