Monday, 27 June 2011

Getting what you need

Yesterday started out brooding and overcast. The air was heavy and threatened rain, it was hotter than it seemed, the mosquitoes were cranky. The day earlier I visited one of my favourite haunts and dropped two hundred bucks on shrubs and flowers. It was a lovely luxury drifting among the plants, breathing in the flowery air, gathering bunches of fresh life into my arms and loading them onto an oversized wagon.

I had a vision of myself floating through my garden like a wood sprite, planting plants and scattering gold dust. It would be magical.

But the next morning I woke up bitter and exhausted. I was overtaken with a grim determination to get those plants in the ground now. I remembered two wisteria plants purchased in pervious years, plus a David Austin schoolgirl rose that withered on the vine after days of procrastination on my part. Who does that, croaked the little gremlin voice inside my head (you know, the one who out of the blue asks such questions as: when is it too old to apply to law school?). Who buys expensive plants and forgets to plant them? 

I had an answer that morning: Not me. Not this time.

Perhaps sensing my distress, my family tumbled out the back door to help me. I barked at my husband for digging too deep a hole for the hydrangea. “It’s three times the width, not three times the depth!”

I forced myself to cheerfully respond to my son’s determined efforts to help. “Don’t step on the soil if you can avoid it,” I murmured through clenched teeth. “Plants like it pillowy.” “What?” he said. “Forget it.”

Everyone was getting in my way. I had holes to dig, plants to plant, roots to separate, manure to haul. They were slowing me down. The baby was liable to wake up from morning nap any damn second. I grumpily shoveled composted horse manure into the wheelbarrow. I nose-breathed a trio of lupines into holes 30 centimeters apart.

Man, the lupine is a gorgeous flower. And it grows in ditches! I made some more holes in the ground and accepted a few shovelfuls of manure from my son. When the flax filled out they’d make a gorgeous cloud of powder blue in the centre of the bed.

I sat back on my haunches and wiped some sweat from my forehead. Flax, lupines, cheddar pinks and catmint smiled up at me from the earth. The hydrangea commandeered the shady part of the bed as though she had lived there her entire life. A wigealea stood in graceful repose at the east corner. My husband brought buckets of water from his paddling pool and we gave the plants a drink. I got myself a drink and the water was cool and utterly thirst quenching. My body was limber and I felt – wait for it – happy.

“It looks good mom,” my son said. My husband rested his chin on the shovel handle and smiled at me.

It’s funny how resistant we can be to help. This can be true especially for lone wolf creative types like yours truly. We hold the vision of our creation in our mind’s eye – the superb novel, the airy garden. And because that vision is so singular, and because the nature of creative accomplishment involves periods of what can only be described as “slugging it out”, we can easily forget that creation can be easy.  Other people can help us to realize our creative dreams.

Thinking back on yesterday, a line from The Rolling Stones drifts into my consciousness: You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you need.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

I'll have what Hilary's having

The December 2009 issue of Vogue featured a profile on one of my all-time favourite people: Hilary Clinton. As celebrity profiles go, Jonathan Van Meter’s was a strong one, if a little fawning at times. (She’s pretty! In real life she’s pretty!) But what impressed me most was less the article than a fabulous photo of Clinton in her Washington D.C. office.

On a shelf behind her is a small statue of a pregnant African woman. Clinton keeps it to remind her that most of the world’s work is done by women, who day in and day out do the (unglamorous) chores that our civilization is built upon: taking care of the little’uns, making sure everyone gets fed.  And on her desk is a small ceramic block with Winston Churchill’s famous words: Never, never, never give up.

To me, these touchstones in Clinton’s office are symbols of humility and perseverance. Perhaps the top two underrated virtues in today’s world. I mean, why bother with perseverance when we should have everything we desire right now?

You are special parents tell their kids, and so we are, but how often it is that our very “specialness” translates into a sense of entitlement. This insidious sense that if we really were that special, things would come a little easier than they do. When in fact, so much of life is comprised of simple, humble tasks, the repetition of which can in turn breed success.

I’m dealing with this right now in my writing career. I've written a novel, and I’ve given it to some smart, best-selling authors who loved it and have given me their support. But the road to publication for a first-time novelist can be a long and rocky one. The journey is littered with rejections, revisions, re-submissions and the sometimes painful task of showing up at a blank page day in and day out. You have to be humble. You have to keep the faith. You have to keep working at it, especially when you feel like giving up.

Humility and perseverance, people. Look where they got Hilary.