The writing life is a lot like gardening: no matter how many times you tidy your work, how bountiful your successes, or how satisfying the fruits of your labors, there’s always another weed. When I was a young man, I didn’t grow vegetables. I grew weeds. My garden was a hellish landscape of pigweed, ivy, and mysterious green demons with thorns and bristles.
Of course, I didn’t set out to grow weeds. I dreamed of tomatoes so succulent they exploded when you bit them, peppers so sweet and crisp you could eat them like apples, and pumpkins that Cinderella would envy. I carved a plot of earth, added manure and sand, and in that dirt I planted the seeds of my dreams. As an afterthought, I also planted spearmint: my lone success. Mint is a pernicious, unkillable expansionist with thick, square stalks which will march across your garden. However many glasses of iced tea or mint juleps you make, you’ll never be rid of it, but it isn’t technically a weed. The tomatoes succumbed to the bug with no name. What meager red sad sacks survived rotted on the vine. My peppers were juicy hot spikes of doom, transplants which had outgrown their high school biology experiment. A neighbor squirted herself in the eye dicing them and almost blinded herself. The pumpkin patch withered in the heat. Flowers dropped off the vine like vermin racing to abandon ship. The rain brought no relief, only mud splattered ruin, and then the sun came back. My dreams of vegetables died beneath that uncompromising summer sun. The parched naked earth shattered into cracked, brown tiles. In that oppressive heat, among the shriveled corpses of my dreams, a new thorny reality snaked from beneath the cracks to strangle the survivors. The weeds had arrived.
It is all great and wonderful to wake up with a gleam in your eye and say, “I want to garden,” or “I want to write.” Nobody wakes up with a gleam in their eye and says, “I want to plan” or “whoopee, it’s budget time!” Such stodgy things are counterintuitive to all us creative passionate types who wall up such whining trivialities in the corners of our minds, imploring them to shut up and let us get back to our art! Wanting something isn’t enough; you need a plan. You need to anticipate what weeds may come because they will come regardless and smother your dreams.
As an older, wiser man, I made a plan. I researched, I investigated the works of other gardeners, and I discovered leaf mulch. Add six inches of leaves to cover your garden plot and smother all your problems. Do this in the fall when bags of leaves abound, let it start rotting over the winter, and then plant in the spring. Mud is an unpleasant memory as your feet leave light impressions in the mulch (when you sit, your butt leaves a big impression). If there is even a trace of humidity in the air, mother nature will pull moisture from the heavens which condenses under that soft, cold mulch. The ground insulated under the mulch is cooler than the bare surface, moist, and rich with earthworms and nutrients as the leaves break down into humus. Weeds are a distant nightmare; what seeds could germinate through that luscious sylvan carpet? Indeed, you must dig furrows to plant your vegetable seeds or else plant seedlings. It was a wonderful plan and for a time it seemed to be working. After getting their roots settled, with the exception of some pest-riddlen eggplant and beans, all my vegetables flourished, spread their branches, and reached into the limitless sky. Then little green tendrils began poking from beneath the mulch, sly and sinuous. The bermuda grass had arrived.
Good plans do not eradicate your problems…
There will always be another weed on the horizon. How are you going to tackle it?
Thanks for reading!
J. H. Bardwell