Here I Sit
Here I sit, sipping my afternoon tea, gazing at my garden through the front picture window. The kids are in for (semi-) quiet time, and I take a moment to breathe and drink caffeine and pretend to meditate. Some days, I write. Some days, I read. Other days, I simply enjoy the beauty of my new garden.
We moved here four months ago. I fell in love with this house in part because of the flowers. In our last house, I had a vegetable garden, but the small flowerbed I put in never seemed to thrive. I didn’t have an eye for landscaping and couldn’t seem to grasp what flowers were best for that climate and soil. But now, the flowers come to me as a gift. Plumbago, salvia, and butterfly bushes, daisies, lilies, and some yellow flowering bush I have yet to identify. We eat lunch and dinner in the back garden. We do our morning devotions on the patio. As the sun sets and the fair-haired angel of the night lights her bright torch, I sneak outside and know why the evening prayer is called “Evensong.” This is a place of beauty and peace and joy, much of which we inherited from the previous owner. We name it Idlewild.
My mom passes along information about how and when to prune salvia. Whenever I see a weed, I pull it, even if I’m on my way somewhere, and the kids learn to do the same, stopping their play to attack the sprouting invasions. We water and feed the flowers fish and seaweed compost tea, and sometimes, we sing to our garden.
Then the Texas summer hits, and though it’s a mild one according to the books, I watch as some of my balloon flowers yellow, wither, and die. An interesting plant with tiny white buds raises up in one of the beds, and I wait to see what becomes of it. Turns out, it’s a weed, and it infiltrates and chokes out my purple clover. The columbine and roses stop flowering and start shriveling. The bushes grow scraggly and push out the agapanthus. I water and prune and feed the plants, and I panic.
* * *
I remember the first time I began an essay with “here I sit.” My seventh-grade teacher took me to a writer’s conference, my first one. The presiding author told us to write an essay starting with “here I sit.” It was her version of what Anne Lamott would later describe as her one-inch picture frame. “Here I sit,” we wrote, and described what we saw, real or imagined, or a memory flitting around right then. It brought us to the immediate, to the one thing, to something we could grasp and do.
I don’t remember anything else about that conference, except this: how did I, a dedicated musician who had spurned all other loves, happen upon this world where fairies still danced and gnomes leaped with the frogs? I didn’t know then that I would later claim the title of writer, that I would presume to glance upon the magic.
When I first took writing seriously, I did all the required things: I read books about writing and studied all the rules; I went to conferences and critique groups; I sat in my chair every day and wrote words and put in my 10,000 hours. I blogged about the writer as priest or prophet. These roles meant something big and important. I wrote, I said, because I wanted others to feel less alone.
What can I tell you about what happened next? There were triumphs and disappointments, and more disappointments, but most of all, the stories never achieved on paper what they did in imagination. After a few years of this very serious and dedicated time, we had kids. One, two, three. I vowed to keep up the habit of daily writing, but I was tired, and the meager product didn’t seem worth the practice. It was neither priestly nor prophetic. So sometimes at nap time, I napped. Or read. Or checked Facebook. I knit and sewed when I felt like it. And then I read some more. I’ll get back into it when I’m done breastfeeding, I told myself, or after we’ve moved, or after the unpacking is done. (The unpacking is never done.)
What did writing mean anymore? The world had enough voices. It certainly didn’t need mine. Sometimes I didn’t even miss writing.
One day, I realized I was no longer a writer. I had no right to that name. Its passing grieved me, left me empty but, in some ways, relieved.
* * *
The heat of August breaks me. I let the garden run wild. Whole patches of weeds line the front and side of the house. The daisies grow woody and dry. Bushes shoot out bedraggled arms. I’ll clean it up when the weather gets cooler, I think. I’ll spend a weekend making all things new. I’ll take a hoe to the weedy patches. I’ll shape the bushes and trees and prune the salvia and the as-yet-unnamed yellow flowering bush. I’ll get rid of all the things that shouldn’t be in the garden and will compost and mulch all the things that should be there. In the meantime, I concede the garden to the forces that be.
And yet the vincas and plumbago and salvia flourish and fill the garden with color.
And yet sunflowers bloom where birds dropped seeds from the bird feeder.
And yet even the delicate lilies blossom every few weeks.
The forces that be give me back beauty.
* * *
The truth is, I don’t completely give up writing. I journal bits and pieces in a private log as well as mementos I keep for the kids. I tell stories (“Tell me a story about when you were a kid,” my children constantly beg). I start to jot down quips of beauty in the world around me or small meaningless scenes about the characters in my head. The rules about plot and tension and form and structure go out the window. So does the idea of writing as something big and important.
The act of writing itself carves out space for beauty in my life. This has always been true, but without the pretention of doing something big and important, I can relax into whatever shows up on paper—the mess and joy and struggle and grief and giggles of life. These are not the habits of a serious writer, of course. These are not the daily practices and evaluations needed to send a piece out into the world, just as letting the garden go to the wild won’t work as a long-term strategy. But this is what writing is to me right now, how I remember that writing starts with glimpsing into a world of magic, that it starts with, “Here I sit.”
* * *
One day, despite my resolve to let the wildness take over, I sneak outside and pull a few weeds. The kids join in, defending the castle from invaders. It may not be much against the onslaught, but it gets dirt under my fingernails. That’s what I’ve always loved about gardening, whether vegetable or flower: getting my hands dirty.