So I said I would try to explain my 4-week absence from PATSP at some point. I realize I don't have to, but I wanted to, because I felt like I was failing to hold up my end of the agreement I think we have as blogger and audience. (We may not actually have an agreement like that, but it feels to me like we do.) Also I've been thinking about these things a lot -- rather more than I'd like, actually -- so this might be the only thing I can talk about anyway.
My understanding of our agreement is basically that I will try to provide something for you to read and/or look at, which relates to plants, on a nearly-daily basis, and in exchange, you agree to read and/or look at it, and attempt to find it interesting even if it's really not, occasionally providing feedback from which I gain egoboo, learn stuff, or whatever. So what got in the way from late November to early January? Four things:
1. Blogging: Possibly Not Actually a Career?
The most serious of the four reasons is that although I didn't begin blogging with the idea that I would make money from it, that idea developed over time, as I 1) saw what other people were managing to do with their blogs and 2) quit the garden center job and had no money coming in anymore.1 Which hasn't worked out the way I'd thought.
I've tried things, kind of haphazardly. Blog ads went fine until Google decided that they didn't have to pay me. Plant selling would have worked fine for a little extra money if I hadn't also been permitting trades -- as it actually played out, most of the profit I made from selling plants was immediately used to pay shipping for plants I was trading, and there was very little net benefit. (I'm not saying that's a terrible thing -- I got several great plants out of it -- but it wasn't what I'd hoped for.) Running sponsored posts didn't happen because 1) almost nobody was interested and 2) it just felt wrong. Getting free stuff to review did work out okay a couple times, but even if there had been more interest, that's a way to accumulate stuff, not a way to make money. (Also what I really wanted to review was plants, and nobody sent any of those. Or offered.)
The only thing that's worked at all, really, is asking for donations with the PayPal button: I've gotten about $300 since I put that up a year ago, most of it in the first four months after I put it up, and most of it from two particularly generous people. Which is good, considering that I'm asking people I've never met to give me money, and then they do, but $300/yr also isn't anything like a liveable income. Not that I'm owed a liveable income. I know. But still. As ways of turning the blog into something careery, asking for donations hasn't worked out either.2
Now okay. I didn't pursue any of these opportunities as aggressively as I could have, and it could be argued that however much work blog-writing might take, it's unreasonable of me to do it with the expectation that money's just going to fall into my lap. But whatever. The point is that I was feeling frustrated, around early fall, with how the plan to treat blogging like a job until it became a job was working out. And the only idea that I hadn't really tried yet was writing a book.
I'd already gotten a couple inquiries about writing a book, from real actual publishers with websites and reputations and everything. The first (fall 2010) would have let me write more or less the book I wanted to write,3 but eventually turned me down, because s/he talked to his/r marketing department and was told that people don't, you know, actually buy books about houseplants. At least they don't in large enough numbers to justify publishing one from me.
Which is okay. I mean, it didn't do much for my (already low) opinion of marketers, but at least there was an actual, fairly straightforward reason why it wasn't going to happen, and s/he had given me plenty of information about how the business works, so I figure I wound up ahead regardless.
The second (early-/mid-winter 2011) publisher basically had a book already in mind, and were just shopping around for someone to write it. I would have pursued this one harder had the book in question sounded like something I'd be interested in, but their idea4 sounded like the same houseplant book I've seen five hundred times already (the one nobody buys), and although I talked to someone about other ways the book might go, something more like what I'd been talking about with the first publisher, they didn't seem that interested in changing the concept, so I let that opportunity go. This was perhaps a mistake on my part, but it made sense at the time.
So but anyway. Everything else having more or less failed by the end of this summer, I started thinking about book-writing as a route to fame, fortune, and groupies again, and wound up talking to a couple other bloggers via e-mail about book-writing, and convinced myself in the process that: although writing a book would be easy, the subsequent promotion would likely all but kill me, so there wasn't any point to trying.5
So to sum up: the justification for the blog had increasingly become someday I'll be able to make money off of this, so I should keep doing it until something happens that causes money. Book-writing was the last idea I had for how to make that happen, so when I decided it wasn't going to be workable either, my motivation to continue took a huge hit. It's not like I especially wanted to stop blogging, necessarily, but at the very least I would need a new motivation.
