Face the Sun

The last two weeks have created “The Rage,” as my teaching friend and I like to deem it. The last two weeks spurred this almost-blog entry (okay, well now it is a blog entry):

Skimming blogs and Facebook, one might be led to believe that every one’s life is hunky dory, 24/7. That every recipe tested comes out Saveur Magazine worthy, every event, Martha Stewart-esque. Slate Magazine published a great article on “the human habit of overestimating other peoples’ happiness.”

Libby Copeland gets it right in that article when she argues: “Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort.” 

Lest you think that all my Pacific Northwest days are sunny, that they all end with perfectly funky raised beds, happy marital grins and savory soups and scones, let me let you in on a secret:

Sometimes my life sucks too.

Sometimes my hair thins.
Frequently I despise my job.
I have to work hard at my baby marriage.
I found a free bed frame and sanded it and painted it and it came out looking like ballet-pink vomit and it’s sitting, purposefully ignored, in my basement.
I can’t always zen out while picking and cleaning spinach or washing dishes again.
Some weeks I come home from school and sit on my ass, eat Ben and Jerry’s. All week long.
I freeze the recipes that come out tasting like cardboard or dirt, in hopes that N will unknowingly take them to work and take them away.

And…drum roll, please…

It’s okay. While looking for an old recipe from Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful Not Without Salt blog, I saw this post, which almost brought me to tears. Her honesty, her hardship felt so human. I adored her even more for her struggles. For seeing them through. I watch my neighbors, both thirty-something-year-old public school teachers with a ten-month old and a three year old, and I see them melt into pools on their porch Friday afternoons. I know that one of my wonderful former teaching buddies suffers from a chronic disease and yet still wins teaching awards, and should win Mother of the Year and Friend of the Century. I look around and I see that our lives are challenging. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a oh-my-gosh-I-know-that-this-professor-is-going-to-turn-into-a-werewolf-right-now-and-I-can-save-my-friend-if-I-can-just-force-my-friend-to-let-me-break-the-code-of-using-the-time-travel-watch kind of challenge. (1,339,276,299 points for a Prisoner of Azkaban reference, right? And yes, thank you for asking, I am on book four.)

I think society makes us–me–feel like it’s complaining if we share our struggle. In this idealized world of perfect Hawaiian sunset photos, perfectly coiffed brides, perfectly raised souffles, I think it’s important to remember that we are human. That we make mistakes. We have to work hard for the good things in life and encounter struggle frequently. And that each day, we have to pick ourselves up, make a decision to keep fighting on, and pull off another day. They won’t all be pretty. Up here, the trumpeter swans will not always create alphabet letters across a tangerine-dyed sky. Not all my seeds will sprout. It’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t live in the adorable Storybrook Lane, where our lives fold up neatly and can be tucked away for the night.

Messy is good. Imperfection is necessary.

My hesitation in posting this was not that I second-guessed myself, it was that I couldn’t get my ass in gear to find all the necessary links it HAD TO HAVE to go live. (No, I don’t have an ounce of anal-retentiveness!)
But yesterday, in the middle of one of those days where you work and laugh and love so hard it makes your belly ache, I made a giant discovery while staring, boozed-up, into the eyes of my fava bean and daffodil flowers:

Face the sun.

It’s that easy. These flowers and plants could have all chosen to pirouette, attempted to set flowers on the north-facing side of their stem. And they would have wilted. Mother Nature is one savvy chick: she doesn’t even give them a choice; the plants just set their flowers on the side that provides the most light. Every. Last. One of ’em. Without fail.
So, I’ve made a conscious decision: I’m going to face the sun. It’s where beauty blooms.

Do It for Betty

Loot from Betty

The neighborhood cats and I set out at the same time for an evening prowl.

I didn’t want to go. In fact, I was half-way through a completely different blog post when I realized that I had to move my booty, lest it be glued to the sofa for the next 30 years. Begrudgingly, I traipsed outside.

The sun was giving way to gravity and a whiff of forest fire scented the air. I cruised up and down alleys, peered into gardens, admired leaning sunflowers, pompomed zinnias, the fact that even the best looking squashes had powdery mildew. I found another secret patch of wild blackberries and a plum tree. My old haunt called me, so I crossed Division Street and wandered over to my favorite gardens by my little house of yesteryear.

A man reshingled his garage while his trusty dog watched on. Two kittens–a grey and a black–crouched in the gutter, stalking the bugs of twilight. A garden sign announced: “In Bloom’s Color Winner” amidst explosions of hydrangeas and fuchsias.  Another house boasted royal purple dahlias big as a dinner plate.

I saw an older woman cross behind the house. “Your garden is beautiful,” I called out, pointing to the spiky blossoms.

Her name is Betty, and the little guy at her feet, Mr. Chips. His girlfriend lives next door and when he goes to visit her, all Betty sees is his “hiney wiggle under the fence.” She’s lived on the corner for twenty-nine years and she has friends who retired from Sedro Woolley High School and they’re traveling the world now, and she works to raise money for cancer awareness, and all the while, she’s piling these huge dahlias in my hands–a bouquet for your kitchen table, she’s saying–and her gold capped teeth are flashing and I can’t believe she’s not exhausted after weeding all day in the sun. “Someone must have taken the big yellow guy,” she ponders out loud, “But that’s okay, so long as it’s bringing a smile to someone’s face. I garden for the neighborhood, and no one thinks twice about seeing folks in my yard. You bring your scissors by next week and get some asters,” and next thing I know there are two yellow zucchini, long as my forearm, piled in my open hand.

I walked home with a grin on my face and produce in my arms. I stopped to pet the kittens and watched the last glow of light leave the sky. Yes, I did walk through a few gossamer spider webs, and no, I did not get my heart rate up high enough to make up for the pile of brownies I had eaten earlier in the day.

But the next time I lack any motivation, say…tomorrow, I’m going to conjure Betty’s gold-toothed smile. And I’m going to put on my exercise clothes and head outside. Because you never know what awaits.