The picture above is of my basil plant during the heat of summer. You can see that the leaves are stressed by the dryness and heat– they’re a little curled at the edges, more lance-shaped than rounded. But there are blossoms and seed-heads near the top, so the plant is still thriving. All it needs is a little more water, maybe days that are ten degrees cooler outside.
Now, in November, the basil plant is only a memory. The first frost blackened all the leaves. They shriveled up until the once-blossoming plant was no more than a starkly naked stick. Only the sharp smell of the basil was left to even say what it had been.
The smell lingers still– if you stir up the nearby soil or step on some fallen dried leaf, the whole area smells like summer, heavy with the promise of spaghetti sauces and pizza. But the plant itself is gone, relegated to the compost heap with the chicken manure and kitchen scraps.
My writing has been a lot like the basil plant this fall. In the heat of summer, I was thriving. I finished my novel, wrote a couple picture books, got 8000 words into another book, and felt like I was finally coming into my own. But now, in the chill of fall, everything has withered away. My mind balks, refusing to put good words on the page. My creativity has shrunken. Maybe with a lot of water, I could force it to bloom again, but it’s no more than a memory right now. A little whiff now and then– something scribbled on a scrap of paper, or an idea that lingers, but that bursting richness is gone. Everything feels like, as Bilbo Baggins once said, butter scraped over too much toast. Thin. Inadequate. Wintry.
So that’s where I am: blighted by the fall, waiting for some warmth and light to rekindle the life inside.
But, I don’t have time to wait. Unlike the seeds, I can’t harbor in the soil over the winter, just waiting for spring. I need to work now, I need to produce good things without waiting for the season to change and my malaise to lift. I need to force the bloom, like a paperwhite in a jar above the sink.
So I’ll add water. And I’ll add light. And hope that the gloom lifts and life bears its new fruit.
One day at a time. One word at a time.
It’s all I can do.