Metaphor Monday: Flower on the Vine


Our new house has this great, spacious backyard. Gently rolling, wide open, grassy (even if that grass is a bit aggressive and strangling), fenced. Sort of ideal if you have little kids who like to play outside — and surprise, we do! — which made this little feature not insignificant in the buying of said house.

But there’s a corner of that backyard which isn’t quite in step with the rest of the yard. Here, our idyllic little plot of land is beset by vines and leaves and weeds that spill over the fence from a neighbor’s yard and threaten to engulf that little corner. Which is metaphor enough for the writer’s soul: a mostly pleasant little suburban yard with an untamed corner at war with itself. But it’s even more better than that!

I headed back to that corner a few days ago with shears and Roundup in hand to assess the situation, ready to clear out the offending growth and banish it from my little private Idaho. But I noticed a thing:

wp-image--245996620There, in the midst of the encroaching green, a tiny little bloom. Brilliant and red and proud, striving for the sun from the clutches of the thicket.

All around it, a sea of green. Worthless, ugly, and choking out whatever else might try to grow there. Spreading like a wildfire across the drought-blasted California countryside. Threatening to completely eclipse the very fence it took root in, that held it up to drink up the sun and the rain. Running roughshod over everything in its path.

And out of that voracious scramble to consume, to grow, to dominate? This single flower. A speck of beauty in a cavalcade of ugliness. A spark of radiance in an ocean of banality. A glimmer of vibrance in the blank expanse of mere existence.

But why? Why just the one flower against the whole wall of leaves?

Bearing in mind that everything I know about plants and horticulture and the science of growing things could fit into the table of contents of your average Pete the Cat book, a few thoughts occur to me:

Leaves and vines are easy; they’re the engines of their own creation. (Leaves photosynthesize sunlight to make fuel to make more leaves, repeat ad infinitum — aka why 3/4 of Georgia is covered in kudzu.) Flowers require a dedicated effort to create which might or might not pay off. (Certainly the flower doesn’t help the plant itself survive.) Not for nothing, then, it takes a ton of leaves and vines and sundry greenery to muster the resources to create even a single flower.

The other side of that coin, however, is that the vine’s entire purpose is to create the flower. The vine can grow all the leaves it wants, it can engulf my entire fence and maybe even my entire yard, but the vine will never escape this one geographical space, this one spatial-temporal neighborhood. To truly spread — to cover the world in its overflowing verdance — it needs flowers, which create pollen, which hitches a ride on a bee’s butt and finally stands a chance of sprouting anew miles away.

Without the flower, there’s no point to the vine. Without the vine, there’s no hope for the flower.

And so it goes for the writer, right? (Writers write, right? Hopefully, writers write right, right? Or even, right writers write right, right? Right.)

You can write an entire fence’s worth of absolute crap, utter tripe, hopeless drivel without ever seeing a single flower emerge from the bramble. You can bang your fingers to bloody nubs against the keys, churning out words upon words upon neverending waves of words, and you may well engulf your entire yard in viney, leafy growth, before you see the bloom that means something has taken light.

But the flower is why you write. Just like the flower on the vine, the flower of the perfect story, the perfect idea, doesn’t just spring fully-formed into the universe. It needs the framework and the support of a field of ivy — an expanse of drivel — to have a prayer of blooming. You can’t get to the perfect story without the drivel. But drivel for its own sake is pointless — you need the flower that breaks through to keep the vine truly alive.

All of which is to say that I’m not cutting back the ivy on that fence. Because even though I don’t know much about biology, I know that it’s rare for a thing to bloom on its own, out of nowhere, and all by itself. Where there is one flower, there may soon be several. Where one idea blooms, another may soon follow.

Even if you have to hack through a forest of drivel to find it.

Metaphor Monday is about pointing out how things are like other things and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things. Got an idea for next week’s post? Let me hear it in the comments.

Get Up and Go (A Gramble About Gumption)


By the way, “Gramble” is just a word I made up. I wanted to keep alliterating with “G”s so I stuck one on the front of “ramble”. Don’t be afraid of my Frankenstein’s monster of a word. Its literary thirst for blood can only be satiated with ink.

Anyway. Gumption. Where does it go?

Some days the gumption is there; it burns away in your belly, it secretes its smoky certainty through your pores and fills you to the tippy top with vigor and optimism. Other days, the fire goes out, and all that’s left is the ashy residue of a bonfire, some empty beer bottles, and a few condom wrappers from where all the cool couples disappeared into the woods.

“Gumption” itself is one of those outdated words that you don’t hear much anymore, but there’s no word quite like it. We’ve got the newfangled Play-Doh lump of a word, “sticktoitiveness”, which is not so much a word as a philosophy. There’s “tenacity”, which has something to do with gumption, but isn’t the same thing. Then you can go and get all negatively-connotated and toss out “stubborn”, which, again, rubs up against gumption but doesn’t take the prize turkey home.

“Gumption” is homey and colloquial and down-to-earth. It’s a don’t-give-up mentality that somehow runs the gamut between boundless optimism and pigheaded refusal to back down. It’s a quiet, determined certainty that with hard work, anything can be achieved.

Maybe it’s one of those things that’s impossible to define, but you know it when you see it.

Gumption is a concept that has resonated with me since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I first read it in my senior year of high school, then again in my sophomore year at college, then again in my fourth year of college, then again shortly after graduating college, then again after I graduated college again, and it’s recently been in my brain that maybe I ought to read it again. It’s a fascinating little book that’s not actually very much about Zen or motorcycle maintenance, but rather about the world at large and how you choose to view it. If you’re philosophically inclined at all, you’ll probably get some mileage out of it. One of its defining moments for me is a scene wherein the protagonist fixes his buddy’s misfiring motorcycle with an old beer can. The protagonist is pleased with his ingenuity; the buddy is flustered and ultimately unable to live with the notion that a piece of trash could fix everything that’s wrong with his bike. He’s too caught up in the idea of what the bike should look like and what fixing it should entail to realize that the chemically-treated, rust-proof surface on the inside of the can provides all the fixing his bike could ever want at a fraction of the cost and time needed for a “proper” fix.

Anyway, I love the idea of gumption — that inevitable, inescapable quality within the self that just knows how to buckle down and get sharknado done — but I’m faced with a terrible truth lately. Mine is gone.

Like, a few months ago, I had it. I knew right where it was. In the left lobe of my brain, next to the wrenches and the repository of dangling participles. But now it’s gone. Misplaced? Stolen? Dried up?

I’m reminded of an Aerosmith lyric: “My get-up-and-go must have got up and went.”

Seriously. I’m behind on the novel. I wanted to finish the first edit by the end of January, and now it’s trailing off into March and I’m always “just a few weeks away.” I’m behind on grading papers at work and have been since… well… January. Even my posts on the blarg have been fewer and farther between since… ahem… January.

What happened in January?

I have no idea, but whatever it was ran my gumption right out of town. But, see, that doesn’t make sense. Because gumption is a part of who you are. Right? It can no more leave you than your wits, or your good looks, or… maybe these are bad examples.

The point is, my gumption is missing lately. If you’ve seen it, please tell it I would very much appreciate it if it would return home. I have a lot of work to get done. And a lot of get-ups that need to get going.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.