Alicia Kennedy describes gleaning insights, but foraging feels better as a metaphor for me.
Foraging is also the metaphor the lead in Uprooted uses to describe her approach to magic: that no one gets to the good spot for berries the exact same way every time, that you need to pay attention to the landscape and think about what feels like the right way to go.
Kennedy separately describes her approach to writing on a topic:
By mess, I don’t mean something like a spill on the floor to be mopped up, nor do I mean an entangled mass of cords to untie. I mean starting from a place of curiosity, of unknowing, on one subject and following all the places it leads.
This feels akin to foraging, where you don’t know exactly what you’ll find, but if you’re hoping for chanterelles you’ll start looking where you’ve found them before, or ask a friend for a tip, but if you come home with fresh nettles you’re happy as well. (I wouldn’t be pleased about eating nettles myself, but when I went foraging with a friend he was 😉)
By the time I sit down to write a short essay, specifically, I will ideally not look at my notes except briefly and I will go back to texts for specific quotes—the need for the quotes will basically burst into the text as I go.
On encountering the same concept again and again:
…it seems like my research is telling me something, like I’m onto something, like these threads I’m grasping about the everyday in the endless work of a writing life (of an artist’s life) are leading to something…
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Tracy Durnell mentioned this note on tracydurnell.com.