Sunday, April 7, 2013

Domesticity, Gardens, Old Resentments, Children, Men and Virginia Woolf

My book, well-worn
I am Mrs. Ramsey, except that I hear that she dies young and I'm trying to avoid that (except of course, for the way I am putting my liver to the test) except for of course, she's the one giving the praise and in that way I'm more like her poor husband, who always needs praise; and yes, I'll admit, I'm shamefully driven by praise. At least I've always said a good scratch behind the ears is all I need for a job well done, as if I were a just short-snoot pooch. And I have to wonder how that came to be. But now more recently praise seems kind of bereft and condescending. Good work, some one will say and I feel good, except that I don't, because of course it's good work. That's what I do.

I'm reading Virginia Woolf and I'm deep into the dinner scene in her 1927 To the Lighthouse and it reminds me of the silent warfare taking place at the table of many a staff meeting.

"There is a code of behaviour, she knew, whose seventh article (it may be) says that on occasions of this sort it behoves the woman, whatever her own occupation may be, to go to the help of the young man opposite so that he may expose and relieve the thigh bones, the ribs, of his vanity, of his urgent desire to assert himself; as indeed it is their duty, she reflected, in her old maidenly fairness, to help us, suppose the Tube were to burst into flames. Then, she thought, I should certainly expect Mr. Tansley to get me out. But how would it be, she thought, if neither of us did either of these things? So she sat there smiling."

The ribs and thigh bones of their vanity—a phrase brilliantly etched like a drawing sketched. Poor Mrs. Ramsey, stuck in her time, married with eight children, fretting over her greenhouse bill, tied to a vain man; yet purposefully executing her wiles and ways over all who come into her domain, artfully pairing those who should marry, gentling prodding, carefully coddling, grandly and gorgeously lording over her super table, while silently slaying and deconstructing the personality of each of her guests.

Would that I could write like Virginia Woolf, executing her prose with subterfuge and subversion, particularly when it comes to the hopeless unfairness of gender inequality.

This phrase particularly reminds me of a former boss: "remembering how he sneered at women, "can't paint, can't write," why should I help him. . ." and forevermore Lily Briscoe must gird herself and restore her dignity.

But the women exact their revenge, laughing at them, annoying them, teasing and despising them. Yet deep down inside, they are wounded as Lily points out, by the "most uncharming human being she had ever met."

"Why did she mind what he said? Women can't write, women can't paint—what did that matter coming from him, since clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful to him, and that was why he said it? Why did her whole being bow, like corn under a wind, and erect itself again from this abasement only with a great and rather painful effort? She must make it once more."

Would that I could write like Virginia Woolf.

One thing I would like to have, though, from that life is an old cottage just off the coast—a lighthouse keeping watch, and a garden with a hand to help, and a kitchen, also well staffed, so that I didn't have to do everything, always, by myself with my tennis elbow aching and my lower back threatening and my knee weakening. Would that I could spend my precious moments in revery at my dressing table with my young children picking out my jewels for the evening or holding a child in my lap, with his feather-like hair gently tickling my chin as I took in the sweet scent of his baby flesh while I read quietly to him at the window, overlooking all that was in my domestic range. Oh the desire of having everything just so, just the way we want it, from idealized novels to a real life haven. Now that would be heaven.   The Putterer

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Oh My Gosh! Oh My Gosh! Saturday and Sunny!

Ready! Set! Go!

What a crazy spring we've had. Totally behind schedule, or maybe just normal. I can't remember what's normal, given last year's super early spring. Just this week, the star magnolia bloomed. No blooms what so ever on the vibernum. I planted my sugar snap peas on the designated March 15th, but not a shoot had materialized last I checked. Cold and cloudy on Thursday when I watched the Nats win in an afternoon game, all bundled up with gloves at the ready. But this morning, oh the sun is up, and bright. And look at my garden. Isn't it gorgeous! My new raised beds have been carefully constructed by my friends over at Love and Carrots. I've planted a few rows of kale, chard and chicory. I was going to put in my potatoes last weekend, but ran out of time and so those will be the first to go in. After that, I've got to get my tomato plants out of the basement and transplant them into separate containers, and set them out on the deck today. They will love the warm spring sunshine. I also need to lay in some compost in the back area down by the rose bushes, but I don't think my weak back can stand the hoisting and throwing, so maybe that won't happen this year. Tomorrow, over at the community garden, we'll gather a gang for weeding. The chopped chips have been delivered for sprucing up the paths and tamping down the weeds around the cistern. I've got so much puttering ahead of me today. I can't hardly wait. The Putterer

Monday, March 25, 2013

Oh No! Snow!

March 25: Snow Day!

