A couple of years ago, a Sunday morning, in Little Rock, I remember going to an abandoned dance studio. It was a few blocks down from my apartment, crammed between an ice cream parlour and a novelty gift shop. It was dark inside, and cool. You could look out the big front windows and see the hot street, sweaty people under faded umbrellas at the cafe across the road, sunflowers and hibiscus hanging droop-headed in the sun. There were only six of us, maybe seven. We sat on squeaky metal folding chairs arranged in a circle.
We sat in the cool dark room. There were a few faltering songs, some words of invocation. In the light of truth and the warmth of love, we gather to seek, to sustain, and to share. Then a woman in a crisp white shirt stood and began to speak.
I don’t remember who she was or why she had been chosen. I don’t remember what personal experience compelled her testimony. But the core of her talk has stuck with me, surfacing in my mind when I’m feeling strained or overwhelmed.
She spoke about rest. Sometimes, she suggested, we need to retreat. We may be fighting a good fight, doing good work. Doing something important. Making the world wonderful. But, as individuals, we can’t be fighting all the time. We need to give ourselves space to heal and to transform.
In landscape terms, we need to take time to lie fallow. A fallow field is repairing itself. It’s not being broken or aggressively managed. It’s renewing its internal structure after being exhausted. To be fallow is to let yourself shift and settle. Avoid disturbance. Let the slow inner work happen.
Going fallow is a radical act. We’re used to proving that we deserve to exist. Internalized capitalism coerces us into measuring our worth through our productivity. Our cultural obsession with work as identity permeates even into children’s entertainment. Mindfulness, spirituality, and wellness are pushed forward as business tools for increasing employee productivity.
So far this year, I’ve been trying to go fallow. Do some deep work. Let things shift and settle. Take time to find myself again.
In the quiet, I’ve also been working on a new type of project that I’m excited to share with you soon. It’s not about landscape or design. Not even about plants, although they’ll push and jostle their way in as they do in the life of anyone who is primarily a gardener. (Yes, I know that’s a Beverly Nichols ripoff.)
These past four months, the focus of my creative practice (outside of my day job - yay for Asa Engineering where I’ll soon have exciting work to share) has been on an essay cycle, Memos to Myself. These memos reflect my experience as a queer kid growing up homeschooled in a large household in rural Missouri. My intent for the cycle is highly personal - to recognize the ideas about the world that I’ve been carrying around, name them, and dismiss or transform them. I hope that reading these essays will help other people - especially queer homeschooled kids - who are struggling to figure out how to deal with life. The essay cycle concept is an homage to Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, a collection that was transformative for me in my early 20s. I’m expecting to release Memos to Myself by the end of summer - you’ll be able to purchase it digitally and in print through Amazon. You can read the introduction here.
For those of us who make and create and design and grow, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the inundation of great work that our peers are doing. I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by a cloud of friends and mentors who astonish and inspire me daily - whether they’re sewing 100s of beautifully crafted tarot bags or making incredible public gardens or training new generations of plantspeople or telling garden experts’ stories. Making good work matters. Being visible is important. We all want a mast year.
But to keep doing that work, to keep building the world with wonder and delight - you may need to retreat and rest for awhile. Let yourself be fallow.