A Note from 40 Years of Teaching Myself and Others to Write

Sometimes I go to sleep with my heart full of sadness. A student’s poem that day about a bicycling daughter killed by a bus as it made a turn, someone’s essay about losing her son to a strep infection that went to his heart, and someone else’s essay about grieving the mother she had and the one she never had because of bipolar disorder.

Sometimes my mind is full of lines from a poem I am happy to have written, even if I am unsure if it is finished. Other times a busy brain can’t stop making lists of all I forgot to do that day, emails to answer buried now under new stacks of email, phone calls promised and not made, forms still be filled out, bills to be paid.

Sometimes, if I have taken the time to weed my garden during the day, behind my closed eyelids, I see the intricate designs of unwanted plants I’ve pulled as if I am still reaching for them.

Somehow, I drift off to sleep until the bright light of a full moon awakens me or being too hot under the covers does that, or some random robo call causes my phone to ring at an hour no one would call unless it was an emergency, which is why I keep my phone on overnight as my mother, who lives ten minutes drive away, is over 92 and I worry she will need something.

Sometimes I sleep till 9–despite the dawn and early sunlight. Sometimes I give up and get up at 4 or 5 or 6. The pleasure of being older, of not having to rush into the day, is that whatever has happened overnight is not as disconcerting as it was when I had to be up and driving to teach 8 am university classes.

Sometimes, boiling water for Melitta drip coffee, I peruse the list I made at the beginning of wanting to sleep–the one where I walked from bed to the dining room table to scribble what I thought I would forget by morning. Sometimes I go right to the news, which assures me that the world is still there despite all of its angst and corruption.

Sometimes, I walk out into my garden to see the seedlings sprouting or the fruit beginning to form on the Asian pear trees, the figs, which are its tree’s flowers, rounding themselves.

I think of how this year I planted a seed mix along the outside of my garden fence, a mix designed to grow flowers that deer, rodents and raccoons will not want to go near.

My retired botanist neighbor said there were weeds in the mix. Since they have a purpose I don’t see them as weeds. I realize when I think this way that there is a purpose for us as writers for words we will weed out from our drafts, words that were necessary at first, but don’t fit once we have written more. Those “weed” words are from seeds that grow into plants that pioneer the soil so we can grow the fruits and flowers our writing deserves to be.

We must look for those plants that are preparing our writing for the deeper stuff that needs the finer soil the “weeds” make, soil in which to plant specific, tangible, sense-based words from our experience. When instead we write words that are those pioneers, words that aren’t the ones that we will continue to want there, we are holding a place for what we do want to manifest in our writing.

Just as we identify a dandelion or wild sorrel or the spreading leaves of buttercup because we don’t want them in our flower or vegetable beds and we take them out to make room for what we need to plant, so we do the same in our writing. And we find the soil they grew in has become rich and ready to receive and grow what it is we have to write.

And so to sleep now, having written after one of those surprisingly early wake-ups. And so to sleep, this time with a mind more clear for having written.

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A Note from 40 Years of Teaching Myself and Others to Write — 6 Comments

  1. You are SPOT ON, my Teacher! The blooms are happening in our yard, also. I’ll send you the proof in tomorrow’s Maytag Moments. I like your five sometimes plus somehow. Somehow, I feel better this morning after reading your essay. (I felt fine, anyway.) Somehow, I will send you luscious garden experiences this week. Blessings,

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