A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

For a few months now, I’ve been taking care of a Ginseng Ficus bonsai I bought & I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting the hang of it. I spent the first few weeks just making sure I knew how to properly care for it, & now have started to learn about some bonsai techniques to try & apply it to my own tree.

Bonsai, as an art form, is the process of making a small tree look mature beyond its years, which can be mesmerizing given the size & resource constraints imposed on it. Through selective pruning & shaping of the branches, you attempt to find the most appealing aesthetic from your tree, fostering this image until the desired affect is achieved. Bonsai have very limited resources like the water & nutrients stored in the soil, so they must be monitored closely & attended to frequently to ensure they don’t get sick or damaged.

It’s through this process of picking a vision for your specific tree, cultivating the shoots you want & pruning the ones you don’t, shaping it as it grows, & checking in to make sure it has the right resources that a bonsai comes to be the beautiful tree you envisioned. This might sound time consuming or difficult, but this process should familiar to all of us. It’s the same process we as people use to learn, grow, make things, & live.

At the start of the year, I was so busy with work that I hadn’t written any short fiction in months. I hadn’t even worked on my manuscript. Of course, there was time for it, but I didn’t know how to prioritize it. Or I would find myself so exhausted at the end of the day that I would opt to work on it “next time”. Next time never comes! If you leave your bonsai to be watered “next time”, its fate will soon be dire. There is only this moment, though I didn’t know it at the time.

After my schedule freed up, I thought I would go back to writing as I had before, for hours each day. That’s like being a marathon runner, not running for months, & expecting to go back to 100% right away. Not only is that unrealistic, but it’s unhealthy. I started to feel down when I wasn’t able to write like I wanted to, even though I hadn’t exercised those muscles in months.

No matter what the task is, from learning a language, taking care of a tree, running a race, or writing a novel, you have to work on it consistently & build up progress. Once you shelve something for a while, it can be hard to come back & resume where you left off. There are good reasons for putting things aside; planting your bonsai outside & letting it grow uninhibited can help flesh out the trunk. But it comes at the cost of the muscle memory you’ve worked up.

For writing, I went back to carrying a notebook all the time, something I’d forgone at the office. In it, whenever I have a flash of inspiration, think of something to write, a story line or an image to explore, I write it down. At first, these came slow, & the pages remained mostly blank. With repetition though, I’ve helped cultivate these thoughts in my mind, telling myself that they have value & making them come to me easier.

Then, with these ideas in place, it’s a lot easier to come back to them & shape them in to pieces. It’s a long process, but one that only occurs with the germinated seed. The best time to plant a tree may be 20 years ago, but the second best time is today.