Tuesday, May 25, 2010

considering vetch

Vetch - a common weed which indistinguishes by stealth, by seeming softness and yummy color, by stubborn persistent twining, stretching its delicate vines up through bushes and around clumps of perennials erasing everything beneath its shapeless green fog. 

In a garden tended for many years, the weeds begin to change - well, not the weeds, but the selection  of, shaped by the gardener's habits.  Yes, I still get the occasional sow-thistle, a few randy dandelions.  Always the stubborn bramble beginnings that have to be chopped out and handled with gloves. 

But overwhelmingly, the border plantings disappear each year beneath an airy green and deadly blanket of viny weeds whose flowers are delicate and deceptively dainty - not just vetch, but the tiny yellow clover, the bright pink wild geranium, the clingy five-leaved whorls of green whose name I haven't bothered to learn. 

And I know it's my fault.  I always let them stay awhile until they crowd too close, strangling the more valuable plantings.  And even then I edit, rather than eradicate.

I have, I regret to admit, introduced some of my weeds into my garden myself.  A pale butter yellow California poppy that pops up everywhere.  Love-in-a-mist - which seeds itself unremittingly, swallowing territory like Mongol horsemen.  Creeping charlie. 

So that cleaning out the yard each year becomes less a battle with nature red in tooth and claw (if it was ever that), and more an exercise in regret and self-recrimination.

After my last post Fritz said, "I know you better when you write."  He is happy I'm posting again.  He says in effect that it clears away the vetch for him.  Not realizing that what he sees is just more vetch, in closer focus.

He also said, "You know someone reading this might think What a leisurely life, but it's also a life of service . . . " and he nods with a bright and sentimental eye meeting mine. 

Ah yes.  Though the last thing I've ever wanted is a leisurely life.  It shames me that my life is full of such ladylike pursuits - the volunteering, the church work, the children, the garden, the baking bread.  Okay, yes, and even the writing, which seems  - when other people look at it - such a dainty and refined pursuit and not the act of courage and redemption, liberty and rebellion it should be.

But the worst of it is that I chose to shape my life this way.  I thought this kind of life would serve the writing best.  I thought the problems of the world needed most the small essential work of family-making.  I thought I could do both and do them well.

Vetch all the way down.

Today Eldest goes in for an interview for a scholarship.  Jobs for teenagers are limited here and so she has put herself to work cleaning houses and in the meantime has set out to apply for every possible scholarship - no prize too small - even $200 is groceries for an appreciable chunk of her year.  I applaud her steady and practical persistence.  We agree this could be good training when, if, when she becomes a neuroscientist and must write grants for research money.

Usually she has me edit her essays but this last batch went out during a week (in my leisurely life?) so full of vetch that I never got to it.  I know I would have suggested she rewrite the essay that has in fact brought her to this final interview today.

Because she wrote
I have one general goal for my future; I want to look back at the end of my life and be able to say that I was able to make a positive difference in individual people’s lives. To achieve this goal however, I have made several smaller, more immediate goals, two in particular, I would like to share. These are the goals of becoming a doctor and becoming a responsible, capable mother.

Eek!  On a scholarship application?  As her editor I'd have had her cross out the whole section on motherhood.  Develop more the idea of improving society through a medical profession. That's good, the part about

The love and care that can be shown by helping someone physically can make them feel like a valuable, worthwhile person and thus make them strong physically and mentally. There are so many cases of neglect and callousness in the world. As a good, caring doctor, I can make a positive, personal difference for my patients.

I like that. But the mommy-section? I would be afraid it would hurt her cause. I would urge her to scotch the whole section and explore something more valuable to the selection committee.  Something real.  Something hard-edged.  Who is going to take her seriously if she says

 I want to raise children that are intelligent, peaceful, law-abiding citizens. Many of the problems in society could be aided, if not fixed by a solid core of responsible, respectable, hardworking and family–oriented adults. Large problems are not often fixed all in one swipe, but by small improvements. As a mother, I can help make these small improvements through the members of my family. To achieve this goal of a responsible mother, I watch my own mother and try to emulate her. I am learning how to cook healthy food and keep a house clean so that these won’t be onerous chores when I have to look after my own house. I am going to college so that I can be an educated, valuable member of society and set an example for my children.

