January 26, 2015
This time last year we were wintering in Provence and I was busy plotting and planning the to-do list for our return here to Tuscany in the spring. By the time we arrived in April, I had a 2-month program lined up for the house and garden. While much of the big stuff was accomplished in time for the June arrival of our kids, there were still many things not ticked off. But we had decided to enjoy what we’d accomplished thus far, allowing ourselves to bask in the leisure of summer. Every once in a while I’d look at the remaining list, add more to it, murmur ‘tomorrow,’ and ignore it until the next time.
Lately, however, it’s been getting to me; the feeling of not accomplishing what I set out to do. I’m sure much of the frustration comes from not yet having acquired an agent, never mind a publisher, for the novel. Some of you may remember that a couple of months ago I let go of this need, i.e., the need for ‘success.’ Most of the time since then I have felt at peace and grateful for what I have, as opposed to wanting what I don’t have. But I’m not all the way there yet, evidently.
The truth is, living with someone as successful as Joel, while no longer rubbing salt into an open wound, can still have the capacity to irritate the new scar. Especially when publishers actually come to him, asking him to make a new book. Then my pettiness and resentment get pricked back to life. I find myself mumbling, ‘What, 20 books aren’t enough for him?’ and ‘Why always him and never me?’ If I’m not careful, or worse, if I’m not honest, I can start to hate him just a little, as if in finding fault with him as a mere human being it will diminish him as an artist.
This feeling of being stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder to artistic success while Joel continues to ascend, leads not only to frustration at not getting where I want to go, but to the sadness of being left behind by my mate. In those moments I can feel lonelier than if I were alone.
I seem to slip back into this type of negativity more often that I’d like to admit. However, for one who is always spouting off about ‘progress, not perfection,” let me remind myself that it takes me far less time to take responsibility for my thoughts and their subsequent behavior than it used to. After a few days of this childishness, I realized that the joy is in the doing and therefore more doing must be done. So I went back to work on the house and garden list, because it’s something I can accomplish, and accomplish well.
Where to start? It seemed obvious to me that having become exceedingly irritable it would make sense to get rid of the damn fridge whose steady build up of ice rivaled my own…not to mention its constant whine which, I hope, exceeded mine. As the new fridge came only in white, I arranged for it to be delivered on Saturday when the forecast was calling for sunny mild temperatures; that way we could transform it outside, with cream paint. Done!
The man who delivered it resembled a garden gnome. I was outside when he arrived, taking care of something else on the list: pruning. “O, Brava!” he exclaimed. “Un giorno perfetto per tagliare.” A perfect day for pruning, and he came right over and helped me, showing me a couple of tips along the way. Too bad he’s not in publishing, I thought, but quickly replaced it with ‘this is why I’m here and why I love it so. Because here nature rules, and here we help each other tame it.’
An hour later the fridge was in place, its logo covered with one of my collages. Done!
Joel got inspired and said ‘let’s finish the kitchen drawers and doors.’ Something we had intended doing when they were first installed, but instead they had remained unfinished knotty pine, which we detested on a daily basis for 8 months! Joel applied the calcio and I followed behind rubbing it in and marking it up to look ‘natural.’ Then I applied a thin coat of wax et voila! Done!
New cushion covers, done! Pruning of all six climbing roses, done! Pruning and cleaning of the herb garden, done!
This morning we awoke to a roseate light that imbued our bedroom with womb-like comfort so delicious that we breakfasted in bed. A quick review of the NY Times informed us that the city was bracing for a blizzard. An hour later I was in the garden hoeing weeds from beneath the pomegranate tree, reveling in the mischievous play of an easterly wind whose nippy edge rivaled the brilliance of the sun.
I marveled at the two-tiered tenacity of the weeds the roots of which had managed to find their way a foot down through the stone and clay ground. I thought about how hard I’ve being trying to work my way up and it occurred to me how superficial was my desire. Maybe of more importance is the fact that I am putting down my own roots here. I thought about the value of the weed as opposed to the worth of an exotic bloom. I thought how fragile and short-lived is the latter, as opposed to the thriving nature of the former; the fleeting decorative life of a blossom versus the longevity of the weed and the way in which weeds co-exist and in so doing hold the earth in place. And as I hacked away at the last patch I realized how much I had loved this vibrant circle of crabgrass and thistle and clover; the only sign of life in the winter garden. And suddenly it was no longer the season of my discontent.