I grew up part of a small, somewhat dysfunctional family—parents, paternal grandmother, one sister. By the time I was into my sixteenth year, we’d lived in two cities and four neighborhoods in Canada, and had made the big move from Canada to Arizona. After I married at nineteen, my family’s moving and shifting continued.
But home to me—the place I grew up—will always be the redbrick house on Harris Place in the suburbs of Ottawa. The neighborhood was so new, old farmhouses and fields of sheep were interspersed with tracts of new homes. As neighbors began move in—many Air Force (RCAF) like my Dad—everyone seemed anxious to get settled and establish friendships. Families intermingled, and both kids and adults were in and out of each other’s backyards and homes on a daily basis. My Godparents moved close by when I was ten, quickly becoming part of our family. Our six years in City View were the closest I’ve ever experienced to being part of a large, extended family. (Remember this extended family thing.)
Introspection is everything. It doesn’t always take an analyst’s couch to recognize the past events that shape us, and acknowledge how they complicate our emotional base even decades down the road. I remember one Sunday afternoon picnic in particular, prior to our move to Ottawa. There we sat, our small, well-mannered nuclear family, sipping tea out of thermoses, eating sausage rolls and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, while my parents did their best to ignore the rowdier, usually Italian, families nearby. I behaved as expected, but so wanted to be part of those animated groups: everyone shouting and gesturing, kids one notch below out of control, squirming against the hugging and laughing that accompanied their being scolded. At seven-years old, I quietly I decided I would marry an Italian. I didn’t.
Which wraps around, in a very convoluted way, to my point, that tricky tenth commandment—ENVY—the most recent rock in the road tripping me up on my journey to self-actualization. I’ve always been proud (pride, another trip-up) that being envious was simply not part of my nature. And when it comes to material things, I still believe that to be true. I’ll never envy your spacious home, sports car, or four-caret diamond, but I’m not as unburdened by jealously as I’d like to think. But more background is needed for context.
My parents immigrated to Canada from England after WWII. My father’s parents followed six months later, but the rest of their very large family remained in Britain. Considering the state of England after the war, I’m sure my parent’s decision to start over in Canada was a good one, but there were unforeseen ramifications to their choice. Moving so far away from home meant that their future children would never experience the support of extended family. We’d grow up without cousins, aunts, uncles, our other set of grandparents, and we’d never recognize behaviors and characteristics in the context of DNA. Jetting back and forth across the Atlantic simply wasn’t done back then. Thirty-one years would pass before my mother would see her own mother again.
So what does this autobiographical ramble have to do with the sin of envy? As I recently followed Facebook posts about family celebrations, past and planned, reading cousins’ posts about their shared childhoods, memories of weddings, funerals, and even their everyday lives, I felt that unbecoming shade of green creeping over me. The upside of Facebook is having a window into everyone’s world, but the downside is feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. That sure sounds a lot like envy to me. Yup. Hard to admit. Not pretty, is it?
So shaking myself off, I’ve decided that when all the human homing pigeons start posting about taking off to join relatives for big traditional holiday gatherings or milestone birthdays, where they will be surrounded by a dynasty of children, grandchildren and loving lifetime friends, I will make every effort to turn the color wheel from green to rosy pink. I will count my own blessings, which are plentiful. I will remind myself that every large family isn’t The Waltons and, as my mother used to say about close friends, “The fewer people who know your business, the fewer there are to gossip about you.” Maybe she had a point. There’s always an upside.
The publication process of Dancing Between the Beats is underway. The book’s cover art is the first piece of many pieces to fall into place. It was important to me for the cover to suggest movement, and I couldn’t be more pleased with what the designer came up with. Thankfully, with this publisher, Wheatmark Inc., it’s acceptable for me to offer my opinion on everything from cover design to book layout. I’m guessing that those of you who’ve been exposed up-close-and-personal to my Type A personality understand that anything else would drive me crazy.
