Happy Birthday, Dear Blog

I just realized Tuesday was exactly one year from my first post on this blog. I was sitting down to talk about gardening today, and remembered my first post had been about gardening. And what do you know? I started gardening almost the same day last year. It was the end of a long saga of building painting and deck rebuilding on the part of my landlady, wherein I ended up with my "Solomon's step":

Solomon's step

I also ended up with a brand new deck I was told I could not water plants on lest the wood rot. San Francisco gets enough moisture from fog and rain that I thought I'd just let things go and see what happened. They did okay for awhile. Then my autumn depression set in and I stopped going outside and everything died.

NasturtiumsA couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see bright orange flowers peeking through my back fence and I went out to find that one of the planters I'd left out behind the fence to toss out had spontaneously sprouted a lovely crop of nasturtiums. So I brought that one back onto the deck and enjoyed the lovely color among all the dead things. Then a couple of days ago I spotted more nasturtiums growing in two additional planters that had been full of weeds. I love it when, as Jeff Goldblum's character said in Jurassic Park, "life finds a way."

Today I finally got the yen to go out and deal with the weeds and see if there was anything to salvage. Most of my succulents are actually thriving. My Betty Boop roses are beyond dead. :( But my little "unintentional bonsai" fig tree is still struggling along and sweet alyssum has popped up in several of the pots. I spent an hour weeding, and pruning down the rosebush in hopes that maybe there's a tiny bit of dormant life in the roots, and then watered everything.

I'd forgotten how much I love spending time in the garden, even if it's just weeding. It's a little like editing, finding all the useless things sprouting among the good and tidying it all up so the good stuff can thrive. You're still there engaging with the creation you love even if you're not actively growing it at the moment. And sometimes you'll find unexpected surprises, things you'd forgotten or have a new appreciation for. Maybe something you thought wasn't going to work out turns out to be a lovely blossom.

This weekend I'm planning an outing to a plant nursery to get some petunias and lavender and mint, little things I can plant around in the small pots on the deck to give it some color, and then I'm going to look through their roses and flowering vines and see what strikes my fancy. I'm hoping for a nice jasmine plant, and maybe I'll give the bougainvillea another shot (haven't had much luck with them, but I love the profusion of bright pinks and purples and crimsons I see in other people's gardens and can't quite give up on them). This part will be more like the excitement of starting a new story, choosing the elements that will be in it and imagining how they're all going to fit together.

And then along with those, I'll go through my seed packets and see what I've got. Then the real fun begins: putting it all together and watching it grow. At that stage it's "first draft" and I don't have to worry yet about the weeds that will invariably crop up among the things I meant to plant or the pests I'm going to have to deal with down the line when the garden is in full bloom. It's just me and the fertile earth.

Nasturtiums close-up

With a Bit of a Mind Flip, You're into the Time Slip

Ever feel like you're living in a very odd, alternate reality? Sometimes it seems I've fallen into Frederik Pohl's There Will Be Time or Richard Bach's One, or anything by Philip K. Dick. I have the niggling suspicion that I took a wrong turn, or a thousand wrong turns, and every subsequent action further tangles the continuum. Eh. Maybe it's just PMS.

Whatever it is, it's accompanied by a sort of "waiting for the other shoe to drop" anxiety, as if at any moment the curtain will be pulled back (or the false skin on the prophet's mutant face) and the wrongness of it all will come spilling out like a pile of maggots on a sloughing corpse. Yeah, I'm in a mood.

I suppose writing until 2:00 a.m. and sleeping until 10:00 a.m. and waking with a massive sinus headache to a dismally grey fogged-in May morning hasn't particularly helped my state of mind. Also, the fact that I want to finish the novel I'm working on, finish my novella's pre-edits, and finish up three months' worth of work projects before I leave for my cruise next week may be putting a tad bit of pressure on me. Without pressure, though, I accomplish nothing.

