Monday, August 1, 2011

Editing the Garden

Deep into an afternoon of weeding and pruning, with a July sweat growing under my visor, I realized that with my shovel, pruners, and hoe I was editing my garden. The physical work of weeding, cutting, and re-defining garden borders was not unlike editing a piece of writing. Where there was excess, I cut back; where there were interlopers I eliminated them; where there were stragglers, like the Sand Cherry shrub struggling to thrive after five years, I had to make a decision about its role in the scheme of the garden as a whole: should it be saved or not?

Whether editing an essay or a blog posting, as a writer I’m encouraged to courageously cut, slash, and burn even the most favored phrasing, scenes, dialogue, narrative, or lovely descriptions if they do not serve a clear purpose.

I believe I’m a ruthless editing warrior. I can easily give up the excess, the interloper, the confusing and unclear. I think. But I do so only when I am able to see the excess, the interloper and the confusing. I confess my guilt. It’s not always easy to see what needs the slash of my pen or my executive decision to terminate that perfect word, phrasing or scene I’ve just set.

I hadn’t seen the excess in my garden as clearly as I did the other afternoon. The spaces in which the eye could relax and find relief in the West Garden were sorely missing. I hadn’t seen it quite that way until the heat of the day seemed to make the decision-making so clear.

Waging a determined battle with the heat of the day the gardening editor in me cut dead lilac branches and low hanging Canadian Cherry branches. I dug up and ripped out old friends, Snow in Summer and Moss Pinks because they had become tangled up with one another and didn't know when one began and the other ended. I uprooted the audacious interlopers: Canadian thistle, dandelions, arrogant meadow grass, and leggy foreign weeds. I saved a clump of Moss Pinks and will transplant it to the foreground of my newly revised West Garden -- it's purpose clear.

As for the Sand Cherry shrub, it survived the edit. Without it the garden becomes unbalanced. Its counterpart, another Sand Cherry, anchors the north end of the garden. In my mind, if I uprooted it from the south end and tossed it aside, my attempts to create a landscape in which the viewer finds a peaceful sight would fail. For in its quiet, unspoken balance there is a peaceful draw into its setting replete with all the characters now appropriately set on stage.

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