Thursday, May 23, 2013

How do you know when you are done?

Before my current gardening binge and heavy editing workload started, a few weeks ago I emailed writer friends and asked them the simple question: How do you know when you are done?

I posed this question because I cannot seem to end stories anymore. My narrator and/or main character wants to just keep chatting away, telling me everything about their lives in that moment, trying to make sense of themselves. I hate to shut them up when it seems that they have been waiting for me to unearth them and give them a voice.

I suppose it's ironic that someone who makes her living as an editor is having trouble editing her characters. But perhaps it's not about editing. Perhaps it's because their voices fill a vacuum for me right now. I work from home and sometimes don't see another human all day except when the mailman drives by, nor talk to anyone except via phone.

Or perhaps it is because to end a story means that I have said everything I could have said, in the best way possible, within the tight constraints of one story. It is a fear of imperfection. Once done, a story needs to make its way out into the world; as long as it is just a "draft" is it my private belonging that no one can criticize or deem worthless.

I'll share in my next post the advice I've received and found about when a piece is "done."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can beauty co-exist with guilt?

I've been gardening as many hours as I can each day, as I am wont to do in the spring, so I won't be blogging much here as long as the mornings and late afternoons remain relatively cool. Being outside digging in the dirt reminds me of when I was a child, wandering the woods by myself—there is a peaceful solitude to it, though it's tinged sometimes with loneliness. Yet the loneliness is a small price for the  delicious feeling of exhaustion I have at the end of the day—this is what work is supposed to feel like.

(I am writing this post because it was too hot to work this afternoon.) I look forward to writing more consistently when the heat, humidity—and mosquitoes!—return to the Washington Metro area, probably by the end of the month. Until then, I hope to get the oak stump mulch spread on my slopes, repot the basil seedlings, feed the azaleas and plant spring onions.

One of the first things I do each spring is plant the pots on my deck with colorful flowers, which I look out on as I wash the dishes each day. The colors cheer me up in the midst of my dull tasks.

Underneath them I keep a variety of sempervivums in shorter pots to provide additional color. (Sempervivums thrive even with neglect and little watering, making them the ultra-dependable plant). This weekend I repotted my sempervivums from their faded terra cotta pots into some colorful and inexpensive pots I found at Home Goods. I specifically wanted at least one blue pot since it is my current favorite color. The pot I found (seen above) makes a gorgeous contrast to all the other beige and brown pots there.

But as I peeled the "Made in China" tag off the side, I began to wonder about the people who made this pot for me. Did the factory they worked in have natural light and clean air? Were the conditions safe? Were they paid enough to live a decent life?

It is the same, nearly always, in any store I go into. I always wonder about the people who made the clothes and goods I have come to purchase—but the recent Bangladesh factory fire has made me even more aware of this. It is a guilt or awareness I can't turn off, at least while I am in a store—making it difficult sometimes just to buy anything there.

Is something really beautiful if is was forged with a degree of exploitation and danger? I eat food that has been picked by underpaid farmworkers because I need to eat. But do I really need that new sweater or this new pot if getting it here as cheaply as possible meant that safety measures were ignored, that people weren't paid enough for their time and work, that pollution resulted?

I ponder this as I look out at my new pot. I would like to see just its beauty, its blueness—I know my guilt does no one any good anyway. Yet this is part of its essence which I can't seem not to see.