Yard Work, Removal, Additions, and Creativity

Two hours of dedicated work with a shovel, broom, and rake makes six months’ growth in the yard easy on the eyes, eyes attached to a busy mind.

To look on a preened landscape, in our houses, is one example of peace made real. Though ownership of nature is a veritable falsehood, stewardship, I accept.

Like shredding junk mail — wasteful productions of a bygone era — pruning bushes, clearing dead growth, preparing soil for new growth is cathartic, necessary, but unlike making trash in that even though the work may be reductive, a process of removal, it’s fundamentally creative.

I say creative from a place of feeling. Sculpting marble is a reductive process that we can understand as being creative. Clearing weeds to expose the pattern of a slab pathway is creative, uncovering a design that dried vegetation standing a foot tall distracts from.

Taking action in the real world produces a specific sense of satisfaction. Some grass still grows fresh among a spread of dried up roots. Removing the dead matter exposes a clean soil bed and bright spots of green. Contrast here makes the eyes happy, cleansing the visual palette of a vague beige that only distracts from celebrating the success of these little grasses, still growing despite little light or water.

In contrast to the act of pruning or removing dead growth, adding natural matter with the intent of it decaying is something comparably creative, although the timeline here is no longer an hour or two with tools, but seasons and routine feeding.

I spread topsoil mixed with chicken manure over a patch of ground about eight feet by fifteen. I break down a straw bale and spread that on top, several inches thick over the whole. This process becomes a zen practice, attempting to make the layers uniform in thickness, ensuring even nourishment in months to come for soil that’s only sprouted lackluster weeds in years past.

A mystery, what this soil once grew in years before. Sprinklers now almost buried suggest a lawn. Maybe the old elm could speak to what’s been in this space, but now I look forward to making new dirt.

Four months ago, or so, I started this method of mulching the anemic soil, the Ruth Stout Method. Regular watering and little else has resulted in fresh shoots sprouting out of the Newtonian arrangement of straw patterning the soil. A nopal cactus has taken root and grows new paddles. An aloe vera cutting is slowly expanding in all planes, roots pressing against now-soft soil rich with moisture despite the desert’s intent to dry everything under the sun.

So, after some dedicated work, I’ve transformed dense dirt into a fertile patch willing to accept new life. A different type of creativity: additive.

In another year, the straw will decompose from the bottom up, adding more nutrients into formerly-abused dirt, quickly becoming soil. More straw will be added. Water will be kept in the soil, worms will come, seeds will find a fertile place to spread their sprouts upward, their roots into an oasis in an ecosystem determined to stunt growth, but for those rogue spiny plants that find water somewhere in the ground.

This post originally appeared on my Substack which can be found at the following link:


working from home

Working at Home with Coronavirus Orders

There is no doubt that many of us in the United States are feeling our normal routines disrupted by the ongoing spread of the 2019 Coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2. For me, the timing of this pandemic has been especially odd, as I was leaving my previous job at Ring and beginning a new venture as the shelter-at-home orders came to be.

I am lucky. During my final two weeks at Ring, we all started working from home, as many other companies did. I transitioned out of that role and into a new freelance career with relative ease and it was done entirely remotely.

I’m also used to working from home. Before heading into Ring’s Santa Monica Offices for work, my previous writing contract with a middle-east based social network startup was entirely remote work. I learned many lessons working from home, on and off, for the past three years.

Before all of this, I worked out of a rural California workshop designing a new type of stove for over a year. Scheduling time for productivity, research, and personal projects was something I learned by trial and error. Between cutting, welding, and testing, I was writing and producing a play, filming and editing short videos and music videos with friends and going on regular hikes in the nearby national forest.

Today, things are different. Because of social distancing, many of us can’t get together with our friends or go out and enjoy nature’s treats.

We are being urged to remain home for the safety of ourselves and others, and there are many temptations during this time to grow frustrated with the lack of sunlight and the disruption to our routines.

For me, something as simple as being able to go to the gym before work has forced me to schedule home workouts into my mornings. Now, after a good sweat, I’m getting fully dressed, doing my hair, shaving, etc. before sitting down in the office and getting to work.

I’ve learned that anyone working from home requires a designated space to do their work.

At one time, I had an apartment with an open layout and no distinct space to call an office. The dining area was also my office. This made it all-too-easy to be distracted by my kitchen and living room, what’s being streamed to the TV and what smells good in the fridge.

Time and Place

Set up a time and place to do your work. Never work in your bedroom. If you must, never work on your bed. Admittedly, I’ve never had to contend with housemates in recent years, but when I did have them, I made sure to isolate myself so I can get into deep work effectively and without distraction. Even at home, those noise-cancelling headphones come in handy.

Now let’s talk rationing.

At home, unlike in the office, there are ample opportunities to have a TV show going in the background while you work or have podcasts going all day. Think about what media you were consuming in the office. Are you giving yourself time to sit quietly with problems or are you allowing yourself to be constantly inundated with content?

Deep work requires extended periods of attention.

Remember the times you simply cranked through projects with headphones on and music going? Build momentum. Allow yourself to sit with your work for extended periods, but don’t overwork.

There is this emerging issue with working from home that is overworking. Take breaks. Pace yourself.

For me, my fitness and mobility are essential parts of my life. As this shelter-at-home order in California extends indefinitely, I am coming up with ways to make sure I do not allow myself to remain idle and seated for longer than I normally would in the office. There is ample time in the day to stretch, sweat, work, cook, and clean. I am lucky to have a backyard, and I take time to walk around and get some sun. Please do the same, whatever that looks like to you.

Boundaries matter

Your work laptop may still be open on your desk when it’s 9PM.

Pack it away as you would any other day in the office. Visual reminders of work disrupt the flow of thoughts during personal time. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fret about work during this time unless you are an essential on-call worker and there are critical projects happening now.

Evenings are yours.

Take time to read, finish lingering projects, and learn new skills. But remember to unwind. Like any other day of work, it’s essential to clear the mind and calm the spirit. Many of us now have more free time now since we’re not commuting. Use it wisely. This time will pass, and we shouldn’t pass up opportunities we have now to improve, even if that means relaxing more if you’re a person who typically works themselves to the bone.

Ultimately, optimism will get us through this healthily. While the news channels are following this pandemic with every new case that’s reported, it isn’t healthy to be glued to the news every hour of the day. It is enough to check in once a day, unless you work in the news industry and it’s your business to know and report. Since that’s no longer my purview, I will be drastically cutting back on my news diet and only soliciting information directly from known sources. Knowledge is power, so long as you source it properly.

Hang in there and thrive. Resilience is learned by experiences like this one. Before long, we will be able to move freely again and see everyone we’ve missed.