Still, it isn't just today. It's that on days like today it's impossible to ignore the idea that everything around me is a prop in an elaborate farce. I used to think about that a lot as a kid. Sitting in church, where I got all of my weird, creative ideas as my mind wandered away from the pulpit, I would look around and think, "What if none of this is really happening? What if I'm not really here, not really doing any of this, and everyone else is in on it?" And then I'd think, "What if I'm just a memory of this moment?" And I am, now—or at least the ten-year-old me having that thought is. And that's pretty unnerving.

Bah. I think I'll go get some coffee and set off another hundred alternate realities, and leave the rest of this to Stephen Hawking.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

I spent the day gardening, both inside and out. First, I finally got my new website and blog together, and up and running after sitting on my domain for two years. You're looking at it. (There are still a few things to add, like my blogroll and Twitter feed, and various other knick-knacks, but the basics are here.) Then I gardened out on the deck next to my little office. Sort of. Let me go back about six months first to give you the setting: The first week of November 2009, my landlady notified me that the building my neighbor and friends lovingly called "The Crack House" due to its aging paint job was going to be painted. How lovely, I thought. (Personally, I was kind of fond of the sad, grey Crack House, but I like shabby chic.)

Thus began a long, dark autumn and winter with the apartment shrouded in sheets of black mesh. (A darkness I didn't need with my Seasonal Affective Disorder; the usual lack of sun was good enough, thanks). Outside my bedroom window, strange men walked back and forth on scaffolding all day long shouting at each other (clearly thinking that the residents inside couldn't possibly know what puta meant), and were kind enough to start my day at 7:30 in the morning with their radio on the scaffolding set to banda music.

The shroud came off in February, but by then, the contractor had begun rebuilding my deck. (Wait, rebuilding my deck? What does this have to do with painting The Crack House? I have no idea. It was news to me.) With more strange men wandering about outside my curtainless office windows at any given moment, I was banished to the bedroom (because I work from home, and, I confess, usually in my bathrobe). It's a fine bedroom, but the light is mostly in the back of the house, which is why my office is there in what was once a sun porch.

Worse than being banished from my office, however, I was banished from my garden. I came out one morning to find all of my plants and deck furniture crammed into a pile in the center of the deck while the fence was being torn down. The rainy season hit immediately afterward and it remained in this state of disarray for several weeks. Once the fence was demolished, I found all of my belongings tossed into a pile on the roof behind the deck, plants on top of plants, and piles of work supplies on top of those. I waited (not very) patiently while the deck was torn up and a new deck was constructed, and then a new fence.

When they seemed done at last, I went outside to see how it looked and found the charming situation pictured to the left. The back door would only open halfway, thanks to the contractor's failure to measure the door when she put in a new step. I then waited while the rain returned, told that despite the fact that this step is under the roof, they could do nothing while it rained.

Finally, I heard the carpenters outside one morning and rejoiced. I would be able to use my new deck at last. I took a look when they were done to see if they had really fixed the step, and discovered that King Solomon had apparently lent his wisdom to the task. The result is on the right. Well, hell, at least it works.

You thought this story was over? So did I. The contractor told me that the crew would move my belongings back as soon as the inspector came. Two weeks passed. I spoke with the landlady, wondering when in the name of all that is holy I was going to be allowed to have my garden back. She was surprised, since the contractor had told her two weeks ago that the inspection was done and she was moving the furniture back. Then she added one little nugget that was the perfect ending: the contractor had informed her that plants could not be kept on the deck, because watering them would ruin the wood. I'm just going to end there and enjoy the sound of brains exploding on monitors.

Oh, and yes, I spent the last two days moving all of my furniture and plants back where they belong. A butterfly landed on the deck and warmed its wings. Birds sat on the fenceposts and sang. I kid you not. And wonder of wonders, my poor, bedraggled little Betty Boop rose bush that had been buried in tarps and buckets for months is sprouting two lovely buds.

Today is the first day back at my desk, sitting with the window open as I type, and seeing the green outside. And look how much I've accomplished: an entire website.

(I did, however, manage to accomplish one little thing while in the Slough of Despond of the past six months: I submitted my novella The Devil's Garden to [redacted]...it will be published in 2011. Update, July 4, 2010: See Independence Day: Stranger than fiction. [Redacted] is no longer my publisher.)