Lets Finding Your Voice as a Garden Writer

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In June, I traveled to Denver, Colorado to give two talks at the Denver Botanical Gardens, one of which was titled, as you see above: finding your voice as a garden writer. While my personal presentation was an audiovisual extravaganza involving personal stories, arms that float quickly (I am a speaker), group hugs, Kumbaya songs and unicorns (I don’t mess with unicorns), I thought it might be useful to share some of the points I made here (minus the unicorns).

I decided to break this up into a number of posts. This was one of my favorite lectures (despite the fact that it caused a miserable scare for weeks in advance) and I have a lot to say about the topic. A quick message simply did not succeed. In the coming weeks, I will put more points.

Find, Find, Found

Before I start with the first point, I need to get into the meaning of the title. You see, I could have titled this lecture “How to find your voice as a garden writer”, but I took great care to use the word “find” instead. I have enough experience now to know that the voice is an evolution that accompanies you as you live your life and grow as a person. There is no definitive voice to be found, no goal to arrive at complacency and arrogance.

Whether we like it or not, we all change. It goes without saying that if everything goes well, we will also change and develop the way we write and what we write. I found this to be true for me. I’m a work in progress. I, too, am always becoming, growing, developing, changing… As I go through the process of life and solve my problems:

My priorities are changing.
I am developing new interests
My goals as a human being and as a writer are changing.
I let go of fears.

Sometimes I develop new fears (God help me).
I have new experiences that change my perspective and my worldview.
I’m learning new things.
I’m discovering that I’m not always right.
I discover that sometimes, miraculously, I was right all along.
My writing is strongly influenced by all this. He’s coming for the ride.

Bullshit Authority:

I didn’t really say it that way in the original presentation, and I probably don’t mean it the way I said it here, but hey… maybe so. I started the presentation with a personal story about my Japanese film teacher at the University, Robin Wood. On the first day of class, he talked about his background, his experiences and his study of the genre, but what surprised and even intrigued me was that he did not list his testimonies or try to embody an authority that we should all admire. Many university professors have done this. In fact, he explicitly stated that his class was a conversation that we were all invited to and that many would say that he was not qualified to teach the class. He thought it was good – he wasn’t an authority, but he knew a thing or two.

It was only a few years after that I learned how famous and successful he was as a film critic and teacher. If anyone had the right to claim authority, it was him, and yet he remained humble and open. This course was very difficult for me. It was a fourth-year film studies program and I entered without a film education; I really loved the Film. I have never spoken in class and I have always been afraid to hand over my papers. The bullying was mine. M. Wood always evaluated me fairly (even well) and showed a sincere interest in what I had to say. Few university professors seemed to have so much fun teaching.

Years after, when my career as a gardening writer was starting and I was feeling lost in a whirlwind of people who called me a “guru” and an authority to put on a pedestal when they were telling me How I should be, how I should write, how I should ________, I turned to his example as a basis and as what could be just another unrelated class in a series among many others turned out to be an essential experience in shaping the way I work as a writer and gardening teacher. I always contrition that I could never tell him how much I needed and I appreciate his example.

While I was preparing the original presentation, I noticed that there were two distinctly different meanings of authority: One is where you are confident in your skills and knowledge. The other is about power, control and a high position over subordinates. The problem is that when we use the same word for two different concepts, we tend to merge them and trust in their knowledge turns into Ego and arrogance.

I know what I know. I am confident in what I know, but there is always room for me to be wrong. I am not an authority. I don’t want to be one of them.

Here’s why:

It doesn’t serve you; it bothers you. It is attractive to put ourselves in the role of an Omniscient expert, because it makes us look good. Remember that this is about Marketing, and although there are reasons why this device is used, it usually serves magazines, publishers, other media and sometimes even our career, but it does not serve you, the person behind the work.
It’s dehumanizing. This keeps you at a distance from your readership. This prevents them from making a real connection, which happens to be one of the best rewards, except for those that I have reaped in this career.

If you stand on an invisible pedestal, you are capable of being knocked down afterwards. Make no mistake, there is always someone trying to take you down in the hope of “showing” you that you are not all that and that you are not worth what you have achieved. You cannot do this if you are under house seize.
This puts you in the impossible role of having all the answers and always being right. This kind of impression is torment. It keeps you trapped in a constant state of fear: the fear of making a mistake.

This hinders growth. If you are always right and you know everything, there is nothing more to learn. If this is the matter, you can expect a life of boring similarity. However, if you are open to making mistakes and humble enough to know that what remains to be learned is unlimited, you invite miracles, discoveries, new ideas and connections into your life. This leaves much to be hoped for.
When I say authority and authoritative voice, I am talking again about a writing style “I am an expert and everything I say is right””I am not talking about writing with confidence and personal knowledge. This is the other type of authority.

It’s liberating to be able to say, “Hey, I’m learning too. I don’t know everything.”You are a person; you can’t even have all the questions, let alone all the answers. You will develop new questions. Once I realized that I didn’t need to know everything, it freed me from the persistent fear of not being enough. This kind of freedom is golden.

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