The grass is always greener

My legs felt like lead this evening as I pushed my heavy hybrid mountain bike up the steep hills of Vancouver towards my house, following my fifth straight day at work. In other jobs I’ve worked for months at a time with no days off, sometimes for more than 15 hours a day; but there’s something about working in retail and customer service which drains the lifeblood from every one of my veins. I’ve spent the last three days paddling boats in English Bay to gain hands-on experience about our rental fleet, but fatigue and hunger and my general feeling of blah urged me to stop at my local Vietnamese Phở restaurant ¾ of the way home tonight on Main St. I’ve named the place appropriately ‘Can’t give a Phở’ because I tend to stop here when I’m aching from the incline, and I can’t be bothered with the thought of cooking dinner at home.

On this particular occasion, sitting opposite my steaming bowl of raw beef and rice noodles, accepting the fact that with my miserable pay check I’ll need to work a full hour to cover it; I feel unusually alone. Not the kind of loneliness where I’m craving for someone else’s company, but the kind of isolated sensation where I realise that I do things like sit at restaurants or go to the cinema solo, just because it’s more convenient to be by myself. While listening to the stereo in the back corner pumping out karaoke style instrumental versions of popular music, I’m sliding into one of my favourite habits of overthinking.

Perhaps it’s a result of my hunger, or fatigue, or deepening sensation of isolation, but I can feel my mood slipping from a rather flat, insignificant feeling of dullness, to bored, to cranky, to being self spiteful, to overwhelmingly unmotivated, to a sense of being poisoned by my own negativity. The kind of feeling where my dark inner demons pull me deep into my own self disillusioned despair. This often happens when I’m on my own. When my brain has the time to focus and think solely about me. About my situation in life, and all the things that I could be doing better, or that I should be doing better, and where I eventually hit the bottom and question why I’m such a miserable and useless human being.

I snap out of these pretty fast, like a passing rain shower on a summer’s day when an unsuspecting cloud whips across the sky. For others this state of despair is more permanent, and I’m thankful to say I’m in the category where I might just get a little damp in the sudden downpour, but am able to dry off soon enough. For those caught in the deluge for long periods, I can only guess that eventually they feel like they’re drowning, becoming water logged so the effects are not only internal, but are also physically visible, like wrinkled fingers that have soaked in the bathtub for too long. But I’m no expert on these conditions, I only know what I feel, and the things I can learn about myself from those feelings.

My initial reason for logging my thoughts at this very moment was because I was thinking that if I were craving solitude and freedom, this would be the exact situation I would dream to be in. No obligations to anyone other than myself. I can sit alone in a restaurant amongst a few strangers and no one on the planet would know where I am. No one’s calling to find out when I’ll be home, what I feel like eating for dinner, asking about my day at work or making plans for the weekend. I’m a lone ranger, my own airline, cockpit and pilot. No one’s calling the shots except for me. Other than keeping to a revised bi-weekly schedule of around 35 hours a week, when my lifeblood is drained and I ride home with heavy legs, I’m completely free.

It made me wonder why our brains constantly crave the green grass on the other side of the fence. It’s not exactly the situation I’m in now, but it’s invariably something I contend with. Those times when I’m compelled to fence jump, because I’m tired of the side I’m on, fighting hard to make it over to somewhere new. And then after all those struggles to change, the mountains I climbed, the hurdles I jumped, the rivers I forded and the distance I travelled to get there, I want to go back to the original side I was on.

greenwashing-question-mark I think part of the issue is not looking after the grass on my current side of the fence. The grass that was green; exactly the way it had looked; but now is turning a little yellow, lying almost horizontal and lacking that lush, vitalised appearance it once had. I seem to forget that once I’ve chosen a side, I’m responsible for tending to that particular patch of grass. For feeding it and helping it grow. If I don’t assume responsibility the grass will inevitably turn dull and lifeless, or it will grow out of control into a jungle of weeds; until I look back at the grass I originally came from, with its lush green trim at the right height because it’s been carefully tended to. Of course I want to go back to that side, but that’s not where my life is anymore.

