It’s All in Your Head

The joy of gardening is all in your head.

That is never more true than at this time of year when spring is struggling to keep the calendar’s promise. Mother Nature teases us with scattered days of pleasantries, abruptly disappoints us with stormy behavior, and repeatedly threatens to give us the dreaded cold shoulder.

By the time she finally warms up to our adoration, most gardeners have already worked through the entire growing season in their heads. I, for one, do more gardening while sitting by the window sipping warm coffee than I ever do outside.

Even as I write this, I’m mulling over the idea of planting a climbing rose in a small splash of bare earth by the front walk. I’m contemplating how to elevate the grotto in my secret garden so I don’t aggravate my aging knees every spring clearing winter debris from the rocks. And I’m considering whether to trim a creeping juniper away from a footpath or drape the spears over a low barrier.

Once I get to these tasks, sweat will sting my eyes and underused muscles will scream. But the hard work – the creative process that gives my brain cells a run for their money – will be far behind me.

This process is likely to be just as familiar if you’re a dancer, an artist, a musician or a “creative type” in any discipline. Just replace the word “gardening” in my opening line with anything you happen to fancy.

As a writer, it’s actually a required step in our secret playbook. Whether I’m composing a blog, an article or a book, I spend hours in thought before I ever sit down at my computer.

Recently I watched Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks and, for me, the best moment of the film came in the first 15 minutes. The ever disagreeable Mary Poppins’ author, P.L. Travers, wasn’t even plotting a storyline when she turned away from her frustrated visitor, looked out a window, and tested a metaphor to describe the pink blossoms on a flowering tree.

I’m fairly certain most of the family watching the film with me wouldn’t even remember that line, let alone be affected by it. I, however, can’t forget it. I’m forever hunting the same kind of metaphors.

Do the purple flowers dripping from the branches of our locust tree look more like clusters of grapes or kaleidoscopes of butterflies?

In the spirit of dynamic retirement, my experience with the creative process is playing out in yet another arena. In the last six months, I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about taking up watercolor à la Georgia O’Keefe or impressionist painting in the style of Claude Monet – and no time at all actual trying either one. While I might be tempted to beat myself up for such willful procrastination, I choose instead to see this time as the prelude to a new kind of rapture.

Like gardening and writing, the joy of it is all in my head.

Purple Robe Locust