Monday, 8 May 2017

"You learn by killing things a lot."

I won't leave you wondering what field this was said in reference to - this was said about gardening by a woman who learned to garden in East Germany, in the years after Stalin died. I had been called out by trying to promote the things that our environmental organization would be doing in the future. Trying to prop us up with any form of legitimacy and justify my own presence there, I was telling someone that we would hopefully be holding some gardening workshops. What those workshops were, I had no clue. But we would be doing them.

In true East German fashion (I have a sample size of two - this lady, and my grandma), this lady called me out, not even pretending to mince words.

"You don't need workshops. You need to put something in the ground and see if it grows. If it doesn't grow, you try something else."

Thanks for casually changing how I view my career trajectory...!

You learn by failing. You learn by killing things.


I remember the first time I failed. And yes, I was old enough to have vivid, well-formed memories about it. Because it was the first time, and I had never failed at anything before that. I mean, there were the times I slept through my alarm (I wasn't even asleep, I just didn't get up) for my paper route, and my Dad did it for me. But that's not failing, because the papers got delivered!

The first time I failed at something was my attempt at becoming a lifeguard. It was the summer before grade 9, and I was an amazing swimmer (despite placing in literally nothing at all the swim meets) but I knew I was good. I was exceptional. I was anxious. Too afraid to be anything remotely close to myself.

The details of the course don't matter much, aside from the fact that I got to fake-rescue a guy who I would later re-meet in high school, and fall desperately in love with. My thoughts on first meeting him were - "I've never seen anyone with such pale white skin." Not in a neo-Nazi way, but in a do-you-ever-go-outside?? way. Love.

I failed the course, while others seem to pass with ease. I couldn't understand this. I don't know why I couldn't remember what to do exactly in the exam. And it never occurred to me that I could try again. Too much was at stake. How could I cope with this? I had never been judged to be bad at anything in my life. The only way to deal with this is shove the exam book in the very back of my cabinet, and feel intense dread and self-loathing any time I even looked at its closed doors. Oh, and if I had to - God forbid - get something from the cabinet... my day would be ruined. Remember the time that you failed a course? What does that mean for you as a person? It probably means [a host of horrible and defeatist thoughts I don't need to go into here].


Well I'm not quite sure how I ended up in "urban agriculture," or more simply, gardening. You can make simple mistakes that ruin weeks of trying to start a seedling. Or you can haphazardly toss seeds out and they will grow despite your lack of care. It is difficult for me to have to necessarily learn from failure, as I clearly did not have great coping mechanisms for it. I stare anxiously at the compost pile, willing it to decompose in time for me to use it in the fall (yes, months from now). Growing things can take a long time, and for a lot of that time, there is nothing you can do about it. You do your best, but ultimately it's not up to you.