In December 2007, Margaret Roach traded her big-city job as an executive vice president for Martha Stewart Living for a little farmhouse upstate where she gardens among snakes and solitude. Roach, writer of the blog A Way to Garden, releases a memoir written during the first two years of the experience, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, out this week.
Is this still the place you want to be?
Absolutely. Every day is just better. Change takes a long time. Every week or every month, there have been evolutionary steps in so many things.
I just treasure being home so much, and I have such a rhythm here: me and the space; me and the house; me and the cat; me and the weather; me and the garden. It doesn’t feel right to be anywhere but here really. I only go out socially about twice a month. That’s just my deal.
The stray cat, Jack, is a real character. What’s he up to?
He was hurt by an animal last fall and spent several weeks in the house recuperating. Since then, he’s become completely domesticated. That’s the other big change. Now he’s like a devoted dog.
Why is gardening your work of choice?
From the beginning, it was almost spiritual. It was emotional. It stirred me to feel something, not just do something. And it really encouraged me to deal with the big questions, the whole dust-to-dust thing. You see this unfolding of the entire life cycle for every year you get to garden. It’s a spiritual practice, not just a hobby. It’s not just outdoor decorating; it infuses the way that I live.
You traded in corporate busy-ness for home-based busy-ness. Some might say that, in the end, it’s all just busy. What’s the difference?
My closest friend calls me Triple-A Margaret, because Type A’s not enough for me. And that’s right. I will never leave that behind. That was one of the big reckonings of the experience. At first I was like: Why am I not relaxing? Why am I not just lounging around? And then you realize, I’m going to bring me with me, and me includes the fact that I’m very curious and very energetic. We can have multiple dimensions, and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Your adventure has a very careful quality to it. Did you intend to emphasize this in the book?
When I was just a weekender here, something needed to be done in the basement—really just a weird pit behind a heavy trap door in the kitchen floor. As I was coming up, the door hit me in the head and knocked me back into the basement. I had to call the neighbors to help get me out. I think that experience (laughs) knocked it into my head—the place commands respect.
And I wasn’t seeking some death-defying life challenge. I was seeking quiet, solitude and reflection. I was hoping, calculating, betting that this solitude would yield a creative outpouring that was silenced by the noise and the busy-ness of my other life.
Do you feel more successful now?
I feel more successful for listening to my voice in my head. If I wanted the praise of the greater world, I would have stayed in my old job. I feel successful at getting up every morning and working—there’s never been a morning when I didn’t want to do this. I feel successful in my own little world and at taking care of myself better than I ever have.
Does your writing and blogging pay the bills?
That’s been an evolutionary process, too, to balance the budget better. Whether I can pay the bills or cannot pay the bills depends on how much I allow the bills to be.
Were you ever aware that this might be a descent into madness? Were you self-conscious about such revelations?
[Laughs.] I don’t think I worried that I was going to go mad. But I wanted people know that even if I had planned and prepared for my life change, I still didn’t know what to do when I got here, so I just sat on the floor, sorting Tupperware. That’s an honest thing. There’s an actual moment of change. But there are days and weeks and months of the actual adaptation that you just can’t control.
And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road
Grand Central / Feb. 23, 2011 / 9780446556095 / $25.99