“Come here, Veronica, I want to show you something.”

“It’s not a plant thing, is it?”

Busted. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my yard and my plants. There’s not much else to occupy my time in these times of quarantine.

We planted all new plants about a year and a half ago, and I’ve been puttering over them and seeing how they will turn out.

I’m having to pay attention and see what they need from me. We have 7 trees now, 3 fruit trees, 2 shade trees and 2 sculptural trees.

That’s what the garden designer called them. But this whole time they have just looked like bushes. Compared to the fruit trees, they are not growing very fast.

When I’ve watched plants grow from seeds, I’ve observed how the plant looks when it’s a baby, the leaves look a certain way. Then when they are only a few days older they change again. There is a whole cycle of what the plants will become throughout their life.

The sculptural tree are Crape Myrtles, a pink flowering tree that I can see in the neighborhood around me.

I’ve seen these trees, but I have not had a relationship with one. These baby crape myrtles have been with me for a while and they look like bushes. I have been watching what they do and checking them for what they seem to need. They go dormant, which is unusual in my warm climate. They turn dead looking in the winter, which worried me until I realized that this is what they are supposed to do.

Now is the time that they flower. So Pretty!

I’ve noticed that they are not really growing up as much as I would have thought. So I asked the internet about it, and I realized that I had to help these trees.

They want to be trees. I pass these types of trees on my walks and I have examples of how they are at their best. They are lovely, and their trunks and branches arch in a graceful way.

My trees, which I had mistaken for bushes, had a lot of suckers coming off their main trunk. I trimmed the suckers off, even though some of them were as big as the main trunk of the tree. The thing is, I couldn’t’ recognize what the essence of the tree until it had grown more.

Ah. And that is what is becoming true about this quarantine. It looked one way at the beginning, but has gone through several changes along the way.

It’s taking some attention to see what need to be fostered and what needs to be pruned. I can’t stop paying attention for a while.

Self Made

If they have ascended high, they have built their own ladder.
Frederick Douglass 

All my routines are off track, and I’m having a hard time reading. I am trying something different: re reading books.
I picked up a career book from last year Do More Great Work. Looking for my next job, this is on point. This book has a lot of exercises, which I skipped over the first time I read it. It’s time to dig in.
I got to the part where he asks me to come up with role models. Tough. Real people are more complicated than books. I started with people who had written books about themselves:
Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass
Ben Franklin is the man on the money. His autobiography reads like almost every other businessman autobiography I’ve read.  Because they all copied him! He was a great inventor, and he may have invented the autobiography too.
As the oldest founding father, and the one who had the most popular writing style, he created the template for the “self-made man.” He starts his book by saying he was the fourth son of a fourth son.
IF you’ve read anything, you know that the fourth son doesn’t inherit anything, not the cat OR the boots. That’s supposed to be how it is for Americans. We make our own luck. Franklin told his adventures from when he was quite young, following ideas and making friends all along the way. He wrote in friendly humorous style. It was written originally in French, but has been translated and remains in print to this day. He wrote the book on being a successful American.
He had a little help from his brothers and friends, but I feel like I could follow his methods and be successful too. He was a nobody when he was born and became a great man.
That’s America! Cue the music. How could it get better than this?
Frederick Douglass, who must have read Franklin’s book, takes it to another level.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave, and the story of his rise to prominence is just as impressive as Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, Douglass’s family was taken from him, beaten and killed. They couldn’t help him in life. Also, he was not able to explore other places freely. No trips to England.
But Frederick Douglass found success anyway. He took every opportunity he found. He learned skills as a craftsman, learned to read and educated himself while still in captivity.
He took a risk and began to teach his fellow slaves how to read even though it was against the law. Generosity for him was for other people. Eventually, abolitionists helped him escape.
 A few years later he wrote Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. It has written in a more elegant style than Franklin. His books shook the world both because of the truth of the stories themselves but also the artistry of the prose.
He partnered with Susan B. Anthony to work for universal suffrage- the right to vote. He even ran for President, something Franklin did not do.
And I’m whining because I don’t have child care. Mr. Douglass, you make me ashamed and you inspire me at the same time. Maybe that’s what role models are for.

Don’t stop looking

I wished I didn’t have to read this book. But my daughter had been begging to read it. She loved Orwell’s Animal Farm and I’m trying to keep her occupied. So I agreed to let her read 1984.

3 days later, when she was more than halfway through when I realized that it was not enough to ask her what she thought of it. I was going to have to read it again.

I think most people read 1984 in high school. But I wasn’t assigned books in high school. I was a feral reader, and I didn’t read 1984 until I was 22. I had lived through a controlling church and homelife in high school and spend a year and a half in the newly post-soviet Russia.

