Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cabbage white house

Today, I have established the ten minute rule. The ten minute rule is the result of a yard overgrown with nimblewill and crabgrass and purslane. It is also a product of a season of contemplation of the roots of many of my personal problems.

Last year, I felt so overwhelmed by unfinished projects that I became depressed and quit doing anything at all, which just led to more unfinished projects. During the spring, I attempted to get the yard in order, and I found that I could accomplish a fair amount if I worked a little each day. If I worked too much, I became exhausted and discouraged and resented having to work the next day.

Then summer came, and I participated in the National Writing Project Summer Institute, which was a wonderful experience, but left me as depleted as any outdoor venture. Consequently, all projects were once again put on hold.

Now, the yard is worse than before, and I've again been overcome by that sense that it's just all too much. The kitchen garden is overgrown with lush carpetweed. It's almost beautiful. It is beautiful in its own weedy way, green and flush. The collards were long ago devoured by cabbage worms, which I couldn't entirely detest because they did become the loveliest cloud of cabbage whites. The tomatoes, all except for one hearty bush of golden orange jelly bean tomatoes, died horrible deaths at the hands of summer heat and too little calcium in the soil. They exist now as skeletal brown cobweb plants. The pumpkins dried and withered, as did the squash and even the zucchini which I'd had such high hopes for. The watermelon, God bless it, has thrived, sending vines with the daintiest sunlight yellow flowers climbing up the makeshift fence, even dangling watermelons there. The zinnias didn't do too poorly, sprouting in the decay of the pumpkin leaves. However, the cucumbers were a hot mess, yellowing and swelling and lying like bloated corpses on a Civil War battlefield. The morning glories and moonflowers grew and overtook the fence as I had hoped.

The foundation beds around the house are full of quackgrass and bluegrass, and then again the pieris that had finally bloomed in the spring for the first time in years, drooping white bells, disintegrated in the heat of July, drying up and turning crackling brown.

Everyday, I walked out in the yard and felt a heaviness on my chest and a hopelessness. How in the world can one woman manage this?

Today, I worked in one bed for ten minutes. That's it. I cleared a space of approximately one foot by one foot before I retired. For a moment, I allowed myself to feel that inevitable sense of despondence that comes from looking at a foot of cleaniness situated pitiably in two lots of shamble. But then I decided that if I worked for ten minutes a day, I could accomplish much more than if I didn't work at all. In that light, much could be done, and so I tried not to appraise the rest of the yard, just my little bit of labor right here and now. Granted, it won't ever look like a yard in Better Homes & Gardens, but it won't look as ramshackle as it does right now. And then, what would be the benefit of having a Better Homes & Gardens garden anyway?

In the meantime, I'll have to bear in mind Sei Shonagon's passage in her pillow book when she declares that the garden of a woman who lives alone should be overgrown and dilapidated looking because it is more romantic than a neat garden. I suppose the single woman with an overgrown garden has better things to do. If she's always working in the yard, she must not have a life.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The old door

I have avoided cleaning my house for months. Months. I was so unhappy for months, and that state of mind was just not conducive to cleaning or any other activity. Which is funny because a vicious cycle ensues. Which is also not funny.

So I began cleaning last week, determined to set things right before school starts back. Because, as I say every few months to anyone who will listen, I really feel like I'm ripe for enlightenment, like it's right there, and I just need to get my house clean enough to see it.

(That does not extend to cleaning the windows, which I have relegated to an ephemeral to do list that continues to grow as I proceed forward, like the sterile hallway of nightmares, which is just fine with me as I have no desire to wash windows. Still, not cleaning the windows may be the one little foible that has prevented me from attaining enlightenment thus far.)

I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets, something I've vowed to do for years, really purging them of canisters, scraps of paper, five year old bills, empty jars, etc, and revealing space that I didn't believe I had. Now, it is dauntingly bare, but that was intentional, as I want to renovate it altogether. Clear out the old linoleum countertops, repaint, the works, and the stuff was standing in my way. I kept thinking about the hassle of having to move it all. So now it's not there. No move necessary. No more excuses.

I also cleaned out the rainy day cabinet, disposing of paper towel tubes, tin cans, old Christmas light bulbs disembodied from their strands, and a box of broken things that I believed in all earnestness for five years that I would eventually repair. More space.

(Of course, the very next day, I decided to finally create a movable brontosaurus puppet with my son and there were no blasted paper towel tubes to be found!)

Yesterday, I tried my hand at a yard sale, which was a flop. I made six bucks before packing it all in and shipping it off to Good Will. However, while I sat waiting for the hordes to come and pay me for my detritus, I became restless, and started roaming around the house grumbling about things that I haven't done, such as cleaning the windows, weeding the garden, and re-painting the door.

The door, painted a dour black by the former inhabitants, has been peeling since I moved in. I can't open it without waving in a cloud of paint wisps. I walked in and out of the door a dozen times during the yard sale, refilling my coffee, talking to Fain, scouring the closet for that one item that would draw buyers, and each time, I muttered at the peeling paint, finally returning with a chisel. I got straight to work.

It's odd how something will peel and peel for a long as you cuss it, but the minute you give in and decide to acquiesce, all of a sudden, it's stuck like epoxy. Tiring from the chisel, I pulled out the sander. I barely put a dent in the paint when I finally wore myself out. There's a patch of raw wood now, exposed to the elements, surrounded by peeling black paint, a fringe of little middle fingers from my door to me personally.

I mentioned this to some friends, and they said, "Well, at least you'll have to finish it now." Which is utterly not true. Everything in my house is chipped and half painted, and I've rarely been compelled to finish any of that stuff, rather just to murmur threats as I pass.

So I feel like there's a metaphor in there somewhere that I can't see. Dirty windows and doors in a perpetual state of disrepair. Enlightenment and laziness. Maybe I'll get to it later.
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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.