Friday, April 29, 2011

“Life begins when you grow a garden."-- Confucius

The first plant I remember killing was a Wandering Jew I named Captain Morgan that kept me company in my college dorm while I drank and smoked my way to a BA. There have been others before and since, but I loved that plant and killing it truly hurt me. Ever since, I have avoided green things as much as possible and when someone gives me a potted plant I immediately try to find it a better home. A safer home. A foster home.

So naturally, my own son started asking for a garden about five minutes after he learned how to talk. He started having dreams about carrots and demanded fresh, organic produce. He told us he wanted to grow up to be either an organic farmer or a bowling alley repair man. I hoped for the latter. The summer when he was four he asked for a Home Depot book called "Gardening 1-2-3" for Father's Day while we were buying flashlights for my Dad. My husband bought it for him while I cringed. It might, I feared, give him hope. A hope I didn't want to kill. Or over water.

So that's why it was miraculous when this Easter, rather than going to the parade, I suggested we stay home. And dig a garden. Something in me had shifted. Maybe it was deciding not to move out last spring. Maybe it was actually running around the block a few times, moving my body in an unusual way, a groundbreaking way, for me. Maybe it was craving tomatoes that didn't taste like the plastic bag they came in. Whatever it was, my husband and son chose not to question me. Instead, they went to the shed and got their shovels. I pulled Gardening 1-2-3 off of Henry's shelf and started to read. But reading, that thing I always do and have always done, did not teach me anything compared to putting my hand on that shovel and actually digging in.

My mother and her husband lent us their wheelbarrow, sifter and fertilizer. Our neighbor, a master gardener, gave us tomato, cucumber and sunflower seedlings. Friends gave us herb seeds, tomato plants and a worm starter kit. It literally felt like manna from heaven, like the whole world wanted us to plant our freakin' garden. We spent six hours that day sifting rocks, grubs, nails, screws and pottery shards out of the earth. We got blisters, splinters and filthier than we'd ever all been at the same time. It was fantastic. I got the sense that I was actually allowing myself to put down roots in the home I've lived in my entire life. I stopped worrying about whether the plants would live or die because I realized that thinking their survival was entirely up to me was an egregious act of hubris.

Most people I know already have a garden or are at least capable of tending window boxes and indoor house plants. I have always respected and admired their faith in the process of life, but I've also always felt somehow outside of that process. Yes, our garden is only about 6 days old but I feel like the simple act of laying it in the ground was a rite of passage- like losing my virginity or getting my Bat Mitzvah. Only this time I don't have to write thank-you notes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bury My Potential Under Mount Trashmore

My mother always told me I could be/do/have anything in the world. But I took her pearls of wisdom and wore them like ankle weights.

So, as a good and wise friend recently suggested I decided to bury my potential. Under Mount Trashmore.

A few weeks ago, I took a walk with my mother and told her what I planned to do. She said she understood. “In college, I had a Charlie Brown poster that said ‘So much potential is an enormous burden.’”

“But I thought you wanted me to be an Oprah bestseller before I turned twenty,” I told her.

“I’m over all that outward success stuff now,” she said. “It’s taken most of my energy just to stay alive. I’m on a spiritual path now, one that no one else can measure.”

I thought about it. I am comfortable measuring the distance between my pupils for prescription glasses with a ruler I found on Google, so why do I expect to be able to measure success in perfect increments of one?

Because, as Marge Piercy says, “Talent is what you have after you’ve finished the novel.”

But for now, I’m done with that. And not only my potential but also my internal critic/editor/censor that the great writing teachers suggest one dialogues with. The one who tells me that I need to put on a pantsuit and flat iron my curly hair. The one that reminds me Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote Frankenstein and that Zadie Smith was, is and always will be 3 months younger than me.

The one who shows me what to wear to the awards ceremony and then pulls the cloths off the tables, turns on the sprinklers, sticks dirty fingers in my special cake. The one who says I should write more like X, edit more like Y, publish more like Z and that if God really loved me, God would speak to me in final drafts.

The one who says I should be in NY or LA, that I should travel more in general, that I should minimize my metaphors, pare down, hole up in a cabin in a woods, or the Chelsea Hotel, or inside of a bottle tossed over the side of some shipwreck somewhere.

The one with the poison ivy/syphilis/piranaha/medusa/dorian gray decayed pitchfork death grip cloaked in golden skin and a motorcycle jacket, cupid lips, an accent, a ponytail, a cigar, a chateau and fine leather boots. The one who looks good but wants me dead. The one I need to fire and then bury along with my potential, along with the hatchet.

***Image of "Trash Mountain" above by Megan Whitmarsh

Friday, April 15, 2011

Where I'm From

I am from the little lady with the big baby. The little lady who carved us naked out of clay, she on her back, arms open, me sprawled fat and barely born across her belly.

I am from the man who was a boy with a foot so long they said he looked like an “L” with hands, I’ve discovered, mine will never grow into.

I’m from Jewish anarchists and Methodist peacekeepers, garden gnomes and Denmark, Boris and Margaret, Whilhelmina and Ray, the Pale- that stretch of land between Poland and Russia.

I’m from a little house with a big backyard in the noble heritage of the near West End in a corner of the world called Tuckahoe, a name I’ve heard means “Little Potato.”

I am from short and tall, late and early, passive aggressive and just aggressive, tongues that long to whip and to kiss. I am from a grated oil burning floor heater and metal ducts snaking forced heat through holes in the wall, couches found in alleys, lampshades made by hand, food stamps, thrift stores, love first rate, never used before.

I am from pastel and oil, acrylic and watercolor, pencil and ink, wood and ruler, hammer and nail, chisel, chainsaw, miter, drill, screw.

I am from Mr. Rogers and Bob Marley, Uncle Wiggly and The Rainbow Goblins, The Monkey King and Thumbelina.

I am from a marriage and a divorce, love and its opposite, the familiar clang of the world at its end and at its beginning, splitting apart and then reformed, broken and whole, the consistency of two people working out their distances across town and across a river and across a home and across a little girl.

I am from blooming fig trees and hacked down dogwoods, watermelon rinds, black licorice sticks, mugs of Folgers shot through with honey and hot milk.

I am from a house full of art and cats and paint and dishes piled in the sink, addiction treated and untreated, words in sentences, stories in books, love kept and love given in such abundance it takes all of me to remember.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Still Learning to Love Domestic Life: My 6 Word Memoirs from April 5-7

I no longer want three marriages.

One husband is more than enough.

Even when he coughs and snorts.

I think of animals in bed.

This is the wrong direction. Turn around.

Reincarnation gives me hope for fame.

Dishes, laundry, sweeping, scrubbing. For fun?

Have to do/Want to do.

This year: posed naked, taught adults.

Three classes end. What’s next, God?

Five, fifteen, thirty-five. Same body.

I'm trying to stop killing plants.

Black thumb girl is given flowers.

Son is begging for a garden.

Crushed when carrot seeds don't grow.

Son, husband, dog, cat. Plants too?

We are a three shutter house.

Fourth shutter on way to dump.

I am scared of growing things.

Killed even the most durable plants.

Confessions of a reformed book whore.

It’s hard to sum up anyone’s life.

It's always something else with me.

Maybe this spring will be different?

Maybe next life I'll try pig farming.

Lost track of time. Still alive.

I eat my food and words.

Inspired by "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure"