How to find a new career

How to find a new career

I’m carrying water from the spigot at Northeastern’s playing field across the street and through the park to the garden I planted, probably illegally. I used to think of myself as a community activist. Then I received an email from the state that they would run a lawnmower over my roses and I felt more like a guerrilla gardener. Then I came to water the garden and my hose was gone and the water main was turned off, so now I wonder if I’m a neighborhood pariah.

I try not to take it personally. People warned me that it gets turned off some time in October. And maybe someone thought it was the city’s hose. When people see me working on my garden they always say, “You guys are doing such a great job,” as if somehow I am working in an official capacity. Like the Boston Commissioner of Obsessive Gardening.

The first part of the garden I water is the farthest away from the spigot because if I wait til the end I might decide it’s too far to schlep the water. I created this part of the garden first, and it is a miniature version of my oval-shaped garden back at the farm. There are roses and azaleas but also a few tests tucked in between:

I planted blueberries to test if the rabbits will eat them. The rabbits only ate dwarf highbush, so I left it there and now they leave the rest of the bushes alone: we have reached an understanding.

I planted expensive hydrangeas to see if people would steal them. They didn’t.

I planted daisies to see if people would pick them, and they did. But I was so happy to see people enjoying the garden that I just added more.

While I walk back and forth I sing to myself because I can — this is the first time in 20 years that I’m alone so much of the time. I sing the same song over and over again. I just sort of start with one and then stick with it for the rest of the day. I try to sing softly near the tennis courts but still my black garden buckets swing a little too freely when I walk by the kids waiting to play.

My bucket doesn’t fit right and the spigot sprays all over, so I wear clothes that I don’t mind getting wet. The people around me do not. While I wait for the buckets to fill I toss a couple of stray tennis balls back into the court so I look more relatable. I also look up at my son’s dorm. The building is next to the athletic fields, diagonal from my park. I find his dorm room by counting five windows down from the top and four windows over from the right. He told me it’s crazy how much I look up at his dorm window. But I know he doesn’t think it’s that crazy because he never closes the shade. Anyway, I can’t really see anything — I can only see the light.

If I am too interested in what the other kids are like and whether any of them know my son then I might spill too much water. And if my younger son wants alone time and I have to take my dog with me then I have to take one bucket and not two. Not because I need to hold the leash — I don’t. She knows the garden routine just fine. But when she finds a tennis ball she insists on a game of catch. All the Northeastern kids want to play catch with her. She only plays with me though. That’s the price you pay for a dog who can be off leash in a big city. Nothing is free.

Someone posts a notice that says the garden must be removed and the transgressor must resod.

I continue to water the garden and every time I water I add more things to the garden. Digging is like drawing because I get to make new lines, and putting in new plants is like painting because I can imagine the colors and how they’ll come up next year. The dog digs holes for her tennis balls, and I dig holes for plants, and sometimes we like it so much we do it long after my son has gone to bed.

At 2am I am filling buckets at the spigot and the dog is finding tennis balls in the bushes. I tell myself I don’t need to try to look normal as we cross the street — her prancing with her ball, me splashing with my bucket. No one looks normal at 2am.

In the shadows behind the hydrangeas a guy pops out. I’ve seen him before, watching me garden.

He says, “Why do you do it?”

“The garden?”


“Well. I’m not sure what else to do instead.”

21 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    This is beautiful and makes me want to cry. But then everything does today. I’m not depressed -feelings are closer to the surface than usual.
    It makes me glad you, your sons and the dog seem relatively happy. I love that you planted flowers and edibles. That are working with instead of fighting the rabbits.
    I hope nobody is petty enough to stop you even if it is illegal.
    It reminded me of a poem I can’t remember the name of. It involved planting vegetables and flowers together. Preparing for good and bad times

  2. Minami
    Minami says:

    Things I got from this post: To find a new career, don’t be afraid to break rules. Find out where nobody is doing something that should be done. Do what you’ve done well in the past, somewhere else. Find time between it all to pay attention to your loved ones. Look at what you end up doing when you don’t know what else to do.

    Did I get that right?

    That was sweet about your kid not minding if you’re looking up at their window. That’s the nice thing about INTJs: they may think you’re crazy, but if they love you, they don’t mind.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh my gosh. I’m so out of practice posting. I would normally write those headings myself. So I appreciate that you wrote those for me. Very useful, thank you.

      I think the important thing to do when you’re trying to figure out any problem is to stay engaged. Do things that you really care about because life emerges from that. Life hits dead ends when we do stuff we think we should do. I think this is actually the core of the Great Resignation we’re seeing right now. But that’s for another post.


      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Penelope, I’d be interested in your assessment of the Great Resignation. It’s still in the news.

  3. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Good to see you post. Gardening and outdoor work is meditative, like therapy for me as well. PS: I’m sorry to hear about your younger son’s head injury. How is he doing? Also… Curious–is Melissa still a part of your life?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes! Melissa is still in my life. She edited this post. And she told me to stop whimpering and just fucking write a post, which is why I even have this post for her to edit. It is hard for me to write about Melissa because she won’t let me write whatever I want anymore. It’s not fun to write when she crosses stuff out. But I see I have to give an update. Of course people want to know what she is doing. And I confess that I miss writing about her. I have to adjust to a more collaborative approach to writing. I am just really not the collaborative type.


  4. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I love this so much. It sounds different than your other writing, but still you. Maybe in a different key. And I admire your gardening abilities and that you created this no fucks given garden. It’s so life-affirming and human to picture you creating beauty and tenderness out of literal mud. And in the face of impermanence, like a sand painting. This really makes me feel joy today. Thanks for writing it.

  5. G
    G says:

    A garden is a gift of love, that needs weeding, watering and attention. Whom ever is posting the notes fails to see the beauty in your actions, and lives in the weeds of despair, around your climate change garden.

  6. Fatima
    Fatima says:

    This is so lovely. Keep writing and doing your guerrilla gardening. I think the world here would be so much nicer if there was no centralized agencies for everything. People who want lawn instead of normal messy gardens.

  7. harris497
    harris497 says:


    Glad to see you’re writing again! I was going through withdrawal.
    One thing though, please be careful moving around after dark. The University district is not the safest, and your puppy is not a deterrent:)
    Why do you really do it?


  8. Cdrjameson
    Cdrjameson says:

    The water gets turned off about now to stop the pipes freezing and cracking.
    I very much doubt it has anything to do with you.

  9. JLD
    JLD says:

    You think you have reached an understanding with the rabbits…the rabbits have no understanding with you. But best wishes with this joyful experiment; I have always found that the garden breeds optimism.

  10. Carlie
    Carlie says:

    Penelope, I’ve been reading your blog for so long, over a decade, and you just get more and more interesting

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