The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Why write?

At some level, writing can be play.

As Sarah Ellis pointed out in her faculty Vermont College MFA lecture, play is the thing humans do with no pay-off in mind–the thing where the pleasure is in doing the thing itself…which doesn’t mean that play = easy.

Some of us work enormously hard at our play.

After the residency ended, I went to Maine for the wedding of a dear friend’s son.  Toni has a powerful energy and skill for making things, and the crafting of that wedding, one homemade bit at a time, took a whole lot of hard playing for months.  Ken coaxed exquisite flowers and plants out of the ground to help celebrate, which made me eager to see what had happened with my garden while I was in Vermont.

Well, weeds had happened.

I like weeds.  The day after the wedding, Nancy and Jim and Franny and I went to the salt lands to look for birds–and I psent a lot of time looking at one of my favorite weeds: Queen Anne’s lace.  But these weeds were pushing and pummelling my chosen plants.

My muscles are now super sore from all the bending and crouching and pulling of weeds.  But the week’s hard work has also felt like play.

Can hard things be fun? I sometimes ask kids on school visits. We talk about musical instruments and reading a book that makes your brain hurt and also what it’s like to ache and sweat on a field.  Thanks to the Olympics, many of us are thinking these days about bodies with their pinging muscles and burning lungs, with lactic acid delivering a whallop of pain.  But humans choose to run and leap and dive and swim and pit their bodies against time and miles.

Humans choose to create art, putting in thousands of hours to capture the shapes and textures and effects that please them.

Humans choose to garden.  Sometimes for food.  Often for play–for the joy of the tendrils reaching out and all that life force under our hands.

Alas, the dry weather had shriveled a few of my plants to crisps.  This woolly thyme was one of the first things I tried planting in Portland and when I left, the basket was bursting with life force.

When I got back?


I have to start completely over.

Of course I’m sad.

But playing–writing–gardening…such things take the ability to sink in and let the moments speak for themselves, doing something over and over until astonishing things come to life, things that surprise even us, their creators and planters.

2 thoughts on “Why write?”

  1. Wowee. We have small oonching-along tomatoes, which I guess is the difference between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps my next post will be on the benefits of starting over… :>


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