Déjà vu all over again. In what is apparently becoming an abusive relationship, I again find myself the victim of Marianne Willburn’s poison pen, which, I now believe she nightly wields in her dreams, inflicting dagger-sized wounds on a field of retreating lesser writers in Play Station-like battles. For again, right here on Garden Rant, my home turf, another rebuttal. Actually, a rebuttal to my rebuttal of her rebuttal to my happy, harmless, and humorous little column, “Time for A Grexit,” which appeared in the July/August 2019 Horticulture Magazine. Just a 500-word bit of sophomoric snark I dashed off last summer when I was still sweet and hopeful. It was cute. It was funny. And, despite itself, it did manage to make a surprisingly cohesive case for American gardeners taking all their English gardening books and dumping them into Boston Harbor. I was innocent back then, and my life was so much simpler. Appallingly, it turns out that having a stalker is nowhere near as much fun as you might imagine.
This most recent rebuttal wasn’t unexpected. Red flags were up after her first rebuttal, and my family and I worried that Marianne could possibly be a serial-rebuttaler. I could see her in her classy, tastefully appointed, mountain retreat, seething from my jovial retort to her first rebuttal, and working. Working! I cowered, knowing she would soon, on a day of her own choosing, emerge with another 15,000 word tirade. All of it letter perfect and grammatically correct, and crafted to turn all my loved ones against me and laying waste to all I am, all I ever was, all I’ll ever be, and everything I’ve ever loved. Including all my dead pets. And all my dead Stewartia. And, I’ve got to admit, I’ve been a nervous wreck. Pretty much, this has been the worst period of my life, which includes the bout with cancer I mentioned in a previous missive and, in fact, bring up in almost all my conversations.
Here’s the deal. After my last rebuttal, I was out of ammo. I’d used up everything I had. No quotes left in the stockpile. No more references back in the magazine. No last cache of jabs, nudges, innuendo, and implications. Not even a dull, rusty bayonet on the end of my empty rifle/poison pen with which to inflict dagger-sized wounds. So I hunkered down in my ramshackle, mismatched, patched together, horticulturist-class, Midwestern hovel, tried not to notice the leaks in the ceiling and the paint peeling from the walls, and prayed for a miracle.
And, whatya know, I actually got one. Apparently Marianne was out of ammo too. So when the inevitable time came and I looked over and saw the grenade roll into my bunker and blow up, I was pleasantly surprised that it did so with only a soft doink. No blast. No shrapnel. No carnage. What happened was more akin to an uncomfortably loud airing of the “We Are the World” video interrupting your conversation in a bar. Or maybe it’s better described as something like hearing the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial playing on a scratchy transistor radio on a hot day by some kid in line ahead of you at the snack bar at the community pool who walks off with the last French Chew. Or maybe it was more like an overly-affectionate, dripping wet kiss from an older aunt with a weird accent right on the face of your much younger self. Whatever metaphor best describes my response to Marianne’s newest rebuttal–and you get to choose–the fact is that while indeed unpleasant and unwanted, I survived it.
But that doink? Came to find out it was pretty passive-aggressive. One that snuck back up on me after another day and a second look. “Garden Regionally, Get Inspired Globally” was Marianne’s banner, her battle cry and l’appel aux armes. Well, who the hell can argue with that?
Marianne, you pulled a good one on me. Left me dangling and looking like a real jerk. Reminds me totally of a time when I introduced another friend/nemesis and co-worker named Brian to the audience at one of our symposiums at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Our ongoing “feud” was pretty well-known to most of the audience, although not all of it, and I decided to deliver the most personally insulting introduction I could imagine, laying it on thick for an awkwardly long time, bringing up typically off-limits things like divorces, and, in my mind, generously setting him up for one of his patented hilarious ripostes. But he said nothing. Just went into his talk. With big sad eyes. Made me look like a complete asshole! A master stroke!
Yep, Marianne, you got me. You got to the reasonable position first and now here I am a rubber ball dangling from a string on your paddle. Well done.
