Three Rules From Gardening

Now that the snow is going away (for real this time!) another task has returned to my life, working on my yard. I work on writing while I’m working on the yard. I really do. I think about what I’m working on. I may be physically cutting grass, raking, watering, or a number of other chores, but mentally I’m telling stories and figuring out how they work.

I learn things about stories while I’m working on the yard. I learn things about life while I’m working on my yard. Today I’d like to share three things my roses and peach tree taught me.

1) Life (and lifelike stories) are not big fans of the straight line…

They’re just not. Sure, you can find some straight lines in nature. But, most of those show up in crystalline structures, things that aren’t alive. Actually many people from psychology to religion to anthropology and beyond feel that the fact that straight lines are so rare in nature and so common in crystals is part of what leads to the mystical, magical things that are attributed to crystals (and some of the real ones that the physicists and chemists tell us about).

When we’re talking about actual natural living things straight lines, really straight lines, are fairly rare and almost always mean something. That’s all OK. It is life that isn’t a straight line, usually. So, your life and your lifelike story don’t have to be straight lines to be valid as life (or a lifelike story).

Those straight lines in nature mean something. A lot of straight, or nearly straight, lines are forced.

2) We can’t completely force life (or story) to go where we want it to.

It just doesn’t work. You can force life (or story) to go where you want some of the time. But, sooner or later life breaks out of the form you’ve tried to give it. Sooner or later your story just won’t go where you want it to go. That’s OK.

Life usually has a reason for going the way it wants to go. A lifelike story responds to the forces of plot, setting, and character. Life responds to the needs and desires that exist in life (and the life-form)  and the outside world. Simple lifeforms don’t do the straight line thing so well, and their forces, needs, and desires are simple. How can we expect something as complex as a human life to go in one single straight line; especially when it’s stacked among other human lives in a community.

A living thing (even a simple one) that is really existing in a straight line seems odd. A human story that’s a perfectly straight line seems unnatural, even scary. Sure, we want it to be a straight line, when we’re lazy. That’s what our outline says, so that’s what should happen…

It’s never that simple, not if your story (or your life) is going to be healthy, natural, and believable.

3) We can choose which path life and story will follow.

We humans are rare. We are intelligent beings that can think and plan. We can observe and make guesses about what will happen. We can choose (and even make good choices occasionally).

What this means is that we are no more constrained to wander than we are locked into a single straight line course. We can choose. My roses send out new canes and branches all over the place; so do my peach trees; so do our lives  (and our stories). The difference is a rose or peach tree can’t choose which branch will  grow and where. I the gardener do that.

I as a gardener have the ability to choose which branch or cane to keep and which to cut away. It is my job to choose the best possible one from the choices before me, the one that will get the best light; the one that’s healthy; the one that will keep thieves (and boyfriends) out of my daughter’s window.

We as humans can choose which branch we will follow. We make these choices for our lives and our stories. This is even more powerful as a storyteller/writer. We can shape the forces and pressures on our character more than we can in real life sometimes.

Even in real life we can make choices between branches (even if we have less control than we do in our stories). We don’t have to do this blindly or alone. We can think and learn. And, as persons of faith we can call upon the greatest gardener/storyteller of all to help with the choices we make. If not… well, that’s a choice you can make too (and one you can come back to later if you want to).

Life takes turns and twists. It does not typically make straight lines, they stand out and seem unnatural.

We have some control over life and story. We can’t completely force either to go where we want it to. But, we do have the ability to shape which of the possible choices we will follow.

This is what my yard taught me this week dear reader. I have chosen to share it with you. I hope you find something here that will help you. I ask you to share it with someone else that it can help.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Life… Let’s grow!


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