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Me, Version 2.0
updated: Apr 30, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Billy Goodnick

It's close to my two-year anniversary of being laid off by the City of Santa Barbara. Good time to reflect and look forward. I reread my May 11, 2009 blog post, Laid Off: the big career opportunity. It was one of those "one door closes and another opens" meets "glass half-full" essays where I went light on the jokes and heavy on philosophication. I mentioned that I usually don't write about my life here at Edhat, and I don't, so please indulge me in this bi-annual puff piece.

(And being the kind of guy who never misses an opportunity to pimp his stuff, be on the alert for specks of shameless self-promotion.)


When I run into people I worked with at the city, they always ask, "So how's retirement?"

My retort: "Define retirement. If it includes any of the following: sleeping past sunrise, whacking the snot out of a little white ball, impaling red wigglers, Macarena lessons, making goat cheese (I'm sure that's a euphemism for something nasty), tapping my inner goddess in a sweat lodge (oooo, that could be even nastier), or eating bon-bons while watching Ellen, you've got the wrong guy."

I'm busier than I've ever been, partly out of survival instinct, and partly because I'm wired that way.

In the first article, I told you about the lemonade that started flowing from the sour fruits I'd been handed. Here what's happened on a few fronts in the past couple of years. [Caution: This article weighs in at more than 1500 words (this is Edhat - we count stuff), so pour yourself a cool one, take lots of stretching breaks, and leave a comment when you come to.]

Silver Lining One: Busting Into The Big Time

I started the first article by announcing that the day after I was handed my pink slip, I was offered a paid gig blogging for Fine Gardening magazine.


One of the country's top garden magazines wanted my words. Not that Ed and all you fine folk don't help validate my existence, but this was big stuff, writing for a national audience.

The blog was dubbed "Sustainable Landscaping: Cool Green Gardens by Billy Goodnick" and two years after launching, I've written about great garden books, the idiocy of front lawns, coyote pee, living with fire in the arid west, and my miraculous botanical discovery, the Tennis Ball Tree (tentatively named Tennisia goodnickii).

I guess I did my blogging job well, cuz in March 2011, my first ever printed-in-a-glossy-periodical, buy-it-at-better-new-stands column debuted. "Design Workshop" appears in each issue of Fine Gardening and tackles a design challenge that lots of homeowners face in their own gardens. I even illustrated my June article, sneaking in a cameo appearance by a guy in a stingy brim hat, walking a dog with an uncanny resemblance to Biff the Wonder Spaniel.

This is the part where you sign up for a subscription, so you can tune up your design chops and hang on my every word.

Silver Lining Two: More Ink

I mentioned one dark cloud in the 2009 post: Santa Barbara Homeowner, a local magazine I wrote for at the time, was folding. It didn't take long to fill that void. Debra Prinzing was turning in her quill at my favorite regional lifestyle magazine, 805 Living and recommended me to take over. Each issue embraces a theme - water, food and wine, style-makers, travel - challenging my fledgling writing brain to find connections to gardens, while giving readers ideas for their own homes.

My writing opportunities don't stop there: In addition to my Sunday Trader Joe's and Tri-County Produce shopping lists, I'm pumping out Billy's Buzz, a bi-monthly newsletter chock full of design ideas, cool plants you really should try in your own garden, and news about horti-stuff going on in our area. E-mail me if you want to be part of the tribe (billygoodnick@yahoo.com) - it's free and easy to get rid of me if you are so inclined.

Conflicted Silver Lining Three: No More TV

Owen Dell and I decided that despite the priceless content and intellectual entertainment we generate (we aspire to the sophistication of the Three Stooges), it's time to go Kevorkian on our Garden Wise Guys television show. We've just finished filming the seventeenth episode (keywords: private jet, Senate hearings, school gardens, horse poop, pot-bellied yaks) which will air sometime in May on Cox Cable 18 and 20.