This brings me to why I chose to publish with a hybrid publisher rather than waiting for an agent to sell my novel to one of New York’s big five. The publishing marketplace underwent a drastic change around 2008. These days, unless you’re a celebrity or a proven best-selling author, with a built-in audience, your chances of landing a publishing deal are in the two-percent range. Publishers are no longer willing to incur all the costs and risks related to publishing an unknown writer. Hence the birth of hybrid publishing (not the same as self-publishing.) So let’s define hybrid: a publishing house that operates with a different revenue model than traditional publishing, while keeping the rest of the practices of publishing the same. Basically, the author takes on the risk and puts their own money on the line for all or part of the process.
In the world of traditional publishing, the first step is finding an agent. Entire websites and issues of writing magazines are dedicated to the cat-and-mouse game of agent acquisition. It can take months or even years. Once an agent takes you one, it’s their job is to sell your manuscript to a publisher. When the rights to an author’s work are sold to a publisher, the author loses control over all aspects of the publishing process. The book may be re-edited to fit the marketplace; the book’s title will almost certainly change; there is almost no chance that the author will have any say in the cover design of their book.
The time frame from querying agents to book publication is, at best, anywhere from a very optimistic eighteen months to three years. If at any time during that process the publisher decides the market for a particular book has changed, they will shelve the whole project. The author is now back to square one, querying agents and hoping another publisher will take the bait. Now, for young authors who have long careers as novelists ahead of them, the traditional route may still be the best way to go. Agent and publisher relationships will be established for future work. But for those of us who jumped into the game later in life, it’s important to get that first book into readers’ hands while we are still capable of lifting a glass of champagne at a launch party.
Speaking of which, as we get closer to the book-release date, stay tuned for invites to events to help me celebrate this accomplishment. The acknowledgments page in the book is quite long; I have so many wonderful people to thank for their support and input. Launch parties will provide the opportunity to thank everyone in person. Rather than closing with my usual flippancy, I just want to wax serious for a moment and tell each one of you how much I appreciate your support. It truly does take a village.
Below: Storyboarding towards the end of the final draft.
After years of writing, revising, editing, and refining, my novel is a wrap. I recently signed a contract with a publishing company. Depending on how quickly the gristmill grinds, Dancing Between the Beats will be a hold-in-your-hands, honest-to-God book (and an e-book) by the end of 2019, or possibly early 2020.
It was eight years ago, just after my mother passed, that I wrote the first rough draft of DBTB. Eight years is one hell of a long gestation period; elephants, move over. Trust me when I say that my book launch party will involve popping multiple corks on multiple bottles of champagne. And cake. There must always be cake.
I’m thrilled to pieces about entering the publication phase, but I find myself in an unexpected emotional lull. I miss my characters. I almost feel abandoned. For years their thoughts, interactions, incessant chattering, and complicated personal situations consumed a huge part of my daily life and led to many nights of insomnia. I’m a bit lost without my fictional family.
But as retrospection replaced feeling aimless, my melancholy train of thought soon jumped the tracks and headed in a more positive direction. I started thinking about how and when I rediscovered creative writing. I’d left my position as a technical editor and was actively taking care of aging and ailing parents. Writing alleviated stress and provided an avenue to work through emotional issues. Writing from home eventually became a dream job, replete with autonomy and without the hassles of multiple bosses, snippy co-workers, an alarm clock ringing at ungodly hours, and a steering-wheel-gripping commute.
Writing is a solitary a pastime, perfect for us introverts, but you can’t develop breadth and hone your craft in a vacuum. So, with more of a shove than a nudge from a writer friend, I signed on for an advanced, special projects class at Pima Community College. The class was geared towards those writing fictional novels, nonfiction books or memoirs. I was then invited to join a writer’s group where I began to develop the belief that I actually could take my third novel from rough draft to finished manuscript. Along the way I took another PCC class—an intense, literary magazine workshop— where I could use the editing and writing skills I’d left at the office. My writing journey has been one of self-realization; a process I hope will continue. Looking back, my personal gestation period has been longer than that of birthing a novel.
