Convolvulus: A Commination

I’ve always liked the idea of being a gardener. I took Horticulture in the fourth form, and Agriculture/Horticulture in the sixth form. I even toyed with the idea of becoming a landscape architect. Gardening is a classic Little Old Lady enthusiasm, and an area in which I have always felt I fell short of true Little Old Lady-hood.

sea-of-flowers-217683_640Because when it comes down to it, I have seldom ever actually gardened, and I think the reason for this lies in my childhood. We moved house frequently, so while there was always gardening to be done, we seldom hung around long enough to see the fruits of our labour. In fact, when I had to grow a garden for school (back in my primary days) I had to grow it at a friend’s house, so as to ensure continued access.

The result of all this was that I subconsciously filed gardening under ‘thankless toil’ and never did it unless I had some particular reason to – such as the vegetable garden I grew in the fourth form. My excitement when I saw something I’d planted actually produce knew no bounds. I even dragged my mother out to look at them when she got home. I don’t think she understood why I was so excited about pea plants producing peas, but she duly admired them all the same.

My enthusiasm – particularly as far as weeding was concerned – was rather dented by that same garden, however. While getting down to weed’s eye level to wreak havoc on the little pests, I discovered that weed’s eye view is also really-quite-large-frog’s-eye-view. I don’t know which of us had the worst fright.

frog-48239_640
So without anything much to motivate me, I seldom gardened; and my occasional bursts of enthusiasm were not enough to make the garden thrive. Such enthusiasm as I had was dampened by the regularity with which the weeds returned and the seeds I’d planted failed to grow. Now, however, being the sole lady of this little demesne, I find that my attitude to gardening is slowly changing.

Instead of the source of unremitting toil which will never render any return, I am beginning to look on the garden as something which is mine to nurture, and which will repay my efforts on its behalf with Good Things – food, and pleasant scents, and leafy sun-dappled shade.

So I have started to garden, little by little. I have dipped my toe into pruning, weeding, planning, repotting, planting – including some seeds which actually sprouted (magic beans from my mother). We’ve even eaten some of the produce of our garden (mint, nasturtiums, redcurrants and lemons). And yet, into this nascent Eden has crept a snake: the accursed Convolvulus, or bindweed.

Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) (7171469057)The Caped Gooseberry has been waging daily war on it for weeks (my hero!), and yet the evil flourishes. “Have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don’t let him have a fibre in the shade, if you do he’ll turn himself  t’other side up and be as green as a leek in two days,” as Thoreau observed in Walden.

Convolvulus is like the plant version of the Black Death: even a tiny bit of infection left behind can turn into a full-blown epidemic in a matter of days. If it was edible, we could feed the world with it. As Dave Barry said of crabgrass, “it can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.” And unlike bubonic plague, its victims don’t have a 50% chance of survival. If they aren’t rescued when the Tendrils of Relentless Destruction coil around them, they will be gradually choked to death. It is the Boa Constrictor of the plant world, and it grows a good deal faster.

And so I have been moved to compose this comminatory sonnet, addressed to the vile midnight strangler that creeps about my garden.

Convolvulus arvensis (akkerwinde) How I do loathe thee! Let me count the ways:
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height
Thy tendrils reach, and roots spread out of sight
Which all within their choking grasp embrace.
I loathe thee with the effort of each day’s
Repeated work, as my man fights the fight.
I loathe thee, as do all who see aright;
I loathe thee with the fullness of my phrase.
I loathe thy hypocritical false flower,
As with pure white thou seek’st to fool the eye;
I loathe thy strength, thy killing wield of power;
Thy weakness, using others to grow high.
And so my curse, from roots to usurped tower:
To twine about thyself, and, strangling, die.

with a nod to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
and No.43 of the Sonnets from the Portuguese (they aren’t)

How to Beat Procrastination II

Motivation!
Yes, I know I said that habit was the secret to beating procrastination, and it is. But you’ve got to get that habit started.

As Jim Ryun put it, “motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” You need motivation just to get you out of bed in the morning.

Jambalaya 1916 Giant Roach

Motivation is something I struggle with, especially when it comes to getting out of bed in the morning. It’s an issue I had been mulling over for some time when I read Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell, in which he suggests that writers should have a mission statement which they keep someplace visible in order to inspire them.

What exactly this mission statement should contain, however, was left a little vague: “hopes and dreams” were mentioned. So I looked into what others have said about mission statements. The common strands seemed to be about who you are, what you do, who for, why, and where you’re going with it.

Richard Branson says “If you are in a situation where you must write a mission statement, I think you should try for something closer to a heraldic motto than a speech. They were often simple because they had to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms, and they were long-lasting because they reflected a group’s deeper values.”

Coat of Arms of George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven

That seemed like a good definition: a simple motto which reflects your deeper values.

So I started by answering all the questions-starting-with-W that I could. I freely admit I struggled with the ones asking me what the future held, because I am not psychic and I really have no idea. My life to date has not accustomed me to assume that next year will be in any way like this year. (It often is, but it always comes as a surprise.)

In the end, it boiled down to these words: truth. hope. take heart.

There are some writers who hold that happy endings are lies, and that it is morally irresponsible to suggest otherwise. I disagree. I believe that good will ultimately overcome evil. That truth gives me hope; and to withhold that hope from others would be both morally irresponsible and utterly selfish.

A cup that cheers

If all this seems a bit too metaphysical to you, consider it this way: my aim is to write works (novels, plays, what have you) that are like a cup of tea. Sitting down for a cup of tea is both a rest, and a restoration; it eases your weariness and it prepares you to face the world again.

I want to write works which people will read and re-read; not necessarily because of what the story says, but because it gives them the courage to keep going, and change things.

Truth → hope → take heart.

I will of course put this somewhere I’ll see it often – but there’s no harm in having a cup of tea on my desk to remind me as well.