My favorite plant is the Vanda Rothschildiana. It hangs in the window of our dining room, its long stem twisting around itself, as if it’s reaching for the sun. When it blooms, its huge buds open to reveal lavender petals the size of a child’s hand.
I inherited this plant from Mimi, with whom D and I lived for three and a half years just after we were married. (In exchange for rent, D and I took Mimi for errands and did chores around her house.) My favorite task was watering and caring for Mimi’s extensive orchid collection. Mimi loved her orchids and I, in turn, loved Mimi. So when she died, I asked her granddaughter if I could choose one of the orchids. I chose one of Mimi’s favorites—the Vanda.
But the Vanda didn’t bloom and it didn’t bloom. I assumed our house wasn’t humid enough, and I’d resigned myself to waiting until—someday, maybe—we would have a small greenhouse of our own in which to house it. But then two years ago (three years after inheriting it), I was watering it and wiping down its petals in the kitchen sink when I noticed a long bud peeking from beneath its leaves. I squealed and called D at work, my eyes full of tears. I could imagine Mimi’s excitement, and it was almost as if she was there in the room with me. But that’s not the only reason I started to cry. It was as if the Vanda blooming (finally, after I had almost given up hope) was a sign: we just need to be patient; our hard work will eventually pay off.
I always tell my students that as writers they need to be patient and persistent. Don’t stop after their first rejection (or tenth or twentieth or one hundredth). If they feel they must write, they must not stop. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to stay perpetually optimistic. To wait and wait and wait, to keep going when it feels you have been going and going and working and working. It wears you down.
The last six months the Vanda has been struggling. Many of its leaves have fallen off; the remaining ones seem dry, wilty. I was worried that I would have to let it go. But I wasn’t ready to give up on it, so I called for advice. I repotted it (twice). Finally, I removed all the bark in the pot, cut away more of the dead roots, and I left it suspended in the clay pot, white roots hanging down like a bleached skeleton. Now I spray it with warm water every morning. I douse it in the sink once a week. And in the last weeks, new roots have begun to sprout along the spines of old roots and it is no longer losing leaves.
Again, the Vanda seems to be trying to tell me something. The truth is that I have been worn down this last year. I have contemplated giving up—or seriously scaling back on—my loves (teaching and writing and editing) because I’ve been tired—stretched—and I thought that not only would it be more lucrative to get an office job, it also might be satisfying to go to an office, to do set tasks, to be paid for these tasks.
But I wasn’t ready to stop. I wasn’t ready to turn my back. And so I continued doing what I do: writing and teaching and editing and waiting—waiting for new life.
I got it.
Last week, I signed the contract for my first book. (I can’t believe I just wrote those words!) Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, the book based on my Mother Words class, will be published by Viva Editions Spring 2012. (Again, I can’t believe I just wrote those words!)
Thank you to all of you for reading when I’m discouraged, for writing words that inspire me, for not giving up on your own dreams. This is for you, too. Thank you.