Have you ever grown a garden? I know some of you might have participated in gardening at school or with loved ones or neighbors at home. I have, from time to time, helped other people with their gardens but I’ve never grown my own—until now! And last week I went out to check on it and found on a vine…. my first tomato!
There is a reason that we humans often use gardens as a metaphor for life. We talk about planting the seeds we want to grow in ourselves. Just as in life, there is a lot out of our control when we garden: how much rain we get, when and for how long the sun comes out, the sort of soil we have at our disposal and how rich it is. But there is also so much we do have control over: what we choose to plant, where we choose to plant, and how we tend our garden to help it grow.
For this exercise, we’re going to do some writing into that metaphor: our lives as gardens.
Grown-ups can lead this writing exercise with the kids in their lives. Older kids can follow the instructions on their own, but I recommend this exercise be done in community with the person leading it reading instructions aloud and allowing for time to write in between prompts. One important thing to note to both those facilitating and those participating: There is no “right” way to do this exercise. All the guidance is a jumping off point and whatever way this works for you is great!
Materials: All you need for this exercise are several pieces of paper or a notebook and something to write with.
Step 1: Brainstorming about gardens. Let’s think about gardens. We’re going to brainstorm what makes up gardens (for example: tools like shovels, or seeds, or bags of soil, or pots to hold plants).
What do you see in a garden? Make a list. Write down everything you can think of.
Now, what are some things that help a garden grow? (examples: getting rain, sunlight, and fertilizer; pulling back weeds) Make a list.
Step 2: Brainstorming about ourselves and seeds for the future. What are some qualities you want to grow in yourself? For example, I would like to grow my capacity to be patient. Make a list.
What are some steps that you can take to grow those qualities? For example, one way I am trying to grow patience is by remembering when I get caught up in an emotion like anger or resentment to breathe before I react. One way I am trying to grow forgiveness is by having compassion, either for another or for a past version of myself, and realizing that if they or I could have done differently, they or I would have.
Step 3: Now, after our brainstorming, we’re going to write a poem about the garden we want to plant for our lives. You could title it “The Garden of my Life,” “My Future Garden,” “The Seeds of the Future” or a title of your choosing. A writer I deeply admire adrienne maree brown talks about how we cannot have a future we want if we cannot imagine it; the imagining and visioning is the first step. And that’s what we are doing by thinking about what we want to plant and nurture in our garden.
Using the ideas you’ve already generated, write a poem that talks about the seeds you want in your garden. You can also talk about the weeds you will pull back to let that garden grow and thrive. Note: The poem can rhyme but it doesn’t have to. The poem can have a specific form (like in short lines) but it doesn’t have to.
If it helps you, you can use this as a model, but you can also do your own thing!
I want to plant the seeds of __________________________________________________________
I will care for these seeds by watering them with ________________________________________
& by pulling back the weeds of ______________________________________________________
I can begin today by _______________________________________________________________
Soon, my garden will be ____________________________________________________________
Step 4: The last step is to share your poem with someone! You could read it aloud to a parent or sibling or friend. Or you could write it down and send it in the mail to someone far way. You could also post it somewhere where you see it and read it aloud to yourself so you remember what it is you want to plant every day.
Writing Into Scary Times is a four-part series.
Lisa M. O'Neill is an essayist and journalist who writes about social justice issues, politics, and popular culture with an intersectional lens. She is the founder, host, and producer of The MATRIARCHITECTS, a podcast and platform which highlights change-makers who are building a culture that respects, values, and celebrates women. A native New Orleanian and current desert dweller, Lisa received her MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona, where she taught writing in the English Department for a decade. She teaches in-person and online community writing workshops and designs and leads classes as a teaching artist in juvenile detention. She also works with writers as an editor and creativity usher, helping them discover their stories and and usher them onto the page. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Media, Bustle, Diagram, defunct, Edible Baja Arizona, Everyday Feminism, The Feminist Wire, GOOD, Good Housekeeping, Salon, Terrain.org, and The Washington Post, among others.