The next few months will include revisiting my characters as my book is published and promoted. But for now I have to let my DBTB friends go and hope they find their way into other hands and hearts. It’s time to rummage through my “bits and pieces” file of unfinished ideas, and litter my way-too-clean writing desk with signs of work in progress. Writers have to write, not wallow.
The only southern Arizonans out and about in midsummer are the bright-eyed, early-morning people, of which I am not one. Summer is when I hermit (yes, in my world, hermit is a verb ) Venturing out in the pounding heat, when the interior temperature of a parked car can reach 150 I-can’t-breathe-degrees, is right up there on my “No Bloody Way” scale with driving through a desert monsoon storm. I concede that the dramatic skies and bolts of lightning are spectacular, but. . . . No. Can’t deal with zero visibility, rain too heavy for the windshield wipers to keep up, and the stress of navigating flooded streets and all the detours caused by overflowing, gushing washes. Am I a wimp? Absolutely. I own up to it unembarrassed and unperturbed by negative comments, so don’t try to shame me. I’m impervious.
Just as the thermometer creeps towards 100-plus degrees, but before the heat numbs my brain and drains my motivation, I begin to plan my summer projects. We’re talking indoor projects, of course. Let’s all be sensible here.
With the air conditioning cranked, I become a whirlwind of productivity. Paper shredding is a top priority: outdated files and manuscripts, miscellaneous flyers and papers, old credit card statements—all the accumulated clutter that buries us. Feeding the shredder offers instant gratification: mess be gone. So from June through early September, in my domestic domain the silver gleams, cupboards empty, closets clear; it’s all very satisfying. This year my to-do list was ready by late May, but summer 2019 took a different turn, leaving my shredding machine idle and quiet.
June opened to record low temperatures, urging me out of the house, into the garden, and off to farmer’s markets. And then I got the best news ever. My bestie had been invited to pet-sit in Tucson for two months. She was arriving from England the end of June, with plans to stay until Labor Day. Jo enjoys being out and about, and I enjoy to hanging out with Jo, so her arrival wiped my project slate clean.
The summer days have flown by like a scene from 1940s movie where pages fly off the calendar. And, as Jo’s visit winds to a close, nothing has been crossed off my projects list. And guess what? Life goes on even though not one of those so very important tasks were done. When the sun sets on August and my calendar opens to Sept, I’ll close my eyes to cluttered cupboards and instead revisit all the photographs from this summer. I’ll face Fall with an unorganized home office, but with a fuller heart because of time spent with Jo and our mutual friends.
There’s an old saying my mother was fond of quoting, which is the basis for my obsessive work ethic: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. It has, however, taken on new meaning. Having an orderly house does not deserve to hold a higher priority in one’s life than spending time with friends--with those wonderful souls who make you engage in life and laugh.
And there’s another old adage that can be interpreted in a less sarcastic way than it was originally intended: Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. I did mention that Jo is British, right? Did I also mention both my parents were British? Seems that this summer both friendship and DNA won out, and I survived the midday sun just fine. Or maybe it takes being a bit of a mad dog to learn new tricks. As Jo would say, “Heigh-ho.”
Maybe I just get irritated easily, but I find myself gritting my teeth and forcing a polite smile almost every time I venture out into the public domain. Far too many bland, annoying, contemporary phrases have become acceptable norms for social interaction. For me, most of them are cringe-worthy.
Let’s start the list with one of the worst offenders: Free Gift. These two words together make me want to strangle the marketing pros who came up with this idiotic combination of words. Isn’t a gift, by its very definition, free? How many of you give or receive gifts? Do you expect to be paid or billed for said gifts? Do the Wall Street advertising guys really assume we can’t grasp the concept of gift? Maybe they figure the double whammy of free and gift will work the way low, low, low price is supposed to trick us into believing we’re getting a triple whammy of a deal. Marketing lingo. Pure feel-good manipulation.
