We have a vegetable garden that is more of a random collection than an intentional structure. I stroll about in it every day, plucking dead leaves or flicking the occasional bug. Tending the tomato plant draws me in. I feel an affinity to Mr. Stripey (the kids named it after its variety) with its chaotic branching and mottled fruits. It reminds me of how I write.
I was training the plant (teaching it to grow in a specific manner) and needed to prune a few branches. Most were small and below existing fruit, but I snipped one by accident that had two tiny tomatoes swelling. I mentioned it to my partner in crime and she stuck it in some potting soil. Tomato plants can sometimes grow roots from a branch, so we crossed our fingers and have been watering it. Today I looked out at the garden and the wayward branch had full, firm leaves, the fruits were bigger, and the whole plant looked taller. A snippet from another story, removed in haste, blossomed into its own. New life from remnants.
Therefore, writers and other creators (almost wrote “creatures” which is also accurate) so often hoard their stories, amassing a wealth of segments: we never know when something cast-off will find a perfect fit somewhere else. I’m drafting a short story about a VR prison, and I spliced the idea from an early draft of Artificial. When I went through it the first time, the whole concept seemed silly and out of place. I clipped it and tucked it away in a folder I labelled “compost”. I dig through the folder, usually when I’m in a rut, and read these half-formed, mostly bad, ideas. Occasionally one of them sparks in my mind and I plant the clipping in new soil.
Stripey Jr. is doing well for a clipped branch. We’re managing our expectations, but two healthy tomato plants would be nice. I hope the same for my story.
When you’re stuck, or when you’re overwhelmed with ideas, dig into the compost bin. You never know what wonders you’ll find, what clarity you’ll gain, or what magick you’ll cast.
Thank you for being readers!
Today is Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate, and I am happy that codified, legal, chattel slavery could finally end. My friends have parties and feasts to acknowledge the slaves in Texas, who were not told until two years after when Union soldiers came to the state, and their method of rejoicing at their liberty. It is great fun, though somber.
It also serves as a reminder that slavery has not ended. For-profit prisons make up one of the largest political lobbies in the country. They lobby for more expansive criminality, threaten communities if their walls are not filled, and profit from the labor of unpaid and unwilling workers. The argument is often, “if they didn’t want to go to jail, they shouldn’t have committed the crime.”
As a pale person, I have been stopped rarely. I had a van I was in tossed once (we were in a small town and dressed up for an LARP) while in possession of… well, a considerable amount of LSD and pot. They put both on the dash and replaced them in the glove box when they finished. The only thing they had a problem with was the foam weaponry and the make-up. Had we been persons of color or had one with us, I fear the outcome would have been much different. There is a disproportionate application of the law, and the swelling of the prison walls shows its result.
And in these prisons, every day costs more, the expectation is that prisoners financially cover the cost of their incarceration. Every hour of labor nets them pennies, but every product manufactured profits only the investors. But you get to buy a hat with a “Made in the USA” tag affixed.
In 1868 the governor of Georgia began using “convict leases”, renting out labor to private companies and individuals. The first one-hundred such convicts cost $2500 dollars for one year. Each were african-american. Sixteen died under the watchful eye of William A. Fort. By 1873 the state began leasing prisoners for up to twenty-three years, a deal which brought the state $500,000 over the course, and with an admonition to “treat the prisoners humanely” due to the abuses suffered at the hands of the lessee. Private prisons, those which profit from piling human labor into their walls, have never been for the rehabilitation of people.
Inmate population levels need to be high (90-95%) in order to cover costs and maintain profits. CoreCivic (Formerly, Corrections Corporation of America) contributes millions to politicians and action committees with the express purpose of generating more and stricter laws. It is one of the largest anti-marijuana lobbyists. While doing this, 40% of their facilities don’t provide any adult education programs and less than half provide drug addiction counselling. There is tremendous profit in locking people up, keeping them uneducated and addicted, and making them work their way out of prison.
What does this have to do with Juneteenth? Though we should absolutely celebrate the end of chattel slavery, we must also remember that it remains intact. At a wage between $0.17-$0.50 per hour, no amount of labor can be considered “willing”. While people outside of prison struggle on $7.25/hour and fight for a living wage, prisoners are worked hard for less than a dollar. There are two-plus-million people in prison in the United States and more than half are African-American and Latinx.
Please dance and feast and sing today, but tomorrow, get busy working to remove slavery from our system. Pay attention to where your representatives get their money. Pay attention to whom your politicians prop up. Pay attention.
Thank you, as ever, for being readers.
I am in the midst of heavy rewrites for submission. It's stressful stuff, and instills a load of self-doubt, but it is absolutely worth the time and effort. When writing the first draft, everything flows and splatters upon the page. Deliberation is an impediment and leads only to nitpicking. Thus you vomit upon the page each word no matter how malformed or ill-suited.
And then you read it. I pick up my drafts after a considerable wait and often say, "What the hell is this?"
Thus we rewrite. The original is buried and left to rot as the compost for the new version. It is much slower, more calculated than the first draft. The blighted garden of draft one stands as a frame, new seeds are planted, and with any luck the fruits will swell. Usually it needs another go, but there is always progress.
And so, I get back to it. I want this story to bloom and swell. Be well, and thank you for being readers!
It takes a lot of practice not to edit while writing. New writers and those returning after hiatus often complain that their writing is “bad” while half-way through the first page. The urge to pick and poke at the words leads to great procrastination, and worse, it leads to a belief in self-criticism.
One exercise I find helpful in leaving this habit behind is the “stream of consciousness”, a non-stop flow of words written for a pre-determined time (usually fifteen minutes for me). This gets me in the habit of not checking my work as I go. It is difficult at first because we have an internal censor telling us, “Oh, but you can’t write THAT!”
The censor can go copulate itself with a rusty iron poker. It is a liar and should be beaten. The censor cheats us of ideas, denying us the irrational discourse which makes a story thrive. Even worse than telling us what we can‘t write, it has the audacity to tell us what we CAN, and that is unacceptable.
Back to the stream: let the words flow. Any words, it doesn’t matter; they don’t even have to make sense. You are intentionally writing one word after another without checking to see if the idea is good or bad. Fifteen minutes, once a week, every week, and letting the words flow will become second nature. Hell, two minutes is fine if that’s all you have. The same is true of all writing. You can edit only what exists, and it won’t until you put it on the page.
Now, get busy.