2. Blogging is Frequently a Chore
(This is the reason why I thought I was taking a break, when I was taking the break. It's not untrue, but it wasn't the whole story.)
Blogging has always been, to some degree or another, a chore for me. That's not to say that I've always hated it, or that I ever hated it, just to note that it's something that I tried to do every day, along with brushing my teeth and taking Sheba out,6 and some days I didn't really want to. So, sometimes, I got stuck trying to throw a post together right before bed because I hadn't done one, which was occasionally stressful and unpleasant, but 1) there are worse things, 2) sometimes the thrown-together posts were inexplicably popular, or turned out in ways that pleased me, and 3) we have the unspoken agreement where I'm supposed to find you stuff to look at. Usually I was happy enough with what I'd gotten posted, so if there was occasionally a post that didn't quite meet my standards, well, nobody expects perfection.
But sometimes one does want to take some time off and flake out, also, especially coming on the heels of the Rumble Among the Jungle, when I'd been posting almost twice a day for a few weeks.7
That's pretty much all there is to this one. I mean, I think I need a vacation is a pretty broadly recognizable feeling.
3. The Internet is Full of Unpleasantness. (And Cat Pictures, for Some Reason.)
I don't have much in the way of money or power, but do have depressive tendencies, yet I read a lot of news. Bad combination. I kind of can't help it, though -- I feel sort of obliged to know what's going on, as a citizen -- so I visit a fair number of political/newsy blogs.
And I should totally stop. Especially going into an election year, I should stop, 'cause it's only going to get worse after the Iowa Caucuses on Tuesday, and it's not like I don't know who I'm going to vote for already. But it's hard to stop. I get bored or frustrated with whatever I'm writing, I wander around the net, and I wind up hearing about all kinds of people doing all kinds of awful things to all kinds of other people, or planning to, or just being dumbasses, and I get upset / frustrated / fearful / whatever.
One of the nicest things about going on a Sims8 binge is that the way things are set up here, I can't go on-line and play Sims simultaneously, so the more Sims I play, the less I know about what's going on in the real world. I mean, a few things slip through anyway, but it's much more manageable. Whereas when I'm working on the blog, I have to be on-line in order to post, and it's very easy to be exposed to some news accidentally. Then, suddenly I know even more stuff to make me hate humanity in general (Here is one of the hundreds of possible examples.), and have nowhere I can go, nothing I can do, except, you know, just . . . sit there. And hate humanity.
Which is definitely unhelpful for me; it has not, so far, had much effect on humanity.
In mid/late November, when I started the hiatus, the main news story was the unnecessary pepper-spraying of the UC Davis students by the cop, and I'd been hearing about various police abuses for weeks before this, in connection with Occupy Wall Street and its related protests. Which was all sort of distressing. Not having to hear any more about that seemed like a really good idea.
4. Am I Even the Person You Want to be Consulting About Houseplants in the First Place?
And then there was the Gardenia person.
Someone going by the handle "omnomnomsies" showed up on the Gardenia jasminoides profile in early November this year, with a five-steps-to-Gardenia-success checklist. Which is great, I guess. I mean, I have no reason to think that their advice is bad advice.9
The problematic part is what they said after the advice, which was
The above might sound complicated but it really isn't. It is the way nearly every indoor plant should be cared for. There might be minor differences in desired pH but gardenias are no more difficult to care for than any other plant. Control insects, fertigate properly, plant in appropriate soil, win.Which I had a problem with, especially the first sentence. After mandating: a soil mix that most people would likely have to mix for themselves, adjusting the pH of the water one uses with every watering, plus mixing in fertilizer, a runoff basin for excess water, supplemental lighting, lacewing eggs to take care of pests, and possibly even an insect feeder, to feed the adult lacewings so they'll lay more eggs, plus "for lacewings to be successful one must also control ants --" after all that -- it "might sound complicated but it really isn't."
Seriously? 'Cause that sounds pretty goddamned complicated.
