July 22, 2019KR BlogBlog

Thrown to the Weeds

Last Sunday, I picked wild black raspberries in my backyard. The berries were tiny, dark, and prickled with miniscule seeds. Sweet. As I plucked berries from the bush, I thought of my novel and the painful revision session I’d endured that afternoon. I couldn’t get a particular paragraph in the first chapter right; I kept writing and rewriting the same two sentences until I thought I’d scream.

Picking raspberries was like that: a tedious process, one that can’t be rushed. Whenever I moved too quickly, I ran up against thorns, which conjured a pale rash of scratches all along my arms. I had to force myself to slow down, to make the act of picking a meditation.

After I filled a container with berries, I went inside and returned to my writing desk. I put the novel aside and instead drafted a post for this blog. I wrote about raspberries, and family, and memories, and about a certain person who is no longer here. I wrote a post that I would revise over the next few days, that I’d come to think was nearly finished—until I suspected I’d wandered into territory that was not wholly mine to explore.

Back in 2012, I attended an AWP panel about the ethics of writing nonfiction. I took notes, so even after all these years, I know that Cheryl Strayed said something along the lines of: “Some stories you can choose not to tell. Ask if [the essay/memoir] is telling your story or your family member’s story.”

Part of me knew even while writing that blog post that I might be crossing a subtle line. It was nothing overt—the post wasn’t too revealing, or private, or even particularly detailed, but I knew the subject matter might be enough to make someone in my life uncomfortable. When I finished, I sent it to that person, who confirmed that I may have crossed a boundary, no matter how slight.

So I scrapped the blog post. Some stories, after all, are not ours to tell.

Throwing out that post was my choice. No one explicitly asked me to kill it, and no one tried to prevent me from publishing it. Even so, I didn’t feel right pursing it. Tossing an essay I’d spent hours on was frustrating, yes, but I also view every act of writing as practice. Everything I write, whether it ends up published or not, contributes, in some minor way, to my education and growth as a writer.

Besides, sacrificing one measly blog post is nothing. I think of my novel, which I’d been revising just before picking raspberries. Over the years I’ve written and then cut hundreds of pages from the novel. Entire characters, chapters, scenes, and plot lines, all of which I’d painstakingly written and revised over the course of months or even years, vanished with the mere click of a computer key.

It makes sense to me that the day I agonized over a few lines in my novel was also the day I’d write something I’d ultimately decide to throw away. Maybe that’s why I’d turned to the garden that afternoon in the first place. Maybe I needed a few hours out in the sun where I could try to replace the cerebral process of writing with something more physical, something that could show my work through flourishing plants, pulled weeds, or a harvest of berries.

Maybe that’s also why, a few days later, I threw a half-rotted apple into the weeds behind my house, near the railroad tracks. The apple was no good to me—wrinkled skin, whiff of decay, a body bruised and spongy—but I wanted to put it to use anyway. Deer occasionally pass by in that spot, even in the city and away from the shelter of woods. And so I walked the apple back there and threw it hard into the high grasses beyond my yard, hoping that even as it soured and softened, it might manage to serve a purpose.