The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mow Me Down

by Thea Atkinson

I’m thinking about dandelions and about something my dad told me years ago. Well, he didn’t so much tell me as he growled out loud to anyone who would listen: Dandelions are smart, he said. Mow ‘em down once and they grow shorter so you have to adjust the mower. Mow em again, and they grow shorter still. You just can’t get ‘em all.

Well, I’ve prettied up his words some, but now with short, oh so very short dandelions sprouting on my lawn, I wonder how a noncognizant thing as a flower can understand what it needs to do to survive. How does it know to bloom just short of the blade in some spots and reach tall above the shrubs in others?

This dandelion thing makes me wonder if survival in the literary realm here in Canada means sticking close to your roots. I think of all the novels I’ve written based here in Eastern Canada and know I’ve done so—everything I breathe, see, and experience comes out in my writing somehow, straight down to the knobby knees I had as a kid and the bagoos my husband hires in the stern of his lobster boat every season. I’ve stuck in my hometown and it’s strange shirtless walker whose back in the summer is as brown as coppered leather and as white in early spring as a herring belly. I’ve used my childhood friend and the wild fern roots we dug up and stored in baggies (sustenance for the day we planned to run away.) I’ve even written my Dad into my pieces, and mostly because he’s disappointed that I don’t use my maiden name when I publish. (He has stopped bugging me about it now, since I threatened to use my maiden name for any erotica I write)

Then I imagine that making it in the Canlit scene might mean going to the smaller literary journals, (places like The Windsor Review or the Nashwaak Review) making my name there before attempting the behemoths of publishing: The Antigonish Review and Fiddlehead and Matrix. (all places that have declined my work and so therefore become holy grails for me). Surely Gooselane editons will never phone me like they did Lynn Coady and request a MS unless I publish in TAR (or was it Nimbus: I always get the story mixed up).

But I doubt that the dandelion lesson means this either, (this is a wonderfully exciting country to write about and live in) and yet the notion does not leave me that something is in there for me to see. There’s something kismet wants me to understand about this thing that I persist in so doggedly that I have turned it into an obsession.

Maybe I’m supposed to pepper the writing landscape with my work. Hit or miss. Get it out there. They can’t reject ‘em all. I picture Dad when I think this: (he’s in the habit of saying he’s not antisocial—just hates people, so you can imagine how his voice sounds.) it’s good advice, but I don’t think it’s the point.

Could be perseverance. Could be cling to what grounds you. Could be anything. I’m sure I’ll figure it out even if I have to write a dandelion metaphor into my novel. Because I will if I have to. I’m nothing if not pragmatic—happy to use whatever soil is there, writing whatever I can, wherever it is possible.

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