Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Tomato Seedlings That Saved My Life

I was inspired by a post over at GNMParents to write about how I returned to my creative self after the death of a precious person in my life.

Ten years ago, my most beloved friend, John, committed suicide, leaving behind his beautiful wife, their newborn son, loving parents and enough friends and colleagues to overflow the chapel where his memorial was held. My anguish was unbearable and instead of dealing with it, I buried myself in software engineering studies and my new career as a technical writer. I began a relationship with a no-good loser I had previously shunned. I moved to Silicon Valley, a place I had previously swore I would never live. I invited No-Good Loser to live with me there. My life went to shit. I was massively depressed, supporting a man who had me convinced I owed him something. After three years, I reached a breaking point. The day things finally fell apart, I found myself on the floor, alternately screaming and moaning in anguish--over the loss of my friend, the loss of my self. I knew I would go insane or die if I didn't get help.

I did get a lot of help from the traditional source--a good therapist whom I still see occasionally. But what really brought me back from the brink was something quite unexpected--a pack of tomato seeds. I planted those seeds in a flat, set them under lights in a closet, and waited. I wondered, and often doubted, if I could possibly do something as extraordinary, yet ordinary, as bringing seeds to life. I did. And when those seedlings began to make leaves, their scent transported me across decades and thousands of miles, back to the greenhouse where my parents raised tomato starts when I was just five or six, back to a time of full infinite possibilities and nearly empty of responsibilities and sadness. Their scent reminded me of where I had intended to go, back before John died. I had intended to have a welcoming home with a big garden full of healthy food. I had intended to live independent of transnational corporations. I had intended to practice creative self-sufficiency wherever possible--sewing my own clothing, growing and cooking my own food, limiting my consumption, and bartering talents and goods with like-minded friends. By remaining in a codependent relationship, ignoring the origins my food, clothing, and the other "things" in my life, and working for companies that were part of the global corporate machine, I was living in denial of those intentions. My heart knew I was in the wrong place, but I couldn't get out of it until those tomato seedlings showed me the way back.

I don't beat myself up for getting lost. When John died, I had only recently moved to Portland and had no real friends here to lean on during that awful time. My friends back home were mostly in the same circle and were reeling with the loss themselves. I have had trouble with depression most of my adult life, though rarely had the resources (i.e., decent health insurance) to pay for the help I needed, so it's little wonder things got so bad.

Every spring, as I plant peas and think about which varieties of tomatoes to start, I renew my commitment to those intentions. I think that's why I feel so energized this time of year. This year, after a couple years hiatus as we brought our second child into the world, we're putting in a big garden again. Yesterday, my daughter, son, and I planted peas, staked them with branches that broke off the trees in our yard this winter. We sowed radish seeds together and created a nice sandy bed for our carrot seeds (carrots love sandy, loose soil...this is the first time I've gone to such trouble for them). I felt so connected to them, to the earth, and to myself as we spent a unseasonably glorious, sunny February afternoon planting our good intentions.

As usual, I've run out of time (the kids are awake) before finishing my thoughts, but I feel like I must explore the transformation I've undergone since sprouting those seeds and will return soon. Have you been transformed by something as unexpected and seemingly insignificant as a tomato seedling?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Purchased New, but Locally

With so many people I know reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, (one friend simply calls it "The Book"), my own love of the subject matter, and my propensity to buy almost any book that's even vaguely interesting, you might have assumed that I had purchased it some time ago. Unfortunately, the book came out while I was just starting (and therefore highly committed to) my "buy nothing new year" and I was determined to borrow it from a friend or the library. Well, I was on the wait list, twice at the library. First time I was 238th in line and waited a few months for it, then couldn't get to the library within the requisite week to pick it up when it was finally my turn. I put in on hold again, this time landing 524th in line. That time, my turn came up a week or two before Christmas. Clearly there was no chance I would finish the book in three weeks, so I let that one go as well.

Having given up on the library route, I asked my friend about borrowing her copy. She was willing to lend it to me, but with the caveat that I keep her first edition copy, signed by Kingsolver, her husband, and daughter (!!!) in good condition. I could not bear to take on the responsibility. I am careful with books. My children are generally careful with books, but I still couldn't take the chance of damaging such a treasure.

So, finally, last night I went to Broadway Books and paid FULL retail for The Book. I haven't begun devouring it, but I know once I start I won't be able to put it down. I am hoping it will provide me with lots of inspiration as we get our garden back in full production for the first time in years. I'll be sharing my thoughts on it soon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

When "Not Listening" Has Reached a Fever Pitch

My almost five-year-old has begun to act quite disrespectfully toward me and her dad and often disregards everything we say. The battles over basics like picking up her own toys and clothes were becoming exasperating. I too have begun to "describe the problem," rather than asking her to do things that I expect her to do as part of a member of our family.

"There are toys underneath the dining table that belong in your room."

"It's your job to put your toys back where they belong."

"Toys that are left out will be put in storage."

I find it so much easier to maintain my equanimity when I am just describing the situation rather than asking. I realized that part of *my* irritation was that I do not like having to ask that these things be done...I would feel like I was asking her to do me a *favor* and of course, since I want to model good manners, I would say, "please" with all my requests and would feel like pleading. By simply describing the problem, I don't put myself in the position of asking her to do things that are her responsibilities. I just tell her what I expect.