And the conversation kind of devolved from there. Omnomnomsies has a problem with me calling Gardenias exceptionally difficult, his/r reasoning apparently being that if you do all of the above, Gardenias will grow nicely for you, and doing all the above works for all other plants as well, therefore Gardenias are merely just as difficult as everything else. Which I think shows a peculiar understanding of the word "difficult." If you manage the light, temperature, water chemistry, insect population, soil structure, and every other aspect of your plants' existence to replicate ideal tropical conditions, then yes, you will probably find tropical plants a breeze to grow. But A) most people don't want to go to that much trouble (myself included), and B) there are plants that don't demand that much trouble.
The point of the difficulty scale -- which is only ever supposed to be sort of a rough guide in the first place, bear in mind -- is to point out that some plants are going to require more extensive rearrangement of your home than others, and the number is an attempt to quantify the degree of rearrangement necessary, and/or how narrow the acceptable range of conditions actually is for each plant. Then omnomnomsies was all like,
Your test seems to be: can I take it off the s[h]elf and grow it in a pot? My answer to that will always be: no. You might think the plant is doing ok but it almost certainly isn't living up to its potential unless you've gotten very lucky and picked a plant that meets the pH of your water and every other aspect of culture.Oh.
Wait. WHAT? That's the standard we're supposed to be working toward? 'Cause if full genetic potential is the yardstick we're using here, then I've never grown a houseplant successfully, and neither, probably, has omnomnomsies or most of you.
And no lie, that whole conversation really threw me, for quite a while. 'Cause the idea that some people would consider a plant a success only if it managed to reach its full programmed potential just wouldn't compute.10 And yet people do think this way. I ran into someone at Garden Web expressing basically the same sentiment while the conversation with omnomnomsies was going on.
So then for a while whenever I was watering -- which is all the time, because I'm always watering -- I'd have fleeting thoughts comparing whatever plants were in the tub to what they could have been, if only I cared enough to grow them properly. Imagine that for one plant, multiply by 880 or so, and you can see how this might not be the best state of mind in which to go a-blogging. Add to this that some plants actually died while I was taking the blog break,11 and I started to question whether I had any business writing about houseplants at all.
I got over it, at least partly. (If I think my plants are doing okay, then they're doing okay, whether they're growing according to their full potential or not. I'm the one who's responsible for caring for them, so I'm the one they have to please, and everybody else can fuck off. Damn it.) But there was still a bit of a crisis there, for a little while, anyway.
5. So Whither PATSP?
None of the above issues have actually been resolved, of course.
I still don't know what my motivation for continuing the blog is to be, exactly. Blogging will continue to take time I might prefer to use for other things. I'm nearer burnout on Sims than I was, but I haven't burned out yet.12 The internet is still full of assholes and news about assholes. My plants still sometimes die, and those that live fail to grow to their full potential.
Nevertheless . . . it feels like time to return to blogging. I think. So . . . I'm going to try doing that again? Probably not daily, especially not at first? And we'll see?
1 The husband's income keeps the lights on, more or less, but the budget is still tight, and things do happen. Plus anything plant-related, obviously, comes out of my money. It's more complicated than that, but that's the gist.
2 Also please don't donate right now. If you do, then I'll assume it was because I made you feel guilty with this post, and that will make me feel guilty because, after all, this whole post is about how I've failed in my sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really obligation, to provide you with semi-diverting plant-related stuff on a regular basis, so it'd get dumb pretty quick -- me feeling guilty about making you feel guilty because of my post about how I feel guilty. So rather than put me through that, how about waiting a while to see if I'm even going to resume regular posting before you donate?
If you're going to donate at all.
Which you totally don't have to.
I now feel bad about having planted the idea.
Though not bad enough to delete it.
I'm serious about the don't-donate-now stuff, though.
3 Something resembling a collection of plant profiles, though they wouldn't be the same plant profiles that had appeared on the blog, because publishers aren't interested in republishing stuff that's on-line for free already. So if I profiled a plant for the book that I'd already written about for the blog, I'd have to come up with a whole new angle for talking about it. This wasn't a problem for me, since I am kind of itching for an excuse to re-write some of the profiles anyway, especially the older ones.
4 Something along the lines of "Impossible to Kill Houseplants." Which, taken literally, might have actually been interesting: I don't know anything about the people who design and manufacture artificial plants, and learning could be fun. Alas, they meant peace lilies and jade plants, etc. Not only are they mostly not plants I care about and want to spend a lot of time contemplating, but they are also -- as is sadly typical for living things -- totally killable.
