Sometimes you read a book that just sticks with you, which, one hopes, is the point of a narrative. Case in point, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made me want to jump on the locavore bandwagon, buying and eating food that is grown and made within a 100-mile radius. It made me go, YEAH, I can make my own mozzarella! You bet I can invest heavily in Mason jars for summer canning and salsa-making! (Both prospects of which are highly overzealous, given my track record). And, over the course of time, I learned more about turkey sex than I ever deemed imaginable.
While it’s likely that our family’s food habits will continue to morph and change over the course of time, I can’t stop going back to a metaphor on writing found at the very end of the book. Kingsolver is primarily known for her works of fiction, but found herself approaching her publisher with an idea for a non-fiction book: with her family, attempt to live off their land, eating only locally-produced foods, for an entire year. As such, she then described the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing in the following way:
“The best way I can describe it is to use a metaphor my brother gave me one time. I used to live in the desert, and I gardened in the desert, and the first time he came out to visit me in Tuscon and he saw this beautiful little garden that I was forcing to grow out of the desert, he said, ‘The way you make a garden in the desert is you point to a spot and you put all your energy into that and you water it and you make something grow. Back East,’ where he lived and gardened, ‘the way you make a garden is you point to a place — a scrubby, raggedy, weedy, brambly hillside — and you remove everything else except what you want.’
And that is exactly the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. A novel is like a garden in the desert. You choose this spot and then you water the heck out of it and you work and you work and you make this simple single thing – you force this plot where there was nothing and you make it all come out of that barren place.
Whereas, a nonfiction narrative is to begin with this scrambly, weedy thing we call our life, or some subject, some aspect of life, and then you pull out everything that doesn’t belong. That’s the challenge.
And it’s much harder in a way because you have to pull out so much and just throw it away.
The temptation, when you’re writing, especially something that’s like a memoir, something about your own life, is to leave things because that’s how they really happened. That’s irrelevant. The fact that it happened is irrelevant. The fact that it’s funny or entertaining is irrelevant. The only reason to leave it in is that it adds to the story.”
I love this. I love that right now, I’m in the midst of gathering all those weedy, scrambled stories together, to see what’s there, to see the loot of beauty I have before me. Eventually, as a memoirist, I’ll begin the sifting process, throwing out everything in the garden that doesn’t belong …but for now, I’m jumping into a jumbled, overgrown acreage of land, going what the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks have I gotten myself into?
And loving it.
No matter your plot of land, happy gardening, friends!
What about you? Have you read any of Kingsolver’s works before? And what do you think about this writing metaphor?0