I adore two men, neither of whom I’ve had the fortune to meet. Fellow gardener Henry Mitchell, because he cares as much about language as he does about gardening, and James Howard Kunstler, because no one writes about the misuse of land with a sharper tongue, nor has a sharper eye.
I say this, I suppose, as a way to gird my loins against what I suspect will be the wholesale rejection of an article I just submitted. I met the editor’s deadline, but I don’t think I met her expectation. I realize that writers are neurotic on principle and I realize that a day or two of silence doesn’t necessarily mean that she hates it, but I am wrapping myself in two of the toughest guys I know, just in case.
The problem is me, naturally; I said yes to an assignment that I should have passed. It was the first thing this magazine ever offered me, and I lept at the chance before I saw the site they wanted me to review. I’m having this wild flashback to the time a bunch of neighborhood kids and I snuck onto the site of a new house being built. We were up on the foundation when one of my fellow hooligans spied a car coming around the corner. Everyone else had the brains to take the short drop to the inside, but I jumped out, landing on some construction debris and shredding the ligaments in my right ankle.
I think this is going to be that; I think I have torn the connective tissue between this lovely little mag and me. This time it’s not because I was doing something wrong, though, unless you consider offering a highly opinionated opinion wrong. Honest to God, I tried to keep my mouth shut and write some pleasant little piece extolling the virtues of this thing that everybody else seems to love. I just couldn’t do it, and I swear that neither Henry nor Jim could have done it, either.
The site is dead boring; there’s no other way to say it. Well, that’s not exactly true, I suppose, because I spent seven hundred words saying everything but “this site is painfully, unrelentingly dull.” Well, that’s not exactly true, either; I spent four months and seven hundred words. I kept going back to the installation praying that I would see something, anything, even remotely interesting, praying that I’d find some way around the truth, praying that I’d have an aneurysm before the deadline. None of that happened, and though I wanted to say that the site might have bored me to tears if it hadn’t been so banal that it sucked out the energy needed to cry, I didn’t. Not one of those seven hundred words is that truthful.
I know that it’s just a demonstration garden, and I know that it’s demonstrating for a good cause, but these people were given two-and-a-half acres of land to play with. Two-and-a-half acres! I’ll grant that it butts up against a major thoroughfare, which isn’t the greatest backdrop, but it fronts the bay, which ain’t too shabby. And did I mention the two-and-a-half acres? Can you imagine the fun they could have had with the design? Can you imagine the fun we could have had if they’d had fun?
We’re on the Maine coast; how about a compass rose? How about a series of waves, or fat, geometric forms? I wouldn’t have cared if they’d made one huge P for Portland — in fact, I’d probably have been pretty amused — but to do something as pedestrian as you’d see at the mall is unforgivable.
But I didn’t say that in the article, either. I didn’t quote Jekyll’s “wearisome monotony of variety” to describe the planting of this and this and this example of pest-free whatever, and I stifled any expression of glee in recounting the substantial loss of plants the garden had suffered. I did urge them to take advantage of the loss and replant with a freer, more robust hand, but that wasn’t enough to make me happy about the article. I suspect it won’t make the editor happy, either, but for reasons opposite mine.
So here’s the second seven hundred words, and the likely end of my free-lance career with Port City Life. At least I’m not bored.