I find it odd. I can still remember things my father and mother said to me nearly 30 years ago. I look back and realize that my folks probably had no idea I was really listening so very carefully–that their words would take hold and somehow define my will, and thereby make me who I am. I bound those words around my neck; wrote them on the tablet of my heart. I’m not sure my sisters listened in the same way I did. Probably. Who knows? I was always pretty sure my friends and classmates didn’t have fathers like mine. I always assumed they were deprived, but now I’m not so certain. Maybe they had great parents, but they just didn’t listen to them?
I believe it was easier for me than it was for most people. The words matched the actions. My parents practiced what they preached. It wasn’t arbitrary; it was consistent. I saw it lived out, and it was in-line with the teachings of scripture, reinforced by church and school. I wasn’t brainwashed–I was formed, molded, modeled.
Are my children listening to me in the same way that I listened to my parents? Will they remember the things my wife and I say and do?
Yeah, there’s a part of me that thinks I’m crazy. I’m employing people to make things that have no (apparent) economic value. Why? Just cause I like it. There’s a word for that: patronage. This week, my ‘botanical poet in residence’ really had a tough day. In eight hours, he produced four lines. That’s 2 hours per line. Just 23 words, for a whole day of work. 20 minutes per word. Here they are:
I remember kneeling with the trowel,
frozen earth leavening my marrow into silver,
and above, jet exhaust
unzipping the crystal day into dusk.
Do I seem crazy? Listen, I don’t even like poetry. I don’t read it. I don’t get it. I think, all too often, the emperor is wearing no clothes. Maybe this whole enterprise is crazy, but I can’t get that last line out of my head, “unzipping the crystal day into dusk.” I think it’s sublime. They’re just words, common and maybe even mundane. But they’re perfect. They make my heart ache and rejoice at the same time. They tell me life is beautiful in a way that’s so much more meaningful than bluntly saying, “life is beautiful.”
Four lines in one day? But when they’re good lines, they’re worth ever penny…and worth all the struggle it took to rend them out of the author’s gut. It’s such a privilege to be a patron! So I don’t care if you don’t get it. But I don’t blame you either. I’m not sure I even get it. But it is worth it. I really think it’s worth it.
My paraphrase of a 19th century economist, Frédéric Bastiat:
“When stupid greed and false philanthropy unite, the greatest evil is born into society: the law is transformed into an instrument of theft. Why is that so great a perversion? It erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice while giving an exaggerated importance to politics. The object of our aims changes from producing wealth through the diligent, careful and rigorous application of our time, effort, resources and ingenuity into confiscating by the force of law the wealth already produced by an oppressed and vilified minority. When the majority realize they can vote themselves the money belonging to the rich, who will stop them?”
A couple years back I had an idea for a garden-related reality show. I called it Yard Mullet. You know those houses where the front yard is perfectly ordinary but the backyard is amazing? That’s a Yard Mullet: all business in the front; party in the back. This was the logo I made to help visualize the idea.
I very rarely get “fan mail,” so when I do it really provokes me. It feels good, but it also raises up doubts: “They don’t see I’m a fraud! How can I live up to this praise?”
Here’s an excerpt from the kind note I received last week:
Art, that article you wrote for the August Growers Talk was phenomenal. It is one of those reads that you really can’t wait to share with others. One of those articles that you can’t quit thinking of. I realized on how many aspects of business, and life, it can be applied. Inside of our operations, your thoughts opened our minds, as well as creating new conversations.
The article he’s referring to was my second essay for GrowerTalks. I’ve never told anyone this…I set out to write something that would be controversial, something so “out-there” that it seemed completely indefensible: “Don’t listen to your customers.”
Yesterday, my editor sent me a note that it’s time to write another essay, for the December issue. Do I step it up? Play it safe? Push the boundaries? Mail it in? Yikes! Somebody’s watching!
Last week I met a young girl who was doing some cool stuff: she started a business, a hip little shop selling indoor plants. And she’s doing pretty well, opening a second location soon. What led her to start a plant shop?
While in design school she worked on a project that included plants, and she was hooked.
Why was she in design school?
She had begun by studying photojournalism, but realized she wasn’t great at it and she was losing interest. So she switched to “industrial design.”
I asked her, “have you ever seen the film, Objectified?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “It was after watching that movie that I decided to study industrial design!”
So here’s a cool young hipster girl doing cool hipster stuff with plants…and one of the main “tipping points” that led her to do all of this came from a film. Do you think she ever sent the filmmaker a note saying, “Your work inspired me and now I’m doing all this really cool stuff?” Probably not. I wouldn’t have. The same director, Gary Hustwit, was one of my inspirations behind PlantPop, and I’ve never thought to share that with him. Why would I?
You’ll never know what influence your work will have, but you should set out to make whatever you make so that it will have a positive and inspiring influence. Lets’ just assume it will change peoples’ lives for the better. Just don’t expect to ever get confirmation.
When the canopies of oaks strong
And maples noble whisper along,
In Pollacked piles collect dicarded
Exhaling summer sun and youth unguarded.
When gentle hands travail with rake
Yet still the earth does not forsake
Nature’s goal and sacred duty
To reflect her Gardener’s beauty.
Nodding heads, white, purple, yellow
Laughing faces, joyful fellow.
Locked in coolly pensive thought
Hardy pansy, forget-me-not.
Against the cold, she stands defiant,
With grace and fashion, winter’s giant.
Shrugs off frost and icy dew,
Promise of a world anew.
I do not think I shall ever see
A flower so fair as the dear pansy.
While Spring is fresh and Summer enchanting,
Wise gardeners know, “Fall is for planting.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but…”
“I don’t mean to hijack the discussion, but…”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
When someone says they don’t mean to do something and then use the word “but” you can be pretty sure they’re getting ready to do the very thing they’re claiming they didn’t want to do. It sounds polite, but it’s not.
Some people were born to run. They do it for fun. They actually enjoy it.
Others run because they want to get somewhere.
The same is true with writing, I think. Sometimes it’s a sprint. Sometimes it’s a marathon. And while you can get better at it, it’s never easy.
When I went to sleep, the forecast track of a major hurricane looked like it would come right over my farm. This would cost us dearly. Even without damages, even if it were a false alarm, it would cost us a great deal of time and effort to prepare. And the sales, oh, how can you make up for two lost weeks? Who wants to plant new flowers, shrubs and trees when a major storm is heading your way?
When I awoke, the storm track had shifted. Now it looks like it won’t even come close.
Of course, there’s still a chance. Anything could happen. Perhaps tommorrow morning there will be another dramatic turn in store, but in this moment I am so very glad. Unspeakably relieved. Thank you, Lord!
But people–people much poorer than I–are being devastated by this storm right now, this very minute. They are very far away, on some Caribbean island. And tomorrow, it will be Florida. Not my problem. I was worried, preoccupied. But now I can relax; go about my business. No worries.
He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
Sure, I can tell myself that I’m not “glad at calamity,” not “rejoicing in another’s misfortune.” I’m not “mocking the poor.” It’s not wrong to feel relief, to be glad to be spared destruction. But something tells me I’m far too quick to stop caring about this storm that rages out there. It might not be coming to my door today or tomorrow or this year or next. It might never come. We who have chosen to dwell in safe harbors, to build houses on solid rocks…how do we react when ruin comes to the unfortunate?