On Mondays, as I’ve written, I usually spend an hour or more putting things in order, including a tour of the yard: doing a general tidy-up of any plants looking droopy or dead, and of any garbage that might have wandered in.
This week I zeroed in on all the extra growth that’s gathered around the edges of my front garden. I put in bordering stones a couple years back, but you wouldn’t have known it. So I’m yanking out handfuls of grass, weeds, spent blooms and other junk that’s been hiding them.
I’m also meditating on the workshops I have to plan starting a week from now. In helping the group sharpen up their writing, I’m working from the excellent book by Paul Brown and Alison Davis, Your Attention Please, which I just ate up before going on holidays (As I tweeted back then, it’s so good, I wish I’d written it).
But first, some thoughts on weeds.
I used to have a problem with removing weeds. When I first began to garden, I quickly learned to recognize what was one of my plants, and what was a weed: If it grew terribly fast and seemed to appear far beyond where I’d planted it, it was probably a weed. But I still had trouble with the idea of killing them. Especially anything that produced pretty flowers, as many do.
But as things started to evolve, I realized the garden can take on more of a jungle-like character, with the larger, windier roots choking out the meeker, more delicate ones. Even our desired perennials can cause this problem from time to time, once they’ve grown too large or spread too widely. A prolific peppermint I purchased for 99 cents has cost me several dollars worth of other plants, as their shallow talons wound round and strangled out everything else.
So I’ve learned to shut my eyes tight and just start hacking and yanking. After about a decade of summers, it’s even become somewhat therapeutic to reap destruction on certain parts of the plot in order to promote the overall greater good of the whole.
Uncovering the thicket in my document – and giving it some edge, too!
So this morning, as I’m yanking blooms, I’m thinking about the thicket of information – as Brown and Davis put it – that we all have to navigate through. One of their key points here is that even if what you write is admirable – all grammar correct, tone on-target, concise and informative, engaging and educational – you may still have produced something that no-one will use.
Why? Because we all have so many types of information constantly coming at us. And with all the new ways it’s transmitted, much of the info that comes to us we didn’t seek out ourselves. So now, more than ever, most people will not pay attention to information that forces them to wade through the forest to find the trees. It may be that you’ve selected an attractive range of trees and arranged them elegantly – but the problem is there are just too many of them.
Who among us in the course of our demanding days is going to sally their merry way through the scenic countryside when they can just hop on the bridge and get somewhere right away? We usually save those scenic drives for our holidays, when we have the time to savour the journey. (It’s not for nothing that Summer Fiction is known for being light, unchallenging reading). And with so much info now packaged to be as instant as mashed potato flakes, your lovely boxwoods just can’t compete.
So I see it as my job in my garden to help people looking at it appreciate its contents as a grouping – but also to pick out individual colours, shapes and textures that all say something important. Similarly, rather than creating a ‘dense thicket of impenetrable information,’ Brown and Davis remind us to be ruthless in doing away with a lot of padding – and sometimes even some really good stuff – and arranging things visually so that the person who sees it can readily appreciate what’s key.
And if it’s both focused and well-organized, chances are better that people will take the time to stop and look at everything you’ve put in front of them.