Orwell’s Big Brother dystopia was scary but plausible that night I picked up my uncle’s copy. I’d seen these twists and traps before.

But the horror of Winston’s fate was one I was determined to avoid. I would never accept the something I knew wasn’t true


But life is long, Winston. And very little in life is indisputable.

Eventually I did get to take that literature class. And I heard what the professors said. I agreed with some of it. And I didn’t agree with all of it. I could still know that two plus two equals four.

Most of the time. Eventually.

And at the end of the book, with Winston’s sorry shamble of a life when he finally gives in, I understood that this was the cruz of the matter.

How do I tell truth?

Because I needed to get some truth out of this beast of a book to give to my daughter. Mothers are supposed to do that, make sense of messy things and hand over a neat child-sized package for her.

What did I just get myself into?

True truth should be easy. But if it were Big Brother would never have gotten away with it.

“Veronica, Winston gave up in the end. He couldn’t believe that 2+2=4”

Her eyes widened, “I know!”

“I need you to know how to tell what’s right. Remember when Winston was tired of Big Brother and wanted to fight? How when he finally talked with O’Brien and O’Brien made him promise that he would be willing to do horrible things, even throw acid in the face of a child to resist Big Brother?”


“That’s the thing. You can’t do good by doing evil. It all comes down to love. Love never contradicts love.”

Her forehead furrows.

I go on: “Winston should have realized that when O’Brien made him promise to do horrible things to fight Big Brother. Doing bad things to fight bad things can’t be the answer. There has to be another way.

Love won’t contradict love. He’ll have to keep looking.”

What am I looking at

The pandemic is hard on all of us, but what the heck was she thinking? I had seen an innocent little science assignment on the calendar, but when I opened it on the day it was due I discovered it called for a science experiment.

Any science experiment of my choosing. Due to be completed, documented and turned it


You can’t spring that on me! Science takes TIME and MATERIALS. I had neither. We were on serious lock down so I couldn’t run to the store. And how was I supposed to choose which science experiment from all the experiments in the world? Lots of them looked fun, but none of them were fast enough or with the stuff I had in my house.

I was turning into a volcano trying to cope with this curveball. Maybe my daughter should have documented ME!

And then it hit me. My earlier self had solved this problem.

A few weeks earlier (TIME!) me and Veronica had planted flower seeds in some pots. I had her help me with the intention of having flowers at some time in the future Both pots had the beginnings of a seedlings.

Now to manufacture an after-the-fact hypothesis, write it up and turn it in! She’s practically a pro.

The point of the seeds, after all was to get flowers out of it. It was easy the first couple weeks, because it rained constantly. Then it got hot, and I’ve been tending my pots with daily doses of water.

I want those flowers!

We followed the directions, placing the seeds the correct distance apart. The result (as documented) was only one tiny sprout in each pot. That was sufficient for the post facto science project, but I actually wanted flowers. I scattered the rest of the seeds in each pot.

One pot kept just the one seedling. The other pot sprouted a few more. They are still only about 2 inches tall, but the one seedling is getting big.

Keep watering, let time and sun do its work.

That one seedling though, it getting big! Last week I even saw the beginning of a flower bud. And it’s not even June yet! Flowers are coming.

I’ve been checking even more often.
But something was bothering me. I googled the plant on the seed packet.

Uh oh

It looked nothing like the plant I’ve been tending.

For a month and a half I have been nurturing the growth of a weed.

This is embarrassing. Is this funny or shameful?

I can find a metaphor for anything, but this one seems basic: I’m an idiot.

Part of the problem could be blamed on the fact that I lost my job partway through. I was distracted.

But not really. How come I didn’t realize that this sprout had a very familiar leaf shape for so long?

I believed in the seed package. I visualized the outcome.

So much so that I missed the actual outcome.

Oh. That’s happened before. At that job I lost not so long ago. I was sure sure sure that my vision was going to grow and be realized. I would not give up.

And it’s happened before at jobs I lost long ago. I’ve been taking personal inventory of my career as I look for a new job. I do have a pattern of holding on longer than most.

It was a weed in the yard which looked EXACTLY like my precious potted plant. My story first was “I must have dropped a seed over there!”

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. I knew my last job wasn’t headed in the right direction. I gave it extraordinary nurture, but it was not the flower I envisioned.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. It’s just the nature of things.

I’m sticking by my weed now. It has a flower waiting to show me. I’ll let it bloom. And I’m gonna laugh at myself the whole time.

I hope I can learn to pay attention to what’s in front of me.