A few years ago, someone gave us a plant they claimed was bee balm. We had the perfect spot to let it go wild, a patch of mowed grass at the edge of our property we’d let return to its natural state. Letting the area grow up again had two purposes. First, to provide some roots in case our tiny creek flooded to a raging torrent like it did in July 2013 after 15 days of rain. (This was right before our house was robbed. Home ownership is cool, y’all.) Second, we’d allow a space for birds and rabbits and other wildlife to find a home in the tall grasses and weeds, creating a transition to the woods.
Bee balm spreads like crazy, we were told, and so it needed space to expand and take over. We planted our two presumed bee balm plants in separate locations, sat back, and expected the magic to happen. Gentle reader, the magic did not happen. One of them didn’t make it and perished. The other, well, the other did something unexpected.
In case you’ve never seen bee balm, it’s supposed to look like this:
But our plant returned in 2014 with a pretty golden flower and looked like this:
Each year since, our mistaken bee balm – which we’ve come to know as Jerusalem artichoke – returns with more and more blooms. They bust out at the end of August, a signal of impending fall, and have completely taken over their corner of the universe. At the tallest, they’re about six feet high and last all through September. Our single plant produced this:
It’s impossible for me to capture this crop of flowers with their sunny disposition because my camera lens isn’t wide enough. I have a perfect view of them from my living room window. And every year I anxiously await their return when they reach for the sky and suddenly become a masterpiece.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say about this, how I could bridge some kind of important sounding metaphor. I can only say the past couple weeks have been hard for me emotionally. Personal, professional, and otherwise. It feels like growing pains, figuring out life as I hit the cruise control stage of my 30s, wondering where yesterday went, fearing what tomorrow could bring. Stable but wanting. Steady but craving something ahead of me. A little unpredictable predictability. The next thing and the next thing and the next thing, like it used to be.
Writing, the place I go to escape life’s pressures, has been a slog. Dry. Lifeless. Taxing. I have a revision requiring meticulous attention, a story I feel has publishing potential but leaves me in terror of facing what seems to be an insurmountable objective. I have a project I started to occupy my time while querying that had to be placed aside temporarily to address the massive rewrite. Oh, and a plot bunny hopped into my head and just won’t shut up, but I can’t give it my due diligence right now.
I have wrestled with my decisions. Should I have left the story the way it was? Is this something anyone will want to read? Am I ever going to be able to post my success on Twitter dot com and welcome the celebration from strangers I only know as a set of snippets and pixels?
Keeping perspective takes work. Blinders. If you gawk around on anybody’s paper but your own, you aren’t getting anything done. I know what I need to do. I need to dig deep, plant a seed, nurture it, and let it run free. I just need to find it in me. I’ve come a long way since my 182k word hot mess of a manuscript I cobbled together a few years ago. I can look back at all my creative output, my ideas, my characters, and know that I’ve grown. I’ve got a garden full of words to prove it.
And like our “not bee balm” it starts with one. One concept. One word. One paragraph. One conversation.
That step has to be taken. It’s easy to recede into yourself, blame your problems on people and the past and the future. It’s comfortable there. Easy. Simple. Going forward is hard. As tired, and discouraged, and scared as I am, I’m fighting to take that next step knowing the fruits of my labor will look a lot like those sunny yellow flowers that were supposed to be something else – but turned out better.