Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Surveying the Orchard - Of Pesticides, Pests and Honey

Of course, The Storyteller’s Orchard will be organic; though, I felt I had to state that unequivocally. There are certainly plenty of pesticides used by writers. What? Yes. Writers writing commercially, and for social media, blogging included, often use pesticides for their pests.

So let’s think about what the pests and pesticides are in the writing field. Maybe the better question is what doesn’t bother a writer? Moreover, what doesn’t get in the way of a writer’s prolific productivity? Pests may be organic or inorganic in a writer’s life, but they may be too numerous to count. Here are a few:

  • Fear
  • Distraction
  • Procrastination
  • Addiction
  • Sabotage
  • Misfortune
  • Abundance
  • Disruptions large and small
  • Ideas
  • Isolation
  • Passion
  • Responsibilities

You may notice that not all pests to a writer’s ability to be prolific are “bad”. Many of the pests that are in the way of deeply rooted, sweet-fruited writing are our good times. Pests can be moldy and old business, moving targets, fast growing weeds. The cause for them is simple: LIFE. To begin as writers with the expectation that the world will stop for us, and our brilliant idea, is common though. Farmers have the advantage of several millenniums over us. They expect to deal with pests on an on-going basis. We writers still get flustered, and sometimes undone by them. I speak from experience on this one you know.

It comes down to management of pests, just like in farming. We’re never going to wipe the whole of peskiness out so that we can write. Pesticides are brutal though, and so let’s now look at what pesticide use in writing might look like. Screenwriting, content and any kind of copy or technical writing may, in fact, be the heaviest pesticide-dependent forms of writing because they try to “conform to an industry standard.” Just like store-bought peaches, consumers of movies, websites, instruction manuals and advertising of any sort have certain expectations, and as writers, we try to meet those expectations if we expect to work. Unfortunately, store-bought peaches are actually hit or miss in terms of real succulent flavor. They may look beautiful, but bite into them and they have no particular flavor at all, and this is exactly what happens often to writing that tries to match a need and expectation. Writers aim for this practicality in order to survive, only to find that we’ve undermined the revelation, impractical and often messy, that others read our writing for and we’re all left with a mealy mouthful of meaninglessness. So do we go hit or miss with our productivity or hit or miss with our product? It is not an easy choice. To turn out real brilliance, we have to limit pesticide usage.

Pesticides in writing come before, during and after our crops are growing. As if now I could poison the heck out of my field trying to get rid of the weeds I let grow here over the past few years. Admonishing myself for allowing my field to be fallow for so long is a pesticide I’ve used often in the past. I then have all these books to get myself started on new work without regard to what I’ve learned from past mistakes or having to worry about dealing with deeply rooted weeds and why they are there.  As you can see, I’m trying something new this time. I am letting the weeds feed my soil, and I have the idea that my soil is richer for all of my mistakes and has more to give to the deliciousness of the fruit I’ll eventually grow here. Still the residue from previous rounds of pesticides might have been a problem had I not simply let it all go for a long while.

During the growing season, pressure from within and from outside sources is a great pesticide. It keeps one on schedule by throwing panic all over a project like a spray application of DDT. Pressure comes from financial stress, other responsibilities, deadlines, and fear. Pressure can come from an overwhelm of too many pests reigning over our writing practice at one time, and then we need a pesticide for the pressure itself.

When someone gives us an example of the writing they’re looking for and we step up to meet it with a nod and salute, that is applying pesticide to the niggly feeling that there might be something in the writing that DOESN’T fit that example. Branding forces us to adhere to some other writer’s creation, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t grow a decent peach. It means that we have to be willing to use guidelines as just those…guidelines…not as pesticides that will kill every original thought we bring to the work. When a screenwriter must work within the parameters of a field that is not equivalent to pesticide, but where pesticide comes in is when a screenwriter discounts their own gut feeling for a story direction. Discounting one’s own ideas is like killing the beneficial wildness in an orchard. At first, it may be effective, but eventually the product will lack nutritional value and flavor to the audience, the gathering of the fruit becomes risky, and those fields are very difficult to revive. I am case in point. Fallow field, two years. Yes.

