Despite the image I’ve crafted of North Woburn being a post-industrial hellscape, many parts of it expressed a rustic beauty that coexisted alongside the ruins and reminders of the not-so-distant past. Across the street and over the hill from where I grew up was a freshwater spring surrounded by a mossy glade of ancient elms. Wild pheasants would make migrational stopovers beneath canopies of tangled grape vines, leaving behind feathers which became prized finds during our childhood explorations. Feral irises thrived along the edges of the wooded areas and further in one could occasionally spot vibrant clusters of other odd and unusual wildflowers.
Of these, none carried as much gravitas as Ladyslippers did. They were wild orchids, partial to shaded loamy areas and capable of withstanding New England winters. They were also an endangered species, a fact drilled into us repeatedly by our parents and teachers. Even the most casually destructive of us would tread gingerly around any we might happen to discover.
Their precarious position haunted me. “Why don’t you move some to our garden where they will be safe?” I’d ask my mother.
“Because they can only grow in this type of dirt. Moving them would kill them,” she’d reply. “They’re here because they have to be here.”
I remembered this after reading yet another bit of writing “advice” that meant well enough but still irritated the fuck out of me. I don’t like those types of articles as a rule because they either repeat the same old “keep reading and writing” admonishment for the umpteenth time or dance around the real question being asked — which is “how do I make money off this nonsense?”
Those alone would be banal enough, but the writers always feel the urge to throw in some boostrapping bullshit in there which might have been motivational in intent but comes off as crud-grade Randian wank in practice. I don’t care if you deserved whatever success you’ve carved out for yourself, the meritocracy is a myth. You know it. I know it. The countless reminders of Sturgeon’s Law hardening our cultural arteries demonstrate it.
To assert that hard work and talent will out is to shift the blame on to folks who have made an honest go of it, yet never managed to gain any traction. It’s a bad look.
No one likes to have their efforts dismissed as “dumb luck” or the result of having an “in,” but there’s nothing wrong about admitting you caught some fortuitous breaks along the way. At the very least, it shows a bit of humility and lets the strivers know that some shit will be always be beyond their control. That’s a far more important bit of advice than “be like Elvis” (dead on the toilet?) or stay up until 4 AM polishing some blog post that will be forgotten two days later.
Back to the wild orchids — for all the talk of cultivating flow, for some folks it will never be a matter of free and easy volume no matter how hard they try. I work as the mood strikes me and fuck around when it doesn’t. I’m not going to force a fit for the sake of theoretical returns. Every time I’ve tried, I’ve trampled anything resembling a voice. A working writer can learn to live with that. I can’t, especially in an age where everything feels panel beaten into dull anonymity and the only remaining idiosyncrasies tend not to be positive ones (the “woke” fratboy, the scatologist, the two-fisted fuckhead, Johnny Awesomesauce, etc.).
I’m aware of my faults and accept I’ll never escape the niche I’ve carved out for myself, but at least I know where I stand — alone in a small patch of acidic soil awaiting the inevitable bulldozer blade.
Recommended listening: Blessed – Potters Field (from the Taboo 12″, 1985)
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