Every year of gardening is different. Last March, just as our spring growing season got underway, we had a week of ridiculously high, summer-like temperatures. This was followed by two months of deluge, until the rain stopped like a tap that had been turned off, and the stunned plants dried out for three weeks. It was mayhem in the garden. Half of my broccoli bolted before I knew heads were forming, the other half seemed to go into suspended animation. My peas produced like crazy at first, then succumbed to death by drowning, or misery.
This year is, again, exceptional. We flirted with high temperatures in April, but by the end of the month, the happy weather and occasional rainfall had created a little Eden in the backyard.
Then we hit May, and all of a sudden it’s summer.
The sun-loving coreopsis is already beginning its annual show, and the galliardia is ready to follow suit. My spring garden is not so exuberant, for after weeks of perfectly pleasant days and cool nights, it is being pounded by an unfettered sun, and the temperatures are already climbing close to 90. I was following my usual strategy of watering less frequently but deeply, to encourage deeper root growth, until one day I strolled on out to find this pathetic sight.
This is—for now, at least—a broccoli plant. Broccoli is a spring crop; the farmers were selling theirs in mid-April, because unlike me, they have row covers and can start growing when temperatures still flirt with freezing. Still, I have never had a broccoli plant wilt so thoroughly before. Afraid the rest of the garden might follow suit, I spent an hour or so this morning hauling, emptying and refilling my watering can at the water barrel. Then I tried to rig some kind of shade over this plant, as the other five seem to be holding their own for now.
I know we spoil our pets, but now I feel like a fussy caregiver for a broccoli plant.
It may or may not have occurred to you at this point to wonder how I found an extra hour in the morning to haul all that water to the garden, and how exactly I plan to keep it up on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. Ah, well, that relates directly to my other, non-gardening challenge. You see, I am in the process of being laid off from my job. Yes, after narrowly escaping during the financial collapse of aught eight, even landing a better job as colleagues lost theirs, this year I suddenly find myself a casualty, added to the statistics just as the economy is “slowly recovering.”
I had a bit of warning, some whispers and rumors of upcoming announcements and changes. So on the day in February that my manager called me into his office and used the words “streamlining,” “centralized” and “impacted,” I was not reeling from the shock. If I was reeling, it was from the oddness of the experience, of the halting way that the news passed through the office, from the extent of the changes. Some in my department were being kept on in lesser positions, another department was being let go also, but three months after we were.
I stepped outside the building to call Miss Chef, and was surprised to hear my voice shaking as I told her the news. Not because I’m the strong silent type, but because once the truth had sunk in, my reaction was not one of loss or sadness. Once I had a chance to think about it, I felt a sudden surge of hope and excitement. This was not the end of a career, this was a chance for change!
For years—nine of them, to be exact—Miss Chef, my family and friends had wondered why the heck I stayed in a tedious entry-level position that had nothing whatsoever to do with any of my skills, talents or interests. Aside from the security of a regular paycheck and good benefits, I was simply enjoying the leisure after ten years of teaching. Sure, I had to sit in a cubicle from 8:00 to 5:00 staring at a computer, not to mention witnessing shocking abuses of the English language, but at the end of each day, it was exhilarating to come home with some energy left to garden, cook or walk the dog. Even better, my weekends were entirely my own! That alone made some of the drudgery worthwhile, in my mind. But once my membership to the corporation was rescinded, a veil was lifted from my eyes, and I started to realize how much of myself I had quashed in order to try to fit into the cubicle mold.
Fast forward from February’s revelation, to the end of April. I had now spent two months reporting in to an increasingly pointless job, passing much of my time writing (and re-writing) resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, and soaking in a general atmosphere of growing negativity and desperation. The people keeping their jobs were resentful and nervous, my remote supervisor didn’t seem to know I was still working for her, and my site manager did his best to pretend we were already gone. So you can imagine the relief when we were abruptly informed that our last month was to be spent “on call,” and that we were no longer needed in the office.
As a result, I am now living the most bizarre paid vacation I have ever experienced. A full month’s of time off, followed by an indefinite future. Of course, since I don’t know when I’ll next get a paycheck, I can’t really take full advantage and jet off for a bucket-list trip to New Zealand. On the other hand, I have to admit that I’m enjoying the hell out it. Getting up after the sun, doing my shopping in a nearly empty grocery store, lazing in the shade with the girls, or throwing myself wholeheartedly into my new volunteer obsession, Friendship Gardens, it’s often hard to remember that I’m supposed to be focusing on more serious matters, such as finding another job.
Part of the problem is that not only do I detest job hunting above all other life experiences, but I still have to figure out—again—what I want to do. French teaching jobs are incredibly hard to come by, especially without certification, and frankly, with the way our education system is changing, I think I’m well out of it. In March, I had started to target jobs in corporate training, but after months of slogging through resume profiles, networking, and webinars on transferable skills, I still felt like an imposter posting for jobs with companies I’d never heard of before, pretending I was truly interested in “developing innovative courseware for field sales distribution.” It wasn’t until Miss Chef emailed me a couple of job announcements for blog writers that something sparked in me. I’ve been told for decades that I was an excellent writer, entertaining, intelligent and all the rest. Maybe it is time to follow the light of that spark and see where it leads.
So, at the moment, here’s the plan: I am still looking for jobs, but ones that have more meaning that turning a profit for a company, and not necessarily “career” positions. Right now my biggest hopes are pinned on two part-time openings, one with Friendship Gardens, another doing deliveries for a nearby farm (it’s all about networking). I have also signed up for a freelance writing course at our local community college (hello, Bossy Betty, you’re not commuting to North Carolina, are you?)
In the meantime, I need to get my writing muscles back into fighting trim. Naturally, this is suddenly proving difficult. I recently sat down and tapped out two Essays About Things, but each time I got partway through without figuring out…or caring, really…where I was going. And then I finally had a lightbulb moment—I was trying too hard to be a Serious Writer. No, no, I finally realized. If I have a voice, it is a snarky, humorous, irreverent one! Finally, the sarcasm my mother warned me about could turn out to be the key to my successt! Well, maybe, if this writing thing gets off the ground. Lord knows I’ve come up with one or two schemes in the past that never got beyond the first rush of inspiration.
Assuming for the time being that my muse and I dance well together, my focus will naturally be on food—farmers, chefs, meals—the usual highlights you’ve seen on this blog. Miss Chef is trying to feed me topics, and has suggested I start a separate blog to develop of sort of portfolio of food-based writing I can show to potential publishers. So that is my current challenge—can I sit down and be funny and informative on cue? I’m hoping that you, my small but loyal audience, will come along for the ride. Feel free to offer ideas, topics, encouragement, maybe a little advice (but not too much, as anyone on a job search tends to get more than necessary, trust me). Of course I will post here when/if that other blog sees the light of day. In any case, I sure intend to keep up this one, because I still need an outlet for cat pictures and broccoli reports.
Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go check on my vegetative ward. Because if I lose yet another game of writing-break solitaire, I might be the one who needs some special attention.