On finding and clearing roots

Thinking about stink weeds, prob. // via Brandon Barr

I got into gardening senior year of college to cope with a bad breakup. For starters, I nurtured a tomato plant, two kinds of peppers, Thai basil, wild collards, Bibb lettuce, lavender, gardenias, and for a moment, a tiny marijuana bush (that got less tiny enough I got scared and stored it in the shower until it died). Although the literal fruits of my labor were highly satisfying, thoroughly prepping the ground beforehand was the most rewarding part — even though it sucked so much at first.

Snaking through the thick St. Augustine turf was an intricate network of milk-colored roots that pushed greenery up smelling exactly like wet dog. At first, I mass-executed them with a finger guillotine, banking a solid two hours systematically twisting them out of sight from their heads which I collected in a pail.

But they came back and when they did, my frustration boiled over. Dropping to my belly, I got real close to one of these stink weeds. I made circles in the soil with my finger at its base and corkscrewed in to get deeper. Following the weed, I found it stretched a good yard from the immediately visible decapitated part. And man, it kept stinking. I spent even more time in the yard, grinding dark stains into the knees of hand-me-down jeans, extracting gingerly each individual stink weed to find its end and remove it entirely. After each foray, I’d return indoors smellier and dirtier than my first stabs out there.

**

My Twitter feed has been bursting with invitations for 2015 to go fuck itself. In a way I guess I agree — some parts of this year totally sucked. I lost a job and a number of romantic relationships; I got robbed literally and metaphorically. But a bout of bad luck is not a unique struggle. Aging and experience make it more difficult to categorize isolated incidents or behavior as good or bad. Similarly, an entire year murks up into a smattering of gray paisleys curling up in differing opacity. Hardlined black-and-white no longer exists.

This year was a year that happened. Next year, it stands to reason, will also happen.

How, though?

I dedicated much of 2015 to staring in the mirror. I knew parts of my life left me unfulfilled or unhappy. So I did things differently. Different approaches summoned different results, but the payoff of those was only temporary. I thought I was doing a good, productive thing — axing the surface part of these proverbial stink weeds — however my approach was shortsighted. I needed to find the roots, no matter how smelly or dirty I’d get in the process.

It’s tempting to float around through a stretch of time, sinking back down for only short periods for a cursory problem clean-up. It’s safer, really, to steer clear of the dark, slippery lip of what could be a dangerous K-hole swirling with risky questions. It’s hard to find then look at the true motivation propelling your choices and actions. It’s gross to admit to anyone — let alone myself — that sometimes what scoots me around this blue marble is jealousy, fear, intimidation, vengeance.

**

In August, a local alt-weekly hired me on as an associate editor. It was my first full-time, permanent job in journalism and I was ecstatic. In September, a publication I’ve always admired tapped me about a potential part-time gig because an editor I’ve admired even longer recommended me. Despite my then-current struggle to balance my day gig with a flow of freelance assignments, I agreed to a trial shift. “I’m just so flattered,” I told a friend in the same field. But I was so scared of burning out — if I got hired, that’d mean two 15-hour work days a week. “Do you want this because you want this or do you want this because you’re flattered?” he asked.

Well, damn. It was because I was flattered. In different circumstances I’d definitely jump at the opportunity but in this version of life I was living, it couldn’t happen in a healthy way. Facing the root of my motivation helped me decide to duck out early of the possibility altogether.

Applying that same logic to other facets of life has helped me find some peace this year. It’s forced me to know myself better — both the pure and the ugly parts and all the dishwater paisleys writhing between. And how to stop indulging in the uglier parts. I examined a handful of relationships only to confirm gross suspicions in which my motivation stemmed from flattery or wanting to “win” or anger. I ended these relationships. I did the same with a number of other tendencies and chases in my life that hijacked me of energy I could otherwise spend much more wisely. Although when actualizing these energy vampires, there’s a finite period of feeling like a flaming trash pile, I know I’m working on putting out those smelly flames. And it’s only finite.

As for 2016, I hope to keep forcing myself to be brave and know me, then fix me … little-by-little. It’d be great if I could quickly learn to hike a leg of the AT or get a cover story in a glossy or something, but. At a certain point, making far-fetched promises to yourself that only tackle the surface is like holding the door for someone four yards away: a nice idea in theory yet ultimately stressful for everyone involved. Only in this situation, it’s you holding the door for yourself who’s stumbling to sprint to that opening four yards away. Nothing permanent or positive can reasonably happen like that.

For real change to help you and effectively those around you, we can’t leave these ugly roots underground thriving, fucking us up and over. Unfortunately there seems to be no shortcuts in making said change. Only more digging. We just have to be bold enough to keep reaching for the root, regardless of the short-lived mess it might make.