Out my window, in my garden, on my special gardening day—a day designated with a leave of absence for gardening—the snow is piling up, bending the daffodils, mounding up over the pots of pansies, piling up on my purple chair. Today, my contractors from the well-named Love and Carrots organic garden consulting company are scheduled to arrive with a pile of stone and several feet of boards to build my new raised beds. Today, I cleared my schedule at work. Today, I've prepared my garden. Everything is at the ready. But huge blobs of spring snow are coming down; and it looks like two and a half inches has already descended.

And the rocks arrive.
And just as my classic guilt sets in, the rocks arrive. And I am freed of that nagging worry that I should be sitting at my desk, fielding inquiry, and adding commas. The Putterer

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saying Goodbye to My Journal

I filled out the last pages of my garden journal last weekend. I felt the end with a sense of mixed pride and panic. This was a free-form flow of the crazy mess that lives inside my head. The journal was heavy stock paper, the pens I used were colorful and bright. The handwriting I chose was wildly out of control or tightly purposeful. And the thoughts that arrived on the page varied from shopping lists to trite poems, or quiet observations of rain fall, bird chatter and the breezes I felt while sitting in my purple chair.

In this book, I've recorded my growth from a wannabe gardener to the genuine thing. In this book, I left remnants of half thoughts that I might flesh out into to posts in my Putter blog. In this book, I compensated for my lack of drawing skills with flowering handwriting flourishes, alternating with pink and green and purple pens. In this book, I wrote down page numbers, like bread crumbs, to find my way back to books or catalogs or journals that I've read. And now it's done.

So I've bought a new journal and this morning, I baptized it with a few entries, but it isn't quite my friend yet. The paper isn't as thick and my heavy ink pens bleed through. It's a moleskin—what the cool kids use—and it's the right size for tucking into my purse or tool bag and it's got a nice band and some page marking ribbons.
And it's got some stickers. Not free form. A little more organized. I don't know. I hope it works. The Putterer

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Graysnotes in My Hair, Seeds for Sunny Summer

What harvest will 2013 reap?

Puttering around this morning in my busy brain. My feet are freezing despite both the furnace and the flames in the fireplace. So we are thinking gardens again. But the days coming up this week are finally cold. No hard freeze this year in my garden. There's a white morning frost occasionally, but the day brings warmth and sun. There's a rose bush that still has blossoms on it, and a cone flower that is up with a bud suspended in time, but erect and green with promise.

So I'm picking out seeds and thinking about testing last year's leftovers by wrapping them in a warm, wet paper towel to see if they are "viable." I've renewed my permit for Plot #24 at the Community Garden. And I'm at the ready to place my order for some new raised beds for the backyard. But I'm behind on my fall cleanup. My tennis elbow injury kept me from racking the leaves and composting them into their winter canisters. Before long the early crocuses will be up and I won't see them hidden under heavy leaf cover.

That could be alright. The fence keeps people from seeing. No one can enter until I open the gate. Garden metaphors. They seem a little silly and trivial these days.

I noticed an abundance of gray in my hair this week. I asked Jim what I should do. He said, and you have to love a guy like this, "If you want to fix it, go do it well and expensively." But I'm kind of fascinated by the way they seem to be coating my head, not unlike the morning's white frost in the garden. They aren't really gray, they are white. And light colored. I don't know if I want to fix them. I might like them actually.

I wanted to do a post about my 2012 garden and the lessons it had taught me. But it was just one lesson this year, not worth a full post. The garden taught me that I don't have to do much sometimes to reap the harvest. For some reason when I couldn't get there to Plot #24 to water or weed, the garden did okay. The plants had been planted well in a lovely soil that retained moisture. The weeds that came up around the edges didn't take over and were easily pulled when I could come. The food ripened and was ready for me when I got there. The lesson is clear. Do the careful work and the rewards will come. And that's where I am right now.

Dad died on January 1 at 5:05 in the morning. (That's when the gray started coming in.) I think about him almost every day now. I feel like he is better and well, and he's not angry or frustrated anymore. I'm sadder for the time he was alive and unhappy than I am for the time now where he is gone from us. I hope in a rebirth, or a heaven, or an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust kind of way, he finds lessons in this life's journey for his next path. I hope he visits me here on Earth and finds comfort in my contentedness.

I don't have my garden ready, but I am ready for 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

All the Things You Wish You Could Say

Ray Py and me
My father Ray Py is in a hospice bed likely taking his last breaths on this earth. He isn't able to talk anymore. I spoke to him on the phone yesterday. He said something unintelligible and all I could muster in return was an incomplete 'I Love You, Dad." That's all. Then I read through the emails of people saying their farewells. My sister's last note. "He's comfortable. . . Unresponsive."

And I tried to sleep, but my chest heaved. I think words don't convey any meaning to what was in my chest, where my heart lives. The epicenter. The force pumping life's blood, where emotion resides—where fear and anxiety and anger and frustration and hope and joy pound out the beat of our lives.

