Wednesday, July 25, 2012

come alive! it's a tomato emergency

This is a row of tomatoes.  Or more accurately, 3 (or 4?) rows, blended into one.

I know it looks more like a big green blob, but under the cover of that big green blob lurks a mass of approximately 1 million little green blobs.  A developing "tomato emergency" as my friend Jay has dubbed it.  He should know because, well, he planted them. 

tomatoes layered on potatoes

the day's haul: potatoes, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, okra

Some people have an eating disorder.  My friend Jay has a planting disorder.  He plants vegetables compulsively in the night, secretly sowing mass quantities of seeds, watering on the sly, then professing not to know how 100 butternut squash erupted in his field while the rest of us were drinking beer in the river.

knee deep in butternut vines

In case you're wondering, Jay is not a professional farmer (as in, he has another job and doesn't grow vegetables for sale), nor does he actually plant vegetables secretly in the night.  He does, however, have access to this large space that he feels compelled to fill with vegetable plants, even though his garden is more of the backyard variety, intended to feed his family and perhaps a few friends.  If you ask him what he's going to do with the produce he collects from a mile-long row of okra plants, he'll just grin and tell you, "I don't know, but isn't it great?!"

more okra than any one person should ever grow

There is a famous quote, tenuously attributed to Howard Thurman:

Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

It's safe to say that planting stuff and feeding people makes Jay come alive.  While I understand that not everyone will come alive in an oversized row of okra, I do believe everyone can come alive through some kind of creative work.  I don't just mean artwork; I mean making stuff: stuff we need (clothes, food, furniture, shelter, etc.), or just stuff we like (chocolate cake, beer, jewelry).  When we create the things we need and/or like, they become pieces of artwork, don't you think?

Our culture focuses so much on the pleasures of convenience that I feel we sometimes miss out on the deeper pleasures of work.  We expect that if we pay someone else to landscape our yard, or paint the walls of our house, or grow our food, then we will feel happier than if we did the work ourselves.

But do we? 

Compare a frozen and microwavable spaghetti dinner-for-one with a sauce made from tomatoes you grew yourself.

For me, the microwave meal skims the surface of what I find satisfying about food. It doesn't even meet my basic expectations of nutrition and flavor. Instead, it puts all of its eggs in the basket of doing nothing. As if doing nothing is a pleasure and convenience we should seek at the expense of all else.

In doing nothing, we miss out on the pride of coaxing seedlings into plants, the sweat of weeding, watering, harvesting, and canning (it's a lot of sweat for sure), the anticipation of hearing your canning lids seal and pop, and finally, the joy of creating and sharing the meal.

It's a deeper satisfaction, gleaned from a deeper investment--I felt this keenly when I "lost" my sweet potato stew last spring.  

Food prepared this way doesn't come in single servings.  When you share it, you can badger everyone incessantly, bragging, "I canned these tomatoes myself 6 months ago! Isn't this the best sauce you've ever eaten?" Or, "How do you like that sauce? Did you know those tomatoes used to be in the backyard?" 

That's what I do, anyway.  Maybe I'm not so fun to eat with?

The point is, have you ever heard anyone brag about a microwave dinner?  In comparison, it's more like a mirage than a meal.  It shimmers enticingly on the counter, makes your mouth water with anticipation, but in the end is nothing more than the appearance of what you wanted.  

How many other things do we experience in this superficial way?  

I'm not saying that everyone needs a tomato emergency, but I do think everyone can "come alive" by going deeper into the process of something.  Most of our work involves part of a job. With little choice, we sell the products someone else developed. We serve the food someone else cooked. We crunch the numbers of someone else's business. How often do we get the satisfaction of going deep, of doing the whole job, or of saying "I made that" and then sharing it with others?

Of course, we don't have time to do this with everything.  I assure you that Jay doesn't "go deep" into the process of making his own clothes.  The garden is enough.  But surely we could all pick one thing: sewing, landscaping, cooking, renovating, brewing, writing, painting, decorating, weaving, whatever. 

Start slow (plant one tomato, knit one potholder, paint one wall).  Pick something you like, something you need, and at whatever pace, go deep into the process of it. 

Make it. 

Share it. 

Follow it. 

Come alive.


  1. Great advice, Deb. My "come alive" thing is writing... although the gardening & cooking thing would be great too. Thanks for the reminder. ...Oh, and beautiful pics too! Maybe photography is one of those "come alive" things too?

    1. yes - writing does it for me too. but also gardening/cooking. oh - and i do love photography. what i need is more time!