Then on the other hand I might see grass that’s far worse than mine in a different direction, but I ignore that brittle, patchy lawn in need of serious attention, thankful not to be there. That’s not grass I’m envious of, and it’s not a place where I want to be; but sometimes we all hit bumps in the road that allow our gardens to degenerate as badly as that one. And if we let it go too far for too long, we may accidentally cross into that place, because we can’t tell the difference between them anymore.

What this brief lesson in lawn maintenance has taught me is that I need to work hard to create the foundation I want to build my life upon, and then constantly maintain it. It’s a lot easier than letting it grow out of control or die altogether, where the only options are to simply continue living that way, work harder to repair it, or flee to a new patch and start all over again. The problem with the latter option is that if I don’t learn how to become a better gardener, the same thing will inevitably happen; no matter how tough or how green or how thick or how loved that lawn once was. If I don’t look after it, it will deteriorate in time.

Not everyone is going to have a manicured lawn in the end with the luxury to employ others to tend to it. But if I look after what I have, with the resources available, bouncing back from the dry summers and harsh winters that might set me back, I’ll end up with a few green sprouts in the springtime that will make me proud. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop looking over the neighbour’s fence, and writing deep philosophical essays when I’m alone eating phở.


36 thoughts on “The grass is always greener”

  1. Oh, I love your philosophical essay! I have been in quite a funk lately, unhappy with my life and myself, the way I treat others and myself, overthinking everything until I get on my own nerves and so on…
    I read your last post and throughout my days often thought about it, and I was about to post a comment there, but it does fit in here even better. I don’t think we have to push through every hard phase. If something is really hard, we should think it through and consider if it is really worth it. The difficult thing is to be really honest with ourselves and also try to consider the longterm perspective, not just follow the momentaneous feeling of wanting out. But I think there are cases where it is ok (and even good!) to honestly admit that we are on the wrong way, or that a goal once taken on doesn’t fit into our lives anymore. [I am of course talking in general, not about your specific questions and doubts – I think every person is the only real expert for her/his life and the only one who knows what is right for her/him.] Sometimes though it is really worth it sticking it out.
    And this certainly helps me a lot when I am down and don’t like what I have to do – to realize that I am the only one responsible for my life and my decisions, that I CAN change my life if I really want it, and that I made my choices for some reasons.
    I love your lawn-analogy. I don’t tend to my own lawn half as well as I should (the metaphorical lawn, but also the real, actual lawn and the house on it!), and during the last months everything has come a bit down – time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

    1. Hi Fine! Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we’re not alone in our struggles, and have an outlet to express them. It’s amazing how fast these storms pass when you start speaking about them to someone who understands. I think there needs to be a balance in all things in life, and I agree there are times when we should stick something out, and other times when we need to be brave and strive for a change. Only we can be the ones to make those appropriate decisions as you said. I love your last line and I hope it rids you of that old lingering funk that will soon pass!

  2. Hi Ros, I have read your blog since you did the PCT and now I follow quite a few people doing various trails. But now I’m writing to you as your father- well, not really -but I’m old enough to be so I’m going to hand out some advice.
    I was born in South Africa where 32 years ago I met a young girl from Tasmania- we moved to England – got married and went through exactly what you are going through right now. But we persevered and pushed on. After living in England for 5 years we returned to Africa and realised that the green grass we had missed while in England was no longer in Africa! Things change and people move on, so again 5 years later, we migrated to Australia- Perth to be exact- and 7 months later we went through it all again, the whole grass is greener story- even though people spoke English, and the lifestyle similar, life was tough- low salary-(you’ve got to pay your dues) unfufilling job, but we both loved Perth- my wifes family had all moved across to WA and crappy salaries and tough jobs change and things get better. Before you know it the bad -tough-times where grass isn’t greener become part of the growing up and growing older experience and you look back on them with endearment. A lot like a tough day on the PCT! We’ve been in Perth for 20 years now, we’ve been married for 30 and loving it. So hang in there- given time, it gets better and it all adds to the fabric of life!
    Wishing you everything of the best!
    Gary Perth WA

    1. Thanks for your kind fatherly words Gary. I think the point is that things are constantly changing in our lives, in the places where our lives once were and the places that we’ll eventually end up in. The key is to make the most of where we are in that moment, and to ride out the storm if necessary – but know when it’s time to jump ship. I’ve always wanted to live in Perth for some time, I think it’s a great mix of so many parts of Australia. Thanks again for your wonderful comment and wishing you guys all the best!

