Friday, May 30, 2008

Writing and reading, planting and weeding

These days I devote large chunks of time to gardening and writing, tasks that make very different demands on both mind and body but nevertheless seem more similar the longer I perform them. Robinson Jeffers's poem "To the Stone-Cutters" suggests that writing a poem and cutting a stone are essentially the same task, and anyone who has read his sturdy, workmanlike poems in close proximity to the stone walls he built with his own hands will sense the kinship of stone and poem. Right now, writing and gardening require the same sorts of processes: clearing the ground, culling the weeds, planting the seeds, nurturing growth.

I have on my desk a stack of books, journal articles, and miscellaneous notes jotted down over the past eight or nine months, materials I have read and marked up but not digested or synthesized. That's what I'm doing this week: going through the stack, transcribing the useful notes and culling the unnecessary ones, seeding my document files with ideas that will germinate and put down roots and, I hope, produce fruit in the finished product. At my current pace, I expect to be finished transcribing notes by the end of next week, which seems like a lot of time to spend on preparation, but bringing together all the research I've done over the past year and juxtaposing all those ideas in one place helps my mind to make connections so that when I'm ready to write, I just can't stop those ideas from growing.

In fact, they're growing right now. I move away from the computer and go out to the garden to pull weeds, plant seeds, prepare the soil to accept another tomato or pepper or cabbage plant, and as I'm bending over with my hands in the dirt, I suddenly see how to make a certain part of my argument work or how to structure the introduction or how to demonstrate that two apparently unrelated ideas are actually rooted in the same soil. Planting seeds, planting ideas: same thing, really, at least at this stage.

When will the ideas produce fruit? That remains to be seen, but as long as my writing is as productive as my tomato plants, I'll be one happy gardener.

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