Working in the Garden

Today–the day after hurricane Earl missed the coast of New England–the weather is sunny, breezy, dry. It has been a beautiful day to sit in the garden with the dog and read about women’s work in the nineteenth-century United States. This is a history that is often romanticized and one that we often think we know better than we actually do.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been discovering how much I have idealized a pleasant work pattern that I established for a few weeks in July and August, one in which I spent much of the day outdoors with the dog, following the shade around the garden, reading and beginning to poke at an article project that has been on the back burner for longer than I care to think about. There was pleasure and hope in those weeks, at least in part because they came before the drudgery, anxiety and–most significantly–perplexity that have characterized this particular writing project more recently. Clearly, a heavy overtone of nostalgia colors my mental picture of those summer days so recently past. Now, as the weather begins to cool and I note how challenging I have found productivity on days when I have been unable to practice my idealized work pattern, I realize that I must establish alternate sites for reading, thinking, and productivity.

The living room holds several comfy reading spots, but my mind turns more convincingly to the landing at the top of the stairs, a space with good light and enough room for a cozy reading nook. That space degenerated when I was focusing on clearing the spare room so that guests could stay there comfortably over the summer, so now it’s time once again to establish a new order in a portion of my living space.

Such order need not be pristine nor finished by any means. A quick look at my beloved garden workspace demonstrates this point. The dog looks cleaner than she has in weeks, mostly because–before her hurricane bath and during the very hot weeks that preceded today’s halcyon weather–I allowed her to dig holes at will so that she could follow her dog nature and keep cool by lying in dirt only recently exposed to hot surface air. Among the spots in which I allowed the digging was the future brick terrace, currently a 9′ x 13′ patch of dirt outside the back door.

Straight ahead of me, as I sit in my reading, writing, thinking chair, a mature garden of shrubs and perennials rewards the years of planting and tending that I have given this space since I bought this house in 2002. But to my right, the area one friend kindly designated my “workspace” attests to the tasks that remain before the garden I survey becomes the garden I see in my mind’s eye. The hole in the tarmac that covers a full one-third of this suburban oasis witnesses my determination to unpave the area and plant it as lushly in the next eight years as I have the other two-thirds of the space in the past.

The chaotic “workspace” reminds me to honor process, to appreciate the annoying drudgery and anxieties and perplexities of a project’s many middles and to have the patience to persevere. That I can turn away from the chaos and focus my attention on the pleasures of gazing on the results of my earlier labors reminds me that such patience and perseverance will be rewarded.

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