Planting with Purpose

Writing and gardening are closely intertwined in my life. I graduate, in July, from Fairfield University’s limited residency MFA program in writing. And I just laid claim to this patch of ground on the side of our house. For fifteen years it was in the shadow of a huge pine tree. When the pine tree came down, I was assured that the soil was so changed that nothing could grow. But when I came back from last summer’s ten day residency away from home, this vegetation greeted me. I have no idea what half those plants are. I love that they prove that something can grow in the space. But now it’s time to go for what I really want.

For Mother’s Day, I asked the young men in our house to please help me by preparing our vegetable garden (a small patch of ground roughly the size of a double bed) and this newly liberated area for planting. The vegetable garden has always been a little wild. My husband and I work at several jobs but none that pay much, so the “landscaping” of my garden depends heavily on discarded construction materials and ingenuity. The beans grow on trellises forged of tomato stakes and vinyl lattice trimmed from porches; the front border is made of cement blocks whose holes each contain a different herb.

This new space, however, will be something altogether different. I bought plastic fencing and fertilizer, mulch and rose bushes. The men and I pulled weeds, and they rotor-tilled the hardened ground, put up the border, spread the mulch and manure. On a day when the writing wasn’t going well, I took a shovel and dug four holes, one for each rose bush. I planted seeds I had chosen at the store, surprised by the combination I settled on. We watered the patch. We are waiting.

Before I applied for the MFA program, I was already a writer, had been paid to write, had edited an online magazine, had articles and even a podcast published, and had given speeches. Why, then, did I undertake an MFA in writing? For the same reason that it was important to weed, fence, and prepare the soil for the new flower bed. The vegetable garden feeds the body. The roses, sunflowers, cosmos flowers, petunias and lavender that I planted where that chaos had reigned will feed something else. But they couldn’t grow without the structure. And I applied for the program because I needed the same preparation.

I had taken a hiatus from active publishing and lost touch with my writer friends while my children were teenagers. When I came up for air, I needed peers, mentors, new technical skills, and inspiration. I found them all in this program, and now I am applying what I’ve learned about writing to my life, for which gardening supplies so many metaphors. When I am launched, in July, into the pool of gracious, generative, funny and talented alumni who have helped me so during the past four semesters, it will be time for me, also, to bear fruit.

I welcome the strange plants that appear in my mulch pile, and if they are hearty and desirable, I transfer them to the garden. But I have learned that if I do not plan and plant, weed and tend a garden, something will grow there, and it won’t be what I want. It might not even be something I recognize.

And so I embrace serendipity in my writing, at the seed rack, in my garden, and in my life. But serendipity works better if you’ve first rotor-tilled and mulched, set up a border and defined what it is you want to grow. There have been years when both my writing and my garden  had to lie fallow.  But now, it is exhilarating to plan and dig, to till and weed, to write and edit, to plant, and to submit.

I look forward to sharing what grows.

Photo: This is the before picture of my new attempted flower garden. Copyright: Ann McLellan Lardas

 

No Way to Talk to Oneself…

I had to sigh and stop myself this morning.

Once again I had fallen into the trap of saying things to myself that I would not allow anyone (including and especially me) say to one of my children.

You know how it is. You make a mistake, or something goes wrong, or an experiment fails, and the words “stupid!” and “always!” are launched inside your head like misdirected torpedoes.

I wasn’t going to to do that any more.

But it is a habit that has to die. Really, this is beyond a “giving it up for Lent” thing. This is a thing that all of us, and perhaps especially women, have to work on. Yes, on some level, we all have to be our own severest critics (though surely there are people who seem to have volunteered, in all of our lives, for that position). But the law of kindness has to be in our heads before it can be on our tongues.

Rewinding the tape, re-evaluating my evaluation. Breathing, and not letting That Voice win the day.

David Cassidy’s Birthday

It’s David Cassidy’s birthday.

If the man had played his cards right, I would have been making him a lenten chocolate cake[1] today to share with our fourteen musically gifted and yet unpretentious children. But his loss is my gain. Since David Cassidy forgot to propose, I was available when my husband came into my life. So it worked out.

How bad a crush did I have on him? I learned the harmony to his songs, so I could step in for his back-up singers at the last minute.

I wrote not one but two love songs to him, both of which my younger brother later taught to my kids.

Through no choice of my own, he and I at one point had the same haircut. My mother’s hairdresser called it a “pixie cut” and said it would make me look like Shirley Jones. It made me look like David Cassidy. It was a female mullet.

We also had almost matching purple pantsuits with a vest. I think both of our mothers bought those for us.

I did not know that tacos existed until David Cassidy talked about going to the taco stand on “The Partridge Family.” I still didn’t know what this exotic food was for another ten years.

At his sold-out 1973 concert in Boston, I swear that he looked directly at me at one point when he sang. But so did everyone else there.

I am glad that he made it to be sixty-six today — so many child stars did not — and I hope he has a long, happy and musical life. Even if he did blow his chance to convert and propose.

I even had a godfather picked out for him.

[1] It is still Lent for Orthodox Christians, when we eat vegan. Lenten chocolate cake recipe to follow.