5 During the break, a few people e-mailed to ask whether I was okay, and I was like, yeah, yeah, I'm fine, just want to play Sims and get away from the responsibility of the blog for a while, no big deal, but re-reading this post makes me think there was likely a depressive episode happening, if a pretty minor, low-level one. They don't always feel like depressions when they're going on (I know, that doesn't make any sense. It's hard to explain.), and the bupropion makes them less frequent and less severe, so it would have been easy to miss. This is especially likely in light of reason #3, which has been a fairly common feature of depressions in the past, and which we'll get to.
6 Though I found that it didn't work to try to do all three at the same time.
7 I'd like to point out, too, that according to the official tally in the sidebar, I put up 387 posts in 2011, only one less than in 2010, so you still got more than one per day, over the year as a whole. If you choose to look at it that way. Which if I were you, I wouldn't look at it that way. But you still could.
8 Technically Sims 2; I have the original, but haven't played it in years because 2 is far superior. I am aware of Sims 3 but haven't tried to buy it; it's pricey, and I don't know that I have a computer capable of running it anyway. What I've heard so far makes it sound like Sims 3 is essentially the same as Sims 2 anyway, as far as the stuff I find interesting about the Sims games.
9 You can read it at the original comment if you're interested, but my paraphrase would be: well-draining soil, hand-adjust water pH with vinegar before watering, feed with every watering, place near window, add supplemental artificial light on a timer, buy green lacewing eggs on cards annually when the plant comes in for the winter to keep pests under control. Nothing particularly controversial or unprecedented; I already do all those except the pH and lacewing things.
10 Among other things: why on earth try to grow plants indoors at all, then, if that's your objective?
11 Some plants are always dying here, both because I have a tendency to declare them official plants too early and because I hang on to plants long after it's become clear that they're never going to do well for me. But, between November 22, when I started the hiatus, and December 23, when I'm writing this part, I lost:
• 2 Saxifraga stoloniferas, which have all been having a rough time over the last six months or so and I don't know why,
• 9 Abutilon seedlings (underwatered, and also I was just tired of them and their neediness so I let them die when I noticed they were wilty, rather than trying to save them),
• my original Pelargonium 'Mrs. Pollock' (A pair of cuttings I took from the plant have survived. I suspect the original plant failed because I took cuttings from it.),
• an Astrophytum myriostigma (which rotted and hollowed out: this was particularly painful because it was a gift from a reader who sent it to me because s/he felt like the plant wanted to come live with me. If this was ever the case, then it obviously changed its mind. I was also especially bummed out by this one because I thought I'd figured A. myriostigma out: the previous one, I thought, I'd lost because I watered when it was also cold. So this specimen, I stopped watering in like October, and the plant room has yet to get seriously cold this year. But no. Still dead. Don't think I'll be trying A. myriostigma again.),
• Kalanchoe prolifera (another example of a plant that didn't survive being cut back),
• Dendrobium 'Karen,' which hadn't been doing very well for a long time (Orchids can Suck. My. Balls. I'm not going to throw away the ones I've got until they die of their own accord -- and they will -- but I think I'm done buying more, ever.),
• 2 huge hanging baskets of Plectranthus verticillatus (not sure about the cause, but I suspect it's temperature-related: they were in a spot that's normally cold, but which is also indirectly in the path of a heat vent, so probably one or the other killed them),
• a Davallia tyermanii I started from rhizome cuttings (probably a watering/soil problem, but I don't know if it was too wet or too dry; 2 other Davallias are currently in the process of dying on me, in a similar fashion, but I have no idea why or how to respond.), and
• an Aloe 'Doran Black' offset which rooted and grew last winter but was clearly unhappy all summer and fall this year -- it died when I tried to pull off a dead leaf and snapped the stem instead.
12 I like building the buildings. I mean, the whole business with sending Sims to work and having them make friends and buy things and what have you is sometimes mildly diverting, but the only reason I bother with those things is so they'll have enough money to build larger/cooler/weirder houses: for some reason I prefer the way houses turn out if I've slowly grown them by adding bits here and there, as opposed to the way they turn out when I start with a plan and don't worry about cost. I particularly like making buildings that look abandoned and filthy. Don't know why.