There’s a saying in North America for poison ivy: “Leaves of three, leave it be.” Poison ivy, as the picture shows, has the infamous three leaves on a stem. Many people (but not everyone) are allergic to the oils the leaves produce. Unlucky wayfarers come across the ivy usually in forests, overlooked fence corners or in neglected flower beds. Rub against the plant’s leaves and the oils will give you a rash, blisters and itchy skin.
Gardeners must cut the ivy carefully, bag it and throw it away. You never burn the ivy–the smoke carries the oils and if you breathe it in, a reaction can happen internally. Clothing and skin must be washed immediately. Then bring on the pink Calamine lotion and prepare for a couple of weeks of healing while dodging inquiring stares. Avoid questions of people asking why exactly you look like a pimply young piglet and smile at the ignorant treating you like a contagious leper.
The saint and I have been coming across poison ivy in our yard work and we’ve been channeling our efforts between cutting and avoiding the fiend. I’ve been doing this same behavior with my writing lately. Woven amidst the paragraphs of my manuscript my editor recently returned to me are many vines of poison ivy. I must climb on top of the capital E’s and T’s (for their nice, level tops to balance upon) and reach up with my gardening gloves and shears and start trimming the ivy out. If I don’t, it’ll give my readers the itchies and the blisters of unbelieving. They’ll check out of the narrative, scoff and perhaps even set the book aside. No author wants that.
But at the same time, while balancing on the tops of letters and squinting against the sun in my sunhat, it’s sometimes tempting to leave the ivy alone and hope it simply dries out. Nobody actually wants to deal with these things, just like people usually avoid jury duty, junk mail or thistles. One can wait and hope a benevolent fairy stops by and alights at your house. The fairy can misdirect the Court ordered mail, eat the advertisements and make a nice salad out of the thistle and dandelion weeds. Perhaps if I point out the edits, the fairy can wave their magic wand (or borrow one from an obliging fairy friend)–and voila! Presto chango–my manuscript is finished! The poison ivy vanished and the letters gleam anew. I grin and shake hands with the fairy as he leaves to go to the next author’s house.
But the illusion fades and the fairy disappears. And I’m left with the poison ivy, blowing gently in curtains, threatening its oils on me. I pull on my gardening boots, don my sun hat and go to work.
Writing is work and work is not a dirty word. Repeat this to yourself, as society seems to want to convince us otherwise. Work is good and beneficial to us when balanced with rest (reread Susie Bee if you don’t believe me). Tackle the poison ivy, one vine at a time. Take breaks underneath shady S’ and inside comfortable, sturdy L’s. You’ll get there. The garden of writing will come back under control and the book will be published. And then we can move onto the next garden, the next beautiful story you have in mind.
Leaves of three–have at thee! Happy writing, folks.
Song: “Moonlight Sonata,” Beethoven