Organic writing may be that reactionary adventure addressing so many years of commercial writing, but I accept, also, that intermediary work must be done. This is the work I commit to, that I may revive my love of this field. As I survey the field, I am looking for habitats – the long-dead trees of the past where birds can now make their homes. The birds will take care of little pests, as wild ideas can take care of self-doubts. The cover crop of rye that I grew, and the weedy nettles pulling up nutrition from deep underground, are the poems, short fiction and essays I’ve been writing to get in touch with what I care about finally. I’m not going to mow down these little thoughts I have along the way. I’m going to find my hungry inner alpacas and goats who like the weeds, and I will create my own fertilizer. No need for chemicals! Additionally, here on the web are many nouveau foragers who make salads and wines of dandelions, and my orchard will welcome all to partake in the delicate, surprise writings as well as the peaches. Doesn’t that make you smile? It makes me smile.

Organic farms tend to be good places for bees. Bees are so essential to everything good about this planet that I cannot say enough about the importance of bringing them into our writing as well. The obvious thing is that without the endless wandering and focused business buzz of bees there is no fruit, no honey, and no life for a writer. The symbolic value of the bee goes back to the dawn of civilization. The temples of the ancients were shaped as enormous beehives. Bees are the symbol of royalty, of Freemasons, and of the Goddess Hirself. We, in fact, must aspire to be bees as writers because there is nothing higher. It is NOT an accident that to be a bee is to be.

To further the thought that we are both farmer and bee in the orchards of our dreams, understand that organic writing, as organic farming is more labor intensive and interdependent. Drifting away from the commercial aspects of writing and towards a smaller more focused crop of heirloom peaches means that I’m not pursuing quick return, but the sustainable and perhaps somewhat limited yearly return of organic writing. However, if I think of the bee and how it labors, I am comforted by the notion of being. This organic writing thought is so much closer to “bee-ing” for me. A bee flies from flower to flower in the orchard and in this flight of fancy collects the pollen and distributes it without a thought. Her focus is extracting sweet nectar from each flower, and that is exactly what I am after, but while I’m at it, I hope that it is possible that I’ll be cross-pollinating my trees. I also hope that I’ll be able to make that sweet nectar into something else again…honey, of course. This is the matter of life for a writer, isn’t it? I hope to stop worrying about mass production, and to focus once more on being. There is still a lot to do to maintain an organic orchard of heirloom peaches, a Storyteller’s Orchard, but having this vision comforts me.

It turns out that study after study proves that an organic farm is far more sustainable than a commercial farm, dependent on GMO seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I am willing to bet that organic writing, for me, will be more sustainable than a more commercial approach as well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Surveying the Orchard - Step One, Two & Three

It turns out that planning an orchard is something that other people have been doing a while. I know a lot about this field (of writing) and have been growing saplings (ideas that can produce fruit year after year) for a little while now. I've dug some holes (research and development), too, but I'm not sure if I'm putting them in the best place and I thought I'd go back to my extended metaphor, the heirloom peach orchard and see if I can find anything out about how to begin again.

Part of going forward is really knowing how this "land" was used in the past. Therefore, a quick review is in order because I don't want to start wallowing there. What I can say is that the field has been half-used. There have been lots of starts and stops. I used to plant ideas that were one-offs, more aimed towards immediate gratification, and quick return. I wrote what was in front of me a lot, what I might actually get paid for right away (copy, content, game scripts, writer-for hire scripts, and the like), rather than what I really wanted to write about or spend very much time on. I figure this is like planting cherry tomatoes. They can certainly be tasty but you have to be massively prolific to get a real return on them over time. My great uncle was a farmer in South Texas, I called him Pretty Pa, and we covered fields of tomatoes in a pick up truck, over the course of an entire afternoon. My field is not for that kind of farming. It is a quaint little lot...that's me...that was somewhat flooded so that, often, when I have tried to plant the longer term, regenerating crops, I've gotten too emotional to fix what needed to be fixed. I've spent some time working on that, but I imagine that there is still labor to do in that area. 

Moreover, this is not an established orchard -- it is a field. I’m starting from scratch. I’ve plowed under the cover crop of rye to nurture the soil. I’ve metaphorically fertilized. You know I’ve fertilized…grin. I’m working on the irrigation. It’s on a hill, facing sort of West (thinking of the second half of my life at this point), afternoon sun, and a gentle slope (because I have some amazing support from my husband and children). Let’s say this is Lot 46, for the years I’ve been on earth so far, and let’s call the Orchard something that evokes a storied place…hmmm. Kosmic Egg doesn’t suggest a place but a thing, so it will be something else that suggests the work and reward of a healthy orchard, a place of great vision and plenty. It seems too obvious to me to call it “Abundant Orchard” because somehow I feel like I will have to trick the Universe into giving over some abundance to me. Isn’t that telling? It would be a courageous statement, but it has no sense of humor for me to embrace it. Perhaps “The Problems & Opportunities Orchard” would be most honest.

