Sentimental Plant Lady

There are so many analogies I’ve been drawing between gardening and personal growth and now team leadership. When I used to go on meetups for work, I would bring back a plant memento. Tiny cuttings give me something to nurture, collaborate with, and look back on. They are specific to a time and place, but end up in wonderful new places. They bring challenges that I don’t foresee, but make me a better gardener when I take them on. Outcomes good and bad bring learning and reward.

Not only that, mother nature brings us back to reality. It’s both humbling and restorative to work on things that simply refuse to move at a breakneck speed, and are largely outside of our control. I’ve found this aspect of gardening to be very good at cultivating my own resilience, patience, trust, and open-mindedness.

It’s also kind of thrilling to sneak them in my relatively-tiny luggage. On the last trip I took since being grounded, I literally grabbed a cutting on my way to the airport shuttle. I had to sit there next to my colleagues trying to hide the fact that I had roughly fifty spines on my hand.

Without further ado–here are my friends from June 2019, when the Automattic Design team held its inaugural meetup in a really gorgeous desert setting out in Arizona. These plants were all about 1-2″ big when I put them in my backpack–no one knew or noticed 😀.

Pencil cactus

This thing is huge. The mother plant I got it from was taller than me, so I’m super excited. Fairly fragile though, but so long as the root is healthy, it’ll grow back. You’ll never know how it’ll branch out between its growth spurts and lulls. Definitely a statement plant, you either love it or hate it.

This little one broke off of the main cutting in transit, wanting to venture on its own:

Soap aloe

I pulled out one, and its sister wanted to come along too. They’re over a foot wide now, and I’m really excited to see if they will flower in the winter. They hit the ground running fast and generally make everything better.


Crosby aloe

Tiny and ferocious. Recently decided to remove it from a succulent bowl and bring it inside and broke it. It’s already re-rooted, and two little pups have sprung up in its place in the old bowl. A self-starter and a force-multiplier!

Purple Prickly Pear

I have a special place in my heart for anything opuntia because we joke that [Mexicans] are born with a nopal on our forehead. Prickly pear is unimpressive, or unattractive to many and sure, dangerous–but it’s so resilient, resourceful, powerful, and forever. It figures out how to thrive away from home. It can literally grow on trash. When you support it in its natural surroundings, it is drop-dead gorgeous and becomes the focal point of any space.

I brought home two pads of this one (hence enduring the fifty tiny arrows on my body for the next few days) knowing it was going to be tricky to get these to grow in my garden. Zone 8B, where I live, is home to plenty of cacti, but you need the intensity of the desert sunshine and its dryness to get this species to turn its signature shade of purple. If it’s too wet, as it will suddenly get here, it rots. If it’s too shady (Austin is full of trees) it stays a seafoam shade of green.

The thinner of the two rotted and died. The other survived in its pot, dormant, for an entire year. Planting it in a pot instead of the ground was intentional–it let me mess with its soil and sun exposure as I continued to fiddle with the rest of my garden layout.

I was about to call it quits, and then, suddenly, it started showing bits of purple. And last month, it welcomed a little one:

Some things take time and lots of listening. I am not looking at this as the straggler or weak one of the haul. Nope. Someday, this one’s going to steal the show.

Blogging without responsibility

Last night I re-watched The Social Network. I fell asleep the first time I watched it, because I’m a bad person and don’t do movies well. But since then I developed a love for Aaron Sorkin’s work, I needed to rest some old injuries, and the do-over was long overdue.

I started blogging in 2002. It was a pretty active hobby, I wrote a lot, I messed with my layout and theme a lot, I was active in communities a lot. It’s a major reason why I do the work I do now, albeit a fortuitous one. But in 2008 something happened, I backed up everything and deleted it off the face of the internet as much as I could. From 2011 to 2018, I kept a local instance of WordPress, blogged privately here and there, but it was never the same. By then blogging had transformed into a way to make a living, get published elsewhere, get promoted, get famous. Also by then, it had become fashionable in some circles to call up swat teams to the homes of people folks didn’t like.

So when I made my blog public again, I did so only after I was 99% sure I was detached from all of those fears. And this blog, Digging. It made a big difference to seek out blogs that were unrelated to what has become my work life, to rediscover blogging as a standalone hobby, and stop feeling guilty about not wanting to use it as a proxy for something else in my career.

