What a Peony Taught Me

Do you have a completed manuscript in the desk drawer? Sitting in a file on your computer? Handwritten in a notebook? Did you write it five years ago? Ten? Twenty? Did you try to get an agent or a publisher to read it? Then, when the lack of response became too depressing, did you go on to another project? Take up watercolors?

I’ve experienced all the above (watercolors were a failure). I currently have two manuscripts that, while I believe in them, probably don’t fall into commercially recognizable categories. One is a limited biography of an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstance; the other is a novel I wrote in the 1980s. The novel almost made it, if I’d been smart enough at the time to know that a personal letter from a top publisher–with suggestions–was a rarity. But I was very busy with my job, and I couldn’t face rewriting (and retyping 325 pages on an electric typewriter). If I’d had a computer then, it might have been a different story but . . . that’s history.

Still, although I’ve written other books, short stories, and essays with some success, those two books beg for another chance. Maybe it would be worth all that rewriting and typing now. Why? A Peony’s persistence has made its mark.

Last September, I cleaned out a ragged, overgrown space next to the deck, clearing the area of weeds and out-of-control monkey grass. Near the middle was a once lovely Peony plant, but the blooms were long gone, the day was hot, and I was out of patience, so I hacked it down and dug it up along with the grass roots–or so I thought.

This spring, while spreading a new layer of cypress mulch, I was surprised to see that a portion of the plant had survived–underground, throughout the winter–and sent up one stem with a half dozen leaves. Wisely, it had sent the stem outside the brick edging I’d installed.

And on that stem was one incredibly gorgeous pink Peony bloom, large as a plate and perfect in every way. I’m not sure if that one exquisite flower was a reward or a remonstration, but it made me think about writing and how easy it is to give up on our work if it doesn’t get the desired response.

So, I’m going to dust off those manuscripts and take a good look at them. Maybe, just maybe, one of them will turn into a perfect bloom.One Perfect Bloom

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