Here's number two on my list: Guest. If, when I enter a store, I’m to be considered a guest, I want a cup of tea and decent bit of cake. Guest? Why are they taking my money if I’m an honored guest? To quote the phrase we hear too much in politics these days, please, just please, tell it like it is. I am a customer, or maybe a client, but under no reasonable definition of a commercial exchange am I a guest. Marketing spins. They diminish us.
And while we’re out and about, let’s touch on that most annoying of directives, Have a nice day. For all the smiling clerk knows, the flowers I purchased are for the friend who just lost her mother. Or, I might be buying that bottle of wine because I received a life-changing diagnosis from my doctor. Or maybe I’m just hanging on to life by my toenails, and being told that I must have a nice day is way more pressure than I can handle. Please, stop. A simple thank you for your business is more than sufficient.
And folks, I really dislike the word, folks. I immediately envision ladies in aprons canning beans in an overheated cabin with a dirt floor. Unless you are referring to your parents, folks is a term designed to make us all one, to pull us in and embrace us with bland commonality, to simplify our complexity. Nope. Not for me. People, citizens, constituents, peeps, friends, members of the community, fellow Americans, fellow parishioners—there are many excellent word choices besides “folks.”
And gentlemen, please, for the love of God stop saying “We’re pregnant.” You cannot, absolutely cannot steal the limelight all the time, especially this time. You are NOT carrying that baby. When you start puking every morning, getting stretch marks, and have to push a bowling ball out of your privates, then maybe you get to say “we.” Until then, let your wife enjoy the glow and the glory, and step back out of the spot light for once!
By the way, just for the record, when you say whatever in response to a statement, I assume you know, that I know, that you are being rudely dismissive. Why not just own it and say “fuck off.” You might just pull it off if you say it with a smile.
And with that, I’ll step off the soap box, put it away, and blame everything I’ve said on the heat. Walking away to crank up the A/C. Have a nice day!
Maybe the heat of summer is addling my brain, but trying to settle on what to share is like looking at a garden full of butterflies. As soon as I focus on one idea, it waggles its wings and flits to another flower. I need a butterfly net of sorts: a fine-mesh cerebral strainer. I could toss everything in, run water, and see which thoughts dribble away and which settle to the bottom of the basket. Or maybe I just have undiagnosed ADHD? (D votes for that one.)
I thought about discussing the absurdity of summing someone up on the basis of their age or the size of their home, rather than their intelligence or the size of their heart. Or we could compare notes on how hurtful it is to be shut out by a “friend” because of one miss-speak or misjudgment. That line of thought started the wheels turning to the emotional drain of trying to live up to everyone’s image of whom they expect you to be. If the paint on the picture of expectation shows even one smudge, judgmental faces darken to unforgiving disenchantment. These unforgiving types are often the same people who demand unconditional acceptance from you.
My thoughts skimmed the surface of life with dogs, specifically travelling with dogs. Their uninhibited joy when they realize they’re being included makes any related inconvenience inconsequential. Which led to the black cat who got left at home. I have endless anecdotes about said much-adored cat. At the moment he’s hanging out on my desk, rubbing his head against the monitor and batting at loose pens. And of course, you know that a discussion about whether animals have souls and feelings is a non-issue for me. I see more depth of feeling in the eyes of most dogs and cats than I do in the eyes of far too many people. Like my father used to say, “If dogs aren’t allowed in heaven, I’m not going.”
I considered sharing my passion for books/stories based on Asian culture, especially that of China. There are some great titles in my collection. My fascination began with a book of my mother’s by Pearl S Buck. I was about fourteen when I read it. My own books include nonfiction, but there is nothing like good fiction--well-researched fiction—to broaden one’s awareness of human nature\, and to deepen one’s understanding of cultures and different time periods. When someone declares that they read only nonfiction, it makes me flinch. I see this as intellectual snobbery: not an attractive quality.
