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Thursday, August 8, 2013

I Have a Lawn Now

I have a lawn now.  Correction—my new duplex has a lawn that I’m responsible for mowing every other week now.  Still, I haven’t mowed my lawn since I was 18.  I’ve mowed other peoples’ lawns.  I’ve mowed large tracts of land in national forests on riding mowers.  I’ve chainsawed, wood-chipped, bobcatted, and cherry-picked, but it’ been ten years since I’ve mowed my own lawn.

Last year, my first year in grad school, I barely noticed that I had a lawn.  As I recall it was blocky shock of grass split down the middle by a concrete sidewalk with a small garden of dead and dying things to the side.  My landlord took care of it and when I came home I mostly ignored it, preferring to tunnel through the nesting grounds that three grad students in different fields called a house until I made it to my room where I’d curl up for the night.  If it wasn’t a seminar paper or a book or a food, I probably ignored it. 

But this year I have a new place.  I’m living with only one other grad student, we have (some) actual furniture, this lawn, and are well on our way to possibly being mistaken as real people.  It’s easy to forget about the place where the rest of the world lives when you’re in grad school.  It’s easier—sometimes necessary—to squeeze the world into just one narrow swath of material in order to accomplish your goals.  Maybe mowing my lawn doesn’t constitute tearing down these walls and hurling myself into this other world, but it does require me to physically enter it for about 45-75 minutes every two weeks, walking it in tight, incrementally moving left vertical lines.


My old place at I-don't-give-a-crap Lane

Me now.

And there’s a certain joy to mowing a lawn.  Similar to the mindlessness of apartment cleaning that tricks the brain into believing that it’s being productive when it has chapters to read and papers to write, mowing gives me a different kind of satisfaction—a bump up on the old production/ procrastination scale.  The other day I found myself hypnotized by the lanes of fresh cut grass I was etching into the lawn.  Where there was once tangled chaos, evenly-cut order sprang forth with a wave of my wand.  I was enamored.  It was the results-oriented satisfaction of cleaning my apartment, but with an added feeling of a new normalcy as in this was something that millions of real people do.  I vaguely remembered this feeling from my before grad school days.  I kind of missed it now.  Maybe it was just the fumes from the cracked gas tank converging with the grass clippings, but I found mowing my lawn refreshing and wonderful. 

My neighbor across the street, also mowing his lawn, noticed me mowing mine and, I guess as mowing people are inclined to do, decided to walk over to introduce himself.  I had noticed him and his family while moving in.  It was the standard American family with white picket fence, 2 SUVs and 2.5 kids, one a teenager, one in elementary school, and remaining half of one either being the dog or counted as part of their Equinox maybe since it was so big. 

Michael was his name.  Michael was in his late forties with the kind of ankle-high white socks worn with plain white sneakers and cellphone clipped to his belt dad-humor that I enjoy from everyone aside from my dad.

“What do you have your mower set to?  Machete?  I’m just joking with you, but seriously it’s looks like you’re working hard out here, hardly working at all.  I’m just joking around.”

My new neighbors

Ah, yes, just mowing my lawn and chatting up the neighbor about home care.  Yes, yes.  Then Michael asked me what I did.

“I’m in grad school.”

“Oh, grad school”

“For English.”

“Oh, English.”

“Actually, it’s for creative writing.”

“Oh, fiction and poetry?”

“Actually, it’s creative nonfiction.”

“Oh… So like journalism, or text books maybe?”

There’s really no non-pretensious way to explain what creative nonfiction is to someone who’s never heard of it.  I said memoir and biography because that is true, but I still saw his face well up in confusion.  I thought about the story my Director of Graduate Studies had told last year of his neighbor who thought all of his tax dollars were going to this state college professor’s salary so he could read books on his porch all day long.  I added that had also done some landscaping over the summer.

“Well, then your rows ought to be a lot straighter!  I'm just joking.”

Saved it—bam!

Michael offered to hedge my lawn since I didn’t have a trimmer and I agreed, feeling good to be mowing along side of his trimming.  When my mower ran out of gas I said I’d get some more the next day to finish the lawn, but the next day our Internet was installed and so I watched videos all day instead.  The lawn is still only half-mowed, split down the middle like a half-shaven Two Face.  I guess mowing just isn’t as wonderful as 14th season of Law and Order: SVU.  At least I’m not reading out on the porch.

Every damn episode is the same, but God help me, those two notes between every scene...