  3. Such a rich metaphorical landscape you have painted in this post. So many questions posed and if you really have answers (as I suspect you do on reflection) you’ve kept them up your sleeve, no doubt to be unveiled along the bloggy trail some time in the future. Glad you like pho (how did you find that accent character?!). It is one of the most satisfying and flavorsome dishes on the globe, especially if it’s as genuine as the real deal in Vietnam. It could even be seen in the context of a nutrient for the mind it is so satisfying – something that might make the grass on your side of the fence a little greener. Anyway, just don’t overthink your plight as there are teeming millions who would gladly jump to your side of the fence in a nanosecond if they had such freedom. No doubt others will contribute to this major therapeutic and introspective session you have probably started. Best thoughts from Oz – the country, not the wizard.

    1. Phở is great for the mind and soul as you say! That’s another reason I go to that place – to cleanse both! As I said I’m not at a point where I’m peeking over the fence at the moment, but I am conscious of keeping the grass I’m on as green as possible! I think it’s sometimes good to pretend that you actually live next door to where you are, so you can look over the fence and see just how beautiful your garden actually is!

  4. Beautifully spoken thoughts from the lone woman eating her noodles in the far corner of the pho shop. I often ponder when my mind goes to such places (far too often) if others sitting near me…maybe the lone woman in the corner eating her noodles, and looking so outwardly serene has similar raging inner storms, crashing waves of confusion, and sucking whirlpools of self doubt.

    My self answer is usually…nah, it’s just me. Only I am masochistic enough to seek out such mental states that most often give me nothing in return. But, I am wrong. The girl eating her noodles goes over there, staring out the window into the fading light of the day, she goes there and probably on a normal basis. None of us are alone, yet in our inner thoughts we are only in ourselves.

    Introspection can be a fearful demon filled space to be in, and I think many avoid it as a matter of habit, feeling rightly it is a source of negativity. It is, but also a place of deep creativity (are the two entwined?). The trick is to ride the event horizon of the surging singularity and never, ever, venture so close to the edge that you can not step safely back and take that next bite of noodles.

    Well, this time I made my coffee but it went cold. No matter, It’s a wonderful mental place to start my day. I will in a few hours be far to embedded in reality for any person who deeply loves the inner convolutions of their being however dark a place it may sometimes be.

    Tend your patch of grass, but there is no reason not to imagine and long for other patches.

    1. I love this beautifully written comment! I think one of the most important things to realise is that we’re not alone in these types of thoughts no matter what point we are at in our lives. My solution is to put pen to paper, explore the idea, and then put it to bed and move on; but I often wonder what others do with all these musings that float through our minds. There needs to be some kind of escape route out of our busy minds! Apologies for the cold coffee but I hope you have a wonderful day regardless!

      1. The diversion was a wonderful and refreshingly different start to my day, cold coffee a minimal payment. As you say It’s good to be reminded that we all have our inner cauldrons cooking off at times. Relief valve instructions should be included at birth with all our user handbooks.

      2. Precisely! It’s a shame the manuals are barely ever included, and when they are, they’re written in a language no one can understand!

  5. Hi Muk,

    Love your grass analogy. Keeping to that theme, maybe your job is the wrong fertilizer. You may be looking for a different experience if boredom reigns supreme.

    Jobs even careers are like trail food, you like them at first, maybe not so much later, and sometimes you can’t stomach the thought of eating that ever again! But you keep on hiking and try something different. You have to have sustenance to keep moving forward.

    Selling outdoor gear seems like a great job experience to try, but retail can be brutal sometimes. Maybe teaching others or writing about the trail keeps you alive and revived. Who knows, “Wild” became a book much later after the fact.

    As the Scotts lawn fertilizer commercial urges us “feed it, just feed it”. Don’t run too quickly to the next greener pasture. Give yourself a little time and a lot of credit for being right where you are now, today.

    You have a wonderful following here on your blog.

    Take care,


    1. Always great to hear from you Tim! I agree with you on the work front, but for the time being it seems to be serving it’s purpose – though it’s a lot more demanding and time consuming than I’d first suspected. Writing is definitely my fuel, and I’d like to give myself more time to use it as such. It’s all about finding balance, and I guess I’m still testing out all the ingredients to find that perfect mix. Thanks again for your words and your wisdom!

