Friday, April 12, 2019

A Timely Quote: Gardening

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do especially in the inner city.” – Ron Finley

I love a quote that presents itself at the perfect moment for maximum impact. This one came in time for a morning of aching back and legs, the inevitable result of spending the previous warm afternoon clearing away last year’s garden clutter. Springtime squats—the exercise I’m always unprepared for—are those repetitive motions performed by bending the knees to get closer to the clump of dried up stuff you need to cut off or pull out to make way for the new growth that’s just peaking out of the ground. Anyway, that’s my ritual. Someday I’ll get smart enough to pull up a stool and sit down right away. 

My gardening space is more suburban than inner city. I still count it as a defiant act in so much as it tends to fly against the grain of a homeowner’s association’s idea of neat, tidy, and bland. I have a few supporters in my corner. Those who wish me well in working on my little island of a Monarch waystation. Their kind comments help me keep going. Plus, the butterflies have found me! Caterpillars, by the way, make great pets. I give them a head start in life by nurturing them through their main stages of growth then send them off into the world. At the end of the season, we are all free to go our separate ways.

As for therapeutic … Yes, I have the good feelings that come from helping the Monarch migration, but I have the look of a gardener: weathered skin, worn-out leather gloves, and a healthy respect for bees. I’m not sure I’d call that part therapeutic. For me the therapy comes when I absolutely need private time—I go out to the garden and find something to do. It’s a soothing repetitive routine that’s not without its surprises. Some good, like seeing a moth that behaves like a hummingbird. Some bad, as when I finally discover the parasite that’s killing caterpillars. Both spur me onward with new understanding and growth.

Gardening is work. Writing is work. Seeing them as therapeutic and/or defiant acts comes from your perspective and inner need. My need right now is get on with my next project.

Ron Findley’s quote comes from a recent Quad-Times Crytoquote puzzle.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spending Time with Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl’s playwrighting workshop at Brunner Theatre, Augustana College, provided three writing exercises.

I missed the first one because I was late leaving home and then found my preferred parking spot filled with sports fans. So, I can only speculate on the myriad ways a roomful of eager college students might choose to name their main characters. My unfortunate loss.  

The second exercise had us pairing up and dedicating time to closely observing each other. I have to say that both looking and being looked at can be equally uncomfortable. But the mental images formed lingered quite a while. After being thus forced into “observation mode” we were given time to write about “home."

The third exercise had the feel of a Mad-Lib game. Our goal was not to fill in the blank spaces of a ready-made story grid. We would be fleshing out our own stories. It started by drawing five columns on a sheet of paper. Then we were asked to randomly place words: colors/3, names/2, the letter I/3, nouns/5, adjectives/3, adverbs/2, verbs/4, and a couple of exclamations throughout the page. The goal was to leave lots of blank spaces in between the pre-chosen words. Filling in those blanks within each column created sentences that made sense and often flowed into a coherent story. If the words chosen were related to a current writing project, I could see how it would inspire viewing your work with fresh potential.

That exercise was my best take-a-way from Ruhl’s workshop. I can see why she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. That and the time I spent among energized college students working on their plays.