52 Ways To Shift Your Focus
Welcome back to my Tuesday feature designed to get you moving in a different direction, shake up your daily or weekly writing routine. Later, you can return to your writing with a shift in focus.
Shift #2: What’s on Your Windowsill?
Spring is when it becomes excruciating for me to stay in my seat in front of my computer screen. The harder I try to focus, the more my mind resists and goes off down the street, around the block, over a cliff.
So, recently, I gave myself permission to get up and do something related to spring and well-being. And, if you really want to go there, metaphorical, since this blog is really about being a better writer by living a balanced life.
I was never a gardener until I lived with my husband Mick. I remember my mother’s attempts at creating a garden that was perfect, how she plucked weeds and arranged marigolds, petunias, and other easy-to-grow flowers in explicit rows in front of our house. The flowers themselves could not be fussy or she wouldn’t grow them, but the arrangement had to be exact.
I remember thinking that was not for me. For years, I hated marigolds because I associated them with that rigid garden my mother tended. My oblivion toward the reasons for her religious rigor regarding flowerbeds is fodder for a different essay.
That my scientist-husband, with whom a solid marriage has bloomed through conversations on liberal politics, Beatles music, Coen Brothers movies, science-fiction novels, and why humans are generally so ill-equipped, loves gardening was a surprise. I hadn’t expected him to adore digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, planting shrubs, and figuring out which native plants would attract birds. The summer we moved in together, we threw an entire flat of slightly root-bound impatiens into the ground two hours before we left for the airport to go to Helsinki so Mick could attend a science conference. The flat of flowers was left over from some school fundraiser, I think, and he couldn’t stand to see the plants just die. It rained that day and we scurried around what was then his yard, throwing flowers into the dirt wherever they would fit. We wiped mud on our jeans, sunk our shoes into the damp soil, and watched each other’s hair frizz in the light, warm rain. When we returned from our trip two weeks later, the back yard was an explosion of pink, white, orange, and red impatiens. We took it as an omen; I moved my own stuff into his house the following week.
That was the turning point in how I felt about gardening. That first summer of sharing a house with Mick was my chance to hang out in the yard with him and learn about planting things, growing things, tending to things in a way that spilled over into other parts of my life. That Mick got so much pleasure from his garden made me consider whether I had entirely missed the point when I watched my mother fuss with her flowers all those years ago.
Gardening has gotten into my blood. I’ve learned about flowers, shrubs, trees, and vegetables. I’ve learned about beauty as well as about providing food. I’ve learned that working outside with someone else, getting your hands dirty, using your muscles, is a strong way to connect to each other and clear your head.
Which brings me back to today. It’s spring. Still a little early to work the ground outside in Minnesota, but not too early to do something small that will bring a whiff of things to come.
I am raising herbs on my windowsill in the hope that I don’t seem too much like Minnie Castavet in the movie, Rosemary’s Baby. My herbs are not for nefarious purposes. I hadn’t planned this windowsill garden until I stumbled on a little kit at my local hardware store. It contained some sort of growth medium (that’s what they call it – think hockey pucks of water-hoarding dirt that have to be activated in a big bowl of warm water), four little green plastic pots, a wooden tray for the little pots, and four packets of seeds (basil, lemon basil, dill, and thyme). When I saw this while looking for compact fluorescent bulbs, I knew this was one of those things that would shift my focus.
Into my hands the kit went. This was the way to assuage my desire to get outside and dig into the not-yet-ready-for-seeds ground. Even better, I could get a garden fix just by walking down the hall from my office to the kitchen.
And so I planted. Growth medium activated, plopped into little pots, seeds carefully placed, a spot cleared on the kitchen counter. It now occurs to me that it’s not really a windowsill; it’s a space right below the window behind the sink. It catches the afternoon sun. That funky growth medium never seems to dry out.
Seeds are sprouting, which means I’m going to have to thin things out soon, edit out the weaker seedlings in favor of the stronger ones. That should be second nature, don’t you think?