Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, says that flowers can be looked at as the enlightenment of plants. And can also lead to enlightenment. He tells the story of the Buddha giving a "silent sermon" once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while one of the monks that was present broke out into a smile--according to legend, that smile was handed down by twenty-eight successive masters and much later became the origin of Zen. I get that. I have felt that deep, inner smile when working or just being in the flower garden. And I feel that as well when reading the words of Proust, his descriptions are a flowering of enlightenment. And it is this very thing that I have been struggling with as an artist for the past week. How to create this enlightenment on the page. The late David Foster Wallace is quoted in The New Yorker as saying, "Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilites for being alive and human in it." Chekhov's powerful little story, "The Student," seems a perfect example of this. It begins in the desolate, darkness of the forest and ends with this student's enlightenment--the feeling of the past touching the present in an unbroken chain, brought on by this darkness, the realization that we are connected by the darkest of moments. An epiphany that leaves him filled with an unknown, mysterious happiness. It's not that all of our characters need to have happy endings, but something, it seems, must transcend the illusion of our dark realities. . .
On this cusp of spring, expectation is in the air, the buds quivering on the trees, the green of the bulbs pushing their way through the frozen ground. It is as if we all, on this side of the hemisphere, take a collective breath and hold. . . and it seems to me that a good story elicits this same response. We read with anticipation, expecting a flowering of insight or understanding when we reach the end, and, if not, we are disappointed, let down by the writer. Not that every story must lead to some great epiphany, but there must be at least the slightest shift in pereception, like the setting sun casting its rich hues on the garden, and then, swiftly, night falls.
The only place I can really run is along the beach, by the sea, its energy invigorating me, saturating every pore of body. It is similar to the energy in the garden, the explosion of life in the middle of the summer, bugs buzzing, flowers humming, swallows soaring, cats hunting. . . How else, but for all this energy I absorb, could I harvest bucket after bucket of flowers every Friday eve? Energy begets energy. But is it the same with writing? In writing workshops a common thing to say is that there is such energy in the language. But how do we transfer physical energy to the page? Is it merely our choice of words? Our punctuation? Our rhythm? Proust lived mostly a sedate life when he worked on his masterpiece, "Remembrance of Things Past," yet there is such life, such energy in his work, as if all the energy he received in his youth, all his pereceptions, imagined and real, were released from his being like an explosion. But I believe energy can spill directly onto the page from the waves, the moon, the festivals and the trees. . . not just from the realm of memory, but as a direct transfer, where we are the medium, tapping into the pulse of life that with a little alchemy brings our characters to life.
Maybe it's because I went ice-skating every Saturday in February that balance has been so prevalent on my mind. One is so keenly aware of the body when skating, a sweep to the right, a sweep to the left, then that centered, forward glide. In this fast-paced society it is so easy to be knocked off balance, to forget how to breathe, how to truly exist in a balanced, natural state. The buzz of activity in the garden by day quiets and closes come evening. But we are still restless at night, worried about the days ahead. If we could only learn how to glide more. A sweep to the left, a sweep to the right, then let the universe take us where it will.
One of the most amazing things I find in the garden are the imposters--the weeds that do their best to look like the real flower in the row or bed. Sometimes they do such a good job I let them be. They may be fakes, but there is something admirable in their struggle for existence--and who are we to say what is a weed anyway? I once had a lady come pick her own flowers on our farm and she took home a bucket of weeds and was pleased as punch. Seems to me we are all weeds aspiring to some ideal vision of ourselves. And, as in the case of Hedda Gabler, when that vision is at great odds with reality, it is great tragedy. Or as Thoreau said back in the 1800s, before all the secret talk of the laws of attraction, "Sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea." At least these weeds in the garden know what they're aiming for and keep trying to perfect themselves year after year. Worthy of praise.
The world blanketed in snow is a clean slate on which to create: cardinals and bluejays came first today, then small, yellow finches. And then the flock of noisy blackbirds that clean out the feeders, but are still part of the design--black on white. Ying Yang. The balance soon regained. Walkways shoveled. Roads cleared. Power restored. But where would we be without the storms? Those storms that upend us and make us stop. Watch. Listen. A good story does this. It threatens. It rattles our doors and windows, forcing us out of ourselves and into communion with others, leaving us, together, to assess the damage. What a storm, we might say, what a story. . .
I teach Fiction Writing on-line for Union Institute out of Brattleboro, VT and co-own and operate a specialty cut flower farm on the Eastern Shore of MD. I am a published poet and short story writer and am currently in search of a literary agent to represent my first novel, "We Were Here." Contact me at email@example.com And please visit our website at Galenablooms.com