Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

Writing in the Weeds



There’s a phrase in the food and beverage industry called "in the weeds."

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know exactly what that means.

You’re swamped, falling behind, and overwhelmed. Customers are irritated because their orders aren’t taken or their brandy old-fashioneds are late. Screenwriters have also adopted the phrase, and “writing in the weeds” means that you’re in deep. Worrying over words. Forcing yourself to look at grammar. Pushing yourself to write even when nothing makes sense. If you’re a golfer in the weeds, you’re screwed.

The expression struck a chord with me, as many of us seem to be in the weeds these days. Whether overwhelmed by demands or muddling through painful circumstances, we’re head down, working hard at life. We’re all just doing the best we can, looking for a clean way out.

Especially if you’re a parent. People who tell you that it gets easier once your kids get older are lying. They dodge the fact that it’s harder on your heart. My friend is going through a terrifying journey with cancer, and her parents’ pain is as visible as hers. Just as intense, but a different color. Now that some of us have gently let our children roam the earth as autonomous human beings, there are scary things we never thought to be afraid of: injury, fear, hatred, pain. We’re getting phone calls in the night that we could have never prepared for, and wish for the days when a Barney movie and a popsicle could take it all away.

In the weeds is scary, and requires more than just bravery and bug spray. Sometimes it takes somebody holding your hand and walking through the bramble with you. It helps to have somebody acknowledge your pain - or your children’s pain – and do what the Quakers call holding you in the light. When you’re in deep, there’s nothing like having somebody brush back your hair, tell you they are next to you, and maybe spread the weeds apart a bit to get some perspective.

We’re fighters, so we do the best we can in the weeds, mucking through until we get to a small patch of sky. A friend there at just the right time, maybe. Or a little grace that keeps us grounded and reminds us of the laughter, clear water, and hot cocoa that preceded this bit of bad news. Then it’s our turn to hold somebody in the light.

As a writer, I’m always trying to glean the meaning of things. Some of my favorite people can make sense of things with just a phrase, but that’s a rare gift. The rest of us have to do the best we can not knowing when the growth will come. Here, in the weeds, it’s enough that we keep trying. For as dark and itchy as these patches of weeds are, I know for a fact that something beautiful remains just on the other side. Through the long dark columns of pain come gifts like radiant nurses, long-lost friends, or fertile landscape for growth at the top. Just a hand to hold is a reminder that any day that we can breathe, love, and keep trying is a good one.

Even in the weeds.