  6. Mine is not a dark cloud with rain, but rather a “black dog”. Sometimes he is right by my side and other times he leaves me alone. I haven’t seen that “black dog” in a long time – thank goodness.

    As far as my “yard” is concerned – you are correct. I pull the weeds and water it, but sometimes it’s just not enough. So I go visit another “yard” and try to bring back something my “yard” didn’t have – it makes my “yard” a little bit more than it was before and excites me to tend to it again.

    I love your blog – hang in there. You are on a wonderful path.

    1. I love the notion of bringing inspiration back to your yard from another. I need to be reminded that the world is never just black and white. There are so many shades of grey and different ways of living and doing things. Thank you for your honest insight and your words of motivation!

  7. Rozanne, I was just reading all the great comments here, and I note you have a knack for bringing the best out of us all. Further this implies you have a rare gift of painting your thoughts(empathy?) to us, your readers, with your words in a fully 3-dimensional way (colors/sounds/images). I hope you are actually (as I’ve been guessing/hoping) writing a book, on your adventures and more importantly how you see/feel/touch (stealing song from Tommy) life. If so, I guess you’d rather keep that to yourself. Understood, but I’d just like to say it’s a natural fit and you have the talent, do it! Please!

    1. Same goes for you Gromit!! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to read more from what spills from your mind and fingertips!!

      1. Those are sweet words, and at the end of my future 2660 mile journey maybe I will know if spilling thoughts in harmonious patterns is a path I’d like to have a go at. I hope so. Not so different from architecture really designing buildings vs designing say a novel. “god is in the details” is a quote attributed to both Le Corbusier and Gustave Flaubert, an arch’t and a writer. Might mean something?

        You, however, I think are ready. This is your time. I hope you read this as encouragement, as I intend it to be, not pushing a direction. So hard to know sometimes how things said are read.

        Anyway, I love reading your new blog posts! They make me think, and although some might find that a dangerous concept. I like it!

      2. I’m pretty good at reading meanings in, around and behind written words, so I understand you perfectly. I also think that architect/writer combination would be a perfect fit for you!

  8. Oh, darn it, I wrote a three paragraph reply …. and somehow I didn’t hit the right button or something…..Wish I could just push a button and all those thoughts could just appear….
    I was wondering if your huge completion of the PCT backpacking trip has given you some of these feelings….an after-effect, maybe….maybe, just a feeling of “just try to match that accomplishment”….????

    1. I know those paragraphs would have been filled with insight coming from you Barbie, but those little spanners that get thrown into the mix of our daily routines always provide a learning opportunity. I struggle the most with loss, whether it’s something I’ve written, misplaced keys, or something much greater. It exposes our helplessness to change the situation we’re in, and our only power is the way in which we deal with it. Okay, so a big tangent to your question, but in response I think we’ll always compare aspects of our lives to other events. That ‘how do I match this’ concept used to be a lot more prominent, but given time it slowly disappears because I’ve moved onto new experiences and different accomplishments. Great question though, as it will never disappear completely!

      1. Thanks, sweetie, for your response to my short message….you, my young friend, are a person who is very introspective and I so appreciate you and your WISDOM….the feeling of loss is my biggest challenge….long story shortened is that as a child, my mother left us (my sister and me) with my grandmother, and was gone for the next 10 years or so….so many times I would hold my mother’s picture in my hands and weep tears right on the picture….then she took us for a short time when she was told that she had better give us care and a home or we would be made wards of the court….so she picked us up and tried to make us a home…she had to take in washing clothes by hand to try to make enough money to care for us…it didn’t work…so she took us to a Children’s Home for Kids from Broken Homes….She would come every other week to see us, then leave….it got so I sorta wished she wouldn’t come because she would leave and I would be so lonely for her that it hurt…then, her father bought her a house and we were finally going to leave the home and go to live with her….But, she became very ill and it was cancer….She died at age 34….A terrible loss…So then, I never trusted again because of the fear of loss….lots of that has followed me the rest of my life….So, I sometimes feel lonely in the midst of friends surrounding me…..lots of loss….SO I GET IT…..

        Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts and your caring, Rozanne….Love to you, sweetie…..

      2. Wow Barbie, thank you for sharing your incredibly intimate story. It’s left me almost speechless. It’s incredible how resilient the human spirit can be to survive such traumatic experiences. Imprints on our character make us who we are, and I’m sure these events have in many ways shaped the person you are today. You’re one heck of a lady Barbie! I’d read your story any day! Thank you as always for your words and continued motivation!

  9. You need to see and experience both sides of the fence, see a variety of grasses, to decide what kind of grass you want to plant and maintain. I’m glad you recognize how the lifeblood can get sucked out of you quickly when it’s a bad fit. Don’t let it become your life or you’ll be another lifeless bore, fat, ugly, unhappy, and mean! LOL

  10. Hi Rozanne!! Very nicely written!! Sometimes a bit difficult, but good for my english! Good brainfood for all of is (the Pho;-) And indeeed the grass is always greener somewhere else. Greetz from Hollandxx

    1. Bedankt Huub! Ik ben blij dat het geeft je een kans om je Engels te oefenen. Op een dag zal ik moeten beginnen met het leren van Nederlands opnieuw. Hou van jullie allemaal.

  11. Now this is funny..Ive known you for weeks, and work with you sparsely in Packs, and here, get to see a more intimate side of you! How ironic to read a lot of this during my hangover(ish) from last night, where we talked for a few hours! Even last night, telling everyone for the first time about your trip, we all got a taste of the experience the PCT was for you! Im fortunate to be able to read more about it on your mexicotocanada2013, and to see post-life of you on serial nomad! Whether or not you wanted to let people in your everyday job life see this is the gift, and uncontrollableness, of vulnerability! I am upmost grateful I get to work with you and laugh with you regularly! (or at least say hi and check in!)..I loved the grass analogy, and too can relate on many levels! And its true, how easier it is to look at a catalogue of other grasses, then to make ours presentable for our catalogue! How simple it is to delve into our insecurities then to delve into solutions! I really appreciate that you reply to your comments, and that you host a thought provoking source of conversation and confessions…I am excited to see where your thoughts and push and pulls take you next! Too many future good days, friend!

    PS Went for Eggs Benny solo last week, what a joy it was!

    1. Why is it that we’re more aware of being alone when we’re surrounded by a flood of strangers? Especially at cafés or restaurants! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! It’s a blessing to share my working and none working hours with you too! 🙂

  12. Hi Rozanne….I see that I have already made comments on this blog…but, I, too, have these experiences …. still do, after all these years I have lived, I still wonder….I wonder if I could just be somewhere else, could I still want to be in another “somewhere else”….yep, for me, it is always there in my racing mind….hard to stop it and just stop thinking about it….just the other day I thought about just getting into my car and driving away from here (northern California) to southern California to surf again…and see my daughters….or…or….or….something somewhere but where I am….then, I realize that my earthsuit would no longer allow that fantasy, ’cause it has slowed down and gets tired like mad….darn it , anyway….but, that’s what happens when I have lived as long as I have….

    I wish I could go back and be with long-gone people again…especially the ones I loved so much that I dream about the experiences I had with them….

    All to say this: I have always wanted to get over all these wants and driving thoughts…but, I think that your sharing about grass really says what I think happens to all humans to some degree or to some humans more…..I, for one, am still looking over the fence….

    So, my friend, you are NOT alone…only physically at times….even lonely with other people around….I “get” it….love to you, sweetie….Barbie, your old friend….

    1. Hi Barbie, what a beautifully written and well timed comment to receive! For the first day in a couple of months I also had that fleeting ‘what if I just upped and left?’ desire! I can tell from your wonderful life experience that it’s probably something that never really goes away. The expression ‘life suit’ you used is fantastic! Your mind is as young and free as ever! Shame we can’t just upgrade to a new suit when it starts to wear out. Your talk of surfing also makes me want to hit the waves. I can barely call myself Australian having never tested out the sport, but because of your inspiration, it’s next on my list! Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone in this busy mind of mine!! 🙂

      1. Hey, Sweetness….thanks for your reply….you make me really feel good when you encourage me….thanks, this ol’ girl needs it….smiling

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