Writer Therapy–Mowing the Yard and Crying

Dennis Leary is one of my all-time favorite comedians. In one of his comic skits, he talks about how modern society is going in the toilet, how everyone is in rehab or therapy, and he talks about his childhood:

What’d you hit me for?

Shut up and get out there and mow the lawn for Christ’s sake.

There’s therapy for ya. Mowing the lawn and crying at the same time

“The Leary’s kid is in therapy again. Their lawn looks great, it’s unbelievable.”

I know when I was a kid, we never said we were bored, sad, lonely or depressed. My mother is Scandinavian, and I think Norway is the motherland of OCD. We lemon-oiled everything and my mother bought a Kirby…and USED every last attachment. So yes, we vacuumed everything—the beds, the curtains, the pets. We changed the sheets twice a week, scrubbed the grout every time we cleaned the kitchen, and scouring baseboards was just part of mopping the floor…which was done daily.

I grew up believing that Johnson grass roots actually are wrapped around the Earth’s core and that everything could be solved simply by changing the color of paint.  And above all of this, for me, there is nothing better than mowing the yard and crying.

Leary is right.

This morning I woke up before dawn to work on my novel and by seven I was a complete wreck. Problem after problem after problem…and not a single page written (aside from hate mail to Microsoft Corporation). This has been an insanely stressful week already, but then this morning was just the Perfect Storm of You Have GOT to Be KIDDING Me! By seven I was ready to throw my computer out the window and give up writing. I’d taken all the little setbacks in stride day after day and then SNAP!

I was ready to drink a bottle of wine and pass out…then wake up and try it again.

So what did I do? I mowed the lawn. I edged and swept and dug holes. I planted 3 oleanders, four hibiscus, a trumpet vine and three rows of monkey grass. I dug, and groused and grumbled and yelled at the dirt. I hauled away I don’t even know how many buckets of Texas clay, which is like digging up glue made by Satan, and backfilled with a mixture of top soil and sand (400 pounds total) that I worked into the soil with a hoe and then raked nice and smooth.

My yard looks great, and I’m too worn out to be angry or depressed.

Sometimes I think we writers spend a bit too much time in our own head. And since we have all these characters lounging about in there not really earning their way yet, things can get tense. I believe that at times, we just need to get in the dirt and wear ourselves out and see something tangible for all of our effort.

Writing often doesn’t feel productive. So much of our profession is hard to measure. Yeah, there is word count on a page, but I regularly cut as many words as I write. It felt good to be in the sun and to work all of that negative energy out in a positive way. And unlike going for a walk or doing yoga, I had something tangible to show for my efforts…a lovely yard.

Yep, that writer across the street is in therapy again. Her yard looks unbelievable!

So I agree, sometimes nothing will do but mowing the yard and crying :D.

What ways do you guys work out your frustrations? How do you get mentally right so you can focus when you’re at the keyboard? Share your childhood yard work horror stories! Share your comments. We’d love to know!


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    • Terrell Mims on August 20, 2010 at 8:36 pm
    • Reply

    You forgot to plant the partridge in the pear tree.

    • standonthewall on August 20, 2010 at 8:46 pm
    • Reply

    So that is my problem! Being lazy and having severe emotional issues go hand in hand. Hmmm…

    1. LOL…yeah. I remember one time a few years ago my house and room were a total wreck. My mom asked if I was depressed and even though I was tempted, I said, “Nope. Just lazy. Laying here is way more fun than picking up all my crap.” 😀

  1. What an amusing perspective!

    “sometimes nothing will do but mowing the yard and crying”

    My mother always told me,

    “You can get HAPPY in the same pants that you got MAD in!”

    I suppose that was a precursor to her taking matters into her own hands.

    Her father was also Norwegian…(we’re talkin’whaler off the boat)

    • Vincent Wilson on August 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm
    • Reply

    Absolutely loved your story. I always say “it’s a good day when a chain saw is involved.” There is nothing more mind freeing than making sawdust and firewood!
    Vincent Wilson

    1. Thanks, Vincent. I think I might have been far too dangerous with a chainsaw…my computer might have gotten hacked…literally, 😀

  2. When I’m rational, I remind myself that I chose to do this and can unchose it as well. Giving myself the option lessens the fear, which usually underlies whatever anger I’m facing.

    When my thinking is fouled beyond repair, anything physical helps. Cleaning, cooking, a walk. Also time with other people, like my kids, who love me but haven’t a clue how upset they should be about a blog formating issue, for instance.

  3. Oh boy, do I hear you. Last week I weeded my garden and planted flowers in the rain. Last fall I stripped 100 year old wainscoating. Messy, and it took 3 months, but you should see my dining room. Looks awesome. 🙂 Finished the ms. on time too.

  4. I really, really hope you’re in MY yard the next time you snap.:)

  5. I bake. You know things aren’t going well when the house smells like fresh baked bread, cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies all at once. 😀 Thanks for the laugh today.

    • Kait Nolan on August 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm
    • Reply

    OH honey I cook. My food blog Pots and Plots absolutely grew out of me cooking my way through plot problems (and trying to keep track of my recipes).

    • terii on September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am
    • Reply

    A bit late since I only just discovered this blog a few days ago, but for me, I either go into a house work frenzy or I go for a ride on my recumbent trike with my dog.

    The housework, which is good and improves the apartment, is brutal on me. Bad back and bad knees. Two hours of scrubbing, washing, vacuuming and picking up, I’m moving like a 90 year old for a couple days. The cycling? Now, that’s where I can pour out stress and feel better both physically and mentally. Nothing like covering 30 miles out in the peace of the Swedish country side with no computer screen and keyboard demanding attention. If I need to get agression out, then I leave the dog at home and rip down hills at over 20 mph and hammer the pedals as hard as I can on the flats. I still creep up the hills at 2 to 5 mph though. *eye roll*

    BTW! I really enjoy the blog and thrilled to have found it!

    1. Thanks Terii. I like to clean as well. I used to mountain bike (basically off-road biking in TX in that there aren’t a lot of mountains), but it was wonderful to just get physically exhausted for a change. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I am happy you found my blog too, :D.

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