Sifting through the rich compost soil is something gardeners know well: letting it pour and slide through our fingers, feeling its warmth, its richness, its readiness to be used for planting, its smell of worthiness. Writing is a lot like this.
We all have things we are proud of, memories where we can look back and say there, and there–those were my greatest, most valuable moments. If you know that Greek mythological story of Icarus, this is how he felt before he fell–at his triumph, flying near the sun. Many of us also have life regrets: mistakes we’ve made, wrong choices, wrong life turns, bad relationships, hurtful words. But if we play our cards right, every moment, every wonder, every hurt and grief and beauty and love has been worth something very valuable, and will be used for good. Our greatest stories of grief, pain, healing, unity, community, and transcendent love have worth and deserve to have a voice. Even the ones we wanted to throw away or discard forever can perhaps be salvaged and returned to the earth to grow something beautiful.
I say, let’s use this glorious, rich, fertilizing compost for our writing. Let nothing go to waste, let nothing keep us back, let nothing be held from being fruitful. Let us write from the compost of our lives. We have learned, we have grown, we have been seeded again and again through dark days and struggles, and this has made us better humans, and I’m sure, better writers. We don’t have to write verbatim, we don’t have to say exactly what happened, or list every memory, or name every person in our family or life that played a role. I’m just saying that we can sift through the richness of what we have lived, to shape the way that we write.
This summer I’ve made a renewed commitment to these earthly tasks. Both the writing, and the composting. I’ve been intentionally grateful for the few steps out the back sliding door to the compost once or twice a day, an opportunity for fresh air, sun on my face, and a few minutes to check on the garden and reflect on life. As someone who lives by metaphors, the chance to see a new sprout coming up in the garden reminds me of new things being planted in my own life, of healing and transformation, and in turn, encourages me to compost even more. It also encourages me to jot down a new word, line, phrase, poem.
And the more I compost, the more I am reminded of the richness of our lives, and how that can become the material that grows our stories, our poems, our essays, our books.
Because I want fresh soil. I want it for my plants, I want it for the earth, and I want it for the words and language that spill onto the page. Soil that comes from earth to earth, dust to dust, tomato and avocado and egg peel that is so broken down into the finest grains that it completely transforms itself into something new. Something bringing life. I’m desperate for it. I’m dreaming of it. Rich soil. Fertile soil. Soft, malleable, healthy soil.
Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down The Bones says this: “Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil … Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts into the solid ground of black soil.”
This summer, as you compost your memories, your deepest hurts, your regrets, and your most loved people and places and things, my prayer is that you will know that you are being re-grown into something precious and magnificent, and that you are flourishing right where you are, and that you will have the courage to put words onto paper, and write about it.