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When I’m not scrambling to print off 25 copies of handouts that I spend 45 min. to 2 hours preparing, or trying to coerce the class into talking about stuff at 10 in the morning, or poring over materials for the week’s lessons, or studying for my own classes, or freaking out about something that I’ve missed for any of the above activities, I live at a much slower pace. I concern myself with things like turning my postage-stamp yard full of pea gravel into a legitimate garden, which takes months, and weeding all the crap out of my writing, which takes years.

I generally never touch the academic genres unless I have to–I far prefer to delve into the world-building of science fiction or what they call “magical realism–” when elements of the fantastic are written as commonplace parts of the world. I think this is a biased distinction; everybody’s reality is different, and if I choose to take a more fantastical world view than the Academy, who are they to say that it’s not realism? I think I’d rather defer to Neil Gaiman for a definition of reality.

I don’t get much time to work on my own writing. The bulk of my time is spent in academic endeavors–which I still enjoy, for the record, and very much. Never doubt how grateful I am to be here. But if I’m lucky enough to have a sunny Saturday, I generally spend any free time I have away from writing in general–today, for example, when I pry myself off the computer so I can say that I’m a Functioning workaholic, I’m going to turn over the soil in my front flowerbed–it’s sandy and horrible and I’ve been mulching dead leaves into it all fall and winter so that I can turn it into a pumpkin patch for Halloween. 

My neighbors all have things like box hedges or petunias in their front yards, because it’s the suburbs on the North side, so everybody gets their vegetables at Costco. They have the same kind of plants because that’s what the builders planted when they were selling the house, and the older houses all have overgrown, poorly-chosen shrubs blocking the view from the front windows. Ours did too, when we moved in, actually–which is why the soil is so bad. Plants have to be chosen to suit their environment. Otherwise, they get overgrown, sap the soil, and you have to hack them out with a pickaxe.

My choice to put a pumpkin patch in the front will probably get sidelong stares all through the summer–I’m not sure if half the people on my street know that pumpkins don’t grow in cardboard supermarket boxes. In the fall, though, if I keep the aphids and slugs away, we’ll have an army of jack-o’-lanterns and I’ll be feeding everyone I know pumpkin-inspired dishes until they’re sick of it.

I could end this with some moral about how doing your own thing and working persistently at it pays off big in the end, and it would be true, to my experience–particularly with things like gardening and writing. But really, it’s just because I’m obsessed with Halloween and I’m already trying to plan my mad scientist costume.

I’m thinking glow-in-the-dark Madame Curie or genderbent Einstein.


Gardening and Science Fiction