COMPOSTING…What’s On Your Rubbish Pile?

I’m sure many of you have planted gardens. You may have been so dedicated to the gardening process that you had a compost pile to enrich your garden’s soil. What we reap from gardening or farming  (as in our lives) depends on what we put into it. In farming/gardening it means feeding the soil the right nutrients and one excellent way to do this is composting.

Lately, I’ve been purchasing farm fresh produce from local country farms.  It’s harvest time for many local fruits and vegetables. Foods such as tomatoes, peppers, green beans and it’s corn season. There are also a number of fruits available locally like berries, cherries, peaches, and melons. It is so exciting to see these colorful foods displayed in cardboard cartons or loose or in bundles on a farmer’s wooden display table. After so many years of not being able to access this farm to table experience so readily… well it feels wonderful and makes my heart smile.

As I’ve marveled at all these bountiful delights with my refrigerator full of colorful produce, composting brought to mind an old writing metaphor. I came upon the concept of ‘composting’ in regard to writing in a Natalie Goldberg book. She’s a writer who has written many books on writing and bringing oneself to the page, basically putting pen to paper and just writing, freely and openly, with no editor, no hesitation.

What I recall about her mention of composting is its relation to the many experiences good, bad, indifferent and even insignificant that we have tossed on to our compost pile of life. We all have them, experiences, positive or negative, that have helped to shape and deepen our lives in many ways. And according to Goldberg it can be enriching to pay attention to our compost pile, there are nuggets there to explore.

So, it made me think of all the rubbish from my life I’ve thrown on to my compost pile. Things old and forlorn tossed aside. Things not worthy of our time. Or are they?

According to Goldberg, sifting through our compost heap of rubbish may prove more heartening than we at first sight can imagine.  You’ve heard the old cliché when one window closes, another one opens. That’s what this exploration of our garbage pile is about, it may be tedious, difficult and unnerving even, but if you can take the time to sift you may just uncover how your compost pile has yielded unexpected fruit in your life.

I would invite you to sift through your garbage, place the words “compost heap” in a circle on the middle of a page. Now sift and as you recall experiences you’ve tossed away put them down in a web/cluster around it. You may find a piece of rubbish that merits its own cluster. Follow it through, relax into it, don’t judge what’s good garbage or bad garbage just put it down.

 When you’ve exhausted this exercise, take a look at your webbing or clustering and be open to the ones that have energy or call out to you, even the ones you shy away from. Think about how this event influenced your life. Something that was dismissed as a mistake, a wrong choice or mediocre led you somewhere else, somewhere unexpected … this is what you want to explore and write about. This is where you want to begin.

Here are some ideas to prompt you in your exploration may show up in your clustering/webbing:

  • fun time/sad times
  • memories with loved ones
  • past loves
  • childhood memories
  • trips we’ve taken
  • jobs we’ve had
  • a lousy job endured to just to pay the bills
  • an overbearing boss
  • an unpleasant encounter at the store
  • a bad grade that was undeserved
  • a fight with a friend
  • the loss of a loved one
  • an illness that has past but is not forgotten
  • a disintegrated marriage
  • lost opportunities or paths not chosen
  • living through an oppressive situation

My writing from compost webbing —

As I look at my webbing I see many pathways I dreamt of on my life’s road. I tackled many pursuits, some started were not completed and others completed with no road to fruition. Like my Elementary Education certification.  I thought that was the answer for a newly divorced, single mom with young school age kids. Seemed the perfect parallel career to accommodate their school hours and vacations. If only it had worked that way.

I taught for two years, making so little money I could barely pay bills. When I didn’t receive child support I’d be stressed to the hilt. The school paid my health insurance, but I found I had to pay my children’s insurance on my credit card. Needless to say, that career path didn’t last long and I returned to the restaurant where I had met my ex-husband as the operations manager.

I never wanted to be in the restaurant business and I can’t tell you how many times I swore it off only to find myself back on the floor running around serving and catering to customers. This is not how I saw my working life at all.

It was a reasonably good place to work and I did truly like the people I worked with and the customers, but I knew I could do so much more. I tried leaving twice more, once in product sales and the next in real estate. Both times I returned to the same restaurant garnering a bit more money and few more perks.  Yet keep in mind, there was never 401k or retirement plan of any kind.

This is how I spent the best working days of my life, always dreaming what if, and knowing I had so much more to offer. The years past and my focus had to be on raising my son and daughter.  My goal was to make sure they both went to college, followed their dreams and did not end up working in a place because they had to, like their mother.

As one went off to college and the younger was in high school, I again decided to try for my Masters’ degree with a plan to finish my working life not in hospitality. The big goal was to go for a Ph.D. and work at a mid-west college teaching, living in a peaceful, pastoral setting. Ahhh! This was a career you could work at until you were old and gray. I knew I had to work forever at this rate.

I graduated with my Masters the same year my daughter graduated high school. As she moved on to college I thought I would soon follow once I earned my doctorate. With two children in college and no more child support my finances became a tricky operation. Bottom line I had to keep working.  So, I readjusted my plan – find a job at a college and earn my doctorate for free while I worked. I started applying to colleges in Arizona and in the mid-west (where I really wanted to live).

Best laid plans as they say, after at least 100 applications to all types of college positions, nothing came my way. I was forlorn, a few years had passed and this dream was withering on the vine. Eventually, I moved to the big desert city of Phoenix (ugh!) where there was a much better pool of jobs in general. With a professorship dead and buried, I found work with what turned out to be a wonderful nonprofit focused on early childhood development.

I became the agency’s first community development manager which meant I represented the agency to the community. It was my job to inform people about the incredible services this agency had to offer young children and their families in mental health and child development, disabilities services, literacy/language development and family support services. Ironically, managing a business and my few years of teaching garnered me the position.

I made relationships across Arizona because of our statewide services. I got to know the movers and shakers in the early childhood development world locally and nationally. All of whom were doing marvelous things to give young children the foundation they need to succeed and live a fruitful, positive life.

Funny as I write that last sentence, giving young children a fruitful life…. See that’s what this unexpected, un-looked for job gave me… a fruitful career. For the last nine years of my working life I contributed to an essential, important cause. It was not teaching as traditionally thought, it was not the sciences that I had once dreamed of, it was not the art I hoped I would make, but it was mindful, thoughtful, heartfelt work that I enjoyed providing.

As I look at my webbing I see the many things I desired, the many things I pursued and what I see is that these in the end contributed to an unforeseen opportunity that gave me value and enriched my life as I traveled to retirement.

Now I sit far from the Arizona desert, back in the mid-west – yes in that peaceful, pastoral setting I dreamed of – realizing that we cannot always see where our path is going and we cannot always control where it takes us, but all those discarded pursuits may actually provide the fruit you hoped for in a very unexpected and surprising way.

Share This