Cross it out, cross it out as beside the point. Weak. Distracting. Silly.

Thus crossing out Myself and what my life has turned itself into. As weak. Silly. Beside the point.

Pure vetch.

While pulling vetch this week and last week - as I will be pulling it next week, too - I keep finding my lips mouthing the words to a poem I think lame in every way - one of the two bits of sentimental verse my snarky, smart-alec, guitar-playing brother has surprisingly memorized.  And which he will declaim in a strangely young and earnest voice at odd moments,   "If I can stop one heart from breaking . . . "

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Oh please.

Our dear Miss Emily D wrote many a fine thing but this is not one of them. And frankly, if all she had done was lift that limp-headed birdie into his nest, would we care what she said?

If all I manage to do is cool one pain, I will have lived in vain.  If all I do is spend my life tucking birds back in their beds, I will have entirely lived in vain.  If all I do is keep one heart from breaking . . .  unless it be my own self-hating heart.


Fritz said...

I do not like this. Self-hating heart? Listen, I like what you write. I like your writing, even here it flows so well, but here you're tearing apart what you do. I absolutely reject the idea that what you do is silly, beside the point. It is exactly what we all are called to do - to nurture, to draw others forward, to help, to succor. Nothing else matters.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I second Fritz. And I also second Eldest's essays. She caught the essence of education--becoming enlightened so that we might lift others.

Bravo teacher, for teaching her that.

Emma J said...

I don't disagree.

But perhaps I serve that nurturing ideal best by pointing out how we wrap the idea of caretaking and succor up in an awful lot of vetch?

Emma J said...

Neighbor Jane - yes, I also second Eldest's essays. Of course she's right, isn't she? - and it hasn't even seemed to hurt her with the selection committee.

But why was my first vehement response to absolutely urge her to get rid of something we both agree about? Something that I taught her, as you pointed out?

Lisa B. said...

Oh, I get that "self-hating heart" part--it's not that you want to hate your heart, it's that you do (one does)-- if I might, I would say this is an essentially feminist insight, that one knows/fears that the womanly arts (mothering, keeping house, nurturing [not that these are necessarily womanly, or only womanly, but are culturally coded that way]) will be seen as small, weak, not dignified enough, worthy enough, for a scholarship application.

My husband's daughter recently said that a friend of hers said, after seeing her own mother dressing, "I am NEVER going to let my breasts get like that!" Right. Because it's horrifying to contemplate what the whole set of choices that led to the breasts being "like that" might too closely mirror your own choices.

I am so glad I am a mother, and glad I spent my life as I did. I'm also glad that I've had the chance to have another kind of life--a working-for-pay kind of life. I wish that both kinds of work--mothering/householding AND teaching--weren't wrapped in such ideologies of caretaking . . .

I'm not really being persuasive here, when I say "I get it," am I? But I do. I do.

Thank you for this honest post.

Mrs. Organic said...

The price of gardening is a constant vigilance (even vetch has its value).

I've missed your words.

suzanne said...

I completely understand the fear that the power of a mother is no power at all. We have lost our muchness.

Emma J said...

suzanne - did we have muchness? Is it just power I'm after?

thanks, Mrs. O

Lisa B. - It is exactly a feminist insight. And in that story what comes next is - "and so then she found success in a satisfying career and lived happily ever after." As if being paid for what we do is really all that matters?

I think I'm looking for whatever comes after feminism. I too have been glad for both the life-at-home and the life-where-you're paid . . . are there only either-or choices? Because neither one of them alone are what I want right now. And doing both seems more than will fit meaningfully in my 24 hours.

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