I garden in jars.
Partly because I am running out of room in the dense jungle of my balconies for plants, myself, three cats and two wild possums but mostly because I want to bring the beauty of the forest inside. In small doses. Behind glass (no dirt trekked through the carpet, no insects dive-bombing my ears).
When I go for walks I scan the ground for the right rock or tiny log to grace the very rudimentary, basic and somewhat unhappy terrariums I fuss over. Many moons ago my friend and I scraped a tiny patch of sickly moss out of a stormwater drain. Once in captivity, this sprouted in its tiny jar like vibrant green grass! It created a tiny world, where miniature grass swallowed a damp shelf of stone under the hang of tiny ferns. When the afternoon sunlight slanted through the window just so, it looked like a tiny fantasy world.
Winter and an awkward attempt at making the sludge in the jar more healthy killed the moss, but my fascination with growing things in jars remains.
Terrariums remind me of poetry. In a poem, words slot together in a unique way, forming something more complete and complex than the sum of all the individual pieces. In my quest to welcome in fresh creative energy and ideas I purchased a book of poetry… not because I have any talent, skill or interest in poetry, but because very short stories are a sort of poem. You have to communicate so much, in so few words. Every word matters — not just the meaning of that word, but the sound and feel and taste. The reaction that a particular choice of word draws from a reader.
Poetry, like very short stories, feels more intimate than a novel or novella. The writer has a charged, narrow space to communicate the enormity and scope of a concept, to paint a landscape of feelings through a brief scatter of words. Both the reader and the writer need to work harder in this space.
For decades my writing consisted of me hammering out thousands of words, most of which will never be read by anyone. I created vast clunky stories that veered about like a drunken wasp before collapsing by pure chance into a conclusion. I painted my worlds and characters in broad dramatic streaks that were best viewed from a distance, more focused on scenes than words.
In the past 18 months, determined to become more professional and produce things that are more marketable, I have whipped out the magnifying glass. I have started focusing on the individual paint strokes of tiny pieces. Hours of my week now consists of me pouring over a few sentences, brushing and glossing, puzzling over the shape and sound of words.
Is my writing improving? Well, novels aren’t getting written, but I feel a change in the quality of the short pieces I produce. I have discovered a new complexity, depth and patience to an art that I have been immersed in since childhood.
Not all gardens are broad rolling green lawns or vast fields of crops. Some gardens are tiny. There is great joy in placing and re-placing the pieces, examining how they sit together, whether their companions are the right frame for them, whether a shift in positioning would change the energy of the piece.
Is it time for you to take a closer look at your craft? Could you zoom in to a new angle and view your art from a new perspective? What fine, delicate, dreamy things could you create with less words, less paint, less space to work in?
First published on my website 13 Aug 2020