I am not a botanist. I possess the opposite of a green thumb. I can kill the most resilient of houseplants like cacti and bamboo while meaning them no harm. This woman just doesn’t speak their language.
I am also the proud resident of a concrete jungle. On a 4:30 am run yesterday morning, I made a semi-serious game of jogging a wide berth around scurrying creatures of the night that I could only hope were rabbits and squirrels foraging for pre-dawn meals. I can’t imagine a vacation less relaxing than camping.
I am generally indifferent toward the natural world, yet I can’t help but foster a begrudging admiration for this purple flowering plant in my apartment building’s courtyard, species unknown. It’s been an evil summer in the Midwest – sweltering daytime highs, precious little rain. Yet it seems like the less nourishment it receives the stronger and more beautiful it grows. Each evening when I return home, its colorful buds are just a little taller and fuller, just a little brighter, the stalk reaching ever so slightly higher even as surrounding weeds and dry brush would have it strangled.
This persevering little beauty reminds me of my own journey as a writer, an expedition far from complete. It’s a grueling campaign that began with a loud internal thumping, a warning that I was on the wrong path, a crash course with unhappiness predicated upon a willful disregard of personal truth.
This voice was in charge: “You can’t be a scribbler. There’s no future in it. Climb the corporate ladder. Make that money and your husband and family proud. Writing is selfish, maybe even destructive.” That was the sand added to the cement mix provided by my immediate support system at the time. This foundation was almost, but not quite enough to choke the sapling, the murmur that countered, “But you have ideas and thoughts you have to share, even if no one reads them. You are growing weaker and sicker from the effort of pretending to be that which you are not.”
Inevitably, an ingrained need to please and maintain the status quo lost to a force much more powerful but there was oh so much collateral damage: a foundered marriage, a splintered family, isolation, depression, fear, regret, cruel words and actions that can never be recanted. So many times I wondered if perhaps writing was too damned selfish and costly. When he said, “I never should have let you,” I bristled at the presumption but wondered if I had secretly logged my name amongst the misguided with a “big idea” that proved too expensive.
Marooned, thirsty and malnourished, this plant looked for sunlight and a healthy place to grow with the support of sundry friends and family who believed in the effort no matter how foolish and risky it appeared. And with every little nibble of success – a published piece here, an award there, a reinforcing compliment from a fellow writer – the roots of certainty dug themselves in the sand a little more stubbornly. I am not Gail Collins, David Sedaris or Garrison Keillor yet. I may never have the career of those esteemed wordsmiths and I can live that with it. But I have a career nonetheless. I gave up almost everything I knew to strive for it too – and it didn’t kill me.
Like my friend the little purple shoot, I will keep growing and changing, with or without the common elements of growth too often taken for granted. Thankfully as I evolve and learn to believe, the love and sustenance craved is organically materializing. The purple plant, my own desert rose, clearly doesn’t need my help, but I seek to pay tribute to her inspiration with a prosaic rain dance.