Yesterday was the ten-year anniversary of Project Elanor. It feels like it was so long ago, yet it can’t possibly have been an entire decade. I haven’t written about that project until now because it’s easily the most painful to look back on. Even now I am hesitant, because not everyone involved has forgiven me, and there are many who think I have no right to anything about the garden. I understood that, which is why I have not been back to visit it in all this time.
A teddy bear I made for Sean Astin’s daughter, who played Elanor in the movie. I still have the thank-you note she wrote.
But there’s something about ten years passing. On the day of the event I was still completely involved in the exhilarating upswing. BitofEarth was becoming extremely popular. I was newly divorced, had filled my (already in foreclosure) house with friends and was seeing the fruition of a project I had put my whole heart into. I was elated, joyous, proud, and truly believed I had stepped out of the dull, gray, boring life I’d fallen into since college. This was the new, improved me, better and happier than ever. That was from the inside.
From the outside…I was an immature, irresponsible, vain, selfish child, obsessed with popularity and with my “secret life” with Andy – although he was still Jordan Wood then. Also, I whined a lot. Although I can see the good qualities in what I was doing, mostly I am ashamed and hideously embarrassed at my behavior, and the overtly stupid decisions we were making. I definitely knew we were in over our heads, but I think I was having too much fun to care.
This is the only picture I have that doesn’t also have Andy. And it still hurts just to look at.
My memories of that day are patchy. I was in a blind panic once we were actually trying to pull things together – the whole day was like a controlled fall. I wish the memories of the day itself were better, because things were already crumbling. Andy’s behavior was distracting and bizarre, and mine was just embarrassing, to the point that both of us got a “talking to.” It is a horrifying experience to have a personal hero and legitimate celebrity pull you in private and chastise you.
Sean Astin came to the project in good faith. He was an incredibly hard worker, kind, generous, gregarious, inspiring… Honestly, he was everything we all thought he would be and then some. And I wish I still had his respect. But I lost it – and not just because of Andy’s lies and manipulations. When Sean pulled me aside and talked to me, it cut right to my heart. He called me out on the more outrageous parts of my attention-seeking, which was the first step on the long road I described in my last post. He also said good things and inspiring things, but those aren’t what stuck with me. Just the intensity of his eyes and the blunt honesty of his words.
After all this time I can only imagine what he must think. I try not to.
It’s funny; Elanor was easily the most legit and successful thing BitofEarth ever did, but it became known as a scam. Well, maybe not “ha ha” funny. More like gut-wrenching and sad. It was successful enough to spur all the other attempted events, but those failures magnified everything wrong with Elanor. I truly wanted to do a good thing, even if there was selfishness in my motivation. I believed in the project. It hurts me to this day that Myrna, who ran the institute where the garden was built, died thinking she’d been scammed. The garden was real. The work was real. The intent was real. It’s just us who fucked the whole thing up with inexperience and lies.
We had the screening of The Two Towers the night before, where I stood in front of the whole theater and said that we’d raised $3000, and that all the proceeds would go to Reading is Fundamental. I know I said proceeds, because even before the screening I knew we were in the red for the garden. Although I do still have some of the paperwork and receipts from the event (including proof that Parr Lumber was, in fact, paid) there isn’t much left. We spent ourselves empty to cover the last of it. The money wasn’t where the lies were – it was the people. The humble retired gardener that planned the garden – that was the “real” Samwise Gamgee, as channeled by Andy. The interview questions written by “Elijah Wood” (again, just Andy). The frantic, hidden conversations with Andy’s various characters. We were the lie, not the project.
A teddy bear I made for Sean Astin. It had a little pack and everything.
I still am not entirely sure who volunteered for what, since I heard so many excuses over the years from Andy. And I’m sure to some, what I’ve written are excuses. I try to tell the whole truth as I remember it – but bear in mind that I was in a relationship/cult with someone who was actively brainwashing me. I don’t use those words lightly; Andy took distinct and recognizable steps, the ones outlined here, to change my thoughts, even alter my memories. It is more than just being gullible – and it’s why I still talk about it, even though I would quite happily bury the more humiliating aspects of my twenties like everyone else does.
Still. I loved that garden and the project from the moment Andy suggested it. I poured my whole heart into it. Elanor was, for me, the best part of all of BitofEarth – it was the one good, real thing we did. And I’m glad that people loved it and cared for it, and that it made people happy. I don’t take credit for that by any means, but at least some good came of it. For a time I’d planned on going back to see it, but o don’t think it would bring anything but pain to anyone.
Ten years. Time to let go.