And write about what I’m living

Mid-morning on a sunny, late summer Sunday, and a day wide open before me. I just did a tour of the garden, pausing to pull up weeds and then carry my handful back to the compost pile. The garden is thriving after our recent rainy season although the promising crop of blueberries all disappeared as they ripened—I have netting draped across the bushes but I think some critter must be getting underneath to feast. Any squirrels or raccoons out there with blue mouths?

I’ve been in summer mode. Lanquid in the alternating heat and rain. I started a few blog posts and then abandoned them. I’ve gone to work, walked down the block to look at the sunset most evenings that it wasn’t pouring rain, eaten ice cream with friends, sat on the back porch listening to crickets as it gets dark or bird song first thing in the morning.IMG_0057

I went to a Saturday morning Tanglewood rehearsal, spent a day with friends at a New Hampshire lake, a week in New Hampshire for work, and two weeks in England with my sister. Soon the university and colleges will start up, the pace is quickening as we approach autumn. Various writing projects are swirling in my head and I’m getting ready to dig in.

That “back-to-school” energy has also led to cleaning out closets and clearing off bookshelves—my house is in chaos with stacks of things to toss and stacks to move to a new location. The next step is shifting furniture around and eventually my guest room will be a combination guest room and office and the room that is now doing triple duty as laundry room, cat box home, and cluttered, messy office will become a utility room.

This is something I’ve thought about doing for years and am finally acting on because…drumroll…I’m making a transition from working full time for someone else to freelancing—hence the need for a more functional home office.

The clearing out process has slowed periodically as I discover old journals, folders of letters, and boxes of photos. I pause to thumb through and sometimes get lost in the dreams and fears and ideas from 10, 15, 20 years ago. One such find was a copy of the Berkshire Review from 1998, which included an essay of mine, “Transitional Seasons.”

I wrote the essay just after leaving a career as a social worker and, new MFA in hand, venturing into the world of writing, editing, and teaching. I describe being lured away from writing and into the garden. I muse on the lessons I learned in the garden—and in the pottery studio—about the desire for control vs. the need to let go and trust the process. At the end, I describe a spring day when I’d been trying to work on a short story but my attention kept being drawn to the world outside:

“I gave up the illusion of writing and sat in the garden. The redstarts darted and swooped, a pair of tanagers flew by, so close to me I felt the slight breeze they stirred; a hummingbird buzzed my red-shirted shoulder. My eyes flicked around trying to catch glimpses of brilliance. It felt difficult to return to the computer then, but I did, if only to record the experience of sitting with all that vibrant life winging around me. I felt blessed in some way and humbled, although those words are too intense somehow, too grand for what was a small experience, one morning, that’s all, in which I chose to be in the pulsing present moment. In the end, that’s all there is. I throw a hunk of clay on the wheel and slowly move it toward center. I rest my hands on the keyboard and write about what I’m living.”

Late April–writing and garden news

I subscribe to a writers’ newsletter compiled by Cigdem Kobu who develops and maintains the Inky Path website and writers’ community. The newsletter arrives in my email inbox each Monday and is packed with articles, tips, prompts, and other writerly inspiration. A few weeks ago, Cigdem posed the challenge to answer the question, “Why do I write?” and submit the results to her for posting in the newsletter. My brief essay appears in the most recent issue, here. Thank you Cigdem for posting this!

Spring is finally here–it felt very slow in coming this year. Each day I go for a slow wander around the yard to see what’s coming up, what wintered over well–or not. I note that last summer’s drought and months’ long watering ban took a toll, especially on shrubs which went into winter stressed. I see browned leaves, some dead branches, especially on the two mountain laurels. They won’t bloom much this year. Yet I’m pleased and surprised by the resilience of most of the plants.

At the front of the house, clumps of tulips add bright, hot colors.

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The andromeda on the east side of the house is covered with creamy bloom.

IMG_0672The lilacs are full of flower buds, which will soon be deep purple, fragrant flowers.

IMG_0678The small PJM rhododendron is in full bright pink bloom.

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Remembering a poet and teacher

There was an obituary in today’s paper for Margaret Robison, poet, artist, and teacher. I met Margaret in the early 1980s when I took a 2 week summer writing workshop that she taught. I continued on for a year or so in a weekly poetry writing group that she led. It was my first venture into writing workshops, my first toe dip into taking myself seriously as a writer, and her playful, supportive group was the perfect place to take those first steps into exploring creativity.

