Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Gardening, listening, creating quiet monuments of narrative experience

Aunt Lydia (from Hulu's Handmaid's Tale), haunts my garden

During the pandemic I've been gardening--a lot. There's really nowhere else to go but my backyard anyway so I might as well be growing salad vegetables and getting rid of the weeds.

After I bought two pairs of overalls to work in, I discovered that I could put my phone in the front breast pocket and listen to podcasts and audiobooks from the library. (Before I had struggled to listen with wireless earbuds or a bluetooth speaker I lugged around the yard). I didn't realize how much time I was spending in the yard until I listened to all of The Golem and the Jinni (500+ pages), followed by Becoming by Michelle Obama, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood--all in a couple of months time. And that was between listening to different podcasts.

An unexpected consequence is that I now associate certain areas of my yard with specific characters or stories. My strawberry patch is now the Aunt Lydia strawberry patch (I think of her and her perhaps justifiable cruelty when I am in there weeding or picking berries). The new patch of grass that, it turns out, happens to be the dimension of two side-by-side cemetery plots now brings to mind Chang and Eng (from listening to Mo Rocca's Mobituary on the original Siamese twins, while I sowed it). And the stone and brick sidewalk I've been putting in reminds me both of the Southside of Chicago and NYC at the turn of the century...

These are quiet tributes created not as statues or anything permanent, and which only I can see. It makes me realize that anywhere we are, wherever we walk, there is probably one of these silent monuments of experience, whether lived in actuality or through words. There may be multiple monuments, multiple experiences, all on the same patch of land or in the same place. Aunt Lydia's monuments may be found on bus seats or city sidewalks or bedside tables. A stairwell, a flower, a patch of earth, may evoke Michelle Obama's voice because that's where you or I were when she told us about her life.

My garden is filled with plants and with memories of places to which I've journeyed through the sound of voices coming out of the bib of my overalls. It may look like I am growing only lettuce and parsley and tomatoes, but I am also growing memories. Small miracles, freely given, voices emitted from a phone that seldom rings.

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