By Leonard Bishop
I see the splendor of wheat fields sprawled throughout Kansas and I am stunned with wonder. I drive along the flat roads between cities and the green crops flow like an ocean beginning to fill the world.
Toward the horizon I see the tops of corn touch the crystal sky and they seem to be hanging down from heaven. I think: I cannot farm. I have a black thumb and could not raise comely weeds. How can I identify with all this splendor? How can I believe that I am in kinship with the family farmer so I can believe my writing is also vital to others?
Our similarity is in our similar aloneness: in our dream.
We work in hope and survive through the illusion that this hope will become real. The family farmer uses the mystery of a seed: the writer uses the seed of an idea. The farmer plants in an empty earth: the writer plants on the blank page. Farmers struggle with the time of growth and the seasons. Writers struggle with time and topicality.
We know what we want to produce and are always uncertain of what will arise.
Farmers seem to be realists but they depend upon the unpredictability of the climate. Writers appear to be laboring in the abstract of imagination to create a saleable reality. I doubt if farmers can adequately explain why their lives are farming. I have never known any writers who can rationally reveal why they became and remain writers. Both can only declare, “It is what I do!”
If we work only for the money our efforts will bring, we are misguided fools. Few farmers or writers ever “make it big.”
Family farmers aren’t the ones with a $100,000 air conditioned stereo and television equipped combine. Often they are using the same outdated equipment used by their ancestors. They do not always own the land they plow, and they are always in debt. Serious writers do not use costly word processors, have no splendiforously decorated studios, no masseurs to ease their aching shoulders. Their most expensive item is an old electric typewriter. Often, they spend two non-paying years to finish a novel and do not know if it will bring in any income.
Farmers can adapt all the modern techniques for increasing and improving their crops –writers can practice all the advancements of their craft –but all must agonize in their souls while waiting to realize what they have produced.
The farmer is controlled by the seasons. The writer is manipulated by a literary agent or publisher. The farmer brings in the crop and it is taken away –for a price –and part of it is used and some part is stored, misused or destroyed.
The writer completes a novel and it is taken away –for a price –and the depths that were torn from the heart are mangled by an indifferent editor or hack publisher. We are steadfast in commitment, strong in purpose, prayerful in expectation, and always helpless when the world takes over what we do.
Societies of people enter stores and markets to purchase our production. Food for the body, food for the mind. The consumer does not consider that men and women –farmers and writers –bring these creations into fruition. They buy bread, not wheat. They buy books, not a writer’s heart. They use the food and soon are ready for more. They do not paste the bread wrapping into an album or recall last week’s radish. They read a novel and soon are interested in another. Last week’s novel is no longer an important experience in their lives.
Whose work is more inspiring, more beneficial to humanity? Nobility or worth is not the question. To the writer all other ways of life are suppressive and grim. To the farmer there is no other life comparable to this one.
I see a great field of corn and I praise God for these resources and then feel astonishment about the farmer.
I think: this is no different from the birth of a people, or a longed-for-child. A seed is planted and the womb of earth nurtures its growth through the season. It is cultivated, cleansed, hovered over with loving expectation. It is guarded against the ravages of disease, the murder of neglect. Until it is full grown and ready to be taken from its source –the belly of the land. All of life comes from the earth. It is an astonishing recognition.
I would not be a farmer. I know farmers who would retch at the thought of becoming writers. How can we be so obviously different while being so symbolically similar? It is not logical. Perhaps it is enough to know that civilization needs us.
(first published August 26, 1984 The Manhattan Mercury)
© Leonard Bishop