It’s a Bulb’s Life; Nature’s Lessons for Life
A tulip is a tulip is a tulip
Oh to be in Holland now that April’s there…..
A tulip by any other name would smell as sweet
(Adapted from Stein, Browning and Shakespeare with apologies)
Inspiration, sweat, patience. Everything I’ve ever attempted in life comes down to those three ingredients. A combination of head, heart and simple body mechanics.
Inspiration, is the seed, the bulb of an idea or desire. Sweat is the effort, physical, mental or spiritual, necessary to turn thought into action. Patience is the will, whether powered by passion, duty, faith, or sheer discipline, that keeps us marching forward on our path.
This past Sunday, Jim and I visited Holland’s famed #Keukenhof where master planners and a small brigade of gardeners plant some seven-million bulbs annually to inspire and delight one million visitors for eight short weeks each spring. After their splendorous moment in the sun, the bulbs are dug up and destroyed. If nothing else, the fleeting nature of the spring spectacle should remind each of us to seize upon our own brief moments in the sun—carpe diem.
On our first visit to the gardens six years ago, I’d just begun my journey on the path toward becoming a writer.
On this second visit, a little whiter and hopefully wiser, the parallels between Keukenhof and my experience as a budding author came into focus.
While we associate the tulip with #Holland, the flowering bulb didn’t start there. Like much inspiration, the genus Tulipa had a lofty beginning. Most sources place the genesis of the plant in the Himalayas. There, the flower was not known as tulip. That name would come later….
Just as inspiration undergoes transformation to become an idea, the bulb began a long and arduous journey. In the 11th century, the Seljuk Empire that included present day Turkey, brought the flower west. Their successors, the Ottomans, noted the striking resemblance of the bulbs to the Turbans worn by #Ottoman nobility. The bulb had a name, #Tulip.
But the tulip’s journey didn’t end there. The Dutch, master traders, imported the tulip to the Low Countries in the 16th century. The little bulb born in the Himalayas, adopted and named in Turkey, had a new home in Holland where its popularity and commercial value would soar. Today, that little flower inspires millions of gardeners worldwide and has grown into a multi-billion dollar business.
But what does any of that have to do with writing?
A gardener looks beyond a handful of drab, lifeless bulbs to see a bed of vibrant and stately tulips. So too must a writer look beyond the mere kernel of an idea to see the poetry of his or her completed work. Both efforts start with inspiration.
A gardener may scan catalogues or visit flower shows for ideas. Inspiration for literary projects springs from many sources. The idea for my second book, #Jell-OandJackie O, came to me on the Greek island of Mykonos as we learned of Jackie O’s exploits on the island. My dear friend, Gia who’s passion for opera nurtured global friendships, inspired my soon-to-be-released third novel, #NoneShallSleep. And beyond the larger projects, scenes, characters, themes, and phrases come to me from things that touched me—raw fields of ideas without shape or form.
The most profound parallels I see between my work as a writer and Keukenhof are the requirements of patience, perseverance, and time. Our Keukenhof guide told us that a tulip seed requires four years to transform into a bulb. And bulbs require up to twenty years before the tulip variety is ready for commercial distribution. Every home gardener knows that bulb gardening requires faith—that the little bulbs will take root— and patience— that vibrant flowers will blossom forth after a long winter’s wait.
Like a gardener scanning the frosty barren landscape, I’ve stared at blank pages waiting for vibrant ideas to take root. I can also identify with those long planning horizons. It takes years to move a story from idea to published book, and I write every day. For example, the idea for my first novel, #FinalDescent came to me in October of 2008. After four grueling major drafts and countless minor rewrites, I published that book five years later in October 2013. The inspiration for #Jell-OandJackieO came to me in June of 2009 yet outlining didn’t begin in earnest till June of 2010. I only published that book in December 2014. Writing, like gardening, isn’t for those who tire easily or who crave immediate gratification.
And like the gardener who spies the first tulip of spring, a writer experiences joy and delight when he tears open that corrugated box and stares at his glossy-covered book for the first time. The humble bulb emerges as a majestic tulip.
As I continue to hone the skills of my craft, I aspire to become a better writer. But good writing can’t be rushed. And unless you’re satisfied with a silk-flower, a tulip of unique grace and elegance requires care, patience and time.
With all this talk about tulips, let me leave you with some of my favorite pictures from our Keukenhof visit.
I hope nature’s flowery fireworks will spark your mind’s creative center, inspiring you with ideas. Maybe they’ll touch your heart; nurture a sagging spirit; restore faith in nature’s beauty and bounty. If nothing else, perhaps the stunning displays of color will motivate you to lift yourself off of the couch to tend to your own garden (whatever that may be), even if the fruits of your labor are a long winter away….
Creating anything of value, (gardens, stories, and I’m guessing pretty much anything in your own life) requires inspiration, sweat and patience. And speaking of which, I probably should get back to my fourth project, a memoir entitled #TwoTowers. You probably have your own project that needs tending to as well.
But in the meantime, forgive me for borrowing from Mr. Wordsworth and allow me to let my mind wander for inspiration, back to the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the tulip….