Weed by weed

March 15th, 2008

I wrote this post yesterday and I was holding onto it for later, but holding on is not at all the spirit of this post, or the teaching of the weed.

I used to know a deeply intuitive and provocative woman, a woman of many arts and aptitudes, who said she was going to write a book called Start What You Finish (as opposed to that book we’ve all had recited to us a billion times, Finish What You Start). I well understood her point. Before we even start something we are already mentally rounding the curve toward the steep and sticky part, the complex, exhausting, immeasurable length of it, the part we can’t imagine doing, and we stop before we’ve begun. How to keep from doing that would make a great topic for a book.

We lost touch with one another, but as far as I know, this was one project she never got started.

This morning I sat down to work on the kind of work I get paid to write. Honest, I don’t get paid much or at all to write this other stuff. So I’m looking at my options on this wide-open morning: to crack into the research brief entitled “Competing on Analytics,” or the “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability.” (I’m not making this up.) Or maybe I’ll just scroll one more time through my primary source, the white paper I already wrote once, “Making Performance Measurement Work.” I need to pull together an outline and key messages to ghostwrite an industry article on “Operational Dashboards.”

I give up. It’s not happening today.

Today, I’ll weed.

We used to enjoy having a carpet of green weedy ground cover across our rolling backyard garden. I say enjoy but I really mean accept because what, in the end, is more enjoyable than simple acceptance? Our vista looked neat and green, but the ground was mostly weeds. Then when our nervy neighbor began hoisting his two-story addition overlooking our home and garden last year, we raided the retirement fund to landscape the whole schmeer with towering bamboo and darling little mounds of grass called “dwarf mondo.” Isn’t that the cutest name? Dwarf mondo, i.e. little big. Because it’s a little thing that can cover a big space.

We replaced all the topsoil with rich, fragrant dirt and planted precious little plugs of mondo across the roaming whole of it so that now I still have a green grassy ground cover but I do not enjoy it nearly as much. No, I have replaced that sense of carefree disregard with the drive and agitation I imagine a surgeon feels as he surveys his upcoming schedule of life-and-death procedures. Now, I am a backyard neurosurgeon, prying sprigs of weeds from between the delicate roots of my baby mondo, my vast and miniature world, my little big.

When I look up across the endless stretch of the job before me, I surely want to quit.

But if I manage to regain my focus on what’s at hand I realize it’s just one weed. There’s always just one weed to do next. I do it weed by weed, and the weeds always show me how.

I’ve come to believe that every impasse, obstacle and impossibility is just that: one weed, saying, “Pull here.”

I don’t ever finish. But I always start. Weeding is something you start but you’re a fool if you think a gardener is ever finished, if you think a garden ever stays put.

Today I’ll weed. And when I return to the job I’ve set aside, it will start in an altogether different place, a different space, with different openings and perhaps, greater ease. Everything moves through this one place in time, the infinite and unimaginable totality of existence moves through this one moment of motion: the tug, as I dislodge a weed from the earth. When I do that, I dislodge it all.

Starting anything is starting everything. The finish, if you want to call it that, takes care of itself.

In homage to a certain treatise on birds.


  1. The ground here is still frozen, recovering from the 20-inch snow dump we had last weekend. But I have seedlings in my breakfast nook, and today we noticed the beans and cosmos pushing through.

    Now I’m looking forward to weeding.

    Comment by TZT — March 16, 2008 @ 12:29 am

  2. yes indeed-all of life is a process. that thought can either be overwhelming or liberating depending on how you look at it.
    nice post!

    Comment by tracey — March 16, 2008 @ 4:29 am

  3. If I lived with a garden like that I would not sleep inside, eat inside, go inside, or do anything inside. I would weed, maybe, but mostly lie on that green and look at the sky. WOw. So beautiful.

    Comment by denise — March 16, 2008 @ 5:47 am

  4. Not so fast, Denise! If you lived here I’d make you do all the cooking. I may be slow but I’m not stupid.

    Comment by Karen — March 16, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  5. Maybe I’ll pull a few weeds today too. Just to start.

    Comment by Shalet — March 16, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  6. weed by weed and then start again … such a metaphor of life! happy weeding. and, seeding!

    Comment by Shawn — March 16, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  7. I’ll take weeding over analytics & statistics any day! No beginnings, no endings, only weeds. You oughta share this post with Mary-Louise Parker!

    P.S. Someday, you could host a gathering of bloggers as a ploy to get your garden weeded! I have a feeling lots of us would show up.

    Comment by Jena Strong — March 17, 2008 @ 2:29 am

  8. Cooking, weeding…it is ALL good to me! 😉

    Comment by denise — March 17, 2008 @ 4:37 am

  9. I love weeding, and pruning. I always thought of it as one of my peculiarities … but maybe it is also because it forces me to be present in the moment, and thus to feel alive.

    Comment by RocketMom — March 17, 2008 @ 5:26 am

  10. “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability?” I’d need weed, too.

    Oh, that’s not what you meant, is it?

    Comment by Mama Zen — March 17, 2008 @ 11:39 am

  11. oh, i need this today!! i’m at expert at “finishing” before i’ve begun!

    Comment by jen lemen — March 17, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  12. One weed at a time. I’ll remember that when the weather turns warmer here. I’m still a month away from weeding. (I think I can procrastinate that long.)

    Comment by Mary Ann (Moanna) — March 17, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  13. this is exactly how i spent my sunday…
    looking out across a vast yard full of weeds and chanting to myself…”weed by weed”.

    Comment by jessamyn — March 18, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  14. Yes. Bit by bit. Weed by weed. Bird by Bird. Piece by piece. I can get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the things that never end (the laundry, the gardening, the pruning, the cleaning, the writing…). What a wonderful reminder to start —

    Comment by Meg Casey — March 26, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

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