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.

Play it Forward: A Workshop to Improve Your Writing through Play

Mama always said I was an old soul.

“You were always so serious,” she said. “Even when you were a baby.”

When I was six months old her mother—my maternal grandmother—was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she had to wean me from her breast for the struggle of it—the hard work of balancing the care of a newborn and that of her dying mother.

This is the world I was born to: one of hunger, poverty, addiction, complicated parent-love. Play was always a serious business for little girl me. I went inside the world of imagination to escape the reality of life. It was a solitary task, a quiet thing. Something in my makeup resisted the kind of play lived out loud.

It’s taken me almost fifty years to understand that this is okay. Yes, this is okay, but there is so much more to play. And I have only just begun.

Play looks different for different kinds of people. When we understand this and accept this, it opens us to new ways. New ways of playing, new ways of seeing, new avenues of creativity, new ways of being.

Play is a powerful thing.

Will you come along on a play journey with me? Sometimes these things are best undertaken with a guide. How about two guides? My friend (and fellow writer) Laura Brown and I are embarking upon an exploration of all things play. Over the course of eight or twelve weeks (you choose), we will lead an adventurous few through an odyssey of play—sampling different ways of play that might enliven our creative lives, enrich our writing and hopefully, add beauty to our everyday living.

Read more about it over at TSPoetry. It’s going to be a grand adventure. It may be just the thing to breathe new life into your writing practice. It may be just the thing to awaken the old soul in you to a fresh view of this tired world. After all, writing is a form of play—a way of seeing. To write well requires opening the eyes in new and different ways. We’re going to have so much fun finding playful ways to achieve this.

Photo by Samuel David Rinehart, Creative Commons, via Flickr.

Witness: Why It’s Okay To Go Wild

 

On the way home from work I stop at the florist to pick up a bouquet. I cradle the damp tissue paper in my arms gently, like the precious thing it is, and hold it in my lap all the way home. The table needs some color, my heart needs to hold a piece of spring. Lately, I only want to be outside—to breathe in all that sighs and groans. I want to wake with the sun and sleep under the stars, dew and scent of lilac on my skin. Somewhere, deep in the woods, the doe beds down on a moss-covered thicket; the wood thrush sings her flutelike song. Do such things require a witness?

We made it through another “first” on Sunday. There was an empty chair at our table and love scootched in to fill the gap. Easter is all about the resurrection and I looked around at the people I love and was astonished at how life rises out of ashes. Wild. That’s how this makes me feel. Like I want to thrash out and rip and bite at the neatness of it all, to yell and scream and let the world know it’s not okay. It’s not okay to keep going as if everything is the same. I feel angry. Angry at the doctors who failed us in so many ways; angry at myself for missing too many moments; angry at this broken, fallen world because of the sting of death. I know this is not the way of grace but grief must have its own way.

It has not yet been a year since Ted passed away and I feel like I’m still waking up to his absence.

After Easter dinner was over and the family had all gone home and the dishes were still in the sink—after all that, we sat out on the deck and let birdsong soothe away the noise of an empty house. There were just the three of us, Teddy couldn’t come home this year—the first time ever in his twenty years he didn’t open his eyes on Easter morning under our roof. Jeffrey sat with his mom and dad and shared an Easter memory, a memory of sitting with his Papa in the living room while everyone else picked at dessert and sipped coffee in the dining room. “Papa was my refuge,” he said. And he smiled a little when he said it and it made my heart cry a little.

On Easter we remember, one day things will be different. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. The stone in our own hearts will be rolled away and grief will turn to joy. And all that wild inside me will bloom and go to seed and blow with the wind and color our world with love. One day.

I found a vase for the flowers. It’s a simple clear glass—leftover from some Valentine’s roses or Mother’s Day arrangement or some other celebration. And why not? Isn’t this a celebration too? Jesus doesn’t want us to wait for one day. He left the throne and entered our world—entered all this brokenness, all this mess. He is wild with love for us, wild unto death, wild unto defeating death. Wild. For me. For you.

He stands right beside us, he holds us in his arms and he whispers, You go wild, girl. You’re not too much for me.

This is the beauty of an Easter people: how we can feel joy and sorrow at the same time. How we hold onto a promise and feel a hope inside of us. How the wild in this world can be a thing of beauty—a stand that says, I know it isn’t supposed to be this way.

I think of all these things as I trim the stems of daisies and asters—white petals trailing in my wake. I dip the stems in the watered vase and shift around yellows and blues a little bit. Every little moment requires a witness. I cradle the memories in my mind gently, like the precious things they are.

Holy Saturday: Shadows

Last night we watched The Passion of the Christ and I cried and cried. It was a good thing to do on Good Friday—a hard thing, but good. All day I carried the passion inside of me. Our church does not hold a Good Friday vigil, but the readings from our Maundy Thursday service were still fresh in my mind. We observed a Tenebrae service, as is the tradition during the latter parts of Holy Week. Tenebrae is Latin for shadows, and during the readings and singing of the Psalms, the light is gradually extinguished in the sanctuary. We leave the church in silence and darkness, contemplating. Shadows.

Lent has a way of casting my shadow-self in clear relief. I am aware of all the ways I have failed in my promises to our Lord, all the ways my fickle heart betrays. In Jungian psychology, to truly know yourself, you must not only become acquainted with the shadow-self, you must accept it as a part of the whole of you. Understanding your shadow-self will help you understand and love the shadows in others.

So there is this: admitting my failures allows me to more completely love. As I ponder Christ’s last days, last moments, last breath … I am aware of the many falsehoods in my life that lead me to live in the shadow realm. There is nothing more true than a love that leads to sacrifice, and yet, so many days I resist giving up my own will.

I cannot stop thinking of his body behind the stone. And yet I know the stone will be rolled away.

The whole of life feels like the waiting. Sealed in this tomb, locked in darkness. Light is the stuff of legends, flits across the mind the way a bird lights on a tree limb. Scripture tells us, “For all creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19) I feel the sharp intake of breath, the stiffening of awaited release.

Resurrection Day is the already-here-but-yet-to-come day; the day we search our hearts for every bit of light that is hope. The work of the cross is done but still working within us.

If the God who revealed life to us, and whose only desire is to bring us to life, loved us so much that he wanted to experience with us the total absurdity of death, then—yes, then there must be hope; then there must be something more than death; then there must be a promise that is not fulfilled inour short existence in this world; then leaving behind the ones you love, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the oceans, the beauty of art and music, and all the exuberant gifts of life cannot be just the destruction and cruel end of all things; then indeed we have to wait for the third day.”~ Henri Nouwen

There must be hope. Even among the shadows. Especially there. And so we wait.

West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.