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How Does Your Garden Grow?

A Daily Dose of Goodness

By Lizzie Locker

What am I doing these days? Thanks for asking—I wish I knew. It’s some combination of nothing and everything, it seems. No, I’m no longer a professor, at least not for the moment; I’ve got all the right stuff, but I just can’t seem to land a gig. No, I haven’t even looked at my novel lately. It hurts to open the file and to stare at all the work I’ve done and no longer want to do. No, I’m not seeing anyone; dating is always a disappointment at best.

I’m not avoiding people in general. Although I did skip Bay to Breakers, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and the How Weird Street Faire despite how much I love them all. And I did flake on Amy’s birthday party, Dan’s writing retreat, Jenni’s brunch, and Kelsey’s karaoke night. I had reasons, I’m sure, but I can’t recall them now.

How did I spend my weekend? You know, I don’t really remember. I guess it wasn’t worth the memory.

Dear God, depression is a bore. (Or whatever it is I have.) Whatever you want to call it: ennui, anxiety, malaise, melancholy, laziness, or maybe selfishness. Who knows where one ends and the other begins, or at what point my illness becomes an excuse? I surely don’t have the answers, and every therapist in the city has a three-month waiting list, so I don’t expect to get them anywhere else.

Self-medication is more my style anyway—honey and whiskey for sore throats, egg yolk for acne, garlic for infections. I only go to the doctor if the treatments still aren’t working five days later. But the brain is a secretive, inscrutable organ with deceitful, disguised ailments. Once you realize that whiskey and weed can only bandage and stitch, you dig up enough courage to look for better medicine.

The first thing I did was try to write. It’s what I do. It’s supposed to be therapeutic, isn’t it? But when you’re a writer, it isn’t. When you’ve been studying writing in school for seven years and still aren’t done, or when you’ve been sending out stories for almost a decade and only ever received “Thank you, but…” e-mails in return, writing is no longer therapy. Writing is a punishment—torture in which you’re forced to stare at that innocent blank page, relive every pain you’ve ever felt in your life, and wallow in the feelings you’re trying—and failing—to capture. Eventually, the practical, motherly side of me decided that writing was about as helpful as whiskey and weed, so she said, “Why don’t you do something else?”

When I found that those little things didn’t feel too sharp against my frayed edges, I did some bigger things: rearranged my bedroom furniture, finished a few sewing projects I’d let fall by the wayside, baked a pie to share with my coworkers. And it still didn’t hurt.

I did little things at first; they say you should start small. I took a shower, cleaned my room, did laundry—stuff I’d been putting off in favor of lying in bed staring out the window with my head in the clouds. When I found that those little things didn’t feel too sharp against my frayed edges, I did some bigger things: rearranged my bedroom furniture, finished a few sewing projects I’d let fall by the wayside, baked a pie to share with my coworkers. And it still didn’t hurt. So I kept going: cook, clean, organize, repeat. No going to bars or parties, even though they had been my extroverted side’s cure-all before. Now it’s cook, clean, organize, repeat.

The real healing started with a crop top. I had ignored my sewing machine for months until one afternoon I found myself sick to death of the smog in my head and the sound of cartoons. And I was hot. Instead of changing my clothes, I loaded a square of fabric into the machine, and a few minutes later, I was wearing a sleeveless crop top in place of my sweater. It was almost a surprise—I’d forgotten things could be that easy, that painless. And not just painless, but pleasant. When had I last felt anything pleasant?

By midnight that night, I had also made a lace skirt and cut out fabric for a pair of pajama pants. It was the first time in ages that I had something solid to show for myself. “Here, I am not a waste of space, for I have made something—and it is good,” I thought.

I could still make clothes, despite my inability to make words stick to a page. There’s a right way to do measurements, lines, gathers, and pleats, and I know it. There’s also a wrong way, and I’m not afraid to do it. Garments are absolute, unlike writing; there’s no hidden meaning or subtext. There’s no audience to pander to, no stereotypes or tropes to subvert, no need for depth, complexity, or nuance, and no demand for tension, struggle, or conflict. I’m the only one who has to like what I’m wearing.

There’s a right way to do measurements, lines, gathers, and pleats, and I know it. There’s also a wrong way, and I’m not afraid to do it.

Children play “house” so that they can be the mommy and daddy in charge of what the home is like: “My house is a rocket, and I make ice cream for dinner.” I similarly play house—if I wish a thing to be so, I can make it so because it is my home, and I have that power. It’s all about control; isn’t that usually what therapists tell us when we feel like our lives are slipping away from us?

Around the same time that I found my sewing mojo again, my backyard seemed to spring into action, helping me by bringing forth everything it could muster despite the long California drought. The two stunted apple trees—which had never borne fruit before—became overburdened with apples that made for many tarts, pies, and muffins. The plum tree began to spit tart-skinned yellow fruits that my coworkers turned into small jars of preserves. Wild fennel sprouting in corners of the garden made a delicate seasoning for homemade crackers, and the ragged, wild rosebush offered hips and petals for teas and tonics.

My kitchen, my garden, and my sewing machine all became my allies. They built me up to make me stronger. My home is not a cocoon or a prison; it’s more like a fort or a tree house, something rough-hewn and safe. In this shabby little house on the edge of the city or in my ragged backyard, I am the one who holds all the cards. With my needles and spoons, I’m the one who pins the universe into place, and who undoes it when she pleases—no one else.

What did I do this weekend? I made a pint of rose water and packed three days’ worth of healthy lunches. I threw together a dress to wear to Amanda’s birthday party in the park tomorrow and finished a jumpsuit for my sister. I didn’t do much. I missed a few outings this week (it was a hard week), but there will always be others. I didn’t write anything worth reading. But maybe I will tomorrow.

Writer Lizzie Locker in black and white photo by Sylvia Paret
Photo by Sylvia Paret — SylviaParetPhoto.com


Lizzie Locker is a writer, instructor, and designer in San Francisco. She received her MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco, where she has also taught creative writing. Lizzie is currently at work on her first novel.

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