That got me thinking about those individuals—we’ve all met at least one--whose entire identity revolves around their PhD. They’re the ones who won’t waste their conversational breathe on anyone with less than a Master’s degree. Their loss. A little Life-101 WD40-chat might be exactly what’s needed to spring open those creaky door hinges in their pretentious brains. How can they not know that everyone has a story, and be curious?
Our connection to nature is always a running theme for me. We all benefit from a little garden soil under our fingernails. What can be more awe-inspiring than the wonder of little seeds popping through the soil, soon to become the plants that treat us to the astonishing beauty of their blossoms or bounty of their fruits. Nothing we humans can create compares.
But instead of writing about any of this, here I am, post-wine rambling and talking about nothing of any consequence, much like an episode of Seinfeld. Sadly, my maze-like rambles won’t justify themselves by bringing in mega $$$. Maybe we could just all hang out, musing about life, over a couple of minty Mojitos. Enough Mojitos, and none of this matters anyway. So, who’s buying?
“So what’s she on about now?”
Well, if you must ask, packaging, and let’s not forget, warning labels: my pet peeves of our modern world. Our government’s attempt to protect us from ourselves, and to protect manufacturers from law suits, has far exceeded an acceptable level of ludicrous government bureaucracy.
Let’s start with shrink wrap. Take the 11 x 14 frame I just bought. It was so tightly wrapped in impervious layers of plastic, I couldn’t fit the tip of my pointiest knife under the wrap to make a hole big enough to fit the working end of a pair of scissors. Said knife, however, had no problem jamming its sharp self into the palm of my hand. Once I finally cut a small rip in the wrap, the wood was scarred. Maybe I can pass it off as distressed? I sure as hell know I was by the time I freed the frame. Who needs this kind of aggravation?
See that little item pictured on the upper left. You might think it’s an old-fashioned nut cracker—maybe—but at my house it’s the Super Tool of the century. This handy-dandy gadget saves our landfills from piles of discarded, impossible-to-open, newly purchased bottles of beverages. When ordinary human strength fails, just capture the cap of the bottle in the teeth of this superior device and, you'll twist open bottles of sparking water that even the braggiest muscle man can’t budge.
Moving on to the layer of graphene-like strength, plastic molding jammed around every little bottle and jar of something I really want (like industrial strength face cream). The person who develops a tool to break through this stuff gets nominated for the next Noble Prize. Next up, industrial strength staples, the kind used to keep the wood framing of a couch together. And where do these delights show up? Try the kitchen utensil aisle at your favorite big box retail store. You’ll find them attaching that new kitchen serving spoon you’ll never use to its section of display cardboard. And why will you never use said spoon? ‘Cause you ain’t never gonna get that puppy cut loose, but you sure as hell might end up in Urgent Care trying.
So my point here is, if fear of shoplifting is an issue, then let’s go back to catalogue show rooms where you point to an item and the retail worker has it sent out on a conveyor belt, loose, free, and available. And as far as safety goes, if one has to be told not to eat the oven cleaner, or warned not to stick a drinking straw in their eye, maybe we should drop the protections and just let the national IQ rise, as those blessed with an overabundance of stupidity fall by the wayside.
If you’re still hanging in there with me, the following poem is a version of one that arose from the ashes of my frustration a few years ago. A contest judge gave it a “Commendable”, not because it was well-written, but because it provided needed comic relief during his day of judging serious poetry. Here it is
Push Down and Twist
There’s a tamper-proof top, on the jar I just I bought.
I sigh and I glare, then slash, hack, and tear.
But buyer beware, it’s no worse for wear.
I push down while I twist, nearly spraining my wrist.
It slips from my hand, only to land with a crash.
Now the glass is all smashed.
So I clean up the mess, feeling rather distressed.
It can’t just be me, who can’t seem to free,
things that are trapped, in protective shrink wrap,
which teases and taunts, flaunting stuff that I want.
A new movie might soothe, get me back in the groove.
But my new DVD’s sealed in plastic, I see.
I grab something sharp, to rip packaging apart,
but I stab my own hand, drop the knife, and it lands
sticking into my toe. And, what do you know?
