On Growing Words, Invasive Vines, and Forced Metaphors

Janna Miller, the author of the nonfiction piece Better Homes and Gardens featured in Volume 72.2 of Shenandoah, writes about the relationship between writing, wild words, and invasive vines in this piece. Read Better Homes and Gardens here.



Some words are true and grow wildly and without restraint. The wisteria vine will climb over the door and trap us inside if left unchecked. The deck breathes with slime mold and hibernating pods of writing spiders the size of figs. A tendril of vinca once worked its way into our bedroom,
snaking across the baseboards towards the TV cabinet.


Some words come in only at an angle, cultivated. I think growing a carrot is only possible if you have already successfully grown a carrot. Otherwise, you will plant seeds and year after year pull up nothing but strings of earth. See also: watermelons.


If we, as writers, as readers, and general observers of the world sit still long enough, we will be grown over. Like houses where all that is left is a lone chimney, spouting morning mist into the woods. We will be bound to the wilderness – incorporated into the landscape in misshapen bubbles of green foliage. At my house, kudzu or tickweed could do it, but would most probably be the boundless mint. Though dog fennel is sneaky too (yes, it is mildly poisonous and looks so similar to regular fennel, no I did not know that when we made our tea).


Anything can tie us to the earth as if we never existed. A story no one reads, as it is never tamed into one. Shiny packaged prompts sometimes don’t grow for me, no matter how closely I follow the instructions and sit patiently in the garden chair, fingers poised over the keyboard.


While young, I made bad decisions about pawn shops, car title loans, and a cycle of payday advances. Also, I planted a wisteria vine. Except, why would I voluntarily plant an invasive species?


I thought it could be cultivated, and that the next season, and the next twenty, were too far out of reach and not worth planning for. Wild words are ridiculously difficult to plant. They self-seed.


When you have a lot of something, what do you do with it?


Things to do with a wisteria vine: cut it back. Train it over your arbor. Cut it back. Dig it up. Turn it into a basket. Cut it back. Weave a wreath that looks a little like a grapevine from the craft store. Pretend it is a bonsai tree out of control. Pretend you have slept for a hundred years and the kingdom you wake to is a better one, with a paid gardener.


Other words? Wild words?

Bring the pruning shears and follow where they want to grow.

Librarian, mother, and minor trickster, Janna Miller is published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Whale Road Review, Necessary Fiction, Best Microfiction 2023, and others. Her story collection, All Lovers Burn at the End of the World, is forthcoming from SLJ Editions in 2024. Generally, if the toaster blows up, it is not her fault.