Life has become more highly ritualised now that production of my doctoral creative artefact – my permaculture travel memoir – has begun to ramp-up.
In the morning, it goes like this…
5am or 5:30am rise. Empty potty (it’s too far to walk outside to the composting loo during the night). Get dressed. Wash face. Boil kettle. Pick fresh sprigs of mint; dodge bees drinking from flowers; brew pot of mint tea. Simultaneously brew a fresh cafetiere of coffee… carry both into the writing studio, place them on the heat-proof ceramic tile on my desk. Back to the kitchen to fetch a mug.
How can I impress upon you the importance of choosing the right mug? Which one today? So much depends upon it – the success of the written word.
Shall I choose this one or that? The green, or the midnight blue Japanese mug… the mottled, sandy-coloured oldies that came with the house… or my favourite, the cream-coloured Korean mug with the picture of the purple and yellow plums on the side?
Three to four hours of generating ‘fresh’ words. I call this process ‘seeding’. It’s how I flesh out the narrative and get words down on paper.
Usually about 1 hour, during which I undertake a combination of the following: wash dishes (whilst listening to Margaret Throsby’s midday interview); make bed; browse the garden; eat lunch; prepare the evening meal.
Afterwards I resume work for another 2-3 hours. Time to edit the ‘old’ work I produced last week during my ‘seeding’ sprees. I call this part ‘weeding’, though sometimes it’s more like turning over the compost, trying to make the various elements disperse and break down more evenly. Integrate. Obtain a fine tilth. A perfect growing medium.
The final hour is of gentler, less intensive work. Sometimes it’s note-taking from secondary texts I’m working with: travel memoirs; natural histories; permaculture handbooks; or ethnographies… This is the most brain-dead part of the day, reserved for things like notetaking or backing-up.
Eventually, it’s time to finish. How to break the intensity of the day?
I try to leave the studio neat and tidy for tomorrow. Coming into an orderly space helps. I neaten the piles of books, pages, pens, drafts and drafts of drafts. They’re piling up. Soon I’ll have to confront them and file them away. When the doctorate is over I’ll probably mulch the garden with the seeding pages. I’ll be eating my words!
By now my eyes are tired. Blurry. The imminence of the written word reflected on the bright screen has left me bamboozled. To loosen the hold of the words and come free, to breathe and stop being a trellis for ideas to grow upon, I go out into the garden and begin the real practice of sewing, growing, tending, cultivating, gleaning. This is immensely satisfying.
So what is the garden yielding at this time of year? Tangible things! Snake beans; purple beans; Madagascar beans; ‘Muncher’ cucumbers; warrigal greens; kale; beetroot; Okinawa spinach; Brazilian spinach; flat-leaf parsley; capsicums; chilis; basil; garlic chives… plenty of herbs for my morning pots of tea: mother of herb; rosemary; mint; lemon balm; sage; stinging nettles.
The coarse mulch laid on the pathways jabs the soft skin on the bottom of my feet. I insist on going bare-foot. I am attempting to ground-down, ‘earthing’ myself. I need contact with the ground to counteract the endless MacBook hours.
Seeds. I need seeds. What seeds are ready for me to save? Rocket, radish, cosmos, calendula.
As I walk toward the furthest garden bed, the one shaded by the Madagascar bean trellis, I do the math. It has been three days since it last rained. Enough time for the Madagascar bean-pods to dry out. A good time to save them.
Some of the pods have turned brown and are starting to split open. Others are immature, pea-green. I leave the immature ones on the vine and pluck the dry pods. They come away with a modest tug. The two conjoined sleeves of the pod feel papery in my hand, raspy and light, like papier-mâché.
Inside are the delectable thumbnail-size seeds: mottled, white and burgundy. The colors grow darker the longer you leave them to age. The longer you leave them, the smaller the seeds grow, condensing, dehydrating. I wonder if my creative artefact will do likewise: condense, shrink, intensify, grow more flavorsome?
What will become of my story? What will become of the words I produced today? Will they make the final cut, or will they end up on the editing room floor? Everything feels up-in the air. Contingent. Which is why the garden is so important to me. It is real. Tangible.
I take the skirtfull of Madagascar pods I have picked to the back steps and sit down. I split the pods, releasing the seeds onto a square ceramic platter. There’s a knack to it. I press the seam with my thumb, releasing the seeds from their miniature vegetal umbilical cords.
‘Pop’ they go and fall with a ‘clunk’ onto the ceramic platter. The platter was made my a family friend whose studio, in the Buderim Rainforest, Middle Earth, is a haven for lovers of clay, pigment, kilns, books and art. So important, these days, to be surrounded by beautiful things – inspiring objects. Products of loving craft and toil.
I need vases of flowers too. Thankfully, Mum keeps me well-supplied with zinnias and hippeastrum flowers from her garden. Somethimes she spoils me by giving me roses or lilies from Aldi. These, I take out of the studio in the evening, placing the vase on the kitchen table. It is only fair to share the beauty with Richie. In the morning I grow possessive again, and take the vase of flowers back with me into my writing studio, along with the requisite pot of mint tea and cafetiere of coffee.
Drink, write, garden, sleep.