As I’ve made plain, I am but a simple gardener from the heartland forever drawn by the magnetic pull of my next Big Gulp, teetering constantly on the cusp of diabetes, and free of an opioid addiction by reasons no one understands. As such, I too am not without need of nor appreciation for inspiration. So, for you Marianne, yes, if you get that from English writers who for some reason hope to cross how-to manuals with great literature, go for it. It’s kind of weird, but whatever. Just don’t be tricked into trying Meconopsis. It’ll break your heart.
I, on the other hand, I turn to the bottle for inspiration. And, believe it or not, I only discovered that about myself while pondering this. Ironically, it also occurred to me that my method might be even more cosmopolitan than Marianne’s! While plenty of good Kentucky bourbons are close at hand, I sometimes find my inspiration from a single malt Scotch. Or a spicy Caribbean rum. Or a sexy French vodka. Or a hot-tempered Greek Ouzo. Sometimes a warm Japanese sake is just the ticket, but there are times when a smooth Canadian whisky will do just fine. Or a Mexican tequila. Or wines from almost every continent. Even, and I’m gritting my teeth a little as I admit it, an English gin. Fact is, turns out pretty much the whole planet is lousy with spirits ready to light up the masses with inspiration. This whole revelation humbles me. It fills me with wonder. Heck, I’m but a tiny speck in this big Universe. All of us are. And maybe, deep down inside, somehow, we’re all pretty much the same.
I took that idea to bed with me last night. I laid there thinking about people. And Marianne. I pictured her in her home, sitting by the fire with a cat on her lap and a Christopher Lloyd book in hand, sighing at the better passages and finding inspiration. At least between those times when she’s not shrieking abuse towards Ohio and pounding out another manifesto of a rebuttal on her keyboard. Nope. I suppose that when she settles in and watches Monty Don on Netflix that she really isn’t that much different from me when I find my inspiration by stumbling around in the garden at night, a half empty fifth of Jameson in hand, condemning myself to damnation for all the neighbors to hear by way of whatever blaspheme I bellow when I discover brittle, dead branches where my daphne used to be.
Daphnes. My God, how many have I loved? How many I have lost. I feel my mood changing. You know, it just isn’t fair. I just can’t get over the disparity. The disproportionate distribution of the wealth. I’m thinking here in terms of gardening. Those lucky bastards. Those haughty English, PNW, and Japanese gardeners who ply their passion where the soil is rich, the weather is benevolent, and every person who scratches a mountain laurel into the ground gets drunk on their overnight and over-sized success. And they say to themselves, “I’m bloody great. I can grow everything.” And they take a creative writing class on Tuesday nights at the community college and peck out some frilly, freakin’ best seller! Books that we here in the nether regions see in the windows of the five and dime, which draw us inside just to get out of the cold for a minute. But we slobber all over the pictures and the manager comes and makes us buy it, accepting a chicken and a few eggs as partial payment. Figuring that since we now own it, we might as well read it, we do. And then get all “inspired.” Then on the one half of that one spring day that’s sort of nice, we go out, religiously follow all the advice, and then invariably, inevitably, unsurprisingly experience the kind of catastrophic disaster that can only come when you live here and are daft enough to follow gardening advice from those who live over there. In God’s green Eden. In freakin’ Eden!
Wait. Whoa. What happened? It seems I’ve gone back down that rabbit hole. I apologize.
But, you know, there’s another thing that isn’t fair. Here in the continental part of the country, hard-working, decent, good gardening folk who can write and who really need a break never get brought in from the bullpen. Good writers, people who have willed lush, magnificent oases out of hardpan in weather that kills the people whose central air breaks on all but three or four days a year, never get that call from Timber or any other publisher. Why? Because all of their editors are tied up ushering dozens and dozens of spoiled English and PNW writers through their “masterpieces.” So-called gardeners for whom a daphne could fall off a truck and roll into their ditch and still grow like a Callery pear.
Dammit. Angry again. Wait. I’ve got an idea.
I’d like to buy the world a home, And furnish it with love, Grow apple trees and honey bees, And…
Well, that got annoying really quick. Screw it. I’ve got issues. I’m off to the liquor store.
Fear, Loathing, Capitulation, Relapses, A Cry for Help, and Another Empty Promise to Do Better; In a world of unfairness and charlatans, these are the real things! originally appeared on GardenRant on November 20, 2019.