With all of my summer plans cancelled or reimagined, my partner and I, like many Americans, decided to put in a monster garden this year. I’ll spare you the details of the thousands of pounds of dirt (no exaggeration) I’ve moved over the last two weeks, but I will say that in the hours I’ve spent moving wheelbarrows full of dirt around my yard, I’ve also had some time to think.
Early in March, just as everything started falling apart around us and our university sent all of our students home, Dr. Laurie and I had a long socially distant walk and chatted about how, outside of a sabbatical, neither of us has ever had so much time in front of us to think--to think about how we’re living our lives, about how we’re spending our time and energy, about what we value and what we want. All of this thinking and all of this garden building has presented me with the metaphor I’d like to play with in this blogpost--planting seeds.
To be fair, planting seeds is such a common metaphor that it’s hardly original. However, reflecting on the seeds I’m planting in this moment seems important. But, first, a digression. I remember when I was a kid I must have read somewhere about how during the colonization of the U.S. many women carried seeds with them from various parts of Europe. Seeds were as important as money and were sewn (sown) into the hems of skirts, into pockets, and into the seams of clothing until there was space to plant. This image has stuck with me--sometimes you have to carry seeds a long way before you can plant them. Likewise, years later, I learned that slaves torn from their homes in Africa similarly found ways to bring pieces of their home with them--to plant something of their lives “before” in their diasporic space of “now.” This information got me thinking, again, about what seeds we plant, where we plant them, and how these seeds are so much more than just seeds. Seeds are people, places, cultures, memories, lives.
More recently I read about a 2000 year old palm seed that was successfully germinated after hanging out in the Judean desert for a couple of millennia. Since reading this story I’ve occasionally wondered what other seeds might be sitting around waiting for someone to plant them. I also sometimes think about the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway and how our very survival as humans might depend on seeds locked away in a safe near the North Pole.
Seeds as a metaphor might be quotidian, but there’s something in this metaphor that’s worth a bit more reflection. All of these seeds hold potential and past, history and humanity, for better and for worse. All of these seeds are waiting to be planted. The seeds of trauma, devastation, and despair are the seeds that often grow beside hope, love, and community. It’s important, however, to acknowledge that not all seeds nourish. For example, at this very moment, the seeds of racism that were planted hundreds of years ago in the U.S. are growing with a ferocity that has set our country on fire. Anyone who has ever planted a seed knows that seeds need to be nurtured, they need nutrients, sunlight, soil. Even weeds need this much. We’re all bearing witness to how the seeds in the garden of white supremacy have been tended with care, intentionality, and deliberation.
But, these are not the only seeds.
We’re nurturing other seeds in our gardens as well. As I mentioned in the March 2FP blogpost, the seeds of diet culture are being planted and nurtured even as we’re living during a pandemic. Because we live in a culture that cultivates fatphobia in non-pandemic times, it’s no surprise that those seeds are flourishing in the please-wear-your-mask times. They’re supported by the nutrients of healthism, fat phobia, weight stigma, racism, misogyny, classism, food scarcity, unrealistic body standards, and so much more. Unsurprisingly, the seeds of racism and fatphobia (and other forms of oppression) have long shared the same garden bed (for more on this, read Fearing the Black Body Dr. Sabrina Strings; Hunger, by Roxane Gay, and Heavy by Kiese Laymon). And, as U.S. history thoroughly illustrates, these seeds germinate quickly, and propagate with remarkable speed.
But, these are not the only seeds.
There are other seeds as well and this gets me back to that conversation in March between me and Laurie. Some seeds in my life were planted so long ago that I don’t know if I’ll ever really find their roots--I live with them and try to weed them whenever and however I can. But, other seeds are newer and those are the ones that I’m trying to tend to. In my metaphorical garden, I’m trying to plant some of the seeds that I’ve gathered from the people I admire. For example, from Congresswoman Maxine Waters I’m planting “reclaiming my time” seeds. From Lizzo I’m planting, “If I'm shinin', everybody gonna shine” seeds. From my friend, Tara, I’m planting “Buck up” seeds right next to her “You can do hard things” seeds. From Audre Lorde I’m planting, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing” seeds. From RuPaul I’m planting, “If they ain't paying your bills, pay them no mind” seeds. I’m gathering seeds from the people and spaces that nurture me. I’m planting the seeds that I most want to come to fruition. I’m creating as much space in my garden as possible for the possible, for the now and for the after. And, I’m thinking about the seeds that I’ll be sharing too. As a teacher, a friend, a partner, a community member, I know I’m planting seeds in other people’s gardens too. I just hope that they’re the seeds they need.