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Growing a Memoir

Delighted that her garden produced vegetables, Elisheva Trenk contemplates a passage from Julia Cameron’s "The Artist's Way" and how effort is tied to results.

By Elisheva Trenk

June 08, 2023

After years of wanting to grow a vegetable garden, the Covid lockdown of spring 2020 gave me the push I needed to finally set up a backyard garden. I located the sunniest spot in my yard, slid together the interlocking cedar panels of the raised garden bed I had purchased, and filled the bed with what felt like a truckload of topsoil.

I toted home a variety of vegetable plants, arranging them snugly in the trunk of my minivan so they wouldn’t get jostled around. I tended to the little plants, adding stakes and watering them when needed (and admittedly, when not needed).

Although I understood, of course, that I was growing vegetables, nothing prepared me for the moment I approached my garden bed and there it was: growing beneath one of the yellow cucumber flowers was a beautiful prickly stub of Boston Pickling Cucumber. A perfect cucumber specimen in a miniature form. My delight was palpable. I wondered, how in the world did this miraculous thing get here?

My experience reminds me of a passage I read years ago in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:

 “Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.” 

Whether it’s growing cucumbers, writing a book, or any other endeavor in life, we are only in control of the efforts we put in, or as Cameron puts it, the quantity, while the Great Creator is in control of the results, or the quality.

Cameron’s aphorism is expressed in ancient Jewish wisdom, which teaches that while we believe that our efforts are tied with the results – that if we work harder, we will certainly succeed – the truth is that the only thing under our control is how hard we try at something. Whether we succeed or fail is entirely in the hands of the Great Creator. Gardeners know this; we can do everything right for our seedlings to thrive, but even the greenest thumb doesn’t guarantee a good crop.

Writers know this, too. 

The only thing we writers can do to maximize our chance of success is simply sitting down and doing the work. But for writing genius to strike, well, that kind of just happens outside our control. 

This spring I planted two Japanese cucumber vines. While I wait –and hope – for them to thrive, I’m also in the midst of the Book Revision Lab, turning over passages of my memoir draft, fine-tuning it into what it needs to be, wrapping the tendrils of the narrative around the stakes of my story, hoping and praying this book bears fruit.

But I remind myself, as I always do, that just like all a plant needs is the right environment, all that’s in my control is to sit at my desk and do the work. I try to put in my quantity and wait for the Great Creator to put in the quality. My wish is that one day soon, maybe around the time the cucumber harvest is ready, I will look over my memoir and with that feeling of delight that we writers are rewarded with every once in a while, wonder, how in the world did this miraculous thing get here?

Elisheva Trenk has been published in The Jewish Press and NY Jewish Week. She is currently working on a memoir about her strong and sparkling (and very well-dressed) mother.