Everything's a stupid life metaphor

"Most vines will quickly revert to a tangled mass of foliage on the ground if they are not given proper support and a reasonable amount of care and maintenance."

I stalled out on the Little Back Side Yard. It's always been very hard for me to finish projects, no matter how clearly I can see -- and want-- the carrot dangling in my mind's eye. Some folk say that taking the first step is the hardest one.  It's hard, I guess, but not nearly as hard as the second step.  And they're both impossible when I don't know which way to go.

"Often, when plants are purchased from the nursery they are already trained on a stake driven into the container." 

I'm jealous of people with unwavering ambition, and wonder what gene they have that I'm missing. My lack of direction is something I've never understood about myself.  It isn't that I shy away from hard work; I feel most alive when I'm really focused and fighting for something.  How is it that neither that feeling nor the goal itself sparks enough incentive in me to get anywhere?  These are things I want to change about myself, but it's mighty hard to change under the brutal regime of hard-to-start and never-finish-anything.

"Remove the stake and any twist ties at planting."

Habits are embarrassingly powerful. I read somewhere it takes 21 days of doing something every single day for it to become a habit. That's encouraging for starting new habits (Three weeks?  No problem!). But then, it's disheartening to realize that the damaging habits are there because I've a) done them 21+ days in a row and/or b) haven't been able to NOT do them for 21+ days.

"Historically, vines were severely pruned at planting. Remove dead or damaged branches and shape the plant as needed."

Many people live their lives without being haunted by their past mistakes and bad habits. I am not one of them. I want to learn how to be; hard or not, changes need to happen, and I know I'm responsible for holding myself back. I feel dizzy from spinning in circles for the past 10 years. Or maybe the past 34 years. Everything in my life is upside down right now, and I desperately need to find solid ground.  It's been a crappy few months-- or few years-- or maybe a crappy decade-- and I want to shed all that and move forward. So where do I start, recovering the energy lost over that much time? How do I find a new path after so many years in the same groove? 

"New vines often need guidance in reaching the intended support."

So, I started seeing a counselor a few months ago.  I need objectivity and experience  to help me transition. Shifting from single mom to stepmom-- trying to build a family where there is none, fighting to stay sound and true in the face of internal and external quicksand-- has been the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. Then, on top of that stress, add the daily balancing act of juggling job and family, plus the stress of spotty work, continuing health problems from said work, touch-and-go finances, and an emotionally ravaging custody battle. I'm a pretty tough cookie, but that's at least one high-octane situation too many for me to handle without professional guidance.

I like my counselor. She's spunky, has a great sense of style, and gives me actual advice instead of the vague, "And how does that make you feel?" I think I'm getting some good out of the visits, and felt pretty positive about the whole thing--  until last week, when she told me I had to think of ways to change my negative thought patterns for our next session.  

Lady, if I knew how to do that on my own, I wouldn't be paying you.

"Use a short piece of string, netting, or stake to provide guidance to the lower portions of the support (trellis, fence)." 

But, okay. I'll give it a shot. It's not like I didn't know counseling would involve some serious soul-searching. I got home, pondered my homework, and tried not to glower. The cat wanted to go out to the Little Back Side Yard, and I went with him. It's peaceful out there; it's just dirt and rocks right now, but it's the one place in my life where I feel excited about possibilities instead of overwhelmed by just how to realize that potential. I noticed the vines were not properly climbing, and immediately set about to remedy the situation. Why train the vines at that moment, when I'd been putting it off for over a month already?  Who can say. This is exactly typical of how I manage to accomplish things: a combination of accident and impulse. 

I'd initially wrapped the vines loosely around the fenceposts, meaning to train properly in the next day or two , but I never had gotten around to it. In the weeks since then, they'd deliberately released the support of the fence and wrapped back around themselves, down into the dirt. They were starting to choke out their own bases. Exasperated, I wondered what the hell kind of plant doesn't instinctively grow upwards. Stupid vines.

Disentangling the tiny runners from themselves and re-wrapping them along string lines was a delicate and time-consuming business.  My initial irritation at the vines gave way to identifying with them exactly.

"The main reasons to prune established vines include: limiting vigorous growth, clearing around windows and doors, enhancing flower production, thinning branches, and removing dead or damaged wood."

It's so much easier to travel an established path than set out fresh runners on a virgin course. It doesn't matter that all the preceding vines have died out along the old road; the dead branches are convenient to hold onto and follow, much moreso than climbing up a sheer fencepost. Unless I clear out all the dead crap and provide easily accessible string freeways for their travels, they'll continue doing what their predecessors have done. What else do they know, after all? It's a growth habit years in the making. They need a fresh start.

"Spring-flowering vines are usually pruned after they finish flowering, while most other vines are pruned during the dormant season."

I need a fresh start myself. I'm taking time off from work right now precisely to clear out my mental bracken, extricate myself from whatever is holding me back. I can't skip this step, can't wander vaguely off on a new journey without pruning out the old growth first. Not eradicating the dead tangles from my life is exactly what's kept me circling the same old roundabout. New results never arise out of doing the same thing that's always been done.  

"A mass of new shoots may appear after severe pruning; select the strongest shoots and remove the rest."

This isn't to say I can't or won't make mistakes going forward; I will. But I can choose to learn from them instead of dwell on them. I can honor the lessons learned instead of resent that I had to learn them at all. And the flipside of this sentiment is not feeling guilty that I'm not accomplishing things as quickly as I could, or think that I should. The Little Back Side Yard will get there, and I'll get there too.

Excerpts from Training/Pruning Vines by Erv Evans © 2000, used by kind permission of NC State University.


  1. From my point of view it is clear what your new path should be, or rather is... writing. I believe in you and I hope these next months bring some relief. I can relate to your experiences and stressers in so many ways. I am going to acupuncture this week for anxiety. And listen, I missed out on that gene too.. that and the competitive gene! Love you!

  2. I'm too anxious to lie still through an acupuncture treatment... ;)