After a spring of record flooding, the summer has turned dry. Dust blows over the gravel roads to and from Girl Scout Camp. Farmers scan the sky, and my husband hauls out the hose to water the garden. We’ve left the lawn to fare on its own; the stretches sheltered by trees are still fairly verdant, but the patch in front exposed most to the sun has turned dry and brittle. It serves as a reminder of how much we take for granted, assuming Mother Nature to provide for us; how far beyond our control She is; and how deeply we’ve wounded her with our continued pollution.
Then, this morning, it rained. It rained on the children’s bathing suits, hung over the patio chairs. It rained on the cat litter box I’d cleaned and set outside to dry. It rained on the pool, the sandbox, the rabbit hutches, the yard, the garden, the cement, and that bare spot on the front lawn. The rain was warm and welcome and slippery wet. After giving us a good rinse, the clouds skittered away and the sun came out with a bright, steamy flourish, as if to say, “Are you glad to see me now?”
In my last blog post, I lamented about the drought I’m experiencing with my historical novel and the dry, dusty trek toward publication (no change there, not yet). The Writer’s Block came out to members of the Midwest Writing Center, containing my story, which was fortunate enough to place second in the Iron Pen Contest in February. But after “A Many-Chambered Vessel,” for the first time in years, I didn’t have a creative piece forthcoming. It felt odd and strange and like I was doing something wrong. Like I wasn’t a real writer anymore.
What I’d forgotten, of course, was that sometimes the soil needs to rest. The garden cannot bear continually. There are floods and then there are droughts, and sometimes there are the long lazy fecund days where the plants get enough sun, enough rain, enough nutrients, and enough calm that, though it seems little is happening, they are readying themselves to grow tall and bear fruit.
I expect the long cycles of continual growth. I want the continual churn: plug things into the Submittable queue, have publications come out. Send manuscripts out to publishers, have publishers return manuscripts as bound books. I wondered if my daily placing myself in my chair to stare for hours at the blue light of the computer screen made me the creative equivalent of a gambling addict, ceaselessly and without joy plugging my coins into the slot and pulling the lever, waiting for that “ding” of acceptance, the noisy rush of payout. I wondered what form of insanity it was to work and sacrifice and pour so much into this enterprise without any promise that what I am creating will mean anything to anyone.
And then, the “ding.” The sprout pushed up and bore fruit. A creative nonfiction piece, “Making Humans,” was accepted by Cleaver Magazine and, after some wonderful and careful editing, slated for a September release. Then my story “The Far Shore” was accepted by Sweet Tree Review. (It came out today, and you can read it here!)
Getting these gifts was like taking a fresh tomato from my husband’s garden, feeling it warm and taut against my palm, and biting into it right there with the ground beneath my feet and the tomato vines twining around my legs. Delicious. Nourishing. This, this is what the work is for: the hope that someone else will like the words enough to put them into a beautiful form and share them with the world. The hope that someone else will read them and be moved to thought, or emotion, a sense of recognition or identification, or the hard deep work of imagining themselves, for a moment, into another world, another life. And for that moment, in the collision of imaginations, all three of our worlds will be enriched.
After September, most likely, I’ll be searching the skies again, or rather scanning the Submittable queue, waiting for rain. But for now, I’m reminded that some cycles and seasons are beyond my control. I don’t like the image of the desperate gambler, tossing away endless resources for the brittle glittering dream of some unearned reward. I rather like the gardening image. Strengthen the soil. Plant and tend. Weed, and tend, and wait. The fruit will come, in its own time, given the right conditions, the whisper of magic, the eternal amazing alchemy of life. And the taste of that fruit will be beyond compare.