Writing Berries Have the Juiciest Syntax (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
Strawberry season is in full bore on the California coast. Today I drove back from a beach walk past fields filled with pickers, backs bent, boxes at their side. Because I live right across from acres of strawberries, the labors of the laborers aren’t far from my mind.
Here in my home office, a box of another sort—a computer—defines my workspace. I bend over the keyboard, straightening when the consciousness of ergonomic violation rings in my brain—or in my back. I have the luxury of being able to look out of my window at the pickers, and to look back into the window of my screen, and think about the nature of work.
I’ve been a freelancer for many years now, and I should be accustomed to the harvest of my vocation. But it still seems odd to me that this gossamer fruit—an electronic window painted with language—is what I exchange for my daily bread. It seems so removed from “real” work, work that results from your body’s toil, or work that produces a tangible thing.
It’s easy to scorn this slant, which has a seeming smack of the patronizing in it—sure, here’s a guy who gets to sit at home all day, drumming up some artificial envy for work that is ill-paid—and that sometimes results in ill workers. But there’s something about the substance of work done by the motion of the body that has a different kind of reward than that done by the motions of the mind. Admittedly, it’s a luxury to be in the position to even ponder the differences.
The Bricks and Mortar of Creative Connection
I think my true worker’s envy might be toward those people that can build things, and touch them after the building. That process seems a true creative connection, a thing conceived and then a thing concrete. It has to be a pleasure to be a carpenter who passes by houses or buildings he or she has worked on, and who can say, “I made that.” I’ve always been amazed by people that can build, whether it’s a cabin or cabinet.
I’ll always be grateful to my mother, who taught me the love of reading, and my father, who taught me the love of athletics, and to the both of them for revealing that the world can provoke laughter. However, my upbringing didn’t urge that craftsperson’s understanding, where your fingers gain a native appreciation for constructing the objects of this world. I didn’t pick up the building skills that many kids learned—and I didn’t go out and learn them on my own. I’m much better with a dishtowel than a hammer. In work as in play, it does seem we’re all jealous of the other person, but if it’s any consolation, they’re probably jealous of us.
Many are the times that I’ve griped about not hearing back from an editor on a story pitch, or tugged hard on my hair when I can’t bring to life on the page a character that shines in my mind. However, it takes some real effort to credibly mope over most aspects of my own vocation. I hope it’s not some lame wishful thinking to think of working with words as a kind of carpentry: stories are crafted of words, the hammers and nails that build a tale. Some stories have strong joints, some weak. All stories have foundations, good and bad. There’s pleasure in seeing a story’s sinews, running your mind’s eye over its rough spots, calculating how much more cement is needed to settle a paragraph.
Writing Has Its Harvests Too
Here in the small hills, the strawberry season is at its midpoint; there will be workers in the fields for months to come. I wonder if the same workers will return again for the new plantings, if they look forward to another season of these pretty hills and ocean breezes. Or if it’s just all backbreaking drudgery, surrounded by stories of Silicon Valley successes, which boggle the imaginations of people sweating to stay alive.
I hope not. I still remember my own forays into orchard labor, from many summers of picking apples. So long ago, but I still carry the memory of the crisp explosion of flavor and the sharp gratification gained from munching orchard apples at 6am at the beginning of a long summer day. It’s hard to forget the tang of homemade applesauce made for the first time, and the fine feeling I had picking the final apple of a harvest season. But I knew it was only another summer’s labor, and that my future didn’t lie in those trees. Other workers aren’t so lucky. I hope the strawberry workers still feel some satisfaction in those long workdays, and that the strawberries still taste sweet.
I’ll try to look more for the writing berries, and to remember to savor the labor.