Early one spring morning three young men came to my house as agreed to put some plants into the ground. It was a lovely cool sunny day, and I felt glad to be welcoming some new life to our family’s little piece of Charlottesville, Virginia. I liked my choices. I remembered feeling good the day that I made the decisions and negotiated with the owner of the landscaping company whose crew would do the planting. Three trees, and five ornamental grasses.
I had a vision!
The plants weren’t there yet, when the work crew showed up. I asked about that, and the crew leader, a mountain-man looking guy I’ll call Sam, said they’d be along soon. Meanwhile they’d start digging holes for the plants.
I walked around with the landscape company owner when he arrived. He sprayed blue paint from a can at each spot where a plant would be going – the holly here, the crape myrtle there, a dogwood over there. Arrayed around the large, attention-grabbing utility boxes in front of our house, we were going to put the five ornamental grasses.
To obscure these enormous utility boxes – they serve the whole neighborhood from our front yard – while leaving room for utility workers to open them up if the need arises, big ornamental grasses seemed like the right choice. These grasses are champs. They look good almost all year – except March and April, when you cut them back and they think about it before spurting up again – and are tough cookies. Snow, salt, humans – they can handle that stuff.
I asked him which grasses he had located, and he scratched his chin, looked away, and said, “Gee, you know I can’t remember right now.”
A little later, some plants had arrived. Soon, the holly was in the ground, as was the crape myrtle. The dogwood, still on the truck, had its hole in the ground all ready for it. The grasses, though…. Something was missing.
So where was the big one?
Where was the queen of the little bed of grasses I had planned? The big grass that would provide a focal point other than those utility boxes.
Instead of the big one, there were three delicate little grasses. I happen to love them – Muhly grass, they’re called – and when they’ve had time to grow, and the afternoon light dances with them, they are other-worldly and memorable. But not capable of growing tall enough or sturdy enough to counteract the effects of the large metal utility boxes in the yard.
The landscaping company owner reviewed everything with me before he left for another job. And the crew leader, Sam, and the crew, hadn’t heard anything the owner and I had said. They would have been happy to put in those three little grasses instead of one big one, thinking they were doing the right thing (I will assume that last bit, for the sake of good will).
Why am I telling this story? Partly to get it out of my system. It’s annoying when you think you’ve communicated things and discover the message didn’t get forwarded to the people in charge of the doing. Mostly, though, it’s to call out this process that I was on the wrong end of that morning.
You know the process, possibly from your own creative work. You make a decision, tell yourself you’re going to commit to it, put a date in the calendar, and look forward to the project.
Losing the mojo
Then the time comes, and maybe you let an administrative part of you try to cut some corners. Wham. You lose the mojo that made this project cool. Then, unsurprisingly, the result is not as satisfying as what you intended in that bright happy moment of decision and commitment. You had a vision, remember?
Keeping an eye on the why
For my yard, here’s what I did: I talked to the work crew – two friendly young men who wanted it to be right for me. I talked to the crew leader, Sam, who said he was sorry for the mixup, and that they’d come back with the big grass another time. And I texted the owner of the company to let him know the three little grasses weren’t going to make up for the one big one we agreed on.
I confess a part of me, raised to behave, suggested it might be OK to just let it go, and not be “one of those people” who kicks up a fuss about some little thing that didn’t go the way they wanted. Then I recalled the idea – they Why – that got this whole project started, and agreed with myself to pursue the project as planned. Even if it took more time, and required me to be insistent against someone else’s resistance.
- There’ve been a few more roadblocks on the way to my little bed of grasses. The big grass – the star! – arrived, looking dead, and like Monty Python’s parrot, stayed dead. I await a promised replacement. Yep. Still remembering why this whole bed of grasses came into existence.
Ultimately the yard will gain some personality and liveliness to counterbalance those big utility boxes.
And with my writing projects, I resolve that the next time I notice myself tempted to let my inner administrative branch slide with some lame substitute for the creative decision I committed to, I’ll call its bluff. I’ll remind all concerned that we will do better if we talk to one another, and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.
We’ll all keep an eye on the why.