Dennis Leary is one of my all-time favorite comedians. In one of his comic skits, he talks about how modern society is going in the toilet, how everyone is in rehab or therapy, and he talks about his childhood:
What’d you hit me for?
Shut up and get out there and mow the lawn for Christ’s sake.
There’s therapy for ya. Mowing the lawn and crying at the same time
“The Leary’s kid is in therapy again. Their lawn looks great, it’s unbelievable.”
I know when I was a kid, we never said we were bored, sad, lonely or depressed. My mother is Scandinavian, and I think Norway is the motherland of OCD. We lemon-oiled everything and my mother bought a Kirby…and USED every last attachment. So yes, we vacuumed everything—the beds, the curtains, the pets. We changed the sheets twice a week, scrubbed the grout every time we cleaned the kitchen, and scouring baseboards was just part of mopping the floor…which was done daily.
I grew up believing that Johnson grass roots actually are wrapped around the Earth’s core and that everything could be solved simply by changing the color of paint. And above all of this, for me, there is nothing better than mowing the yard and crying.
Leary is right.
This morning I woke up before dawn to work on my novel and by seven I was a complete wreck. Problem after problem after problem…and not a single page written (aside from hate mail to Microsoft Corporation). This has been an insanely stressful week already, but then this morning was just the Perfect Storm of You Have GOT to Be KIDDING Me! By seven I was ready to throw my computer out the window and give up writing. I’d taken all the little setbacks in stride day after day and then SNAP!
I was ready to drink a bottle of wine and pass out…then wake up and try it again.
So what did I do? I mowed the lawn. I edged and swept and dug holes. I planted 3 oleanders, four hibiscus, a trumpet vine and three rows of monkey grass. I dug, and groused and grumbled and yelled at the dirt. I hauled away I don’t even know how many buckets of Texas clay, which is like digging up glue made by Satan, and backfilled with a mixture of top soil and sand (400 pounds total) that I worked into the soil with a hoe and then raked nice and smooth.
My yard looks great, and I’m too worn out to be angry or depressed.
Sometimes I think we writers spend a bit too much time in our own head. And since we have all these characters lounging about in there not really earning their way yet, things can get tense. I believe that at times, we just need to get in the dirt and wear ourselves out and see something tangible for all of our effort.
Writing often doesn’t feel productive. So much of our profession is hard to measure. Yeah, there is word count on a page, but I regularly cut as many words as I write. It felt good to be in the sun and to work all of that negative energy out in a positive way. And unlike going for a walk or doing yoga, I had something tangible to show for my efforts…a lovely yard.
Yep, that writer across the street is in therapy again. Her yard looks unbelievable!
So I agree, sometimes nothing will do but mowing the yard and crying :D.
What ways do you guys work out your frustrations? How do you get mentally right so you can focus when you’re at the keyboard? Share your childhood yard work horror stories! Share your comments. We’d love to know!