The Year of Kudzu

Well, it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted a blog. 

A lot’s happened since February 2017. Can I get an amen? That seems like such a long, innocent time ago. I just reread that post and I’m amazed at how much has changed in my external circumstances, but not in what I’m thinking about. 

The primary idea in that post was that artists serve the community in ways that are unique to being artists, in addition to producing and presenting their creative work. In a 15-month period in which more than 60% of full-time artists (in any discipline) were fully unemployed, a whole lot of people didn’t have any choice in how/whether they served. I imagine for most of them, serving took a back seat to surviving. I pray that they were served by someone.  

My musician husband, Chuck, lost all of his gigs and about half of his teaching from the move to Zoom. I was fortunate that my job with Creative Waco continued on Zoom with few other changes, and I actually picked up a semester of teaching at Baylor that I wouldn’t have been offered in healthier times. And, without a pandemic and the accompanying loss of income in our home, I probably wouldn’t have taken a gig teaching a theatre class at a local Catholic high school, which turned out to be surprisingly rewarding.

One of the reasons I stopped blogging was that my work with Creative Waco, doing professional development training for artists, received a two-year grant and I was able to expand what I was doing. So plans to write and speak at colleges got put on hold.

That grant is coming to an end, and we’re not trying to renew it with a role for me because…wait for it…

Chuck and I are planning to move back east within the next year.

The pandemic has made me long to be closer to our families. We can’t easily or affordably get to where they are – mainly in Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland. It was already bothering me before last March, but COVID turned up the heat on it. We’re also concerned about both of us being able get enough work in Waco in the aftermath to make it sustainable here. The artists in my professional development classes hear me preach sustainability all the time, and larger markets tend to have more opportunity. It’s disappointing, and I’m pummeling God with “what was this all about?” questions, but I know God was at work in and through us here for the past five years. We’ll be in Waco for another 6-12 months as we figure out our next destination, and we’ll be seeking to end well here.

But one thing hasn’t changed – I am still very much processing my thinking about life, faith, the arts and artists through the metaphors of gardening and nature, as I was in the February 2017 post. 

We’ve moved from Good Neighbor House, but I still garden there a bit as a volunteer. The house we’re renting now doesn’t have a good spot for vegetables, but I’ve planted a bunch of flowers in front of the house as well as a crape myrtle and an oak tree (both still tiny) in the front yard.

The backyard, though, is a jungle.

The back doesn’t get much sun because of a huge pecan tree next door but it’s apparently enough to feed every invasive plant and vine in the universe around the fence. I’d hoped February’s SNOVID deep-freeze in Texas would have killed it all off, but it just seems to have made it tougher. 

What I’m drawn to most about stories and art is how they work metaphorically. So it’s easy for me to see deeper meanings in the fact that I give more care to the “front-facing” part of my home/yard than I do to the backyard, the internal yard, the part that only I see and experience. I can make the excuse that my time is limited and I need to spend it where it makes the most impact. Plus it’s just easier in the front yard because the conditions are better. I wish I could have a beautiful backyard oasis that was only mine to enjoy, but it would take so much work. So it gets neglected. 

Aaaaand what a metaphor that is for my mind. 


You, like me and many other folks worldwide, may have been dealing with a more-than-normal amount of mental dis-ease in the past 15 months. As with my backyard, the more I neglect the “weeds” growing up in my mind, the more overwhelming it feels. It takes so much to keep the weeds (fear, resentment, shame, entitlement, unbelief, so many…) at bay. If they’re pulled or clipped or sprayed with napalm, I mean Round-up, enough times, they will eventually die. Right? Even a weed will eventually die if it doesn’t get what it needs to survive. Right? Or are they actually invincible and can only be controlled, not eliminated? 

I’m certainly not encouraging the weeds to grow in any way so if they’re surviving, nay, thriving, the conditions must be perfect for them naturally. That means they love crappy soil, no sunlight, little water, and insufferable heat five months out of the year.

And if the plants I do want aren’t naturally suited for those conditions, I will have to work to keep them alive, and work harder for them to thrive


Which makes me think of kudzu. If you’ve never heard of kudzu, you’ve never lived in the Southeast. It came from Japan, which makes me think of it as a vegetative Godzilla. Wikipedia says, “Kudzu is an invasive plant species in the United States, introduced from Asia with devastating environmental consequences, earning it the nickname ‘the vine that ate the South’.”

I love that the first photo Wikipedia shows is entitled “Kudzu smothering trees in Atlanta, Georgia,” my hometown. 

Kudzu overgrowing tall trees.
Photo by Scott Ehardt – Public Domain

“The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States from Japan in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches, and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion.”

Shade, cow food, soil conservation, all good things, right? Just the right amount of kudzu would have been great.


One of the things I talk about with artists (in my endless comparisons of life with gardening) is creating the conditions (equivalent to soil, sunlight, water) that they need to thrive. 

Apparently in all of the places where kudzu was useful, it wasn’t actually in the conditions it needed to thrive. It was struggling to survive, so it was controllable. Something about the environment in the Southeast triggered the Godzilla in this plant. 

So, reeling this whole metaphor back to mental and emotional backyards: For many of us, the pandemic changed our conditions to the point that the kudzu, which had been manageable in Japan but not in Georgia, started to thrive. I started hearing a lot about anxiety; I saw a lot of judgment and attempts to control other people; I watched angry finger-pointing (and much worse – #stopasianhate) as we tried to figure out whose fault this was and who was going to pay for it (literally and figuratively). It would have taken a lot of pulling, clipping, and spraying to kill those weeds when so much in our circumstances was feeding them. 

The same conditions, though, made many of us feel emotionally open enough to pay attention, and finally face the amount and kind of racism our Black and Brown siblings had experienced in our culture – from us. So, amid those weeds, a new flower also grew, which had never had the right conditions to thrive in before.

As the conditions move back toward “normal,” we’ll need to tend and cultivate that beautiful flower, the way we do the other plants we want to see thrive. 

Because, after all, the only difference between a weed and a plant is whether we want it there.


I plan to start blogging twice (?) a week and I promise they won’t all be this long. 😐 Upcoming posts will talk about:

  • the books I’m starting to write (!!?!),
  • the new ministry to visual and performing arts students I’m developing,
  • our thoughts and plans about moving,
  • what I’ve been teaching about,
  • what has filled my heart in the last couple of years (hint: there are five, or ten, depending on who you count…)
  • and more.

If you want to be notified about those posts and get other mostly-arts-related content from me, you can sign up for my e-newsletter.

I’d love to hear from you, either in a comment below, through the Contact page, or by email at arborfellowship@gmail.com. I’ll explain that address in the next post. 🙂

See you,

Luann

2 thoughts on “The Year of Kudzu”

  1. I just told Eldad that you are moving back here! Wow! He will give Chuck a call soon. I am being selfish here, but it would be great to have you closer… Best of luck with your plans!

    Like

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