May 23rd, 2007

A Metaphor of Homeric Proportions

I love morning glories. I know some people consider them weeds, but that’s only because they grow so easily. I want them, so obviously they are not weeds to me.

I wanted them so much, in fact, that when I was given some packets of seeds, I actually followed the directions on the back and soaked them in warm water overnight. (I did wonder about the fact that the water could scarcely remain warm overnight, but what’s a girl to do?)

It was very exciting when I saw a green shoot in each of the three pots where I planted the seeds. The middle shoot didn’t last, but the other two thrived. One of them even convinced a friend to pop up, too. And they grew fast. Like inches in a day. I had to buy trellises way sooner than expected.

I check on these guys just about every day, so you’d think I’d have stopped feeling surprised at their speed of growth. But I’m not. Every now and then I see what appears to be a tangle in the delicate vines (they’re just babies, after all), and then I realize: they’re growing so fast that they have twined around themselves.

Still, I wondered why I only had two plants in three pots. So during one of my 6 AM runs to Home Depot (let me tell you, you will never get out of Home Depot as fast as you will at 6:00 in the morning), I picked up another packet of seeds. With some exasperation, I thrust the seeds into the dirt of each pot. No soaking. No nothing.

By the end of the week, every pot was filled with green shoots.

They’re still growing fast. Before long, the trellises will be coated. (In fact, I should probably give in and buy bigger trellises now, because there’s no way the two 18-inch ones I got can handle what’s about to climb up them.)

It’s cool to see the pointy leaves, cool to see the split seed shells still hanging on the leaf tips, cool to see how they leap up overnight.

Yesterday I spotted the buds. More than half a dozen, sprinkled all over the vines. I didn’t expect them so soon, and yes, I crooned over the plants as though they were a baby taking a step. “Look at you guys! Flower buds!” (I can only hope my neighbors weren’t outside overhearing the insanity. But then I’ve lived there more than a year now—they’ve probably overheard lots of insanity.)
This morning I stopped by the morning glories before I mosied downtown for a latte. 

One of the buds had bloomed. Bloomed!  Just like that! It was a bud yesterday, today it is a white-and-gold-and-blue trumpet of a flower. This morning it was wrinkled, even, showing its nascence. I could hardly have felt prouder if I’d managed to grow one out of my head, just by sheer willpower.

But the morning glories—along with some casual hedge-trimming earlier this week—got me thinking about writing. (Mostly because I should have been revising my middle grade fantasy novel instead of trimming hedges. Ah, well.)

Who knows where the seed of a story comes from? Sometimes it takes shape from multiple sources. It takes root inside your mind and grows at a variable speed, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.

To nurture the shoot, we try to follow the directions—right? We read books on writing, we go to conferences, we join critique groups. And sometimes those directions help; sometimes, as with the first pack of morning glory seeds, they stunt the story’s growth.

If we’re lucky, and we continue nurturing the shoot, and we tease it up the trellis and even break a few rules—point of view, reading level, subject matter—along the way, the plant continues to grow and, eventually, to blossom. The story has bloomed—and then you have to get out the hedge clippers and trim it into a manageable shape.

 This week, I’m passing the midway point of pruning my fantasy novel. Half the shrub managed—half left to hack. All that chopping is giving me blisters. 

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