After a few years of written silence, tonight marks half a year of Tuesday night writing sessions. With my evening glories having climbed to the roof of the porch, my impatiens size tripled since planting, and my tiny solar lanterns marking the shortening sunlight hours, my mind is pregnant with yet-pronounced life metaphors. It’s difficult to imagine this same mind absent inspiration, yet a thousand days preceding this half a year found not a single thought begging written reflection. It seems now they all do.
After several summer showers yesterday, my garden plants stood tall this morning. Even the batch of impatiens that was showing signs of demise had bounced back to vibrancy, and I took notice as I locked up the house and headed off for our teacher work day. Nine hours later, as my tires found their worn spots in the driveway, those same plants wore pained expressions, wilting with exhaustion along with all the other flowers in the garden, leaves all drooping in dreary accord.
Nine hours can take its toll. We wake to an alarm, down a cup of coffee, and face a new day energized by a good night’s sleep. We answer emails, counsel colleagues, complete daily tasks, resolve conflicts, plan solutions, and reinvent the proverbial wheel. We breathe and we drive and we talk and we think. And nine hours later, we’d opt for a coffee IV were it not for the risk it would prevent that good night’s sleep that we require to be able to do it again tomorrow.
As I generously watered my garden, I sympathized with each blossom. They were subject to the elements much the same way as I today. Of course, I found my natural energy boost in the giggling arms of my nieces afterward. My sister-in-law Gabrielle and I dialogued about our respective adjustments back in the classroom again while feeding the kids mac and cheese. My nephew JJ threw a mini-tantrum insisting he was not sleepy which served to prove the opposite point as head finally rested on much-needed pillow.
Even my friend Kyle, who usually stops in after writing night for a sneak preview while I make minor corrections before posting, texted an apology tonight that he’s very tired. And though a phone call will accomplish the same, I take all of these as signs that the typical demands of the daily grind are taking a greater toll after a couple of months at rest.
Nevertheless, when I returned home from my brother’s house and my tires found their worn spots for the second time tonight, my evening glories were blooming. A few hours after watering, my garden had morphed back to full life, leaves spread wide, flowers again proudly on display. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if their tired expressions were simply a figment of my imagination, my own exhaustion projected in the garden. Almost.
Where do I go from here? Which analogy begs my attention? A thousand days uninspired and my ten fingers want to type ten different stories tonight. Last week, I gained some insight into a colleague’s life that has heightened my awareness. We both joke publically about our failed marriages, but a recent conversation revealed we shared a similar plight that wasn’t a joking matter. Psychology would probably explain our use of humor to lighten the sting of our failures, but the reality is that in the face of deep, personal challenges, we both stopped writing.
I wrote my first song in third grade about Austin, the pastor’s son. I wrote my first poem in seventh grade about disappointment. I wrote in a journal from elementary school into my first years of marriage. I wrote hundreds of poems and dozens of songs through my teens and twenties. I wrote a book in the first years of my career and started two others that I eventually abandoned. I wrote about love and friendship and ambition and loss and hope and regret… I wrote about everything. Until I didn’t. I didn’t write. About anything.
My colleague similarly wrote every day for fifteen years, and after the summative demands of the existential grind had taken its toll, he describes it this way: ambition left him. I picture my plants, gloomy leaves drooping. I picture my nephew, on the floor crying about how “not tired” he is. I picture myself at noon in an empty house in Nashville after giving up my career in a last-ditch effort to save my marriage, staring out the window at the family of blue jays in the backyard. Exhaustion has many causes and many symptoms. Feet kicking or hands still, there are times in our lives when inspiration cannot be entertained. Breathing is hard enough. Breathing is required to survive. Inspiration isn’t.
My evening glories are going to keep blooming each night so long as they receive sufficient nutrients to continue existing. They want to bloom. Mr. Comfort, my AP Biology teacher, would be pleased that my now inspired mind is piecing together distant lessons on chromosomes, chlorophyll, and DNA, trying to solve a metaphorical puzzle of philosophical significance. I simultaneously weigh in theories of survival of the fittest and nature verses nurture and conclude Mr. Comfort’s abstract diagrams on the parts of a cell definitively apply to real life.
It may seem obvious, since biology is, after all, the study of life. Yet, in his classroom, I could not see past the microscope’s magnification of a nucleus to bring human or plant anatomy to bear on my own perception of the human experience. Forgive the English teacher’s simplification of a scientific matter, but chromosomes and chlorophyll and DNA determine the most basic foundation for our existence.
My evening glories want to blossom. I want to write. It’s who they are. It’s who I am. And if they don’t blossom, it’s because they lack what they need to thrive. If I don’t write, it’s because I lack what I need to thrive. It’s not because the worlds holds no inspiration, but rather the inspiration of the world around me is likewise beyond the microscope lens, and I have only enough energy to see what’s right in front of me.
Nine hours can take its toll. So can nine years. So can nine decades. Still, even my grandmother at nearly ninety-two, burdened with dementia, smiles up from her wheelchair. My nephew will smile up from his bed at Gabrielle tomorrow morning. Kyle will smile up at me from his beach towel on our day off on Friday. My colleague will smile up at his students from his desk chair next week. And I’m smiling up at my evening glories from my white wicker perch now.
My garden can be surviving and thriving in the same day. Life happens. Sometimes, there’s enough energy to breathe, and we make it through to the next day, somehow. But I’m writing again, after thousands of days absent what I was designed to do, what came as second nature to me. And that’s evidence that thriving is, in and of itself, inspiring.