For the past 10 years I've lived on the second floor or higher, so when last year my husband and I moved into our first first-floor place - a townhouse that came with its very own open outdoor patio - I decided to get my very first gardening pots and plants.
It was oddly the first thing I did when we got the keys.
The movers weren't coming until the next day and all the packing was done. I had keys to an empty townhouse and nothing else to do that day. I'm a writer and was/am writing my 2nd book...but at this time I was very stuck; I'd decided to lean in to stuck. I was going to try to do other things, get my mind off it. Like moving a few streets away to a bigger place. Like getting a dog. Like gardening.
Place? Check. Dog? Allergy tests done and right one found, he would be coming to us soon. Check. Time for plants.
I knew I could have been forcing writing. I knew I could have been cleaning more or something. But I just felt like I couldn't think until I got plants. I needed plants. Right away.
So I went to Home Depot (maybe for the first time in those 10 years?), rolled a big ol' cart around, and gathered pots and whatever plants 'spoke' to me. Lettuce and tomato and a few flowers.
Lettuce moved into the townhouse before any of our stuff. It was bright and green and gorgeous. It was life outside the window and I was thrilled. I'd go out and water the plants twice a day, take instagram pictures, and just stare at them, seeing the progress they'd make each week. They actually got taller. And I realized that sometimes we call things "cliche" when really we're afraid to call them what they are: magic.
I can honestly say there were times when I wanted to give up writing altogether because I was so stuck and it was so painful and there was so much awful going on in the world that doing my art felt stupid and selfish and perhaps the dumbest thing I could have ever done with my life. Write a book about dreams?! In a world like this? Are you mad? And then I'd see a whole tree full of flowers and would think how crazy it is that that still happens. And I'd keep writing.
And I don't care how cliche it is that flowers kept me going because it's true.
The writing started up again and the puppy came but the gardening fell away. Rain piled up and ruined some of my favorite flowers, pots got knocked over in the summer Florida storms. And I never picked them back up.
I walk out there every day with my dog. Every. Day. And yet I didn't even turn over the pots or throw the dead plants away. There is this one pot RIGHT BY MY FRONT DOOR that has been turned on its side for months.
It was once so important to me that the patio looked perfect, and now I could not even muster up the energy to turn a pot that weighs nothing back on its side.
I was definitely lethargic and overwhelmed in that scary middle-of-a-creative-project phase, but I also think for some reason I didn't want to alter the natural state of the patio, even though it looked chaotic and messy and wilted. It somehow felt right.
Except the other day when I was unlocking the front door and looked down at the pot on its side and chastised myself for not cleaning up my failed 'garden.' I got suddenly and violently angry with myself - why am I so lazy? This is a $3 plant and all I had to do all these months was throw it away on my way inside but instead I've let it sit here?! What the heck is the matter with me?
This little pot started to represent everything I was mad at myself about over the past year. Starting a book and taking longer than I'd planned to figure out what it was going to be. Getting a townhouse and feeling overwhelmed by all the space. Taking days to do things that used to take me minutes. Letting a puppy (and the judgements of strangers) make me cry and wishing I was just stronger and better at everything. I used to feel so on top of things and now everything felt like it was on top of me.
It had felt like a year on my side, a year of chaos and confusion and grappling in the dark, a year of slowness and trying to force things that wouldn't come. A year of a person used to going a million miles a minute having to sit in a quiet corner of a townhouse and stare at over 1,000 pages of research trying to figure out how to turn it all into a book, all the while staring out the window at her dying plants, wondering how and when she became someone who would let a plant sit on its side for half a year.
I'm moving to California in two weeks. Back to the second floor - a porch but no patio. I was very adamant about this when we were choosing our next place. Plants and patios seemed to only cause me guilt. I needed a break.
I walked onto our patio the other day as I was planning what I needed to collect for a donation truck that is coming tomorrow. Most of the plants were dead but in heavy clay pots so I made a plan to clean those out later, but on my way back inside I decided I would finally throw away that small tipped over plant. I walked towards it and bent over to grab it when I noticed something I hadn't really noticed before:
It was still alive.
Somehow, it didn't know it wasn't standing the way it was "supposed to" and it grew all the same.
I decided to leave it there for a little while longer.