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What Comes from the Earth — Reflections on Writing, Farming and Surrendering to the Unknown

“I will never get tired of watching seeds grow,” said one of the women I recently interviewed for the closing pages of my book. “It’s such a miraculous thing.” I felt my head nodding along with the gentle rhythm and meaning of her words. I envisioned a tiny seed in darkness, splitting its cask and unfurling a green wandering thread, hungry, searching for light.

My mind dwelled on her choice of word: “miraculous”. Growing food, indeed, is a miraculous process. Particularly in a day and age where environmental, socioeconomic, and political factors — what forces shape the way we cultivate seeds and what comes from the earth — have never been so uncertain. Farmers pull from scientific, experiential, ancestral, cultural, and even spiritual wisdom to make choices on the land: what seeds to sow in the earth, when to plant, how to plant, what materials to mix into the soil, what tools to work the land with, which rituals to perform, how to irrigate, etc.

But much of farming, of sowing seeds, is about surrender, waiting and acceptance that some seeds germinate, while others — based on both known and unknown influences — do not.

Patience and surrender.

These are two farming traits I’m trying to embody these days. Not as a farmer, but as a writer.

Two weeks ago, my agent Marilyn sent all 172 pages of Women Who Dig to the top publishing houses in Canada: Penguin, Random House, Harper Collins, House of Anansi, and so forth. That evening, I celebrated with my family. I felt a rush of enormous satisfaction: that less than three years ago, I consciously decided to become an author. And in making that life decision, I realized that, first, I had to become a journalist, or a professional writer. I came at the world of professional writing with such impassioned naivety, curiousity, and determination. I was hungry to publish x amount of articles and stories because I wanted, so deeply in my bones, to write a book I could be proud of.

Without any formal training in ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’, I broadcast my words and ideas and stories like seeds: some took root, others never took off. Professional writing, so I’ve learned, requires, if not absolutely needs, rejection and failure. When I started out, I pitched to the top literary magazine because no one could tell me I couldn’t. Of course, they rejected all of my story proposals.

Looking back, even just two years ago, I kind of laugh and marvel at that former-self — and her audaciousness, her demand that publishers take her writing seriously, and her willingness to spitfire ideas into the world. Her reckless willingness to fail. Experience has already made me more cautioned, measured in my approach in the professional writing world. Like a farmer moving into her third professional season, I have a more informed context of what influences success and failure in the fields of my work as a writer.

Will Women Who Dig find a home in the publishing world? The fatalist in me feels as though it’s more likely to be rejected than embraced by a Big Name publishing house. “You wear your politics on your sleeve,” my agent told me. “That could work for you, or against you.”

Like farming, there’s only so far that “science” will take you in the book publishing world. There are many unknowns, many factors that are so totally out of your control.

Like many other aspiring and hungry writers and poets out there, the fate of my book is currently in the dark, like a seed tucked into the soil. Despite doing my best to busy my hands and attention with other work and creative projects, I’m overanalyzing everything about how I wrote the book.

Did I make it too political? Too dark? Too depressing? Did I choose the right medium in which to write the stories (literary non-fiction)? Will the publisher and reader discover the grace in the gravity of the situations I found myself in? Are my words believable? Was I the right person to write this book? Was I responsible in how I chose to draw meaning from narratives that are not my own? Who will love this book? Do I even love this book? Maybe I should have written it differently.

And: what if it never germinates? What if this project is like an “unviable seed” that stays in the ground, what if these stories I’ve invested my labour and livelihood in over the past two years grow and fail? What if nothingness is the outcome?

Of course, the ‘what ifs’ are, slowly, driving me insane. Being, all at once, madly hopeful, cynical, and humbly grounded has turned me into a narcissistic mess that even I’m irritated to spend time with. It’s a good thing I’m currently living in the isolated north with few friends and colleagues to annoy.

“Invest in patience,” my partner Atayo reminds me with his ever-sturdy African proverbs. He’s more of a farmer than I will ever be. “Wait and see what comes up,” he advises.

And so I wait, with a mixture of faith and fear surging through my veins. I surrender to the process that comes of sowing ideas and books and creative projects. The yield is a mystery. I know enough now to realize rejection is just as likely, if not more probable, than acceptance given the circumstances that shape the book publishing world today.

But like a good farmer, I’m ever hopeful for the impossible. I’m praying for a miracle to crack open the earth, like a tiny fist opening, reaching for the light.