Grow baby grow

Yesterday I picked three beetroot, eight broad beans and half a dozen mange touts.  If you’ve been following this blog from the start you’ll know I’m something of a virgin gardener so forgive my desire to crow about this modest harvest and show you a picture, even though you can’t properly make out the magnificence of the first vegetables I’ve ever grown.

vegetable harvest

Anyway, it got me thinking about growth.  See, I might be a novice gardener but I’m no stranger to the concept of growth.  Indeed, I devoted several years – and a heck of a lot of money – to personal growth, a period my ex-husband called – rather wittily for him – Project Lorna and which I’ve written several poems about in my forthcoming collection.

It started innocently enough.  I was commuting from Brighton to London when I started getting panic attacks on the tube and at Victoria Station.  Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack knows how frightening they can be – the spacing out, shaking, sweating, pins and needles, the palpitations.  For me, everything seems too close and yet a long way away; I feel as if I’m about to unravel from the inside out.

The first time it happened I thought I was going mad.  The doctor prescribed beta blockers and a short course of counselling.  Job done.  Then, a few years later, I had a bit of a meltdown and was again referred to a therapist through my GP.

That’s when I got hooked.  Fifty minutes a week talking about yourself, getting to blame everything on your upbringing, having every scenario seen from your point of view – what’s not to like?  Okay, there’s the cost.  If I’d saved all the money I spent on therapy and complementary therapists I could have bought a house by now, or at least a terrific wardrobe.

Because, in characteristic fashion, I went for it.  There’s a great sequence in Hannah and her Sisters where Mickey, the Woody Allen neurotic hypochondriac character, has an existential crisis and experiments with converting to Catholicism and becoming a Hare Krishna.  Going to an ashram in India aside (on arrival I discovered the guru had just died of an all too mortal heart attack) I didn’t really touch on the religious end of things.  But I attacked the smorgasbord of personal development with all the gusto of a beggar at a banquet, and went on a Viv Nicholson (spend, spend, spend) style shopping spree in the supermarkets of the new age.  Acupuncture, aromatherapy, Alexander Technique, chiropractic, counselling, Jungian analysis, cognitive behavioural therapy, transactional analysis, reflexology, autogenics, transcendental meditation, mindfulness – you name it, I dabbled in it.  Not forgetting the legion of books promising to help you overcome your addiction and co-dependence and ‘follow your bliss’.

But did any of this stuff help me grow?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  What happened is this; in the quest to become a woman who was calmer, more confident, more caring, more generous, more focused and less irritable, less impatient, I lost myself. The more I delved, the more conditioning and propaganda I found; the more I despaired about my tendency to fantasise, the less authentic I felt. The less selfish I tried to be, the more self-obsessed I became.  The more I looked for a purpose, the more meaningless everything seemed.  The more I analysed, the more anxious and depressed I became.

The question I forgot to ask was: is growth the right aim?  Not according to archetypal psychologist James Hillman.  For Hillman, growth is for children; after a certain age, it’s cancerous. He sees the human potential movement’s idea of the psyche as naïve, its notion of growth simplistic in the way it presents growth without decay and nature without catastrophes.  Where, he asks, is sin, where are viciousness, failure, and the crippling vicissitudes that topple most of us at some point?

Quite.

I’m walking through campus at the University of East Anglia, on my way to see the university counsellor (it’s free and I’m lonely).  The UEA campus is grey, concrete, utilitarian.  It’s drab and functional, as unimaginative as I’m starting to find the talking cure. The process is too crude, too reductionist.  I’ve been analysing my past, my memories, my childhood forever and it isn’t working.  Pointing a finger, describing a feeling, finding a cause doesn’t stop me crying over a slice of cake at 4pm but neither does it begin to help me understand the magic of running my finger over the kingdom of frost on my childhood bedroom window, the way a streetlight slanting through a frosted glass door in a basement used to haunt me each night.

In Hannah and her Sisters, Mickey tries to kill himself, then snaps out of it while watching the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup.  My own lowest point also happened in New York, in a snuff box of an apartment on the outer fringes of the Lower East Side.  I was staying with crazy Janine and her leukaemic cat, kept awake all night by the trucks and police cars on East Houston.  It was my last day and I’d wanted to go to Greenwich Village but I couldn’t leave the apartment.  Instead I watched back-to-back soaps and poured my heart out to the cat.   Sadly I didn’t snap out of it just like that – apart from anything the film on the flight home was an inferior rom-com starring Meg Ryan.  In fact, it was several years later that I woke up one day and realised that for some time I hadn’t been bugged by the nagging feeling that I was missing the point.

The vegetables were pretty good, by the way.  Not out of this world, but good – the beetroot earthy, the beans sweet.  Talking of sweet, here’s Woody Allen in Manhattan listing some of the things that make life worth living:

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~ by Lorna Thorpe on July 5, 2011.

6 Responses to “Grow baby grow”

  1. I’m getting worried – first you diss Glastonbury (I’d just got back) now you’ve moved onto self help books (my 3rd one is due to be published at the end of the year).
    All very entertaining though!
    Gill x

  2. Nothing personal Gill! Tell you what – I’ll make up for it by giving your book a plug closer to the launch. Meanwhile, what’s it about?

    Lorna x

  3. As could be expected I fell deeply in love with my therapist – David (linger lovingly over the first syllable) – who taught me it’s ok to be angry. Didn’t Voltaire recommend “Il faut cultiver votre jardin” – couldn’t agree more. Congrats to the Virgin Gardener!

  4. You should join Jo’s gardening group on Facebook! xx

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