Growing Up

Time once again for the annual unveiling of my word for the year, a theme that always becomes eerily accurate as the months flow by. Last year’s “Rebirth” certainly lived up to its potential by anticipating my eye surgeries as well as our recent relocation. Little did I know how life-changing 2020 would be in my little corner of the world and all over the planet as social, political and scientific transformation was brought to disruptive, often violent, life.

Since I began to stay home and avoid public spaces last January in preparation for my medical procedures, I have essentially been homebound for a year now. My new life became very limited in scope, forcing an internal perspective and examination which I had been avoiding for decades. For me, it was much easier to mold my motivations and actions around someone else’s agenda than to determine my own. For one, it’s easier to blame the other party when plans don’t work out, which is usually the case when you aren’t on the right path.

In retrospect, my forced isolation in childhood and subsequent expulsion when I no longer fit the family dynamic catapulted me into a series of careers and relationships that never seemed to work out. Like the prince in Cinderella, I searched tirelessly for someone or something that would fit my life’s slipper without really examining the shoe itself. What color and style was it, what was it made of, and where did it come from? I acted out the traditional roles of artist, writer, academic, teacher, librarian, proofreader, shopkeeper, caregiver, house cleaner, and office assistant to fulfill others’ wishes and unfulfilled dreams, and conform to the expectations of my generation. In many cases I didn’t feel I had much choice as a female raised by a woman who thought my role was to marry a farmer and stay at home while also insisting I go to college and become a famous writer or artist.

Needless to say I was confused. What I really wanted was to work in the family nursery and tend to the colorful seas of annuals, geraniums, poinsettias and tropical houseplants in magical kingdoms under glass. I come from a long line of growers and farmers who passed their green thumbs along to me. But due to misogynistic views and family dysfunction, that dream was not to be. So I created gardens for myself: an entire bedroom full of houseplants in high school, an assortment of zonal geraniums my father grew wholesale that I dragged around for all four years at college, an obsessive collection of herb plants at a duplex as a newlywed, a square-foot garden hand-dug while recuperating from a difficult pregnancy, backyard raised beds as first-time homeowner, an ambitious but doomed try at homesteading 5,000 square feet of mule pen out in the country, feeble attempts at container gardens in the suburbs and finally a stint at running a community garden at a retreat center with no help from the community.

Which brings me to today’s little California bungalow on a very narrow urban lot in a neighborhood that encourages gardens rather than lawns. In fact “Gardens” is in the name of this century-old historic suburb built for limestone, railroad and factory workers in a town known for its creative quirkiness. Last year, despite some medical setbacks and supply difficulties, I managed to start some seeds, buy plants, build a cold frame and create garden beds with my husband’s help. This year I’ve ordered seeds early and made big plans to replace our barren lawn with vegetables, flowers and native plants while continuing my quest for year-round harvests. The photo shown above of my cold frame was taken two days ago, in January. I can’t wait to winter-over more vegetables and greens next year.

Which finally brings me to my word for 2021. After last year’s traumatic and frightening process of birth, there has to be “Growth.” Now that I’ve found my place in the world, I have the opportunity to grow, literally and spiritually on my own terms. Will I create art? Well, yes, gardening is an art form, and I plan on producing some garden-inspired art, too. Will I write? I certainly hope so. There’s much to be noted in tending a garden, particularly nature’s lessons in humility. Will I engage with others? That remains to be seen, but I fervently wish to contribute to my little neighborhood and provide a better habitat for wildlife, especially the insect world that is rapidly vanishing while we wait for vaccines and herd immunity.

I guess the glass slipper may have turned into a gardening clog, but it’s still beautiful to me.

5 thoughts on “Growing Up

  1. You have condensed a lifetime in a few paragraphs, and it leaves me breathless. What a lot you have done. It would seem to me that you have managed to harvest something from each of those trials, and now you bring a sense of full circle as you settle into the purpose you felt in your family’s greenhouses. If the greens at the top are any indication, you are home. I hope you will write about your yard-turned-garden; I am very eager to see how that develops.

    1. Thank you for putting into words what I couldn’t quite convey, Maureen. Harvest is a perfect term for what I gained from each venture. All experiences have benefit and will help me with new projects, if nothing else then to avoid the same pitfalls again. I look forward to chronicling my misadventures on here and reworking Paints in the Parks to fit my garden art.

  2. I hope we will all see positive growth next year, although I am also expecting some damaging storms. You have certainly been through some hard times. What lies ahead of us is what matters most. I’m not hoping for any great accomplishments, just some quiet satisfactions and a sense of accomplishment. I have pretty much given up on the past. It is simply too much of a mess to ever sort out. Hold onto you immediate family and friends, your gardening, and your writing and art. Maybe that is everything from the past that you really need.

    1. Thank you for your wise words, Mike. I’m inspired by artists like you every day who add beauty to the world. I’m letting go of the past slowly but surely since the family myths have been such a big part of my life. But they are myths with a few facts thrown in, and I don’t want to perpetuate or give energy to those patterns anymore. Every day gets a little better and I have stronger boundaries while keeping the past bits that support me. Wishing you quiet satisfactions and a sense of accomplishment in 2021.

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