Category Archives: Writing

The Blackberry Behemoth

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The summer after we moved into our house six years ago, these prickly, viney, branches started creeping through the fence. The people behind us were hoarders whose yard had become home to mountains and valleys of every sort of junk, from the mundane to the deadly. Finding the source of those creepers was damn near impossible, and we were two working parents with a toddler and zero time for playing yard detective. So, we let them come; up and over, in and around, decorating the plain wooden fence with a bit of prickly green.

Then, one day, midsummer, we noticed something dark sprouting at the tip of one of those vines. Blackberries; plump, sun ripened, and delicious, nestled between the leaves. At this point, we’d been apartment dwellers for a number of years with no yard or outside space to speak of. Just having a yard to call our own was amazing but having our very own blackberry bushes along the fence? That was pure magic.

The blackberries grew, along with our family, over the next few years. We had a couple more kids, and I watched as the vines turned into bushes that took over our back yard. Suckers sprouted in the grass, thorny arms reached toward the swing set. I was frozen, always with a baby on my hip, a clinging toddler, or a job to get to, incapable of action of any kind. Life marched on, the bushes grew into a spiny death trap, and I watched, powerless to stop it.

Every day in the summer, I’d come home from a fulfilling day as a soulless cubicle drone, and I’d see those bushes back there, mocking me. I’d scroll through Facebook and Instagram pictures of babies crawling through perfectly manicured backyards, or friends gathering for barbecues in carefully maintained, grown up spaces – free from the clutches of weeds and the dreaded blackberry behemoth. And I’d wonder what the hell was wrong with me, with us, that we couldn’t get our shit together enough to do something that everyone else seemed to be doing without a problem.

Are we so insanely terrible at adulthood that we can’t even manage to do something as simple as yard work? Why is everyone else so freaking motivated to DIY the hell out of everything? Why did we even buy a house to begin with?? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?

I love my husband. I adore my kids. And I truly believe that I do not suck at motherhood. But adulthood is something I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I want to do these things. I can Pinterest ideas with the best of them. When it comes down to brass tax, sitting on the couch, staring at pictures of the amazing things other people have accomplished and hating myself for failing at being a grownup is about as much as I can manage.

I’ve been struggling through this quagmire, hating this blackberry bush for the last five years. We’ve trimmed it back a few times, tried to get it under control, but no matter what we do, it always come back; bigger, bolder, and more luxurious in its prickly grandeur than ever. My fruit fiend kids think the berries are some miracle bestowed upon our yard by Mother Nature, albeit a miracle that comes with various pricks, scratches, and cries of, “Mommmmyyyy!! I’m BLEEDINNNGGG!” To me, it was the physical manifestation of everything I hadn’t accomplished in my life. And it just kept getting bigger.

This past weekend I was standing in front of my house, looking at the dilapidated flower beds, wondering where people get the energy and money to landscape, when I looked over at my youngest, happily attempting to catch and vivisect an ant, and it hit me. She’s two and a half now. TWO AND A HALF. She’s no longer a clinging, immobile bundle, or a barely walking baby who has to be shadowed constantly. She’s a toddler who basically stays where I tell her to and is more than thrilled to help Mommy rip the shit out of some gnarly weeds. And my older kids? Five! And seven! Holy grail ages that know the basic rules of staying within ear/eye-shot and follow them!

I bent and began tentatively weeding, encouraging my youngest to help, “Oh! Are you going to pull up weeds with Mommy? Isn’t this fun?” After about 20 minutes, I had a nice pile of weeds and, I swear, the hosta were smiling at me. I turned, walked around the corner of the house, and confronted my nemesis. The time had come.

After handing my daughter over to my husband, I pulled on a pair of thick, leather work gloves, and stared at the mess that was our back yard. It was so difficult to know where to begin. The vines twisted and turned, wrapping around each other in an impossible array of knots and tangles.

“Screw it,” I mumbled, grabbed the nearest branch, and pulled as hard as I could. It wasn’t easy. By the time I was done, my back and shoulders ached, and my arms were covered with scratches and cuts. But I had worked hard. I pulled every last one of those invasive suckers up by the roots. In the end, I lorded over a pile of thorny rubble as tall as my five year old son, surveying the blank dirt canvas that now ran along our back fence.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the space, or when it will be done. It may never look like a suburban oasis, and the plants may start creeping back out of the ground at some point. But, for now, I’m basking in the glow of victory, content in the knowledge that if when they do come back, I’m perfectly capable of ripping them right back out again, one vine at a time.

 

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Are you there, epiphany? It’s me, Jillian

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I’m probably going to be bitching a lot over the next few months (years, whatever) about editing my novel. I apologize in advance to anyone who actually decides to read this because I’ll probably let my inner two year old come out, sobbing and gnashing her teeth as she has a tantrum all over the keyboard. It has to happen somewhere, though, and I’d rather not have my kids witness it. It would really fly in the face of that whole parenting thing I’m attempting to pull off.

Holy crap, though.. this editing thing is tough. I wrote my first draft during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s a fun exercise that basically forces you to have a massive brain dump on your computer screen. Think of it as a laxative for the mind. It’s not about quality, just getting 40k words down in 30 days while managing to tell some semblance of a story. I highly recommend it if you suffer creative blocks like I do.

The result, however, (in my case anyway) proves to be less than satisfactory. It’s ok. It’s taken me over a year, but I’m finally beginning to let go of how badly it sucks so that I can attempt to fix it. And I’m not just being modest. My first draft totally blows. I let a couple of people read it because I felt like I needed feedback and now I’m like, shit. I let people read this? For real? NOT COOL.

Now that I’ve gotten over the utter humiliation, I’m kind of on a role with the editing thing. I’m feeling pretty good about it, like it could really be a good story if I can fix the horrible writing and add some actual character development. The thing that is driving me absolutely crazy go nuts is this nagging feeling that there’s a better way to tell the story right there, lurking at the edge of my mind. I just can’t quite grasp it. Maybe I’m subconsciously blocking it out because I know how much more work it will be if I basically have to completely rewrite it from a new angle. Whatever it is, I can’t shake the feeling that a major breakthrough is right there. Frustrating and motivating to the point that my brain might explode.

You know how, sometimes, the universe sends something your way at just the right moment? Well, this little piece below found me exactly when I needed it most.