The DVD is now bent, and my energy’s spent.
My head starts to ache, must find aspirin to take.
The new bottle is sealed. This is too damn surreal.
So I prod, poke, and pry. No matter how hard I try.
I can’t open the top, can’t get the seal off.
I twist and I turn, until fingertips burn.
The wrapping’s too tight. It puts up quite a fight
&the pills are still sealed. Wait! A hammer I’ll wield!
Damn--I just broke my thumb, and my hand’s getting numb.
Does my blood pressure count, when irritation mounts?
Or will that just be spurned as a safety concern?
Will no one agree, to please listen to my plea,
And stop protecting me to this unreasonable degree?
Yes, I’ve been MIA with blog posts, and I apologize for falling off the map. I’ve been busy pulling my revised chapters into a final manuscript, and because much nit-picking and rewording is happening, the process is taking way longer than planned. Is revision ever done? I need to run that one by a published novelist.
But, that’s not the point of this post. I want to share some thoughts that filtered out of the madness of revision. I started to wonder if writing a novel at my age is a sign of lunacy or chutzpah. Let your vote be counted; there are no wrong answers. I’m sure that both my mother and grandmother would vote for lunacy. I can hear my mother’s voice now. “You’re doing what? Why? Just how old do you think you are”, or even worse, “You need to act your age”. A statement I’ve never understood.
When I look around me, I don’t see many aging adults approaching retirement the same way as the previous generation of parents and grandparents. The example mine set was to kick back in front of the TV with a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee, and spend the day watching old movies or game shows. You’ll only find me following their example when I’m too sick to do anything else. I’m busy pretty much all of the time. As my son keeps asking, “Mom aren’t you supposed to be retired?” What does that even mean anymore? For most of us, retirement doesn’t mean stopping. It means finally having the time to do the multitude of things we didn’t have the time or money for when we reported to a job every day. We’ve retired from paid employment, not from life.
My friends over sixty-five see retirement as a beginning, not an ending. The best thing about getting older is being freed from constantly needing approval. We’ve long ago proved ourselves and are no longer restricted by the heavy cloak of self-consciousness. We’ve developed enough self-esteem to laugh at ourselves when we try something new and it all goes awry. Who cares? We’re also not afraid to challenge ourselves. We get out on that ballroom floor; go zip lining; compete in roller dance; volunteer at schools, charity shops, and animal rescues; raise orchids to show; become master gardeners or even AKC judges; train as docents; take classes in everything from writing poetry, learning a new language or making pottery, and we even write novels.
If we’re smart, we’ll also try to make a few friends in the under-forty crowd. If we’re lucky they’ll keep us up-to-date on the latest trends in music, the newest techie issues and devices, or fill us in on what’s it’s like to raise kids in today’s perplexing world. The younger crowd challenges our perceptions and makes us think. Try it. They have a lot to say, and their viewpoints have value.
So, I guess the conclusion to this line of thought is don’t expect to find me on the porch in a rocking chair any time soon. If my message machine kicks in when you call, assume I’m out doing something my mother would have deemed in appropriate for my age. My plan is to, as that old adage goes, end up smiling and totally used up by the time I reach the finish line.
pictures: Two ballroom dancing friends, all of us over sixty-five. Zip-lining with my husband and a cousin twenty-two years younger than me. Maybe lunacy is the word after all.
(Every year the Society of Southwestern Authors sponsors a writing contest for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The SSA contests are open to non-members, so entries come in from all over the country. This year was the first time they included a category for first-chapter, novel submissions. I think they were a bit overwhelmed when thirty entries hit their mailbox.
Winning entries are published in SSA’s annual publication—The Storyteller; however, only the first page of each first-chapter entry is included in the hard-copy publication (space constraints.) But, thanks to SSA’s wonderful techie types, digital files are now up and running on their website, meaning that the winning chapters can be read in their entirety.
I’m guessing you suspect this is more than an info dump about the SSA contest. Right you are, of course.
Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, fill out the entry form, and pop that sucker in the mailbox, and trust me, every single time a little bit of your heart goes with it. Yup, even though Dancing Between the Beats is still undergoing final revisions, I entered the first chapter, Enter Stage Right, anyway. I entered without expectations, but paid the extra fee to receive written critiques from the judges. Always invaluable in any contest.
So, imagine my surprise when I received an email, not just with critiques attached, but with an invitation to the awards ceremony (yesterday), because my chapter won an Honorable Mention (that means 4th or 5th out of 30). I’ll take it! I’d expected to end up on the “to be shredded pile.” I'm quite pleased. If interested, here’s the link to the full first chapter: (P.S. - May 22. Just FYI, since the contest, the first chapter, particularly the first page, has been revised, and consolidated. Might pop it in to another post. Much better.)
I worried and stressed over having to read an excerpt, but I survived the mike, and if you want to read just the bit I read at the ceremony, you can find that here:
Spring in the Sonoran desert is as fleeting as a meteor streaking across the night sky. For a precious few weeks, we’re treated to sunny temperate days, cool nights, and welcome cloudbursts that bring, if Mother Nature finds us deserving, a glorious show of wildflowers. This is one of our jackpot years. Swathes of lupines, poppies, and globe mallows transform otherwise bland roadsides and stretches of desert into tapestries of vibrant blues and bright yellow-oranges.
In my own backyard stalks of hot pink penstamen stretch skyward, and long stems of globe mallow droop with hot orange flowers. The onset of wildflowers signals backyard gardeners to drop everything and get outside before the window of opportunity closes. I’m part of that group: an unabashed, avid gardener. To be truly candid, I’m probably more of a plant addict. There, I’ve said it. Much like my passion for dogs, I’ve rarely met a plant I’m not interested in getting to know better. For me, there’s nary a difference between a weed and a wildflower. If it blooms, it lives in my garden.
First on the agenda this spring was major pruning. To bushwhack a path to the less invasive, smaller salvias and lantanas, several feet had to come off the flowering, bird of paradise shrubs. Next, the bottlebrush bushes, already beginning to bud, were pruned and opened up. Once their thickening buds bristle open, worker bees will stake their claim. Waiting to prune a bottlebrush until the bees are busy working is a foolish game of gardening Russian roulette.
Maneuvering through my maze of plantings can be challenging, even to me. A jab from the sword-like daggers of a small yucca, playing hide-and-go-seek under an overgrowth of intertwined lantana, drove that point home. Pun intended. Swearing, and moving with more caution, I raked up a winter’s worth of fallen leaves and trimming debris, working carefully around ribbons of irrigation lines. My back told me it wasn’t happy, but my brain appreciates the focus of landscaping and planting. It quiets, and the receptors in my mind relax and open.
The solitude of my garden, the repetitive nature of the work, and the superb listening skills of my plants, give me permission to speak freely. When I’m outdoors and away from human voices, thoughts flow with a clarity that escapes me when sitting at my keyboard, or even when conversing face-to-face. Watching bees diving in and out of mallow blooms gave me an idea for a short piece of fiction. A couple of brilliant phrasings also floated to the forefront, but sadly drifted off like fluff from the milkweed pods. Note to self: tuck a small notebook in shirt pocket and try to keep notes free of garden-soil smears.
The time spent digging and trimming saves me from the therapist’s couch. Lost in the work, I find closure for those unresolved issues that niggle away in the recesses of memory. Trimming around some prickly aloe veras, I imagined in-depth conversation with an ex-close friend. By the time I was done internally expounding, I attacking dead stems with a little too much vigor, and stopped just short of chopping into an irrigation line. Stream of consciousness in the garden, as freeing as it is, might not be the best route to go when working with clippers and shears.
So, until the heat hits and drives me indoors, if your phone call goes to my message machine or your texts go unanswered, assume I’m in the backyard, engaged in plant therapy. Be happy, maybe even relieved. It could be you on the receiving end rather than a geranium.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's