Sleep was calling me, but I couldn't release myself to it. It didn't seem right to sleep last night. Instead, I thought about Jesse Jackson's eulogy for Jackie Robinson—we all have a birth date and then a dash. And then we all eventually have a death date. "But on that dash is where we live," he said. "And for everyone there is a dash of possibility, to chose the high road, or the low road; to make things better or to make things worse." And as I tried to think about the dash of my father's life, that ache in my chest grew more demanding. On my father's dash, there are so many stains and blots and discordant dots. So many transgressions and mistakes. So many fits and contretemps. Something worse than sadness and grief pulled at my chest cavity.

I'm glad to know that I loved him. I sometimes worried that I didn't. I sometimes thought about his death and imagined that it would pass without too much sadness. But I couldn't have been more wrong. The complexity of my relationship with my dad makes his passing so much more wrenching than I could have ever imagined.

When my mother died, there was a deep well of sadness. So much sadness, real, genuine, honest, heartfelt, a tragic loss. Real grief. I went through the classic stages and finally arrived at a place where I imagined that she rested with me in my heart, living life alongside me, whispering helpful hints to me as I made my way through each day. She was there with me for the ride. She was me. That is the completeness of a healthy grieving process. Perhaps it was her grief then last night, too, that filled my chest to the point of bursting. I think she must be there pounding out her sadness, inside the wall of my ventricle cavities.

The space my dad occupied in this world, I now realize, was massive. He was my childhood hero. He was a child himself, mischievously devising games to play, adventures to run off to, discoveries to make. He joined us in secrets behind my mother's back, breaking the rules in a way that endeared him to us forever. We built forts in the living room. We drank coke for breakfast. And stole sugar cubes. We had picnics in front of the TV. We got in the car and drove off to find adventure. My favorite was to go to Dulles and ride back and forth on the buses out to see the airplanes. "Let's go exploring," he would say. And the jokes and one-liners. The quips. The giggles and the belly laughs.

Forever in childhood is a very long time. But it doesn't last forever, and when we tried to grow up, we lost our hold on all that fun. He must have looked at our teenage bodies, and saw the eventual separation that would tear us from him. Divisions grew. When I made him mad, it was a cruel anger that was so bitter, so heartbreaking. And that bitterness is in my heart, making my heart ache so much today.

There is much on my Dad's dash that I don't understand and now, I won't know. I think he would say he had a lot of joy in his life. I think he did find happiness. I know how proud he was of us. I know he wanted to be more to us. And maybe he just couldn't figure how to do that. I know many people who will tell me how much they loved him. And I am very happy to know that.

But nothing hurts more than a cruel comment from your father. A word. A phrase. A shout. They well up in your heart and there is no way to cope. So you steal yourself. You block yourself. You build up walls. And you can't tear them down. Then when you have just one last moment to say goodbye. And you try to think of all the things you wish you could say, nothing comes out, and you can't say anything, except, I love you.

I guess that is all there is. Really. Thankfully.  The Putterer

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Plot is Doing Its Own Thing

From my plot, The Wonderful, Happy #24
Now here's a little secret about gardening that nobody knows. It's not that much work!

Everybody thinks that there is a lot of labor involved in having a garden. Well, guess what! Not so much.

Plot # 24 at the Fenton Street Community garden is doing all the work. I show up occasionally in the morning when temperatures are expected to climb and I give it some water. That's it all it ever asks of me.

Well, okay. One day, after the June 29 derecho storm, I had to help the tomato plants find the vertical path again. They were tilting dangerously over and shading my neighbor's plot. So I pounded extra stakes into the ground and jerry-rigged them with twine until the plants were approximately back in place. And I thinned out the yellow leaves at the bottom of the plants, but my Better Boy, my Mortgage Lifters and my Romas were all standing tall again. The okra, meanwhile, were so strong, that not even a 60 mile per hour wind gust could budge those babies. They are producing so quickly that sometimes I think they grow a fruit while I'm standing there.

The soil in the plot is rich and well-dug. Last fall, I grew clover for a few weeks and then double dug trenches from the front of the plot to the back. I layered compost over it and then this spring I turned still more compost into the soil. So now when I accidentally step on the soil, my foot sinks an inch. Last summer,  after I first got the plot, putting a stake in the soil was nearly impossible, the ground was so compacted. This year, it yields to just a few simple strokes of my hammer.

And the rain we've had! Almost every three days, either a gentle downpour, like the one we had this morning, or a monsoon, like we had the other night. So that the ground is always moist around the roots of my plants. We've had rainfall all through June and now into July consistently. At the expense, of course, of the Midwest, which is disastrously dry this summer.  We'll take it here, though.

Now on to planning my fall garden. It's time to put in more seeds. What's next? The Putterer