Tending My Garden

It’s May and in May, I’m usually thinking about gardening. To be truthful, I usually start thinking about gardening in February, when it’s too cold and gloomy to really do any gardening. In March, I clean up my raised beds and plant a few cool weather things even though they never do well here because it generally goes from cool to HOT real quick and everything bolts. In April, I start getting more serious, pulling weeds and spreading mulch and starting seeds in little pots.

But May is magical. Some of the most beautiful flowers bloom in May—iris, peony, sometimes even the lilies are getting going by the end of May. It’s not too hot, the mosquitos aren’t usually so bad, and most years, I’m in the garden for at least a few minutes everyday.

This year has been different

I’m not sure why, but the garden is inspiring more guilt than joy. I look at it, make an enormous mental task list, feel entirely defeated, and walk away. The May flowers bloomed, but they were obscured by weeds. And that, my friends, feels like quite the metaphor.

Sometimes, joy is an active concept. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to waft by and envelop you. A bit of luck is required, but so is some work. To try and recapture some of my garden joy this year, I decided to do a couple of different things: I invited a sweet six year old to pull weeds with me and I spent some money on plants.

Eliza, the six year old, didn’t want to pull weeds and whined a little bit (but only very little because she’s not generally a whiner). Within about three minutes, though, she was getting enthusiastic. She got to use a garden tool and tools are exciting, and she really liked seeing the pile of pulled weeds get bigger as we worked: “Look! It’s taller than me now!”

We had three beds cleared in about 20 minutes, and I was feeling some of Eliza’s enthusiasm. She got bored and hungry, so went inside for a snack, and I spent 15 more minutes outside with my tiny tiller (it attaches to my electric weed eater and is perfect for raised beds) and got the soil ready for planting.

After that, Eliza and I went plant shopping. Most years, I start the vast majority of my veggies from seed. Seedlings are so much more expensive, and I really love seeing seeds sprout and get their true leaves—it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. But this year, I needed some instant gratification. We bought three varieties of tomato plants, two different kinds of peppers (red bell and poblano), a cucumber plant, and some herbs (rosemary, thyme, and basil), plus a few decorative things, like a red geranium and some succulents, for fun.

Just like that, in less than an hour and for about $100, my garden joy had returned. Each day since, I’ve found myself outside, doing just a couple of small tasks and remembering how much I enjoy my small garden, anticipating some super fresh salads, and thinking about what needs to be done with pleasure rather than guilt.

Back to the metaphor

The weeds get in the way and detract from the good view in all sorts of literal and metaphorical ways. Just as I couldn’t quite get in the gardening groove this year, sometimes I can’t quite get in the working groove either. I love Smiling Tree Writing and most everything that goes with it (except taxes, I can’t quite find any love for that chore!), but even so, sometimes marketing requires a monumental effort, or even completing an assignment I’m getting paid for demands serious self-discipline.

Of course, inviting Eliza to help write about protecting business data or research potential client companies isn’t really an option, but I’m finding equivalent ways to recapture my work joy.

Networking, both informally and through more structured means, like a conference, is pretty close to weeding with an enthusiastic friend. A marketing challenge can be fun, even if it’s only because I have an excuse to chat with others about work (a well-known pitfall of freelancing is not having co-workers around to talk to during the day). Usually, though, the idea of keeping up with others during the challenge helps, too. I’m taking part in a summer challenge this year for all these reasons.

Conferences are their own special thing. I love the fact that more conferences are virtual now, because travel is difficult for me (it’s called a comfort zone, for a reason!). I’ve signed up for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference next month, and plan to attend sessions on journalism and book writing in addition to content marketing for a little extra variety.

Recently, I took a bootcamp style class on content strategy to add to my skill set. Most of the work I do is content writing and learning about strategy is exciting. I find myself looking for ways I can market this new offering, and directions it could take my business. It seems really similar to buying plants. I spent a little bit of money, felt more motivated to work than I have in a long time, and can’t wait to see how this new seedling grows.

What else can we do?

The other thing, the one I might be too stubborn to consider, is quitting. I’ve quit a bunch of hobbies over the years like cross stitch (I might try again now that I have reading glasses), jewelry making, baking bread, and countless others. Sometimes moving on is the right choice.

But I don’t like it. I’m not sure if it’s social conditioning, pure stubbornness, or what. I rarely consider quitting Smiling Tree Writing anymore, but it could be beneficial in some ways to have a traditional job. Getting rid of the garden might allow space for other hobbies to flourish, but it makes me terribly sad to think about it.

How do you handle it when things you normally love don’t bring you joy? Do you easily recognize when it’s time to move on? Do you have specific tactics to bring back the excitement? Are you a “just get it done” kind of person?

Comments 2

  1. There’s very little in my life that I continue doing if it doesn’t give me joy; I’m too selfish/solipsistic in that way. But when the things that USUALLY give me joy fail to do so, I recognize that it’s nothing inherent in the work, itself, but something in me, a small bout of depression or at least anhedonia, and the only way I get out of it is by borrowing joy from the people around me, interacting with them and talking about the thing…and sometimes getting them to body double to get me excited again.

    An odd little example — years ago, I had a bunch of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer recorded but hadn’t watched them even though I loved the show. But I knew the show was being canceled, and so the joy of watching was counteracted by the (mostly subconscious) dismay of knowing I’d “lose” it. But sitting down to talk about the show with people who also really loved it and wanted to discuss the ridiculous nitty-gritty of it got me excited to watch again. I do the same with work-related things, seeking out socializing about the topic or body doubling to embrace the “joy things.”

    As for the taxes, my mother always says around tax time, “May you pay a lot of taxes!” It started as a blessing, as in, “I hope you make a lot of money,” but as annoying as it is to pay taxes, it bothers me less than paying for insurance. Insurance is betting against yourself — your health, the safety of your home and vehicle, etc. — and as important as it is to have insurance, it’s depressing. But I enjoy the general concept (if not the cost) of paying taxes because in my heart, at least, I can think of it as contributing to the betterment of society. The fact is that I don’t always like the way the government spends the money — war and systemic bias, anybody? — but I realize that in countries with better standards of living, they pay more taxes, and so I can see the potential benefit of tax-paying. It’s a mind game, but it helps.

    (P.S. The comment box text font is sooooo tiny and light grey that I can barely see what I’m writing, so please excuse any typos.)

  2. First, I had to look up the word “anhedonia” so thanks for that. It’s relatively rare for me to have to stop anything on the internet to look up a word 🙂

    Second, I love the idea of borrowing joy. I’ve always tried to share my joy, but never really considered needing to borrow some (but now I’m thinking about it, that is a thing I do sometimes).

    Third, I’m not even going to get started on insurance — my health insurance is on par with my mortgage payment PLUS dental, vision, homeowners, and auto. It’s insane what a large percentage of my living expenses is insurance.

    Fourth, I’m typing this in the comment box rather than on the backend of my website, and you’re right, this font is very light-colored and very small and I have no idea how to change it. It’s terrible. Perhaps this is why I get so few comments!

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