My compost bin is just a dirty plastic box without a bottom. I set it up under a tree near the road a good ways away from my beehive so it wouldn’t attract bears or other critters to my bees. I keep a bucket in my garage for scraps and carry them to the bin about once a week, more often in the summer during watermelon season. More often if I’m composting something tasty that my dog likes to sneak into the garage to nibble on like sweet potato peels. I compost egg shells, orange peels, and coffee grounds. I compost kale stems, pistachio shells, and leaves from my driveway. How could this hodgepodge ever amount to anything worthwhile? All I have to do is leave it be and let Mother Nature do her thing. She turns all those scraps turns into rich dirt. Rich dirt to feed my trees and create flowerbeds. Rich dirt to attract worms. My yard is more productive because of those scraps.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been researching a nonfiction project for a couple of years and let me tell you, a couple of years of research piles up. I have scraps of newspaper articles, recordings of interviews, court records, books, pamphlets. My poor little office has stacks of notebooks and ideas. The problem is I don’t know how to tell this story. The blind man and the elephant scenario. The project is so big I don’t know where to start.
In other words, I’m stuck.
I need to become unstuck. I flip through FLOAT, Becoming Unstuck for Writers by AM Carley.
FLOAT devotes a couple of pages on a topic called Compost. (pages 187-188) Not composting food scraps. Composting writing scraps.
Sometimes the most clear-eyed, thoughtful, and beneficial decision we can make about a piece of writing is to put it away…. Put it in a drawer… Archive it on a hard drive…
And walk away.
Walk away! What do I do then? Do I keep writing? Or not? I flip through FLOAT and find a chapter entitled Date Yourself on page 57.
For this date with yourself, your only goal is to do something that interests or inspires you.… By getting out, you give yourself the chance to re-set your own approach. You take a complete break from your project and simply get out into the world with curiosity and a sense of adventure.… you don’t need an agenda…. be with yourself, open-minded, curious, free.
This was exactly what I needed. Permission to do something other than write and research. Permission to do something fun. For me, that’s beekeeping. I have four hives and love to be out with them. I love to learn about bees and talk to other beekeepers.
So I decide to I attend the annual Virginia State Beekeepers Association meeting. Most of the lectures are about how to maintain healthy hives. The parallels between healthy beehives and healthy human societies are legendary. The individual is moving ahead with her life in concert with thousands of other individuals moving ahead with their lives. And in the center of all this movement is the queen.
And then it happened. As I listened to the lectures about the importance of a strong queen, stories began to swirl. I went home that evening and wrote the first chapter about a fictional human family that behaves like a beehive. The family has workers, drones, babies, and a queen named Sabbath.
I’m not sure where this story is going but I’m having fun writing. And now and then, an idea pops into my head about how to shape all that research into a readable, creative nonfiction. I note of that idea and put it aside. I’ll come back to it. But for now, I’m having fun with my bees and my ideas.
Carolyn O’Neal is the author of KINGSLEY
AM Carley’s book FLOAT, Becoming Unstuck for Writers is available on Amazon