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.

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