I just got up from…

I just got up from reading to make a cup of tea; while it was steeping, I cleaned the dining table and watered my plants. A lot of household tasks seem to get done while I wait for the tea to steep -- it's surprising how much you can do in three to five minutes.

Someone (Karen?) was recently watching me water my plants, and asked how often I did it. I think I said every third day or so, and she said something about how nurturing I was... (Karen, please feel free to correct my recollection if I'm getting any of this wrong.) And I was thinking about that just now, about how I have a small, instinctive reaction against being called "nurturing". It sounds so sappy, so meek and womanly. It's not an exciting thing to be. Somewhere in my head I think I harbor an image of the (male) artist, who obsessively throws himself into his work, ignoring the world, passionately devoted to one amazing project. There's a part of me that believes that that's the way you create brilliance, beauty. It's not the way I usually work, but it's been an ideal to strive for.

But I started thinking about watering and pruning my plants, and what that actually means. A few minutes of work, every few days, that make the plants grow bigger and stronger and healthier. If I can do similar things for Kevin (stopping by the grocery store on the way home from the gym to pick up some avocados and fresh mozzarella, so he has a yummy snack when he gets home from the airport tonight) or for my friends, or for the magazine (or for a novel?) -- if I can expend small amounts of energy, periodically, to help them grow bigger, better, stronger, well, that's sort of exciting. You can get a big result from very little effort, if you do it consistently, periodically. Like going to the gym (or flossing, according to my dentist).

We tend to notice big results. The all-out effort, the sleepless nights and ferocious concentration, the splashy product. But the more I think about it, the more impressed I am by the quality results that a little nurturing can produce. (My staff putting out the magazine, beautifully, week after week after week.) Forget the feminine, gender-stuff -- everyone should be a nurturer! If we all did more nurturing, of ourselves, of the people around us, how much happier and healthier would we all be? And then we might have the energy, the stamina, the resources to throw into one of those splashy, all-consuming projects...

Even better, if you can fit it in as a peaceful moment of attention and care, while waiting for your tea to steep. The tea should be nice and strong now.

11 thoughts on “I just got up from…”

  1. I should point out that I was using the term with some irony, because I was watching you over-water the hell out of your plants at the time. You were mopping up the water which had overflowed the plates meant to catch the overflow, and explaining that this is how you always water your plants. I was both truthful and making fun of you, when I brightly proclaimed you a nurturer!

    Also, I had in mind the bit I had just written about M. le Fay, who proclaims herself a nurturer as well. I don’t think it’s a word I’ve ever used straight. Too loaded. (The word, not me.)

    But yes, of course it’s true, we should all nurture each other and grow up big and strong and healthy and overflow our containers. Absolutely.

  2. Ah, right, I’d forgotten that part. I did it again today, actually. There’s one particular pot — I don’t know why, but the water tends to just run off the top of the soil, rather than going down to the roots, spilling all over the place unless I’m very careful.

    So what you were saying was that I’m an incompetent nurturer. Got it.


  3. Yeah, I tend to kinda bristle when I’m referred to as being “nurturing” (I’m a nurse; I get it a lot) . . . it’s just so, well, mealy and martyr-y. Blech.

    But when looked at from the perspective you wrote about, it’s different; it comes from a place of strength, support and love. I like this perspective *much* better!

    You’re right, it’s the small, often simple things that mean so much–and over time these small, often simple things become part of something much bigger, without even trying. Thanks for that reminder.

    I shall now go drink my tea . . . and then water my plants. 🙂

  4. I think what I was trying to get at is that in some sense, it’s more a matter of style — of the way one works — than anything else. Some tasks take intensive effort, all at one go, whereas others take small effort, periodically. (I can only wish that I could just spend fourteen straight hours in the gym once every two weeks, rather than one hour a day for two weeks — I’d much rather do that, but a) my body wouldn’t survive it, and b) even if it would, it wouldn’t do it much good. Annoying.)

    I guess what I would like would be to see more recognition of the “matter of style” concept at play in our society — that nurturing would become disassociated from archaic notions of “women’s abilities” or “women’s nature” or “women’s work”, and simply be a work style, appropriate to certain tasks, and the sort of thing that any well-rounded individual worker would be capable of doing. Maybe it’s hopeless to try to disentangle the connotations from “nurturing”, though — maybe we need another word for that sort of task.

  5. Fourteen straight hours in the gym? Sheesh . . . of all things I would NOT want to do for fourteen hours straight, working out at the gym would rate fairly high on my list. I clearly see the advantage of periodic, small efforts in this case. 🙂

    Disentangling connotations associated with certain words is indeed a difficult–if not impossible–task. Perhaps what matters most is that we do it, not what we call it.

  6. Re: incompetent, pas de tout; your plants looked mighty healthy to me. Anyway, that’s what the little holes in the bottom of pots are for. And what towels are for. And, if necessary, mops…

  7. If you want to drop the “women’s work” language, I once was told that all university academics could be divided as teachers into pruners and fertilizers. Grad students generally hate the pruners and love the fertilizers, though the best personality is a pruner who doles out small exhilarating doses of fertilizer. Any teacher who is any good knows how wonderful a bit of judicious watering can be on the right “plant.” I think you are by nature a good fertilizer.

  8. And now we run into the delightful multiple meanings inherent in the English language, because I could claim that GAC just called me a big heaping pile of manure…

    It’s clearly just Insult-Mary Anne-Day around here.

  9. Fertilize+agentive suffix -er: one who fertilizes.

    Bess Truman once when a ladies club chairman gently commented on Harry’s use of “Manure” regarding Republicans and their ideas, answered, “Madam, if you only knew how long it took me to get him to say ‘Manure!’

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