When I first started blogging, it was a hobby for most of us. It was natural to mix in our personal lives in the middle of working out a CSS kink, or to design your website in the open to share with friends. That is not the case anymore–and most people in design or tech who claim they’re doing something purely as a side project with no ulterior motives are probably lying to you or themselves. People either keep their lives guarded for good reason, or are curating what you see, hard. This culture really soured my own existing hobbies and motivation for seeking new ones. Not only that, it made me feel like I had lost a sense of community and potential friendships.

That’s why you haven’t seen posts like the ones that I closed out 2019 with, or these kinds. It’s not the pandemic, I have not run out of ideas, it’s not because my 100-day project is over.

I just don’t care. I like that the topic of my posts vary, I don’t schedule posts, I intentionally do a half-assed job at cross-posting, and I don’t check my stats page unless something gets triggered. There are lots of serious, silly, and memoir post ideas I draft out, but I am detached from them. Primarily for reasons I described above, but if I do decide to write, it produces a much better post.

The last thing I held off on though, were the comments. I wouldn’t turn the comments back on. All fear.

F* that. I’m Mexican. I’m from Santa Ana, for goodness’ sake. My so-called “Jesus year” ends next month and so far, it’s included:

  • absolutely no plane rides
  • giving birth to a baby
  • burying my cat (three days later, too)
  • driving cross-country with said baby, her 2-year old sister, and the spouse
  • going back to work
  • all of us almost dying in a car accident
  • a new cat
  • the beginning of a wonderful mentorship
  • a totally voluntary, very well-discerned, aka heartbreaking job search
  • the week I take off between jobs there is a pandemic
  • starting a new (also distributed) job during a pandemic
  • people very dear to me almost dying in the pandemic
  • the beginning of a wonderful mentorship during a pandemic
  • catastrophic job loss across my extended family of 99.9% low-wage essential workers who cannot work from home because of the pandemic
  • my marriage turning 10 years old during a pandemic
  • three bottles of tequila, one shitty bottle of mezcal, and many bags of Barrett’s coffee, because of the pandemic
  • thank God for plants
  • Texas being Texas in spite of the pandemic
  • [update later] despite a pandemic and [update later] during a pandemic
  • and no schools or daycare for the foreseeable future because, pandemic

I didn’t even think of not seeing colleagues in person or wondering when I’ll get to meet my new ones. And most ironically–I’m certain that posting this here, today, on my own public domain, will end up being more private and civil than posting it over there.

I can definitely turn the comments back on.


Why does this have to do with The Social Network? Our misunderstood little anti-hero allegedly posted to his blog as a little warmup to “wiring in” while the rest of the kids went out. Albeit drunk and angry, because he has no friends (because he is an asshole). But this was the nerd zeitgeist of the early aughts before everyone moved their personal lives over to Facebook. I was part of it, and I’m glad this aspect of it has largely come to pass: blogging without responsibility–trashing the lives of others masked as the sharing of one’s interests and personal life.

If that’s your thing, though–there are new places you can go.

Hobbies, side projects, making–all have consequences. There is no such thing as doing something for its own sake if you want people to find it on the internet.

Abdullah

You always had the donuts. You supplied maybe 75% of the donuts I ate at IBM.

We first met in person at the studio’s chili cookoff. We both loved to cook for other people. This would be the topic of most of our conversations for the next few years. You always talked about the latest gadgets, while I was always the stubborn one defending the essentials, the foundations, the craft. We were comfortable with our mortality. Might as well make the meals count, we’d say.

Abdullah, your beans were shit in that chili. They weren’t even cooked through and you knew it. But it didn’t matter, because it was never going to be about the chili at this century-old behemoth of an enterprise tech company. You made space for your team of designers fresh out of their fancy design schools to feel like they had accomplished something, because they were about to realize that this job is much different. With their lab coats, goggles, and who knows what else–of course people would notice Chili Lab, and remember the Chili Lab experience.

You nodded, sure, my chili was better, I had done much more with much less. And you left it at that, so that I could learn. Because honestly, I would never remember what it even tasted like. Selling design and leading designers is a nuanced, calm thing, that starts with saving the new girl a donut and making sure your team knows that their work is valued.

Even though I wasn’t on your team, thank you for the lessons. Thank you for the friendship I needed so much at that time, for always DM’ing me to remind me to take a break from work [and come get the last one]. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to get back to my desk. To the chili. It took me a few years, but now I’m wise enough to understand that all of this is definitely not a cookoff. Maybe I’ll figure out how you did the rest in time, too.