I eventually recognized that I was more drawn to prose than poetry and left Margaret’s group–and lost track of Margaret, although I did hear that she’d had a stroke.

A year or so ago something sparked my curiosity about her and I found my way to her website. On the “About” page, she wrote about her life after her stroke. She wrote about living in an apartment with a view of a river and hills rising on the other side and that her relative immobility didn’t confine her. Her wise words have stayed with me:

“While it’s true that I had a difficult time feeling trapped in my body for a while after my stroke, I am anything but trapped in my body now,” she wrote. “First, I learned I could flow with the river with my eyes, just as I could climb the mountain to its top and back down again. I discovered that freedom from a paralyzed body not only had to do with my eyes. More importantly it had to do with memory, imagination, meditation, and prayer—and the boundless nature of the spirit.”

And thinking about those meandering paths…

A conversation I had recently about purpose in our lives has been buzzing quietly in the back of my mind. I had the conversation this past Sunday, a quiet rainy day at the end of a quiet rainy weekend. I’d drifted a bit through the weekend as sometimes happens when I don’t have much scheduled. On these drifty days, I read, relax, putter in the garden, connect with friends in person or by phone, and am mostly content but there can be a nagging sense that I should be more –well, purposeful with my time. And the person I was talking with on Sunday echoed this thought in talking about her own day-to-day life.

For me this buzz is mostly background noise since my days are filled with going to work and maintaining my life outside of work. But the low buzz is there and gets louder on weekends and other stretches of leisure time. “What can I do that’s purposeful this weekend?” I wonder. “How can I be productive?” All too often, this wondering turns into fretting.

As I type this I think about my previous post on garden paths and my appreciation of meandering, whimsical paths. And this leads me to thinking about writing, which requires frequent strolls along those meandering paths. So, sitting here on a bright late June morning, I wonder if, for myself, I should shift the internal conversation. Maybe it’s less about purpose and more about simply being awake and receptive.

IMG_0036In order to write, I need to wake up and let myself see, not just what’s going on in imagination but also see the detail of my small world. The Japanese iris with its silky fall of petal, the waves of daylily bloom, orange and yellow and burgundy.

Right now the crows are busy and noisy–I suspect there’s a cat or a raptor out there somewhere. Sun is filtering through branches, lighting up the top of the maple tree and the big pine. Everything else is shadowed. The sky, glimpsed through trees, is clear and blue.

In order to write I need to let myself see without purpose. It’s all too easy to wander around the garden noting what needs to be done rather than simply noting the shapes, textures, colors, scents–Monarda and phlox about to bloom, roses pink and cream and the glistening backs of Japanese beetles feasting, bristly prickly nettles, fine blades of grass grown thick in the rain.

Paths

IMG_0384“I’d like to put in a couple of paths,” Tom said. He led me around the side of the house and gestured to the grassy path that leads between the rhododendron and the daylily bed toward the back porch. “Here’s one place–get the sod up, put down some bark mulch with rock edging.” “Sure,” I said. “Less to mow.” He then headed toward the area with the raised bed. There’s already a dirt path of sorts that cuts around the edge of that bed toward the side where the water faucet is. “And here,” he said, “put some bark mulch here, make a real path.”

In fact I don’t know if this will happen this year, especially the path that requires digging up sod–it might end up being more $$$ than I want to invest in garden projects. But it got me thinking about paths. These would be useful, logical paths, places I already walk regularly, sensible paths.

IMG_0383But I’m intrigued by whimsical paths. I’ve created a few of these over the years although they’ve all ended up overgrown. When I put in the bed in front of the maple in the front yard I made a path curved through the middle. It was partly practical–gave me weeding access–but it was also a path to nowhere and that entertained me. It soon became home to Siberian iris volunteers and is now just part of the bed. There was another path I made into the middle of the circular bed in the front—I even put down paving stones and placed a bird bath in the middle, hidden from view unless you walked along the path–but that path too became overgrown and the bird bath now sits in the back yard.

And this is all an interesting metaphor, of course, for paths through writing—or simply through life.