Fierce Attention. The Gardener and the Author

The Gardener 

For some the word fierce is too…well… fierce.

Does it carry too much heat?

I can try fervent or impassioned. Maybe exquisite.

This morning, being in the world and in my garden, I was giving my exquisitely, fervent, fierce attention to a bounty of Shasta daisies. 

My thoughts, that had been collecting into doubtful shadows began to take on clearer colors. I walked through my garden intending to check for weeds and fading flowers, yet my attention was caught up in the greeting offered by the daisies. Recognitions of beauty and delicacy offered me a spacious moment of fierce attention, a place where I was fully present. 

Some days when I write, I experience an intensity that a gardener might as she walks among the scent of lilac bushes or the startling yellow of sunflowers. For me this morning, I paid heed to the white and yellow faces of the daisies. They woke me to this garden’s gentle beauty, and to my imagination.

Like waking to these blooms, ideas come to me in unexpected ways, stories reveal characters who take up residence and wait for my attention.

The Author

My father-in-law, whom I never met, was an Irish Home Child, 8 years old arriving at Montreal from Liverpool on a ship called Dominion. He became the unexpected seed of an idea as I imagined Martha McGrath, a 15 year-old who in my mind, arrived from Liverpool in 1913. If I hadn’t given attention to the story of my father-in-law, Martha McGrath might never have landed on the page. She inhabits my days now, the way Casey MacMillan did when I wrote the novel Those We Left Behind. 

The story unfolding in my new novel asks that I attend to the whirling unpredictability of a world about to enter World War One,  “The War to End All Wars.” 

Thus, as I paint the back story upon which my characters live their lives, I find myself transported back to a time, 1914 when events spun out of control. As can happen, paying attention to the history of the times, I experience what the world might have been like and what that world brought into the homes of a small Ontario, Canadian city where Martha finds herself in 1913.

Martha’s story needs my attention, my fierce attention as I begin to imagine how she speaks, how tall she might be, the quirks she brings to her story, and the quality of courage she reveals.  As I would do for a friend, I listen for the nuances of her life, and the substance of her inner life as well as the circumstances that color her place in time.

If you asked, as you might, what has the whimsicality of a Shasta daisy have to do with Martha McGrath and my chosen intent to write her story?

I’d answer: my need for fierce attention and fervent presence as an author and a gardener.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened
to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

Mary Oliver
from Sometimes.

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