As I write this, I have two plump squashes in my garden still clinging onto their stems. I plan to harvest them tomorrow and enjoy a good stew out of them this week. I’m terribly excited for this plan of mine. Until then, I’ll let these two beauties be outside among their now-dead blossoms, cherry tomatoes, and the Russian kale that should keep growing till the middle of November. Squash seeds require a 24-hour soak in water before planting, and 6-8 weeks under the sun for growth. I planted 12 seeds, expecting none or one to show up; two did. As I think about finally harvesting them, I think about having a relationship to writing, and what has shown and what has not.
Whenever I read a published piece, I try to envision what it looked like at the beginning. Was the original as effortless as it reads now? Most of the time, no. The final draft isn’t necessarily a summation of everything from the start, and so much work goes into the process of writing that doesn’t visibly show up to readers. There’s research, reading, conversations to consider— all background work that goes into the making of a story. Even then there are times when the final form ceases to turn out as you’d hoped, or after this whole time toiling away, you find out that your story is still in gestation. What comes with writing is the need to reckon with factors beyond your control, much like everything else in life, but of course.
Despite gardening for years, Jamaica Kincaid found herself apprehensive of the thick blankets of snow that would soon take over the months she spent digging and planting in her Vermont garden. Her apprehension was also matched with disbelief and acquiescence each year. Documenting winter’s inevitability in her book My Garden she writes: “The surprise, the shock, of winter has become to me like a kiss from someone I love: I expect it, I want it, and yet, Ah!” What succeeds is spring (“it cannot come without winter”), new botanical catalogues, another go at knuckling the dirt, and a sense of what must come again and again. Her mode of thought, too, includes the unexpected, as it will “eventually recur if I garden long enough, for the garden repeats itself all the time and will advance only so long as human history and all that it entails moves along also.”
Much like writing, gardening is an action based in creation, which is also an action that can be incorrectly associated with godliness. But if you’ve ever looked at a plot of soil with no sprouts, a blank or full page or document with despair, then you’ve known intimately that this type of creation is but an act of submission and acceptance, a type of creation that is cyclical in its surprise.
There are no guarantees of outcome from an action as malleable as writing, be it full draft published or first draft contained. Guarantees are besides the point, however. As publishing and writing are dissimilar, there is certainly no need to accomplish the former in order to claim association with the latter. Not that it’s an easy assertion to make. As difficult as it is to define who gets to be or call themselves a writer, it’s just as unclear with defining what writing is— as in, the activity. I take the definition of being/calling myself a writer, as well as what is considered writing, flexibly: it’s on those who write to decide for themselves. Writing is an activity of possibilities, not limitations.
Gardening, too, has no guarantees and yet brims with possibilities: a flower, fruit, or vegetable might show up a few weeks or months after planting, who knows. Depending on what you want to grow, there is prep work: you have to soak the seeds for a certain set of hours, you have to strategize where to dig and plant this new home for soaked seeds, pull out surrounding weeds if need be, etc. You dig, sweat, dig more, and absolutely plant those things into the dampened earth. Then comes the maintenance work, which mainly consists of watering, picking weeds, and praying with all of your might that the raccoons do not eat your damn tomatoes overnight. As you become comfortable, you’ll learn other tricks that will either make gardening easier, or advance what you do, like using compost, or learning various methods for germinating a seed. Gardening demands a lot of commitment, but also connection, and when something does show up it’s affirming (mind you, affirmation comes in various ways beyond late-stage capitalist standards of what counts and what does not). This isn’t to claim that if you follow the steps, a whole garden will appear just as you’d like, because that’s unpredictable; perhaps part of it will appear a year later, or after several tries. Most of the time, in both writing and gardening, it’s about starting over— over and over again.
Amanda Ghazale Aziz is currently the guest editor of the InvisiBlog.