A week or two ago, it occurred to me that one way to improve my plant photography would be to, gasp, practice. I’m fortunate to live in an area where neighborhood walks yield a wealth of lovely things to look at, so recently I spent an afternoon wandering about and photographing plants I don’t currently have in my garden, but admire when I see them out and about.
After no doubt puzzling several passersby as I took one photo, then another, then squinted down at my phone screen attempting to check focus and select a reasonable zoom or crop, here are a few of the results. Plants to grow myself another year, perhaps!
I’m reasonably happy with these. Once I accepted that post-photo-taking editing was not a thing I’d do, and so whatever I could achieve in the moment was what I would end up with, I started looking at things more closely. I also discarded a lot of photos. It was interesting – I don’t think photography is ever going to become an in-depth hobby for me, but the attention spent on this felt entirely worthwhile.
Warning: there is benign & perhaps humorous swearing in this post. Also, this post is not about gardening.
Sometime after the Marie Kondo craze began and everyone started eyeing their socks and asking if those socks sparked joy, I encountered Sarah Knight’s The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. I read it. I thought it was hilarious, and also incredibly on-target. It wasn’t so much making fun of Kondo’s book, as turning it into a metaphor for gently, thoughtfully, and with much profanity letting go of the elements of one’s life about which one did not, in all sincerity, give a f*ck. I considered which of my friends should receive this book as a present. I tried to read bits of it aloud to my husband, but was hampered in this by laughing too hard to speak coherently.
This brings us to 2020. 2020 has been a year when it seems impossible not to give, to borrow a phrase, way too many f*cks. 2020 has been a year that vastly overspent far too many people’s f*ck budget, including mine. Early December, and I at least cannot remember the last time I felt this exhausted.
A couple of weeks ago, I was eyeing my bookcase, looking for something suitably lightweight. Did I have any humorous graphic novels I hadn’t read? No – but I did have Knight’s second book, Get Your Sh*t Together, and it caught my eye. I took it off the shelf. I read it mostly sitting in the backyard under a tree, moving the chair around as needed to catch the sun. And once again, I kept trying to read bits of it to my husband, but found myself laughing too hard to be able to get all the way through a sentence.
Partly Knight’s writing is just funny. Partly she’s about my age, and so her jokes referencing cultural miscellanea from earlier decades just make sense to me (also the one about remodeling a house, which ends with: “buy a throw pillow. Throw it at your contractor.”). And partly –
Partly she’s right.
I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired. But the stupid thing is, I’m tired based on dilemmas and problems of my own d*mn making. Is my to-do list too long? Fine. I am a grown-up. Either I can make a plan to do the things on the list, or I can decide they don’t need doing. Use a must-do list for the things that have to be done today. Do just those things, and then move the f*ck on.
The profanity helps.
All of this is a long way of saying: the book is funny. If you’re in your early forties and you share at least some of the author’s cultural context, it might be extra funny – but I suspect it’s funny either way.
On top of that – and this is the part I hadn’t quite expected, but I live in hope and in this case it actually paid off – the book is also useful. I found myself staring at my to-do list earlier today, muttering “strategize, focus, commit.” Then I made a list of things to do, and then I did them.
And then I was done, and I stopped working for the day, and went and ate an ice cream bar.
Also known as, and for the last phrase-borrowing of this post, winning.
In so many ways, October feels like a new beginning. The light changes. The air changes. Kids are back at school, and even here in California, it’s pretty definitely no longer summer.
I grew up with an even stronger school-schedule vibe than most people: both my parents worked as teachers. When school began in the fall, it didn’t begin just for me, but for all of us. Now an adult by any measure, that sense of beginning as the days shorten and the mornings chill stays with me.
Beginning too means looking back, reflecting. Where is the world? Where am I? How am I doing? 2020 has been so strange. After all the early months’ chaos, in the past few weeks I think some of the changes have settled in. I’m in a different place, I think, than I have previously been.
1. The seven months since this began – March to now – is the longest period of time I’ve spent without jetlag in over ten years (or maybe fifteen).
2. These seven months also include the most total hours I’ve spent at home at least since high school summer vacations.
3. Ten years after everybody else, I’ve gotten into Spotify. Lately I’m retro in my music tastes: country, electronic dance music, and Prozzak’s album Forever 1999 (which doesn’t sound like 1999, but does sound like today through the lens of someone who came of age in 1999. It’s silly and funny and heart-melting and I love it.)
4. I’ve let go of long lists of plans and dreams and ambitions and next steps and someday-I’d-like-tos. Too many were starting to feel like shoulds, like weights or clutter rather than freedoms.
5. Instead, I’ve got three things I’d like to do over the next six months, one more I’d like to do over the next two years, and one more for the next five years. This feels simpler. It fits on a sticky note.
6. I’m reading a lot, and I have conversations going with two separate friends about books.
7. One of my oldest friends, who I became friends with mostly through letters(!) during summer vacations back in high school, sent me a long chatty birthday card; today I sent her a card back. Texts with other friends feel like a modern version of the one-day letters I imagine Victorians sent to each other. “What kind of flower is this?” “Have you read that?” “Is the smoke okay where you are?” “I can’t believe your daughter is four years old already!” “You have chickens now?!” “Here’s what it looks like where I am.” “I don’t know when I’ll see you, but I miss you.”
8. At work, I’m in the middle of shifting from a management role to an individual contributor path. This, too, feels simpler, and I think more in line with the self I most think of as me.
After two weeks of clearer air, the smoke is back today, blowing in (the news tells me) from the Glass fire, miles north. The hills across the bay and the hills across the highway are both invisible. The air smells again of campfire. The temperature is over ninety degrees, but there is little value to shade, because the sun itself is shaded by the smoke.
If you’re reading this, I hope you’re finding value in your own new beginning – or if fall doesn’t feel like a beginning-time to you, to your own keeping on.