Month: October 2022

Getting Rid of Wisteria

The job description is deceptively simple: Cut back the wisteria. Yet it has been a project that has occupied many hours because I’m clipping and detangling, packing whatever will fit into my green waste bin each week. I’m doing this by hand rather than using a buzz saw. My way is less efficient, but more therapeutic. Years ago I planted wisteria because I watched a film called Enchanted April where four women went on vacation in a villa that was grown over with beautiful blooming wisteria plants. The plants did not cooperatively spread across the wall. They kept flopping over, and entwining, ending up more like clumpy bushes than graceful vines. Where they did climb, it was to take over and smother other plants, such as the nearby pine trees. Also they were fairly stubborn about blooming, only sending out a few blooms each spring. I loved the blooms, but over the years I’ve grown tired of rescuing my trees from the wisteria’s clutches.

I’m thinking about that long ago decision as I peel back the top layers of growing vines to reveal the dead and rotted mass of vines underneath. (Wisteria is even a bully to itself, killing off its own under layer of vines, leaving them to decay in the darkness underneath the green leaves.) I’m thinking about how sometimes things grow in unexpected ways, colonizing spaces they were never meant to occupy. I’m thinking about how far away we can end up from our original intention, and that sometimes we have to do the work to untangle and cut out the rot.

That last paragraph was entirely too vague for anyone who can’t see all the parallels I’m building in my head. As I clip and crunch and pull vines I think about some relationships where I did harm to another person. (Still vague, sorry. Not my story to tell on the internet.) Usually it wasn’t active or deliberate harm, but I had power that I did not recognize or use, and the result was harm. I never intended to hurt someone, just like I never intended for the wisteria to go this wild. But I was busy, and not paying attention, and suddenly my pine tree was half covered with a carpet of vines. I pull the vines down, but even with the vines gone there is a bare spot where pine branches died. Neglect on the part of the gardener resulted in the dead branches. I can’t undo that. But I can recognize that wisteria is a bully and I either need to commit to tending and controlling it regularly, or I need to remove it and plant something that will be a better member of my little garden community.

In a strange way, cutting through the wisteria tangle is a bit like time travel. I’ve found two frisbees from Howard’s frisbee golf set, some mostly decayed plastic bags, the remnants of the sand box which used to occupy that entire section of yard, and the rocks that we unearthed while planting trees and I tossed into a pile. The wall is becoming increasingly bare, ready for new planting. I’m remembering the choices we made long ago about all of those things. I don’t think I regret any of the choices, not even the wisteria. But I am different, the weather is different, my garden is different, so the choices about what to plant for the future are also different. I can do better.

Making Time for Emotional Processing

“There is a difference between claiming a calm space and defending it from encroachment vs happening upon an open space where you can rest.” I said these words to a friend this morning as part of a conversation about how my week was going. Now the words are sitting in my brain, because I long for an open space, free from urgency. I (kind of) have that scheduled for Saturday, but today is Wednesday and this week has already had a lot in it.

In the past I’ve given advice to others (and to myself) about building a life you’re happy to dwell inside rather than one you need to escape from. I’m sitting with that advice today and wondering if I’m a hypocrite as I feel harried by tasks without pause. Tasks I want to run away from. I find myself wishing I could shoehorn some bonus time into the middle of my week that I would just use for watching lots of brainless television. Or sleeping. It was just last night that Howard mentioned a task and I answered “I’d better write that down in my Book of Too Many Things.” He laughed and thought the name was appropriate. I laughed too. And wrote the thing down. I might actually write that title on the cover of my current journal / To Do book. Then I’ll laugh/cry at the truth of it any time I look at the cover.

The fact that I want to laugh/cry over my lists tells me that I need to find a way to be joyful while doing the things instead of weary.

So I remember other advice that I gave out while teaching Creativity in All Things. Often our challenge isn’t with the tasks of our lives. It is with the grief or emotional processing that accompanies those tasks. This is my problem right now. Not that I’ve taken on too many things, but that the incessant stream of urgent tasks has left me with very little space to process the emotional loads of those tasks. Some of the the emotional loads have been fairly epic in scope. Some of the griefs are persistent and pervasive. I’m storing them in my mind, tucked as far out of the way as they can be, while I try to work in the space that is left over. Struggling to accomplish things in tight quarters creates additional frustration, which I also pack up and stow, tucking it in between and around the other bundles. Except most of the room is taken and I’ve reached the point where sometimes things come loose and land on my head when I’m trying to focus. Emotional clean up in the middle of my work space is kind of a daily occurrence this week.

On Saturday I need to sit down with myself and list out my griefs. Name them. Describe them without judgement. Let them be as petty, or unfair, or deep, or wide as they are when I pull them out of storage. It is likely to be messy work. Organizing always creates additional mess before it can create order. When I’ve looked at all the bundles, then I decide on action items for each grief. Who can I talk to about the experience of having your life partner become disabled? What actions can I take to set right a hurt I helped cause? When can I sit and feel sad about an experience I wanted to have, but which the time for has passed? Those action items get space on my upcoming To Do lists. My one defended emotional processing space will spawn a dozen more, which I’ll also have to defend. I may feel more busy for a while rather than less. But this is the heart of self care. Claiming space to tend to yourself.

Experience has taught me that if I claim and defend spaces for deliberate emotional processing, the result is that my mind and life begin to feel less embattled. Slowly the stowed emotions become integrated, which is when I begin to discover those surprise open spaces in which I can just be calm and happy.