|Our willow arbor is beginning to fall apart.|
I was introduced to the book Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe many years ago when I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College. Surprisingly, the book was not assigned, but instead, it was recommended to me by my boyfriend at the time, my first serious boyfriend, someone who’d lived in Nigeria for several years with his family and had greatly admired the book. Believe it or not, I often think of this book when I consider my garden.
In summary, the book examines the life of one African man as his traditional tribal culture rubs up against the culture of white Europeans and Christianity in his realm. The events that occur become increasingly more painful for the reader to read as the story progresses, and in the end, you are there, on the stage with them, confronted. Few books have ever left me so radically changed.
Things Fall Apart has stuck with me for many years, and I return to it often, especially whenever I feel stuck between conflicting realities. Let’s say radically so. Often, nowadays, I stand between the world of the healthy and the world of the ill and as much as you may believe these two places are the same, they are not. If you are healthy you can physically work and earn money or else take care of things like your health and possessions. If you are currently unemployed, that is not even close to being the same as unemployable. If you are ill you struggle with money, time, personal expectations you’ve placed on yourself, schedules and then there is always that nagging responsibility you feel to lessen the stress for those who care for you.
We all have to put on a productive happy mask, but what lies beneath it is always what matters most because beneath the mask and its design is what we call its integrity. That’s what makes some books great, while others miss the mark. It’s the unseen emotive element in design—and it exists even in garden design. Not surprisingly the designs with the most integrity are also those which inspire us the most, that’s why we say great works have soul. They live and breathe apart from us. It’s for this reason Dr. Frankenstein, like so may others, created his monster. Unlike them, I am not a literalist, or for that matter, a copyist.
When it comes to our garden, I am often asked what style it is, and up until right now, I haven’t really had an answer. It wears no mask, at least not one that fits into any traditional category—and we like it that way. When we get around to affixing a mask to it, I will let you know, but until then, I think I may begin to tell inquisitors that it is in the Style of Illness.