I never thought I would have so much trouble naming an imaginary place! The orchard is for heirloom peaches that are metaphoric for very special, classic, engaging and dense stories that we see, hear, and tell year after year. Yes, I’m thinking about stories that we’ve inherited, that are vital still in their retelling because I am of the school of thought that says all stories have been told before in some other way. The trees are the production method. How many peaches can a healthy peach tree produce? Certainly, that must be a copious number. I imagine that these are the stories, like seeds, that passed on from village to village, tribe to tribe, and scribe to scribe until they became a lexicon of storied knowledge. This is a new orchard, but it is growing heirloom peaches. You see? Therefore, I believe I will simply call it “Storyteller’s Orchard” and hope you know what I mean.

Another question for the survey is how visible is this orchard from the beaten path? Actually, to begin with, it probably won’t look like much, but you’ll be able to see its progress, metaphorically, from here, and maybe someday there will be more traffic (I hope! Invite your friends to follow me at http://kosmicegg.blogspot.com/) as I am more established. I feel somewhat like a kid who can’t decide whether I should cover my work until it is finished or if I should let the other kids look over my shoulder. Those are my trust issues, having come from Hollywood where we’ve seen multiple films made on the same subject or same genre every year (i.e. ants, space, dreams), and so I’m working under a blanket for now. My readers will have to accept the metaphoric exploration as a substitute secret, until my trees are little sturdier. However, once established, I do so hope that Storyteller’s Orchard will produce peaches no one can resist.

Next entry: Wildlife! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gold for Gold...

Living on the edge as a writer has forced me to consider selling some of my treasures so that I might get a different sort of treasure...peace of mind. It's a difficult sale on one hand, because a few of the pieces were handed down, were worn on a beloved's finger or breast once upon a time. These pieces have those emotional hooks to people I loved, and who I feel fear of losing emotional connection to when the hooks are gone. Yet, as a spiritual being I understand this is folly. I understand, and yet my heart grasps at the hooks one last time. I even know that were I to present the problem to those sweet souls, that they would giggle at my grasp and egg me on to let go and embrace what is here and now instead.

Then there are the pieces that came from the wasband. Now, this is funny. I was saving them for our children to have and hold. I told them once, "This will be yours someday," and you know what they replied, "Ooooh, ick! Get rid of it. I don't want to carry that around." And, so from both ends I get the support I need to let go and embrace what is here and now instead.

The spring trees are blossoming already. It's high time to begin planting my saplings for my heirloom peach orchard. I've had the seeds growing next to the window (my eyes watching the world go by). I've actually gone past the dream stage quite suddenly, and in a way I never would have suspected. I was dragging my toes in the well-plowed earth one day, and the next day I was digging holes with a vigor I have not felt for years...years since my divorce, and even before then. I may never have felt this excited about my ideas: I have landed squarely in my hope for an orchard of dreams that produce more and more dreams over the coming years of my life. Please note: I am a middle-aged woman who has started on a new path and it is going to astound you what this amazing idea is going to produce. I hope everyone who ever reads this posting of ideas will experience at least one of my peaches someday...

I expect to have the orchard planted this year. Terra firma is the first step. I'm racing to get the layout just right to take maximum advantage of the light, and the protection from harsh winds while the saplings expand their roots deep into the dark, well-nourished soil. I have to dig deeply and rely on somethings that may lay in the great unconscious. I may have to spread around a lot of fertilizer, and like selling gold, it is a lot about letting go of fears and attachments.

There are pieces of equipment I need to support my proverbial orchard:

  •  I need new shovels, turns out (a new laptop in the real world)
  •  I need to buy some time to get everything just right. 
  •  Investing in regulating emotional flow, is a must, so that my orchard is well-irrigated and also well-drained.
  • I need to build strong boundaries so that my orchard isn't invaded or robbed. Fence building takes resources! 
With all of that in mind. I start to teach again in a few weeks. I find that starting my orchard has re-invigorated my willingness to teach what I know because it gives me hope that there will be a market for my students' work. I know that I will get growing tips also from the exchange and I'm excited to share my enthusiasm for writing and storytelling again. I'll be opening myself up for private mentoring, too, and I really hope to find a few students who may actually want to become part of this orchard tending. We'll see what happens. 

So, I'm selling some gold in order to invest in a futures market that is all my own.