The street garden has been significantly damaged again, this time by a painter my landlord hired to paint a so-called mural on the wall. He had to have the mural done to save the garden from “graffiti peoples”, he told me in a letter left in my mailbox as a so-called apology. Yet “graffiti peoples” have never done any damage to the garden. They never tag or paint on the wall during the growing season when the plants have come alive. They have only ever tagged the wall during the winter months when the plants are dormant. They have always had respect for the garden. I told him that months ago. Painting the wall was for him only. I hate when people lie about their motives and then call that an apology.
No the only people who have done damage to the garden are random drunks and bar goers looking for somewhere to urinate. Or people who think it’s okay to let their large dogs loose. Or my landlord and the numerous idiots he hires to do work that always results in dead plants.
I tried to write more about this to explain what happened but two days have passed and I am still so flattened by it. I’ve finally hit my limit. My initial response to the damage when I discovered it was first anger and sadness and then the urge to destroy it myself. And then when some time had passed I thought about digging all of it up and selling the plants off to recoup some of the financial loss. Because that’s all land and space means to people. Ownership. Property. Financial gain. I didn’t expect him to understand why I dug that garden, why I have spent countless hours over the years and many dollars buying plants and replacing the ones that have been destroyed. And to be honest I am fairly certain he doesn’t understand the kind of work and commitment that goes into building a garden like that. And if he did, I would never expect him to understand why anyone would go to the trouble with so little obvious gain. I would never have imagined that a time would come when he could understand why I didn’t just do all that but I also took responsibility for the space. I cleaned up the garbage that was tossed there and I cleaned up the dog poo that was left behind by careless dog owners. I didn’t expect him to get why I care about that space so deeply, and I certainly didn’t expect him to respect or even wrap his mind around the larger philosophical and political reasons why I think it is important for us as citizens to feel a sense of entitlement to sharing in a collective responsibility in shaping our cities. That we shouldn’t have to buy our way into that kind of agency. That power, value, and success should not come from ownership.
Sure I didn’t expect any of that but I did expect him to have some respect in the sense that he has benefited from the work I have done. Where there was once a neglected eyesore, a dumping ground for all manner of waste and debris plants live and colour thrives. There is life in a space that was once hopeless and considered dead. And despite the damage that has taken place over the years I know far more people are glad it is there. And you know what, people go into his store and ask him about the garden. He gets to take some personal pride and responsibility for something he has no part in AND his property value goes up. It makes him look good and it makes him money. All I ask for in exchange is that he not destroy it. That he not be involved in destroying it. But he is. And he has been time and time again. It’s hard enough to wrap my head around the kinds of abuses the garden has withstood from total strangers but when it comes from someone who directly and financially benefits from it… I don’t have the ability to understand this.
And then he has the gall to tell me he did this for the sake of the garden. He couldn’t even step up and apologize honestly. That kind of apology is like a kick in the face. It insults my intelligence.
And that is where I have been for the last two days. Flattened. Feeling defeated. Unable to muster up that resilient and stubborn part of me that usually steps up and gets on with it no matter what. I have taken this all very personally. Some may say TOO personally. Some may say I am a whining, bleeding heart socialist who needs to get a grip. Some may say I need to develop a thick skin and buck up. And the thing is I have tried to put some psychological distance between myself and the garden for my own sake but the reality is that I have a deep care for the things I create. And I have learned over time that putting up a self-defensive wall doesn’t really do me any good over the long term. I used to live my life that way in fact. I developed it young and grew it up good and strong until I had a fortress so dense nothing could get in or out. And what I learned through time is that a wall is not really protective at all — it just cuts me off from vital parts of myself.
When a gardener nurtures a garden, they nurture themselves. I know this is a big part of why I have such a strong need to grow things and create. When I take time to create something I turn all of the hurt, loss, and pain I feel inside for having not been nurtured when I should have and I make something of it. The action involved in creating shows me what hope is and gives me a sense of agency that I can turn things around for myself, that I am not destined to hold onto the enormous weight of all of that pain and suffering for the whole of my life. It gives me hope for the state of the world. It gives me a picture of a world where people aren’t valued based on superficial bullshit and where I can play a role in making the world that I dream of. The strongest and most difficult thing we can do in the face of difficulty is open ourselves up to be vulnerable. Rather than hardening ourselves off from the possibility of bringing more pain into our lives, we stare it right in the eye and allow ourselves to keep feeling everything anyways. Really feeling the depth of the hurt and grief of the bad stuff. Opening ourselves up to the good no matter how scary. I can write those words but it is the hardest thing I have ever done and will have to keep doing for the rest of my life if I really want to live and be alive. And if I disconnect myself in ways that seem self-protective then I also end up disconnecting myself from the great benefits and healing I receive from the action of building, making, creating and dreaming.
I think that’s why (or one of the reasons why) I feel so crushed over something that may seem as insignificant as a garden. Because as much as I have tried not to I put my heart into that garden I can’t imagine doing it with only half or a quarter of myself invested. And that’s the kind of world I like to imagine. One where we can all feel safe enough to put our hearts into the things we care about without fear of having it broken. And one where we are all valued and can in turn have a shared sense of entitlement to shaping the world into something we can feel good about. I don’t want to stop dreaming because I am too afraid to be hurt and I especially don’t want to stop because dreaming makes me into something as reviled as one of those ridiculous bleeding heart dreamers.