Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clearing space and finding words

As she came near the second of these alcoves she stopped skipping. There had once been a flowerbed in it, and she thought she saw something sticking out of the black earth- -some sharp little pale green points. She remembered what Ben Weatherstaff had said and she knelt down to look at them.

"Yes, they are tiny growing things and they might be crocuses or snowdrops or daffodils," she whispered.

. . .

She did not know anything about gardening, but the grass seemed so thick in some of the places where the green points were pushing their way through that she thought they did not seem to have room enough to grow. She searched about until she found a rather sharp piece of wood and knelt down and dug and weeded out the weeds and grass until she made nice little clear places around them.

"Now they look as if they could breathe," she said, after she had finished with the first ones. "I am going to do ever so many more. I'll do all I can see. If I haven't time today I can come tomorrow."

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Writing requires space.  I don't mean just physical space (with a nod to Virginia Woolf) -- I mean mental space, as well.  When my life is overfull (of projects, meetings, plans, and deadlines), I simply don't have the mental space to write.  To some extent, this is due to the very limited time that is left over after all of the urgent tasks have been addressed.  However, scraps of time remain -- a half hour here or there -- and writing could take place in those times.  But my mind is filled with the minutiae of work and home, and I cannot clear away the mental clutter of everyday life to construct threads of meaning.  I have enough time to live my life, but not to put it into words.  When my present is stuffed to bursting, I seem to develop a tunnel vision, seeing only what is in front of me. There is no room for detours into the infrequently traveled, often fragmentary side paths.

Yet again, I have forgotten the lessons from the garden.  I fail to thin, weed, or prune, and my life becomes overfull.  Of course, the act of clearing space itself takes time -- my long hours weeding in the garden can attest to that -- and becomes yet another contribution to my crowded schedule.  Task upon task, each of which is important and clamoring for priority, squeezing out the extras.  After a while, the habit of writing is lost, and even writing a blog post seems like an insurmountable task. 

I miss writing, though.  Processing my life, putting it into a formal narrative, creates a deeper understanding than that allowed by fleeting thoughts or casual conversations.  In graduate school, after my advisor and I had discussed an idea for a while, he would say "Good.  Now go write it all down."  He knew, and I learned, that the writing the ideas down often revealed gaps in the theory or created new ideas to pursue.  Writing helps create emotional meaning, as well, as I have found in my other blog.  In addition, writing endures:  Even the ephemeral text of the internet is captured and can be replayed, living beyond the moment of publication. 

So I promise to write, but the to-do list is never complete and the words remain fragmentary.  As time passes, writing seems more and more distant, more unlikely.  Until the day when the must-do tasks remain ignored and incomplete; the weeds and dust and piles of paper are left for another day.  Writing takes precedence, for once, and I reconnect with my inner narrative. 


  1. Write me down on the side of them that loves it when you find/make/steal the time to write.

  2. Thank you, Shelley! That means a lot to me, especially coming from you. I have always loved your writing. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog -- sometimes I worry that I'm just talking to myself. Although, I don't really mind, as I'm a good conversationalist. ;-)