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  • Jeff Eaker

What To Do When Nothing Works



There will be times in your life when you feel two feet tall.

Surrounded by giants.

You’re cornered.

You stand with your back to the wall.

But they can’t make you crawl.

Inside they are small.



I get the jitters a lot.


It’s this annoying little buzz that begins right around the kneecaps and runs up through my stomach. My shoulders stiffen and send little creepy crawlers down my arms and make my fingers a little twitchy while I type.


I’m not nervous or scared. But my body seems to be. The physical symptoms try to get my brain to play along but I won’t let it. I tell my body to get a hold of itself and sometimes it listens. If it doesn’t then I just walk around with the jitters all day.


I keep reminding myself that nothing’s wrong.


My body answers back that a jillion things are wrong and starts listing them out for me.


The world is falling apart. Your parents are getting so old. Work has slowed down. The freelance jobs aren’t coming in. Nobody needs you. Or maybe nobody wants you. You’re not eating enough. Yesterday all you ate was a couple of protein bars. Nothing is working right. Your head is all over the place. Coach Tanner was right when he told you that you’ll always be mediocre.


I tell my body to chill the fuck out. And I tell Coach Tanner to go eat a bag of dicks.


I walk out to the garden. It was one of my first big projects when we moved in a few years ago. It’s 22’ x 50’ with six foot deer fencing all around. I built four 4’ x 8’ raised beds out of wooden pallets that I “rescued” from behind a Best Buy. I ran a water line underground all the way from the house and used the broken pavers from the old patio to make little stepping-stones between the boxes.


I thought my kids would really love it and that growing their own food might help them learn to eat more vegetables. But it didn’t work. The boys give zero fucks about the garden and all they eat are bagels and mac-n-cheese.


But I love the garden. I’ve got tomato plants that are six feet tall. We’ve been eating salad every night since the middle of June. You just walk out to the garden with a bowl and some scissors. I’ve got romaine, arugula and spinach to choose from. The squash and zucchini are starting to produce. The collards and the okra are almost ready. And the cucumbers are looking to be a bumper crop this year.


I feel less jittery when I’m in the garden.


I have one tomato plant that’s struggled from the start. Every day looks to be its last. I should have pulled that tomato plant 45 days ago but for some reason I became attached to it. It’s an underdog. A misfit. But I’m determined to get it through the season.


I probably won’t get a single tomato from that plant. I don’t really even give it a chance to grow any. I pinch off what few flowers it grows because I don’t want it to use any of its energy to grow fruit. It would never survive. It needs to stick with the basics if it's going to make it to September.


It’s the only plant in the garden that I talk to. The rest are fine. They’ve no need for chit-chat. But my one sad tomato plant seems to appreciate the encouragement. So, I keep telling it that everything is going to be okay and not to pay any attention to the other tomato plants that are thriving and covered in young green tomatoes.


The Natural is one of my favorite movies. It came out in 1984 but most of my friends and I didn’t see it until it came out on cable a few years later. Then, it was on all the time. So, we watched it over and over again.


At baseball practice we’d recite lines from the movie.


“Nebraska farm boy. Blazing left handed fastball.”


“Pick me out a winner, Bobby.”


“I shoulda been a farmer.”


And of course, every kid named their bat.


I named mine The Challenger.


The Challenger space shuttle disaster had happened just a few months earlier. I was sitting in Mrs. Lochmeer’s Algebra 2 class. We were taking a test and she had walked out of the room to catch the launch in the teacher’s lounge. A few minutes later, she walked back into the room, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote 10:39 on the blackboard.


After the test, she told us that was the time that the Challenger space shuttle exploded.


There’s one part in The Natural where Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, goes through a terrible hitting slump. He’s gotten the lowly Knights into first place with his bat, Wonderboy. But all of the sudden, he goes cold and can’t put any wood on the ball no matter what he tries.


The slump ends in Chicago when he sees the woman in white, played by Glenn Close, cheering for him in the stands.


I feel a bit like Roy Hobbs these days. I just can’t seem to make any contact. For a while it was all fastballs down the middle. Now everything I get is junk. It’s nothing but spit-balls. My confidence is shaken. My fingers feel like lead weights. When everything is clicking, I don’t even have to tell them where to go. They do the writing for me. But right now, every keystroke feels like a chore.


So what do you do?


How do you get out of a slump?


I keep looking for the woman in white, standing in the crowd. But she’s not there. There is no crowd. There’s just me. A blank page. A sickly tomato plant. And a battered savings account I keep dipping into every month.


It gives me the jitters.


So, I do the only thing I can.


I write.


I think.


I make.


Something will happen. I try and keep the faith. I make myself eat a decent meal. I give myself a little extra time in the garden.


I talk to the tomato plant.


I say neither one of us is going to give up.


We just need a little water.


A bit of sunshine.


And some TLC.


The jitters ease up a smidge. They retreat to my kneecaps. I take a lot of deep breaths. I call home and tell my parents that I love them. And I make it through another day.


For my money, the Glenn Close character gets one of the best lines in the movie. She and Roy are talking in the diner and she says that she believes we all live two lives. The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.


I think she’s right but there’s a caveat. You live both lives at the same time.


So, my thinking is that maybe, when everything is going wrong in one of them, you can just switch over to the other one and wait for things to turn around.


There is no end.

Until the end.

This is the one thing in life that you can depend on.

So when the end comes.

Greet it like an old, long lost friend.



Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again soon.







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