Monday, March 12, 2012

A Minor Aha!

Last fall I dug up a lily bed in the front yard that Dad planted eons ago. To tell the truth it was his pride and joy. I didn't mean to dig it up. I was just going to thin it out. As it happened the bulbs were so overgrown I had little underground bulb villages all huddled together. The only way to separate them out was to just keep digging. I gave a lot of bulbs away and transplanted that many more. The circle in the middle of the yard, however, stayed empty, because it seemed to me it would be easier to plant some grass so the yard guy could mow straight lines instead of circles. All winter I looked at the empty patch and told myself come Spring I'd tend to it properly.

My excuses for not doing so because it was winter, or cold, or rainy went for nought. We've had a very mild and quite pleasant winter. Much better weather to dig in the dirt than the 90+ degree temperatures of summer which are right around the corner.

I hopped out of bed this morning with the clear intention of digging up border grass around the circle and making it ready for grass. I grabbed a donut, Sweetie's work gloves, a shovel and some garbage bags. I tied Suze up so she could supervise and started to work. I pushed the shovel down in what I thought would be soft, supple ground. Not! If shovels could bounce, it would have. Kind of like in the cartoons - boingggggg! I think my back did the same thing.

Hmmm, this might be a little harder than I expected. And so it went. I'd dig, or try to, and dig some more. I made very little progress. You think the circle is pretty big don't you. Well, in actuality it's only about 6 feet in diameter. Seriously, could it be that difficult? My digging technique turned out to be a bit like the final stages of labor - when you're pushing so hard you think you're going to pop. I took a deep breath, slammed the shovel down into hard-packed dirt and root structure with everything I had in me. Then dropped to my butt to catch my breath before starting again.

All I can say, is thank God for Sweetie. He has a bad back and is not any more inclined toward hard labor than I am. But out he came to help. He took my shovel as if it were a child's plastic beach scoop and loosened those grass clumps right up. Biff! Bam! Boom! He did this with an audience of Suzy, my neighbor, and myself.

My hero! I said.
It's about time! said the cartoon balloon over my neighbor's head.
Here let me help! said Suzi as she positioned herself in the freshly dug up hole.

What I often forget about manual labor is how creative it makes me. Maybe the way to end my self-doubt (and dare I say lose a few pounds?) is to work in the yard for an hour a day then come in to write.

But here's the aha moment. You thought I forgot didn't you?
The next step in the job I started this morning is to put down some grass so the yard no longer has an empty whole in it. My idea would be to kind of rake it over, smooth it out, buy some sod and flop it down. Finish it off with a sprinkle of fertilizer and water and voila, it's done. Biff! Bam! Boom!

Alas, Sweetie tells me there is a process involved. He waxed poetic about leveling off the ground, spraying weed killer, laying sod ..... blah, blah, blah. And that's when it hit me, my style, my natural way of doing things be it making a quilt, baking a cake, buying a dress or writing a book is to just do it. Unlike the great planners of the world - my father, my sister, my Sweetie - I rarely spend much time in the planning stage of life. Maybe my quilt points are not always perfectly aligned, but the colors blend in a way that is pleasant to the eye. (And if Robert's airplane quilt that I made 15 years ago is any indication, they have lasting power.) Cake mixes were created for people like me, dresses can be returned if they look like crap in the privacy of my own room. Making a plan, then working the plan seems to go against my very by-the-seat-of-my-pants nature. If I had been Columbus I probably would have set out for the new world by throwing the map into the sea, then followed where the wind blew.

Except ....
I've been around planners all my life. I know they are important. And because detailed plans and schematics derail my natural creativity, I often freeze if I'm going to venture into uncharted territory. That thing I just said about Columbus really isn't true. I would have stood frozen on the dock, unable to make a decision or take a first step.

When I get busy, I can really put my back (soul) into what I'm doing, so I don't think I'm lazy. I'm smart enough to be able to make a plan (set a goal), so what holds me back? What is that fear about and where does it come from? I'm not sure.

I looked at those plants I was digging up this morning and remembered when I planted them a few years ago. They were small, innocent looking things. I gave no thought to the root-bound buggers they would become. I just dug a hole and plopped them in. Maybe that's how I should tend to my writing. Perhaps I should take my ideas, plop them down on paper and let them take on a life of their own. Getting bogged down in the minutia of outlines, query letters, choosing a publisher, answering fan mail and wondering what to wear when Oprah comes out of retirement to interview me really doesn't work in my favor. Seriously, for about a minute that's where my mind goes, right to a place of grandiosity. My job, as a writer is to get the words out of my head, and give them permission to go where they will, even if they never leave the safety of my own computer.

I hope that doesn't sound like I don't believe in studying the art of writing, or listening to critiques, or paying attention to the ever-evolving rules of grammar or getting rid of my proclivity for "ly" words. I don't mean that at all. Because all those things can only make me better at my craft. Like pruning the plants before they become something out of Little Shop of Horrors, a story needs to be nurtured after it takes root.

Later that same day:
One more aha.
My father was an engineer. He was a left-brained thinker. He was creative, but in a more detail-oriented way. I think I've always been the exact opposite of that. As a child I looked for my father's approval, but Little ME felt like she always came up lacking because I didn't do things his way. Yeh sure, maybe he contributed to that insecurity a little. Mainly it was me trying to be something I wasn't. In my little girl's way of thinking being different made me feel less than not special.

Today as I dug in the dirt and thought about things, I figured all that out. In a week I'm going to be 60 years old. Maybe it's time to embrace my right-brained, willy-nilly way of doing things. It's neither right or wrong. Better or worse. It's my way and that's okay!

Thanks for listening. I think I hear a shovel calling my name.
Merry ME


wholly jeanne said...

sugar, i don't care how young you are, it's time to turn yourself loose. be willy-nilly when it suits you, plan when that suits you. let those words fall right out of your fingertips, and go as grandiose as you want. dig, catch your breath, then dig some more. dig in the middle, dig on the borders - always grabbing a donut before you start.

MamaJoe said...

I worked in the yard today and it was freeing. Note to self and those who work in the garden....never plant mint in anything but a container. Lordy, my back is hurting tonight.
An hour of outside time then writing...can't go wrong at all.
Happy digging, planting, seeding fertiziling and being in the sun!!