John C. Morgan: A Trip to the Garden Cures a Case of Writer’s Block | Notice
It is an eternal problem that strikes at all times and in all places – writer’s block. He strikes mercilessly, but often when deadlines are looming.
It happened to me this morning without warning. It doesn’t matter if I’m on the last page of a long book or a column like this. It’s worse if you’re a writer or editor of a daily newspaper when the deadline is five minutes and you haven’t even written the first paragraph.
I thought I got the idea for an opinion piece on how people lie even when they know what they are saying is not true. But somehow I couldn’t figure out how they could tell such bald lies without batting an eyelid. They seemed indifferent to the facts or to any truth. I guess if they tell enough lies, they even believe some of them.
You would think I learned to deal with such crises, but I guess I’m learning slowly. I wrote two drafts of a column, then deleted both. When in doubt, panic and force work. It only made matters worse. And then I remembered a certain wisdom attributed to WC Fields and a few others: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So stop. There’s no point in being silly about it.
So I stopped and went downstairs for a cup of tea. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw the flowers in the little garden outside. I went out and sat down. Sometimes it’s better to give up, which I did. I watched the little birds pick up the seeds from the ground. I saw squirrels sneaking up one after the other. And I let my mind rest on the flowers.
You can learn great in a garden. If nothing else, you can refrain from causing more trouble to other people. No wonder Henry David Thoreau sitting by his cabin in Walden Pond could have written, “I wouldn’t go around the block to see the world explode.
There is something humiliating about planting a garden, especially for a city dweller like me. You throw in a few bulbs before winter and, presto, without even lifting a shovel or a rake, the green shoots are springing up from the earth so arid and cold for so long.
Talk about the simple graces of life – nothing equals the sight of yellow and blue and red and orange sending their flares into the sun.
I also understand better why diversity is beautiful by studying my garden. Blue flowers do not say to red: “Get out of here, this is our corner of the earth!” The orange does not grab the green buds by the stems and tries to throw them out of their space.
The beauty of a garden is that each flower retains its uniqueness, but when joined with others it forms a patchwork tapestry of joy. Stand back a few feet when your garden is in full bloom and observe her majesty, just as wonderful as seeing a photo of the blue planet earth in the distance from the moon.
There is an old saying: “Many things grow in the garden that have never been sown there.” It is the most humiliating part of growing a life or a garden. No matter how carefully you plant the seeds, a few weeds always manage to grow. You can’t control them any more than you can control the people around you. And, sometimes even weeds add a touch of diversity to a patch of flowers or a crack in the city sidewalk.
I had been sitting quietly for half an hour now before realizing the chronicle had written itself. All I had to do was bring the words to life.
I went upstairs to let the words flow. The writer’s block had disappeared and the chronicle had been written.
It’s amazing what you accomplish by giving up and paying attention to life.
John C. Morgan is a teacher and writer whose weekly columns appear in this journal.