“Wow, look at you. I wish I could have a garden like yours but I guess I’m just too lazy.”
“I love your garden. Too bad I’m too busy to do this kind of thing — I’d really like to.”
“Wow, you’re really making the rest of us look bad.”*
“How on earth do you find the time to do all this?”
I used to think objecting to these questions was oversensitive until I stood, for the hundredth time, awkwardly smiling and inwardly wondering: exactly what am I supposed to say to this? “Yep, guess you are too lazy; try turning off the TV.” “Too busy? Yeah, I know what you mean. I have such a hard time juggling my own relentless schedule of manicures and drinks with the girls.” “Actually, your yard is making you look bad, hon.” Or, to the last question: widening my eyes, jittering back and forth, and exclaiming, “Speed!”
The real reason I’m tired of all these remarks (and their variations) is not the words but the little nonverbal twists at the end: the little airy laugh that always follows “I guess I’m too lazy,” the self-satisfied smile that always follows “I’m too busy,” the vaguely horrified tone to “how on earth?” Why do I get so annoyed by these remarks? Because a) they are not expressions of a genuine desire to change one’s life by gardening or other ways, b) they are not genuine compliments, and c) they cue me in to the presence of something I hate more than just about anything else: somebody projecting their own unresolved, unprocessed emotional bullshit on me.
In this respect, gardeners are like athletes and obvious-good-health-maintain-ers (who get the same kind of pushback in “I wish I had the time you do to exercise…” “I wish I could eat more healthy [sic] too, but I just don’t have the willpower…”) and writers (in my non-garden life I get a lot of “I could write a novel/story/screenplay too, if I just had the time…”) I am willing to help or advise anybody who’s honestly interested in gardening, who honestly wants help or advice, and I know how life can throw up obstacles to change – I’ve experienced many of those obstacles myself. But every year it gets a little harder to be polite to the people who respond to the vague envy my garden arouses in them by tearing it down. And the difference between the honest and the passive-aggressive is a lot more obvious than they think.
Feel guilty about the barren moonscape around your house? Then do what I did – just start tearing up the landscape cloth and hauling away rock and chip away at it, little by little. Take the initiative and get started. It’s not rocket science. Feeling like your life’s too busy? Take the steps you need to take to bring things back in balance. Feeling fat? Climb the stairs and look harder at sugar and push yourself to get on a bike or take a walk at the end of the day (and drink more water. It helps). Want to write? Get Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and write for half an hour a day and tap into resources like community-arts-center classes and see what you get. But for heaven’s sake, don’t go around seeking to make other people the scratching posts for your own passive-aggressive, self-pitying, self-exculpatory, same-old-same-old excuse-making crap. If the sight of someone else’s success (in any area) makes you envious, admit it and take steps to achieve some success of your own. Don’t dodge your own moment of truth by making apparently friendly, actually undermining remarks that don’t fool anyone. And before you turn and walk away from the garden you have stopped to admire, say something simple, true, and not about you: Thanks. This is beautiful.