I weeded my flower beds last weekend. They looked awful, frankly, and I felt bad for the pretty flowers that were struggling to emerge. So I wrapped Chienne’s leash around one of the porch supports and settled in to trim and pull and brush bugs off of my hands. The ground was soft so most of the weeds came out easily. I carefully gathered the plant and tugged and twisted at stubborn roots, sometimes using my shears to get at the ones who wouldn’t release their hold on the ground.
I had made some progress in about an hour. Had found a nice weeding rhythm and was switching from the larger bed on the right to the smaller one on the left. Chienne was crying at the door – she was hot – and I had let her in, then out, then in again. She was told on her most recent exit from the house that she would be staying out until I decided to go in. I was trying to weed!
I decided she just wasn’t used to it. We don’t spend a lot of time outside apart from our morning walks. I grilled the other day, and she stuck her head out her dog door, watched me for a moment, then ducked back inside. We don’t like the hot. So she didn't understand why were spending a Saturday morning sweltering in it.
At about that time, I reached the corner in my sidewalk and began to tug at the worst patch of weeds – tall, sticky, a bit thorny – that ants had built some sort of kingdom beneath. They scurried around, some a very pale color, others a darker red, while I yanked away the tall pillars of green around their mounded homes.
“Sorry, guys.” I told them, brushing them away from my legs. “Those weeds are ugly. You should go somewhere else.” Eventually there were so many of them that I had to stop. I was quite sweaty and dirty, had tired of Chienne’s increasingly irritated noises, and was starting to fear the ants a bit.
I got up and moved around the large piles of plant matter on my sidewalk toward Chienne as she wagged her tail.
“Hold on.” I said lightly, realizing I was a bit dizzy from the heat and exertion. Weeding can be surprisingly tough. “I just want to put all this stuff in the garbage bag while it’s still early. Then we’ll go in and be done for now.”
I filled up the bag with the dead parts of the purple flower plants, then stuffed copious amounts of sticky, buggy green plants in the bag. As I picked up, I noticed that a few weeds still marred the sections I’d already finished. So I found myself bent over in the mulch, still weeding, and Chienne sighed and sat down. I taught her that, I thought with a smile.
I like watching babies when they’re little. You can tell what they normally receive in terms of reactions from their parents since that tends to be what they offer other people. An example? My little cousin smiles all the time. Big, wide, easy grins because that remind me exactly of how her parents look at her. My other cousin – a big baby boy – makes faces. Arches his eyebrows and offers this quirk of the mouth that passes for a grin. His parents are equally loving, but provide him with different facial expressions to mimic. So while Chienne can’t mimic the way I smile and exclaim when greeting her every day, she does an excellent job with mirroring my sighs.
I think habits are interesting. I tend to sigh a lot – in irritation, pleasure, exhaustion. I walk the dog every morning. I work from home too much. I don’t weed my flower beds until they’re miserably ugly.
All of that’s fine. Habits can be broken or changed if need be. I can make sure to spend time in the office each day. I can spend time with my flower beds each week. Walk the dog in the evening if that’s more convenient. Sigh less and giggle more. It would be difficult for me to change some of my more ingrained behavior. But I recently started scraping my tongue after brushing my teeth – bought one of those special brushes from drugstore.com. It was weird at first, but now I love it. Can’t believe I went for so long without doing it.
The factor that struck me as I continued to pick up weeds until I found myself at the corner again, watching the ants busily moving about, brushing them away from the weeds I’d stolen from them and placing them in the bag with the rest of the trash, was that change doesn’t just affect me. Chienne expects to walk each morning. I’m granted between 15 and 30 minutes after waking before she starts to stare. Then whine. Then nudge me. Picks up a shoe and drops it. Sits impatiently at the door and sighs. My habit has become her habit and she’s in no mood to change it.
The ants had built a cool little community at the end of the flower bed. They had no expectation of those weeds coming up. After all, they’d been there for months now. Chances were that the area would continue to get overgrown and they could expand into a flower bed domination scheme. My impulse to fix the mess I’d left alone too long had severe consequences on the architecture of their major mound. It’s not fair – they didn’t do anything to deserve it. The weeds were honestly so long and dense that I didn’t really realize they were there. But day after day of walking past the icky landscaping had finally worn on me. I wanted it pretty again. So the ants are going to have to deal.
When I show up at work every day – as has been my tendency lately – people are surprised to see me there. Not in a bad way, but it’s different. And changes are a bit jarring. I’m feeling fragile because of the ripple effect from some changes. Mom is sick – she’s on medicine now that should help, but I’m remembering many times I should have insisted on treatments instead of offering comfort. (It’s not really bad – completely fixable. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic.) I remember quite often that Winnie is gone – was writing the date on a data CD I burned and realized her memorial service was originally scheduled for that day. Talk to Dad about the lack of services for my uncle. His sister doesn’t want to deal with it, and Dad isn’t the type to insist.
I can't do much about any of the profound events that have saddened me. I think, much as this analogy pains me, that sometimes I'm the ant. My little world is suddenly much different than it was, and I find myself scurrying around. Confused. Scared. Powerless.
The interesting consequence from all this vulnerability is that I want to change a bunch of stuff myself. Gain some control. I rearranged my bedroom – moved some furniture to the attic, opened up a lot of space in there. I wake up every morning and realize that change can be lovely – I like not having to worry about stubbing my toe as I make my way out of the room. So I decided to move my desk around at work. Put away my journals to open up some space. Changed some of the pictures on my bulletin board. Am going to put up some postcards tomorrow. I like it – it somehow stimulates productivity for me to look at new items, or old items in new places. I changed my theme for Firefox. Bought a new kind of yogurt.
This is basically an effort to avoid doing anything stupid. I’m a little desperate to alter something that will make me better. More happy than sad. My baseline mood lately is low – I find myself avoiding calls, and not really enjoying the ones I take. The bigger concern is that I’m behind on answering email, which really doesn’t happen to me often at all. I feel a step removed from life in general, which is actually good – the hurt is a little less that way, but my level of sadness remains mostly unchanged. The blog is crap lately and I really don’t care. You can stop reading it – that’s fine. Someone came over for dinner. OK. My plans for the weekend fell through. Not a problem – gives me more time to finish weeding my flower bed. I just can’t work up much energy to care.
The problem is that it’s another habit that has consequences. I don’t want to adjust into feeling this way – it’s not who I am or what I want for myself. But I’m disengaging because I don’t know what else to do. Look for another job? No – too soon. And it’s going reasonably well at work. End friendships? No – that’s a bit silly. Just because nobody can make me laugh like I normally did or care as much as I once would have doesn’t mean I love them any less. Date someone? Not now – 2 weeks ago I would have wanted him to rescue me from my sadness, my fear of being unimportant. But now I don’t think I could let anyone in. That would require caring and I don’t care right now. Move? No – I bought a house. A change of scenery might do me some good, but I adore my little home. So I’ll move furniture instead, fix landscaping, clean the garage. That does actually help – I smile when I see the little improvements I’ve made lately.
I think – because I’m not really sure of my point – that I’m reminding myself that my actions have consequences that aren’t necessarily predictable. I’m now stuck taking walks each morning regardless of how I feel or how late I’m running. I feel too guilty about disappointing Chienne to skip our outings very often at all. Even in the insane heat lately. And if I stay withdrawn for too long, it’s a little like the flower bed. Difficult and time consuming to fix.
For now though, I’m not quite able to see out of my protective little shell. There are moments where I can pull it off, but then I tuck back inside and settle in. For just a little while longer… All the while hoping that if I have to be the ant, people will leave my protective weeds alone while I recover a little bit.