As long as I can remember–and old as I am, that means forever–I’ve been a gardener. When I was small, I dropped wing-shaped zinnia seeds in rows and patted a dirt blanket over them. The cut pussy willows someone gave my mother sprouted roots, and I planted them in a corner of the back yard. Every apartment I ever rented had its row of plants and herbs on the windowsill. When I was first married, my husband and I lived in a farm house built into the side of a hill. All one summer day we dug and planted–tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and melons–in a plot on top of the hill. The next morning when I eagerly climbed up to survey our work, I saw…nothing. Every sprig and sprout was gone. I swore I heard the woodchucks, down in their holes, burping.
Nowadays I dig and weed and water in a community garden a few blocks away from our house. At first I thought I’d found Eden. Old hippy that I am, what could be better than tending Mother Earth side by side with like-minded, organic-type people? I loved walking among the plots, learning how okra grows, smelling roses and madonna lilies, admiring a raised bed here, a lovely trellis there.
But after a while, and maybe this was inevitable, I started comparing my garden to others. My tomatoes were so measly! My beans so spotty! And how could I ever have been satisfied with my plain old basil, when in the next plot they had half a dozen varieties and colors? There was a green-eyed snake loose in Eden.
I’ve been known to sabotage myself the same way about writing, something I love, something I would do for its own sake, even if I had no hope of being published. When I think of it only in terms of good reviews or prizes, when I compare myself to famous others and what they’ve achieved, when I turn the whole wonderful venture into a contest, I can make myself miserable before you can say bok choy.
WhichI’m growing this year for the first time. There’s no telling, yet, whether it will fluorish in my little plot. Probably I’ll talk to it, and urge it on, and become overly involved with the bok choyness of it. But I’ll try to remind myself it’s my bok choy, no one else’s, and to remember why it is I garden (and write) in the first place: to see what happens.