If you fear symptoms of withdrawal, fret not. All the shows are available 24/7 (I can get you a deal - 22/5 if you call now) online at www.SBWater.com. There you'll find useful information about creating and caring for a sustainable, resource-efficient, low-impact, high-fiber gardens so you can be a good citizen and sleep with a clean conscience every night.

Silver Lining Four: Billable Hours

You might not be aware, but my "paycheck" for writing this blog is a banner ad that randomly appears at the top of Edhat pages. It's for my landscape design and coaching services. I'm happy to say that lots of folks are making my phone vibrate with requests for help - cheap thrills depending I where I've stashed it. I've got a gigasmic native plant meadow in the works for one client, have helped a few folks claim a $1000 rebated for their new lawn-replacing water-efficient gardens, and taken others on personal plant shopping safaris.

As much as I'm enjoying pounding out prepositional phrases and nut grafs, my real joy comes from designing smart gardens for cool people. It's a lot more fun, and now there's more time for it.

Silver Lining Five: The Sound of My Own Voice

I'll be straight up with you about this one: Standing in front of a lecture audience or a classroom full of students is like crack. (Full disclosure: I have no idea what I'm taking about, but haven't used a simile yet, so now I can check that off my list. I've never even seen crack, let alone rubbed it between my toes, or whatever you do with that crap.)

My speaking jones started when I stepped in front of my first adult education class (dubbed Gone With The Wind: What To Do With Your Drought Stricken Lawn), in the early 80s. Days after the layoff, I accepted a job teaching residential landscape design in the SB City College Environmental Horticulture Department. Lin even bought me a corduroy sport coat with leather elbow patches so I'd REALLY look like a professor.

Geez, is that hard work, though?! The first semester I invented a three-unit, 15-week curriculum, graded semester projects and tests, and bitched the whole time about how adjunct professors don't get paid a centavo rojo for any of the time we spend outside the lecture room. I figure when the class ended, I owed the school $1.07.

But damn, talk about an opportunity to dig deeper into my subject matter and impart it in a meaningful way to eager students. My delayed pay-off came this week when a former student told me she was enrolled in the UCLA landscape architecture program, and thanked me for a good start. The class comes around again this fall.

Emerging Silver Lining: The Book

I SWEAR it's going to happen. My book project - Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools (CAH) - was incubated here at Edhat when I handed out my first Santa Barbara Not So Beautiful Awards in 2008. The joy I receive from snarking about the bone-headed, environmentally and psychologically destructive insanity that people do in the name of gardening comes from deep in my DNA. Sure, it's a kick to throw burning turd bombs at other peoples' mistakes. But I rationalize the suffering I inflict by declaring that shaming serves a valuable public service and has deterrent value. I was invited to do my Crimes schtick on Growing A Greener World, a public TV show highlighting the great sustainable stuff folks are doing in gardens around the country.

So I figured, why keep it to myself? At last count, we've got a few hundred like-minded, keenly observant folk sharing their atrocities at Facebook. I debuted my Crimes lecture at the SB County Hort Society earlier this year, with a few deals in the works to take the talk on the road.

But where to find the time to write a book? I do great on six hours of shut-eye, I've hired a personal exerciser to work out for me, and am looking into a hologram projector so I can be in many places at once.

I have to tell you, though: Uninspiring as my city job was toward the end, I do miss the paycheck. Someone once said, "Writing is easy; you just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." I'm a tectonically slow writer, but Biff patiently waits for me to come up for air and play Toss the Soggy Ball with him.

Meanwhile, Lin toils at her real job so we can buy chew toys and throw a little dinero and medical insurance our son Cosmo's way, as he makes his transitions to grown-up in San Francisco. I've been blessed in the last two years by the friendship and support of a lot of generous and talented writers, educators, and coaches. My band, King Bee just celebrated our tenth anniversary at Cold Spring Tavern.

All in all, life's good, though like many of you, in a state of cosmic flux. Are you in makeover mode? What have the trade-offs been? Any parsley, rosemary, or sage advice for others?


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