Last week, I lay flat on the examination table wearing nothing but a thin hospital gown while my doctor went through the routine of a physical, poking and prodding, checking for any unusual growth. I’ll spare you the details, but we all know what this entails. It’s uncomfortable and nobody enjoys it, but it’s one of those small humiliations that are to be endured now and again for the sake of our health.
I think it was just to get me through the examination, but my doctor chose the worst of it to start a chat about gardening. She asked my advice on plants she can grow, and like all beginners, she expressed anxiety and remorse about all of the plants she has killed.
Once I got past the surreal awkwardness of giving advice in that condition, I assured her, as I do all new gardeners, that killing plants is just part of the experience. We all do it. I still do it. Every gardener I know, regardless of their expertise, loses a plant or two (or more) every year. This got me thinking about the approaching end of the year, a time when I tend to reflect on my successes and failures in the garden. I thought now might be a good time to try a writing exercise that turns the negative into a positive, even if that positive is just a good story committed to paper.
The last prompt was tough, so I thought I’d switch to something lighter, although perhaps not easier.
Plant descriptions are essential to writing about gardening. A good description functions like a story, drawing the reader in to want to find out more and maybe even try the plant in their own garden. It’s easy to fall into repetitive traps, using the same words and phrases to describe very different plants. Gorgeous, pretty, tasty, lovely… When it comes to over-using certain words, I’m just as guilty as the next. That said, trolling the thesaurus for fancy new words to use can come off a bit phoney and does little to tell an authentic story or capture the reader’s imagination.
I am currently participating in National Novel Writing Month. While the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November, I do not expect that I will write that many words, nor do I intend to write a novel. Instead, my personal goal is to create a habit around personal, fiction(ish) writing that is not about the topics of gardening or food. This type of writing scares the living crap out of me and so I tend to find ways to either avoid it, or create blocks that shut it down whenever I find myself picking up momentum.
Writing through fear has been on my mind continuously as I push my way through this often painful and frightening exercise. I have been reminded over and over of a passage from the book, “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” by Haitian-born writer Edwidge Danticat. Back in the fall of 2011, this book inspired me to publish a personal story that I never imagined I would ever make public, certainly not here on this website about gardening.
I’ve been writing about gardening regularly on this website for nearly fourteen years. Naturally, there are days when I sit down to write and my mind draws a blank. I keep stacks of ideas and notes next to my desk, but there are times when I am not in the mood to tackle any of those topics. On those days, I have a trick that I use to get my brain going.
I just spent the holiday weekend purging books, magazines, and a bit of this and that from my living and work spaces. Since it was Thanksgiving here in Canada, we called it Purgegiving. Getting rid of books is difficult, but letting go of plants can be even more difficult. We humans can form attachments to inanimate objects, so it stands to reason that we might also form unlikely bonds with the living plants in our care. If it makes you feel better, I once left a very crispy lavender that was well past its due date in a pot for well over a month — and on my coffee table no-less — because I couldn’t truly accept that it was gone for good.