I’ll never be a Master Gardener

Today I confessed a shameful secret I’ve been harboring for nearly a decade: I was turned down not once but twice for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener training in Rensselaer County in upstate New York. The self-disclosure was so satisfying that I’ve decided to go public with it on my blog.

After my Nia class at the Y, I was chatting with two Master Gardeners about last weekend’s flower and garden show at the nearby community college, and they were raving about the flowery archway one of their fellow M.G.s had created at the entrance of the show. Impulsively I pulled one of them aside – she’s a retired psychotherapist with empathetic listening skills – and confided in her about that long-ago humiliation.

I’ve endured my fair share of rejections over the years as an artist, writer and job applicant, but I’ve always aced the application process when it comes to training programs and schools, up to and including top-flight Ivy League colleges like Radcliffe and Columbia. Perhaps that’s why this particular failure rankled so badly – that, and the fact that I had absolutely no clue why they considered me a persona non grata.

But over the years I’ve come to realize they may have made the right decision. Back in the day, I was wild about gardening. I wrote about it, even developed an elaborate proposal for a book called The Blissful Gardener. But I decided that I probably didn’t have the credentials or experience to sell it, much less the gorgeous photographs demanded for that kind of book. My gardening efforts, in fact, were fairly pathetic. I loved the sense of joy and wellbeing engendered by gardening. I had great ideas and design sense, and I loved planting my latest finds, but I lacked enthusiasm for the more mundane tasks that demanded perseverance – minor things like mulching, weeding and watering.

For the interviews, I brought copies of articles I’d written and described the fresh contributions I could make to the Master Gardener program. But I’m afraid I didn’t come across as much of a team player or journeyman worker compared to the applicants who’d put in countless hours as volunteer gardeners over the years.

Back then I was in a depressive phase, still adjusting to retirement and not yet a published author, and I remember sobbing about how I was a total failure and nobody wanted me for   anything. But that feeling is long gone, and I’m better off without the serious time commitment entailed in being a Master Gardener. At Saturday’s garden expo I sat in the front row for a presentation on “Tough Plants for Tough Places” by the program head who’d twice rejected me. I peppered him with questions and contributed a couple of nuggets of my own.

Did my nemesis remember me all these years later? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. All that shame, anger and depression is gone at long last. As my therapist friend says, it’s good to have closure. And though I may never be a Master Gardener, I can still be a blissful one.

Missed concert prompts war on clutter

By all reports, Sunday’s Albany Symphony matinee concert in Saratoga was marvelous. I’m sure I would have loved it, but I lost the tickets! Perhaps that’s what prompted me to attack the moldering cardboard cartons of memorabilia in the outdoor storage shed – my life’s in desperate need of order and clarity.

My husband purchased the tickets at a recent church auction. They’d been donated by a couple with a subscription series who couldn’t use them, as they were vacationing out of town, so we had no proof of purchase. I clearly remembered stashing the little white envelope in my handbag when I got them – or at least I thought I did. But just to make sure, I decided to double check on Saturday night. To my horror, they weren’t there.

The handbag is a good one, a red leather Tignanello with lots of zippered compartments and deep pouches, and I rummaged through all of them, then turned the purse inside out and shook out the contents on the sofa. Among all the used tissues and cough drop wrappers I found lots of loose change, an expired driver’s license, and business cards I’d collected who knows when, where or why, but no tickets. Nor were they in the side table drawer where I usually stash tickets and other time-sensitive papers.

Panicking as Saint Patrick’s Day segued into Sunday, I searched all the relevant nooks and crannies I could think of. Still no tickets. I gave up around one-thirty, popped a Lunesta – my first in over a month – and fell into bed. Next morning, my husband woke me by saying “Any more ideas about where those tickets might be?” We resumed the search, but I had to bail in time to make choir practice before the service, and they never turned up.

My spouse was good about it – he even sprang for brunch at the New World Bistro, so now we were out $50 on top of the original $40. He didn’t lecture me or even raise his voice, and when I asked why not, he said “I figure you’ve been torturing yourself more than enough.”

Back home as concert time rolled around, l was overwhelmed by an atypical urge to attack my clutter. For my search and destroy mission, I decided to tackle the outside storage shed that contains cartons of miscellaneous books and papers I’ve been meaning to sort  for decades (well, two decades, anyway.) Months ago, a branch from my neighbor’s dead maple had smashed onto the flimsy metal roof during a storm, and we hadn’t gotten around to “fixing a hole where the rain comes in,” as Paul McCartney would say. Expecting water damage, I’d been afraid to look, and my fears were justified. Half a dozen boxes stacked beneath the leak had been soaked, and the contents spilled out haphazardly.

I donned rubber gloves, pulled up our giant trash receptacle and began to jettison soggy books and papers. Trekking back in time, I trashed dozens of how-to-run-your-own-business books from my decade as founder of ElderSource, Inc., my long defunct home care agency, notebooks and photos from my years as an art therapist, extra catalogs and show announcements from my years as an artist in SoHo. There were dozens of wedding announcements from 1975, of which I salvaged a handful, and a copy of Daily Girl, a soft-core magazine from 1973 with a feature article and full-page color photo of the interior of a geodesic dome I’d constructed for a feminist art show called Erotic Garden. (Once the show was over, the dome took up residence in my loft, where it served as an extra bedroom. My daughter was conceive  there, but that’s another story.)

I even found the notebook from my freshman seminar at Radcliffe, which featured weekly dinners at a Harvard house featuring speakers like Erich Fromm, Marshall McLuhan and B.F. Skinner. But what I most want to find is the letter enclosing a check for the prize money I won for showing my paintings at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. That would give my paintings a provenance and increase their value if I want to sell them.

Today’s another sunny, abnormally warm day, so I’m going out to the shed to resume my search and jettison more junk. I’ve only got a couple of hours; then I’ve got to get spruced up to go to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall to hear Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It should be a great concert, and fortunately, since I’m ushering, I don’t need a ticket. Now, if I can just find my name tag!

There’s lots more to say about disorganization and culling clutter. Do you have any stories or advice to share? I’d love to hear your comments.