Creative Life

Fleas

Lately, I haven’t had much time to write.

Sometimes, it’s like this. My head is a mumble jumble of to do lists, relentless and never-ending. Every day, I fold laundry and empty the dishwasher and every day there is more laundry to fold and a dishwasher full of clean plates, ready to be emptied. Who can write when there’s so much to do? The dog needs to be let outside, there’s a birthday party to plan. Oh crap, I forgot about my dentist appointment tomorrow. Mom, can you find a pair of socks for me? I need help with my homework. Honey, did you put that check in the mail? We’re out of toilet paper.

It’s never ending. In a blog post, Dani Shapiro, one of my favorite writers, nods to an interview with writer William Styron in which he calls such chores the “fleas of life.” Shapiro quotes Styron’s interview with the Paris Review:

“Every writer, since the beginning of time, just like other people, has been afflicted by what a friend of mine calls ‘the fleas of life’ – you know colds, hangovers, bills, sprained ankles, and little nuisances of one sort or another.”

I know about fleas. Real ones. Our cat, last summer, had a terrible bout and we could never quite rid her of them. I switched treatments twice, vacuumed daily, bought her a flea collar. We finally shook the fleas in October; I suspect they’ll be back with full vengeance come summer. 

Back to writing—I’m scribbling away now while waiting in the car rider line to pick my son up from school. Because if my “fleas of life” keep me from writing, then here I am winning the battle, little by little. In a few minutes, my son will walk out to my car with his big book bag bouncing on his small first grade shoulders. He’ll open the door and plop inside and I’ll shut my notebook. He’ll smile and tell me about his day at school while I drive the long stretch of highway home.

My cat’s fleas were non-redeemable little bloodsuckers. The flip side of most of my “fleas” is sustenance.  A long car ride home yields a lovely story from a child. Dirty dishes pile up from a well-enjoyed family meal. A laundry basket full of clothes dirtied on a weekend outside together. Bills to pay for the home that gives us shelter.  I’ll continue to scribble away in my car just as I’m doing now because if these are the “fleas of life” allotted to me, I will take them. And I will write about them.

I'm a lucky girl. 

Azalea Land

Our yard was not perfect but it was beautiful. My childhood home in middle Georgia sat on a woodsy lot of pine trees and brambles with a gravel driveway that ran up a hill from the street. Under the pine trees, everywhere, there were azaleas.

My mother loved azaleas. My parents, together, worked tirelessly in the yard most weekends. My dad mowed the lawn and helped my mother with whatever gardening plans she schemed:

 Let’s move the small trees on the side of the house to a new spot.

Let’s pull up all the monkey grass in the front.

Let’s plant more azaleas.

More azaleas. One friend of my mother’s good-naturedly dubbed our plot “Azalea Land.” And yes, maybe a landscape architect would have pulled back on the azaleas and come armed with a set of carefully drawn-out plans. But ours was not a meticulously-manicured lawn. No, this was my mother’s soul symphony—whimsical and woody, with firecracker blossoms, leggy vines and rare, native plants. No clean symmetrical lines in our yard. Mom’s gardening practices taught me an important lesson about the creative life—it’s in the practice and not the perfect. Mom wasn’t afraid to dig in, get dirty and revel in the process. When spring came, ours was the yard that dazzled with azalea blossoms. 

My parents moved away from my childhood home almost two decades ago. Mom’s garden is a coastal one now, with oak trees and Spanish moss. Camellias. Still, there are azaleas. Recently, I asked her about the azaleas at our childhood home.

“Do you think they are still there?”

“No,” Mom said, “they’ve probably cut them down and replaced them with grass.”

“Hopefully not,” I countered but realized that mom was probably right. Things change.

But the place exists in my mind the way it did then. Every year, I see azaleas in full glory around town and memories bloom in my heart. I’m reminded of mom’s lesson, taught through her gardening practices.

Live out the art in your life. Let it be messy, imperfect and beautiful.