Spring is in the air at long last! The birds are getting amorous. It won’t be long till the bees will be out pollinating their little socks off. It’s that time of year. Yup, that very fecund, fertile time of year when a woman’s thoughts turn to … compost!
Yup! You heard me right. It’s time, once again, to give some serious thought to compost. Most of you know by now that I’m an avid veg gardener. I’ve flooded social media with images of ripe, succulent strawberries, flirtatiously phallic courgettes and full-bodied, mouthwatering sweet corn. I’ve told tales of the allotment – some of them dirtier than others, and I’ve even written a fair few sexy encounters that take
place in veg gardens. Gardening is one of the topics I’m almost as enthusiastic about as I am writing. That’s not terribly surprising since the two are so philosophically compatible. So today, in honor of the beginning of Spring, I’m talking compost.
My husband and I inherited our first composter from the people who owned our house before us. We were suspicious of it at first and more than a little intimidated by it. It looked like a Rubbermaid Dalek casting a long menacing shadow across our back lawn. We’d heard that if we put egg shells and fruit and veg peels, cardboard and tea and coffee grounds in the top that in a few months, we could open the little door at the bottom and the myriad resident worms would have magically transformed all that garbage into rich luscious soil. Then all we’d have to do was
shovel all that organic loveliness out into our garden.
I’ll admit, we were skeptical at first – I mean seriously – egg shells and veg peels in and rich, luscious compost out? I mean that’s just crazy talk, surely! Still, we did as instructed, every day adding coffee grounds and tea bags and other goodies worms and invertebrates love to chow down on. Then one day we took the plunge, slid open the door and there it was, all dark and rich and soft and warm, and smelling vaguely of citrus. We filled a couple of planters. We were planning to put in geraniums, but never got around to it. Several weeks later I noticed there were tomato plants coming up in the compost we had excavated. My mother used to call plants that came up where they weren’t planted volunteer and, sure enough, we had eight volunteer tomato plants, the result of seed not broken down in our strange compost-making Dalek.
We never did get our geraniums, but it didn’t really matter. Our eight tomato plants
yielded up their yummy fruit at the end of the summer, an unexpected, unintended gift from our predecessors. The next year we actually dug a bed and planted corn and beans and squash. After that there was no looking back. Our one lone composter has been joined by three others, and twice a year we open the doors at the bottom and marvel at what an army of invertebrates can make from our kitchen waste.
The next year, as my sister and I shoveled bucket after bucketful of rich, loamy soil from our original battered, smudged composter and spread it in anticipation of the veg I’d be planting in May, I thought about how much writing is like composting. There are times when my efforts truly seem inspired. Those are the fabulously heady
times all writers live for and hope for, when every word shines the moment we write it down.
I would love it if everything I wrote would come forth fully formed and beautiful like Venus on the Half Shell, but more often than not my words are more like used teabags on an egg shell. More often than not, what I write is kitchen rubbish, the remnants of experiences already spent, the detritus of half-formed ideas that aren’t quite what I fantasized when they appeared so perfectly shaped in my imagination. Somehow they’ve turned to apple cores and coffee grounds by the time I manage to get them into words.
My husband takes his lunch to the office, and he brings home his fruit peels and apple cores because he knows what they will become. He convinced the lady who
works at the office canteen to save the coffee grounds for him because he knows what the worms will magic them into in a few months’ time. It’s true, what we dig out of our composters is technically just worm poop. Oh, but it’s so rich, so fertile, so completely loaded with potential. My husband knows, as I know, what wonderfully succulent corn and tomatoes and green beans we’ll grow in that rich compost in a few months’ time.
Writing is no different. On the written page, the coffee grounds and apple cores of my everyday existence, the remnants of half formed thoughts, the grandiose ideas that didn’t quite have the magic on paper that they did in my minds’ eye will become compost, no matter how much they may seem like rubbish. Nothing can happen until I write those words down — no fermentation, no agitation, no digestion, no chemistry.
But once the ideas are words on the written page, the real process begins. I turn them and twist them and break them down and reform them until they become the rich luscious medium of story, until they are just the right consistency to grow organically
what my imagination couldn’t quite birth into the world in one shining Eureka
moment. It takes longer than Venus on the Half Shell, and it involves some hard work and some getting my hands dirty, and a whole lot of patience. But the end result is succulent and full bodied, organic and living. And my finger prints, my dirty mucky finger prints are all over it. It’s intimately and deeply my own, seeded in the compost of what I put down in a hurry, raised up in the richness of what I then cultivate with sustained, deliberate, sometimes desperate, effort. The result is achingly slow magic that lives and breathes in ways I could have never brought about, ways I could have never experienced in a less messy, less composty sort of way.