The Garden

Even if you have not read Voltaire’s Candide you know the story. It’s life, pretty much. You have a decent education, good looks, youth, combined with longings and yearnings, and at the moment you find they are about to be fulfilled BAM! they’re taken away and you’re sent to the army, but that turns out not so bad because, lo and behold, things get good again — and the object of your desires is again in front of you through an amazing concatenation of events! Over and over and over again, the rollercoaster ride of life until, finally, having won and lost more than you ever even imagined possible, you are (and who knows how?) in the back of beyond tending a garden. Your great love is a toothless old hag; your teacher is a blind, syphilitic, blathering idiot, but the figs are coming along nicely and it looks good for peaches this year.

I garden, not because I’m fascinated by it or want to grow my own food, or am passionate about any aspect of it. I’m not. I like flowers growing and homegrown tomatoes and basil for caprese in the summer. That’s about as deep as my enthusiasm runs. The flowers I like most need cold winters to do well in summer (sort of like me). My favorite flowers are iris which I was constantly trying to grow in Southern California — finally succeeded, too. The gophers didn’t like them much. I like wildflowers growing in a meadow in the high country, so I’ve planted a wildflower “meadow” in my backyard. My peonies got frosted again this spring, but it looks like I might get two blooms — the first since I planted them three years ago.

This year my garden is more important to me, and I’ve done more with it and taken it more seriously. I have found myself perplexed by many things that are completely out of my control, the leadership of this country is a big one that I can’t do anything about. The other is the question of well-written and compelling novels — that have won awards — that no one wanted to publish…

The big independent bookstore in Denver has agreed to stock my novel, The Brothers Path, . There is a $50 administration fee for them to stock it (pay to play) and if it doesn’t sell within the first three months, I can continue to have the book in the store for an additional $150. This is a way to deal with the plethora (ha ha, I used that word) of self-published authors. I’m doing it, the $50 anyway. There’s also the possibility of holding an “event” — book-signing, I guess. The store does a lot of publicity for the author and the author pays them $150 to do that and must be able to invite 30 people. For the chance to do this, the author has to write a fairly elaborate proposal and the store evaluates how well events for other books in the genre have done.

So, the garden. I cannot shoot my novels to the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but I can set out the tomatoes I started from seeds two months ago. I can’t change the political situation, but I can plant petunias. I don’t have the resources to travel the world, but I can walk around the little “garden” by the river, the slough, and note the changes happening there every day throughout the seasons. Life moves continuously to the present moment and we owe that moment everything.

“There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.”

“Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.”

 

Tulip yard sign for Lois

The sign I painted for my friend’s fence

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Fiction vs. Non-Fiction? Seriously?

Daily Prompt The Great Divide When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?

– Grump, grump, grump.
– Bad prompt again, Lamont?
– I think so.
– You don’t read for fun.
– What does “fun” mean? I used to read novels for recreation — I got lost in them — but that seldom happens any more. I did love Jane Gardam last year, last summer. I didn’t get lost in her work, but I was definitely entertained.

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Now most of what I read pertains to what I’m writing and I write fiction. At the moment I’m reading a new book on the Swiss Reformation. It’s called The Swiss Reformation. I don’t think that sounds like a very “fun” title, but I’m enjoying the book. The author writes clearly and energetically with real interest in the subject.

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– What are your favorite books? Maybe that’s what this prompt is getting at.
– I like Candide best of all — it’s (allegedly) a novel.

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Then I like Goethe’s Italian Journey. It’s non-fiction, autobiographical.

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I love George Schaller’s Stones of Silence, but a person would have to be interested in goat/antelopes to derive the maximum enjoyment from that.

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– That’s a pretty strange combination.
– As I was cleaning out my books before I moved those were three I knew from the get-go I would not part with. One thing tying these three books together is that they are all “picaresque;” Though only one is fiction, they all record discoveries — self and other — made on journeys. The magic of Candide is the ending. The magic of Italian Journey is the resolution with which Goethe began his journey and where that resolution led him. The magic of Stones of Silence is in George Schaller’s writing and in his description of the behavior of wild goats. He makes an eloquent case for the critical importance of individuality to the survival of a herd. Thinking about these books, together they tell a person exactly how to live. Candide — Tend your garden = be happy with the life you have. Italian Journey = pay attention to your surroundings and learn from them. Stones of Silence = Be yourself; in that way you can best help others – and preserve your own life.
– But which do you like better, fiction or non-fiction?
– Dude, get over it. It’s silly to think “fiction vs. non-fiction.” Just like people, books are individual entities with which we form unique relationships.

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Dinner for Three

I would only want two other writers — Goethe and Voltaire. I think they’d enjoy talking with each other and I would certainly enjoy hearing them. Since it would be only the three of us, seating would be no problem, but I’d prefer being a fly on the wall to being seated at the table.

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