Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Perfectionist and the Misanthrope

Dodgy book sellers

The Butler loves community activities => pantos in the village hall, safari suppers, pop-up restaurants, carollers, table quizzes, fetes.  Me, I’m a bit of a misanthrope.  Our compromise is that if I participate, I can insult our host when he discusses his wife’s frigidity over dinner. 

Three guesses, what the Butler’s reaction was when the notice came about the open gardens. 

In preparation, our initial focus was on neat and tidy, but about five days before the dread weekend, the penny dropped that perhaps more were expected.  We’ve never really gotten the hang of June, you see.  In spring, there’s all those wonderful bulbs.  In late summer and autumn, we’re a bee and butterfly paradise, but June?  Everything holds its breath and waits. 

I laughingly told the Butler I couldn’t believe that people were paying money to see the expanse of dirt in our flower beds.  Later, I looked up from weeding the gigantic mauve thing and found myself alone.  I went inside, suggested the Butler get off his ass to help if he wanted the resident misanthrope to behave herself when company came.

After that, the Butler would jump to his feet whenever I came into a room and like a kid who hadn’t done his chores, announce he was headed to the garden.  He seldom made it outside before 2pm and seldom stayed.  The same man who loved all these goddam village events and being civil in his Irish accent to UKIP neighbours and putting his body between mine and the guy at Burns Night who said trans people were selfish.

Something weird, this way comes.
Something weird was afoot. 

The Butler hadn’t always gardened.  Presumably his superhero regime of work-by-day, single-parent-by-night had something to do with it.  I remember our first gardening projects – a dubious Butler watching from the sidelines, concerned the neighbours might look over the fence and see me showing my arse.  Figuratively, of course, although on occasion . . . well, that’s a different story altogether. 

Then a brazen hussy of a red dahlia sang its siren song to him and he believed he could make beauty happen.

To be honest, I’d led the poor Butler astray by approaching gardening the way I do manuscript drafts.  I tinker.  I toy.  I try to find the best place for ruffled basil by setting up plastic bottle mini-greenhouses in every flowerbed, only to learn there’s no best place and we really have to consider getting a life-size greenhouse one of these days.  Pansies live between the onions, and corn?  Well it grows in the meadow because it’s a grass.  The rose bed is carpeted with creeping thyme while glads preen themselves among the pumpkin vines and a nasturtium sprouts from the neck of a statue that lost her head.  Nature’s feedback means an oak grows in a pot where a passing squirrel planted it, and the feverfew knocks itself out hiding the oil tank.

Pansies & onions, o my!
People laugh, but I never think their derision is about me.  Ever.  Firstly, it’s a reflection of how rigid their minds are but also, it’s a boundary issue because the Butler and I should have a garden we enjoy, not one that meets the needs of Mr UKIP down the road. 

But with the open weekend days away, I now suspected the Butler’d taken it personally all along.  Worse, that my own laughing sent him off the ledge.  When did this stop being fun for him?  Had it ever been fun for him?

When we talked about it, the Butler reminded me of when he was off work a few years ago because of his back.  He literally convalesced while curled up in a ball, taking copious amounts of painkillers, imprisoned with his own thoughts.  During those hours of not being able to DO, he realised that he took about 80% of his self worth from what he did, and only about 20% from who he was. 

That 80/20 mentality got him through his superhero years of resuscitating patients during the day, cooking meals and ironing uniforms at night, squeezing in patient transports overseas while the kids were at school.  The open garden weekend brought this all back to him, the conviction that to be a good human being, our little space needed to be a horticultural wonderland.

Gigantic mauve thing.
Skipping forward to the weekend itself, when he and I trespassed in our neighbours’ gardens, the Butler was full of curiosity and wonder.  See how they do that!  Oh, I love that species of astrantia.  I’ll distract them, Lora, and you steal the seeds.  He didn’t have a word of criticism for anyone.

So why for himself?  Why do any of us set our own standards so mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa high that we will never be enough, so that whenever the Butler’s asked to bring a covered dish, he brings two and when we go to the barbecue, I ask him later how often I embarrassed him and when either of us stand up to protest that someone has treated us Less-Than, we’re ashamed that we made such a fuss.

I could blame familial/societal indoctrination.  As a trauma therapist, I saw this over and over, that the legal system and the family and society as a whole placated the person acting out, expected the target of insanity to always keep her cool, be reasonable, never respond in a sane way to the bastard.  It boggled the mind.

But I believe we’re more than that, more than the recipients of indoctrination.  If we see that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothing, we certainly can be audible activists about the whole sordid affair but more importantly, we can take care of ourselves in the situation.  We can nurture our lives and seek out what we need, what we want, what we dream about. 

It isn’t easy.  And it isn’t a failing on your part if sometimes you hide in the house and think with dread about visitors tromping through your back garden.  It’s your back garden and it’s precious to you.  So while they’re kicking pots over and tugging branches off the buddleia, remember the lusty red dahlia you brought to life, the beauty you inspired in the space around you.

The weekend brought us lots of visitors.  I listened raptly when anyone felt compelled to say that an oak would outgrow a flowerpot.  No one who asked where I came from, then sang Country Roads got shoved ass first in the pond.  I feigned surprise that the statue had lost her head and couldn’t explain how a nasturtium took root there.  The poor creeping thyme will undoubtedly need therapy, considering the number of people who groped it to see if it were scented.

It’s thyme, people.  An herb.  Ergo . . .

Your own brazen hussy.
But there were people who were kind about annuals hastily planted in the bare spots, folk who appreciated that we’d welcomed them into our back garden – in effect, offered them hospitality.  Others shared their knowledge of pruning or species of holly or pond care.  People interested in the Latin name for the gigantic mauve thing (something only the Butler could answer) traded the Latin name for that yellow stuff we’d always called Vigorous. 

And a few people said as they left us, that we’d created a space of calm and welcome.  That’s what you want in life.  Not perfection, but a place that’s home.

No comments:

Post a Comment