Garden Notes: Rough Drafts

Every spring when time comes to weed my flower beds, the good work of it nearly kills me. And every spring, in response to my complaints about the honest work of garden tending, my husband threatens to sow grass over all my lovely blooms. I believe him just enough to find the inner fortitude required to finish the job.

I have stirred ant armies, awakened the curled grub in her buried bed, inadvertently found the source of the poison ivy, and pried the roots of wild violets from beneath my butterfly bush. Yesterday, I killed a Black Widow spider I found clinging to a daylily stalk. Every year, after bug bites, skin rashes, suffering amazingly obscure aches and pains, and consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, I survey the work of my hands and dream a better way. I imagine planting miraculous ground covers to choke out the weeds, eye-catching perennials that require little attention, or even evergreens to lend a simpler style. Trouble is, I usually only get around to implementing a small portion of these dream-plantings, and they never quite work out as I hoped.  Come the next spring, things are a little better, but—you guessed it—I’m still on my hands and knees far longer than this aging body should be.

But when the blooms unfold one-by-one and the garden becomes a thing of beauty? I know all that time and diligence and love for the soil was worth it.

I try to fertilize the garden of my writing through careful reading and recently, I read this:

 As you start out in rough drafts, writing down stories as clearly as you can, there begins to burble up onto the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and a human being. If you trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page—no matter how shameful those revelations may as first seem—the book will naturally structure itself to maximize what you’re best at. You’re best at it because it sits at the core of your passions.” ~Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

Certain things can immobilize me in an instant: a glimpse of a red-bellied woodpecker on the trunk of my Maple tree, sunlight rippling on water, a solitary cloud rolling across crystal blue, and a phrase that ambushes me with apt precision.

Mary Karr’s words seemed to breathe a deep exhale in my soul: “…there begins to burble up on the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and as a human being.”

Those words, stark and black against the white of the page, fell heavy over me and I realized how life mirrors this statement. With each passing year we hammer out rough drafts of this life we craft—meticulously honing in on what is best to keep and what must be cast aside, letting what is “exclusively” ours “burple up” from the moments. And just as my garden takes shape over the long stretch of years, none of these seasons we sift through are ever perfected—it’s a constantly shifting landscape. But if we are true to the draft-writing—or draft living, in this case—we keep what is best and let go of the rest. The next season may be a little better for the pruning, but chances are, it will still have its fair share of  bending and tending to  push through.

I’ve never written a memoir, though the world of blogging bestows plenty of opportunity to offer up bits of my life for the perusal of others. This kind of voyeurism can leave one feeling vulnerable and small at times. Isn’t each life worthy of memoir? When we live through each the days, don’t the moments tell a story? What if I could think of each season of life as a rough draft, trusting in the truth enough to keep unveiling myself, to keep growing and learning and reaching for more? Letting time and diligence and love shape something that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.


  1. says

    Love this, Laura! Thinking of my life as the rough draft, I’m forced to acknowledge that any good story has to have an antagonist, frequent challenges and resolutions. Angela Hunt says that in fiction, readers identify more with a character’s weaknesses than strengths. Also (I’m reading through some notes I have on my desk from a workshop last summer), she thinks of her first draft as giving birth: “It’s painful, it’s laborious, and it comes out a mess.” Second draft is for filling in the gaps (maybe we could think of this as opening ourselves to wisdom?); third is for “making it beautiful”; anything that comes after is simply self-editing. I’m sure all this applies to memoir … and life!

  2. says

    Laura, your lyrical prose gives me an exhale pause every time I read your posts. I love how these wise garden gleanings are shaping your thought processes, just as they inform our own intrigued responses. Life as memoir? I tried writing mine out in a poetry collection, but it’s just the tip of an enormous iceberg. May we aim to live mindfully, prayerfully and joyfully, aware that each breath, each day, each opportunity to love well while we live with the mundane, is a beautiful gift of grace. There is poetry enough threaded through the ordinary-extraordinary, glimpsed by eyes eager to embrace it. May we live it out and write it down, hopefully as sweetly as you do here! xo

  3. says

    I echo what the others have already said here Laura. Your writing is exquisite, it always inspires, fills my soul with beauty and makes me want to sit down at the page. I’ve been having similar thoughts about this season of life and “meticulously honing in on what is best to keep and what must be cast aside.” If only we lived near one another, I’d be on my knees with my hands in the soil next to yours! Sending lots of love your way. xx

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