I’ve been laying low these last few weeks, moving with my kids through the end of school and doing other much needed work, including a major revision of my novel Sing for Me.
It’s a humbling and wonderful experience to have a very good editor who really digs into a manuscript so I can too.
Between the long hours of sitting and writing wherever I can find a place (most often, the Quiet Room at the local library) or with my kids and husband, I’ve found myself gardening.
It’s been some time since I’ve done this. Physically, I haven’t been able too, and then there’s the financial bit, and, too be honest, the vision. I haven’t had the vision for it. In fact, when a local church asked if anyone had land that could be used by families who’ve recently come to the U.S. as refugees, families who’d loved gardening in the places they’d left behind, and wanted, needed to grow some of their own, good food here, I said immediately: Take my garden plot. Please.
So for the last three years, Concilia and Severino have lovingly cared for a patch of land in our backyard, growing beans and tomatoes there. “We can live for months on these legumes,” Severino told me a week or so ago. (I don’t speak Swahili, so he patiently helps me piece together our conversations in French.) Their garden is right beside my bedroom window. Sometimes Greg and I will wake to the sound of this other couple watering their plants, or hoeing the earth, or weeding out things that shouldn’t be there. It is a peaceful sound. And when Concilia in her beautiful, colorful African robes, wraps her harvest in a big, plastic garbage bag and sets that bag on her head, then slowly, elegantly walks down the incline of our driveway and on to her home, I am happy indeed.
So I thought for three years: this is enough. Concilia and Severino are tending the garden. It is their garden now.
And I still feel that. We may live here, but this land is only ours to share.
But then I was doing so much sitting, so much mind work, digging up great chunks of text and replanting it elsewhere, or else setting it aside where it could lie dormant in subterranean darkness, to bloom another time. Transplanting, pruning, weeding. That’s what I was doing, am still doing over the course of 90,000 words. But so much sitting! In spite of my RA, I had energy to burn. Suddenly, I wanted desperately to work with a piece of land as I was working with the page.
Severino helped me at first. One early, cloudy morning in May, he found me staring at the tangle of grasses in my front yard, a shovel in my hand. I was working up my courage to dig in. He said, “You have given me all that,” he gestured toward the backyard, “let me give you a little here.” Jardin. He helped me dig up grasses that were so dense that their beauty couldn’t be seen; he helped me make some space. Then he went home to be with his family on the single day that he has off during the week. (Severino works many, many jobs.)
That’s when my daughter stepped in and took the shovel from my hands. She dug and lifted and moved and dug some more. She is not a big person but she is one of the strongest people I know. She taught me about revision, helping me tend our garden. She inspired me.
So for now, together, we’ve done enough of this work. I’m back to tending to my novel whenever I’m able. She’s about to start summer school. We’ll both be sitting at desks again.
But we find ourselves sitting on our front steps more often, to eat lunch together and look at what we’ve done. It’s a happy place to picnic.