9 September 2015
I want to take all of the dead stuff out of my life.
The other day I walked out of my front door and saw a sad looking tomato plant in my sad looking container garden. It’s like a Charlie Brown tomato plant – very few leaves and three tomatoes that are the size of a small child’s fist and seem to be hanging on for dear life. I looked at the garden and thought, better luck next year. Looks like this year is a wash…again.
I’ve said that very thing for the past three years. Each winter I get it in my head that I will grow this beautiful garden, cook amazing things with the fresh food, preserve the harvest, save the seeds – really make it as an urban homesteader. And every summer I “get too busy” to water and care for the garden, and every September I look at the frail remains of my crops and tell myself that I’ll just do better next year.
I don’t do better next year.
Leaving my house and seeing my small, sad plant made me realize that maybe I’m not a gardener. Maybe I’m content to shop the farmers market (read: the produce section at Meijer) and leave the victory gardens for the more motivated folks. Maybe being a gardener just isn’t part of who I am. Because every spring I try to make it part of my identity, and every summer I make the choice to do other things, usually social things, that keep me from tending my garden, and every fall I realize that I haven’t lived up to my expectations – I’ve failed. I tell myself that I’ll just try harder next time.
But it’s a fool’s errand to do the same thing and expect different results.
So I left my house, cursed my Charlie Brown tomato, and vowed that next summer I will not try to be a gardener. That is, I will remove this symbol of failure from my life and I will be okay with it. I will accept the fact that I recharge my batteries by seeing friends after work and traveling on summer weekends instead of tending the garden and that is okay. I’m removing the reminder that not living up to my own idealistic expectations of who I think I ought to be, and being okay with being who I am. Ironically, you might say, I’m dead-heading my identity.
Same thing with breakfast. Ideal Dan will rise at 6am to meditate over coffee, cook two eggs over easy and some toast, and then be off to work. So real-life Dan buys eggs and bread every week and then doesn’t eat them. From now on, I’m buying some apples and toast for breakfast.
Same thing with going to the laundromat. Ideal Dan would take a weekly trip to the laundromat where he can strive toward environmentally conscious living by sharing communal washing appliances and engage with his neighbors as his clothes are washed and dried. Real-life Dan lets his laundry pile up for weeks because he has to choose between a million other weekend chores and taking a trip to the laundromat and ends up taking laundry to his girlfriend’s parents’ house. (So much for community!) So I bought and installed a used washer and dryer and I’ve got some laundry going now while I’m writing this.
Same thing with my misguided belief that a microwave is a frivolous home appliance. Same thing with my insisting that a manual lawn mower is all I need. Same thing with so many things that make my life harder because I aspire to some ideal version of myself and keep tripping over reality and falling on my face.
I won’t argue that aspirations of a better self are bad, because they’re not. We would never change things about ourselves if we weren’t able to visualize ourselves as new, transformed individuals. However, I’m acknowledging that an ideal self not rooted in reality is fettering. If I’m going be a gardener, that’s great. But I cannot be a gardener without changing my summer behaviors, but my summer behaviors are making me happy. The Charlie Brown tomato isn’t making me happy. So for now, I’ll ditch the tomato plant, keep using the washer and dryer, warm up leftovers in my microwave, and mow my lawn with a self-propelled, mulching lawn mower. And I won’t be ashamed with any of it.
Written by Dan Drust on 9 September 2015