Inch by Inch


I’m at a table in the garden area on a beautiful spring afternoon. There’s a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky; in fact, it is the darkest blue I’ve seen in quite some time. The garden benches are covered with overturned pots, and beneath the last bench are bags of dirt. Not long ago I rehung the garden tools on the outside back wall of the shed and raked the area smooth of rocks and debris. Danger of the last frost will soon be past, and the growing season will begin in earnest.

One problem. I couldn’t care less. I’m just not into it this year. Maybe it’s because I’m mentally tired of putting long hours—days—of effort into something which literally doesn’t bare any fruit, and maybe it is because the farm stand in the village always has plenty of fresh picked produce, is inexpensive, and is a nice place to talk to people. In year’s past the garden was a physical and mental escape; a place to be away from the droves of people I was in constant contact with, and a place to let my mind wander, get lost in the metaphor of sowing and tending to life until it grows and can stand on its own. I don’t know.

But this year I’m not feeling it; not yet anyway. I have a lot of traveling to do in the next few months, a major project which is way overdue, and a small market down the road selling the freshest tomatoes and peppers you’d ever find.

All that is true, but I still know I’ll haul my tired ass out here and garden, and not long later I’ll find myself excited about it. Finally, I’ll post a picture or two of the half dozen cucumbers I’ll pick and then run down the road for something to eat. I know routine; I’ve been growing in this spot for twenty-three years.

I suppose the garden is not unlike this monster of a project I’ve been working on for a few years now; I can’t not do it. I won’t be satisfied until I get it right, and then once I do, that will motivate me to do more. I have quit a few things in my life which I might have pursued to more success, and only sometimes do I look back and think I should have pushed it further, get past that proverbial “wall” until I found a new stride and, as a result, a new reason to keep going. But I don’t dwell on them and am smart enough to know my limitations.

But this is different, this is a challenge I look forward to. I know what to do and how to do it, I just need to be attentive. And in my project, I know what I want to say and how and even where, I just need to keep turning and wrestling the material until it ripens. And the uncontrollable elements like the weather for the garden and, well, I suppose an editor or publisher for the project? Well, that’s just about being persistent. I could catalog here the plethora of artists who faced rejection after rejection sometimes for years but who stuck with it and finally succeeded, but past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, as they say. So I persist. I’m convinced Martha Stewart’s tomatoes were consistently rotten for a few years before she hit on the right variety.

So my garden right now is little more than an outline waiting for me to till the soil, mix the organic fertilizer and plant a rough draft.

And if it fails again, and if I can’t get this narrative arc to push out toward where I need it to go, I’ll swing by the market for some hot peppers, grab some potato-based vodka for the makings of a Bloody Mary, and have at it one more time.

I think this is my season. It’s harvest time both in the garden and the garret. After all, Whitman had Leaves of Grass, but I have the blank sheet of paper. This leaves me with the advantage. Everyone knows the work Whitman sowed and how it still grows in the literary field, but I have the indisputable blank sheet of paper, and with the right choice of words, I might harvest my own grass.


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