Sunflower and oak

March 16, 2021 @ 8:28 am | Filed under: , , , ,
close view of a sunflower head and a bee coated in pollen

Photo from July 2011

I’ve just had a slender epiphany. For my Patreon yesterday I wrote a post about small projects—how many I have underway, and how satisfying it is to complete them—when it struck me that as a writer and an artist, nearly all the projects I care deeply about and think of as my Real Work are huge in scope.

I write novels, which can take years. Especially historical novels, with their months and months of research.

I have two separate, original, multi-piece embroidery projects underway, and if I thought novels were a slow-burning endeavor, boy howdy. I write at light-speed compared to the rate at which a stitching project develops from a glimmer of an idea to a transferable design to a finished piece hung on the wall. With embroidery, each ‘draft’ on the way to a final piece can take months. Even if, say, there’s a global pandemic keeping me housebound for a year, creating gaps of time where wandering around the science museum or meeting a friend for lunch used to live, my hands and eyes can handle only so much stitching and staring in a given day. And attempting something grand means lots and lots of iterations, lots of experimentation, lots of snipping away errant stitches so you can try something else.

And then of course there’s my epic, my life’s work—the homeschooling project, now in its 26th year, if you begin the count from the spring of 1995, when I began the read-and-research jag that has never stopped.

Pondering this, these large-scale endeavors I’m drawn to, in the context of my being a person who relishes the sudden, the new, the different, the spontaneous, the immediate—I have to laugh. We all live in various states of tension, tugged at by opposing forces (for example, you long to travel but don’t have the funds; or you’re happiest when you’re running but your knees are giving you hell); so the contrast between my nature and my aspirations isn’t unique, but it’s amusing.

Perhaps that’s why I took so readily to blogging and its later incarnations (most social media platforms are vehicles for microblogging, with twists): their quick turnaround, their perpetually changing nature. These forms of expression allow me to share ideas and experiences quickly, and to engage in immediate discourse about any topic that has seized my interest, right away, while the flame is burning high.

Meanwhile, the slow-burning project is simmering away, satisfying a whole different part of me. And it’s the determined part, the part with vision, the molten core roiling deep under the surface.

I grow sunflowers, and I grow trees.

As I said at the start of this post, it’s a slender epiphany—a morsel of self-understanding, not a revelation that changes the course of a river. But it’s a nourishing morsel, a crumb of lembas, that offers sustenance to both my practice of blogging and my larger-scale projects.

The splendid truth (to use Gretchen Rubin’s splendid term), of course, is that sometimes you discover that one of your sunflowers has grown into a towering oak. And some of your trees turn out to be bonsai. Either way, the point is to grow something.

trunk and branches of a large tree

Photo from August 2017. Not an oak.

Through this lens, I can survey my cluttered studio, my open tabs, my Scrivener files, my baskets and bins, and see the garden for what it is: abundance. Life. I grow milkweed, and I grow blueberries, and I grow river birches. (I also, let’s face it, grow a fair share of Bermuda grass.)

What are your flowers? What are your forests?


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Comments

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  1. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    I love this insight: flowers and trees and the tensions we live in. It reminds me of the tensions in your tidal homeschooling posts: high and low tide, organized and unschoolish.

    I mostly feel too scattered for trees. My gardening method tends to be plant some seeds, be very excited, then get distracted for months and forget to tend the garden. Be excited that anything came up at all. And I think mostly my attempts at big projects are like that too. It’s amazing I ever finished a quilt. Though they were mostly things I did before children.

    Dom commented tonight at what a good cook I’ve become. I already loved to cook when we were married, but I’ve spent so many hours in the kitchen so many iterations of the same things. I’ve perfected, or nearly perfected, some of my favorite dishes. I’ve gotten really good at bread, at pasta sauce, at cakes. Not the pretty cakes you see on Pinterest or instagram, but very yummy cakes everyone enjoys eating. Cooking is a nice creative release because it has to be done anyway. And I do enjoy the process. Tonight it was whipping up a cole slaw. I’ve gotten very good at cole slaw this year, it’s my new favorite thing to make. And I’m sure my doctor will be glad we are eating more of that sort of thing.
    I feel like I’m mostly waiting for a season that will come some day with more uninterrupted time. For now I think my children are my trees. But maybe someday I’ll turn around and find something sprouting that I don’t even remember planting.