It was as if the ceiling cracked suddenly, and the light danced all around us, defying all fear or obligation.
Tag: healing work
the first year
The first year that I cut down all the dead kudzu, putting a tarp down to stop the new growth.
The first year that all of our plants are on shelves.
The first year that we only have one plaid couch.
The first year that we have a real living room that I can read in.
The first year that I reread Peter and the Starcatchers and realized that even that book has dangerous patriarchal and misogynist imagery in it.
The first year that I feel capable of living.
why do we mourn so
Let’s set the scene: it’s Saturday, noon is long gone, the rain makes steady music as it plop plop plops on our living room windows, and we are scraping eggs off our mismatching breakfast plates. My body feels calm, grateful, open.
I open the hardware-store paper bag labeled “Seeds We Already Planted” and dump the contents on the dining room table. It’s time to thin some seedlings. Maybe. I’m not sure, because I really don’t know what I’m doing.
I mean, I kind of do – I have a few years of experience under my belt, but honestly, I’ve never bothered to thin the seedlings after planting the seeds. I always just plant the seeds in little pots, and hope for the best. The green bean seedings get all gangly and start twisting all over each other, the snap peas usually shrivel up after producing one or two peas, and the tomatoes fight it out to see which seedling will make it to the big pot.
BUT THIS YEAR WOULD BE DIFFERENT. This year our veggies would be SO ABUNDANT that we wouldn’t even be able to EAT all the food we grew in our garden. The quality and yield would be the best they’ve ever been! We would be vegetable heroes! We, and every single one of our friends, would never have to buy vegetables again! Etc etc goes my brain (notice how my perfectionism leaks into everything, even this gardening hobby, which is supposed to be nourishing and slow).
So, mug of mint tea in hand, I hunker down at the dining room table to thin what’s ready to be thinned.
First, I grab a small plastic pot, labeled “Zuch.” The zucchini seed packet says to thin the seedlings when they get to be about 3”. Perfect! These were around that size. Elated, I carefully wiggled and shook the flimsy pot back and forth until the seedlings came out in a lumpy, wet mess of dirt and green.
At this point, I was feeling like a really good person. You know when your brain just starts telling you how great you are, when you’re doing really simple things like folding the laundry or sweeping the floor? My ego was whispering all this bullshit into my ear, like, “wow look at you, thinning seedlings, you’re such an upright citizen gardener,” and, “it’s so impressive how consistently you are caring for your plants, you should really get an award for your organizational skills,” and “you are truly earning your place in society right now – usually, you’re really quite a failure, but right now you’re coming in for the win.”
But then came the doom.
As I was expertly shimmying the zucchini seedlings out of their pot, I happened to rotate the pot juuuuust a little bit, and there, written in the same silver Sharpie, in my own handwriting, was the word “cauliflow.”
CAULIFLOW?! THIS WASN’T A ZUCCHINI AT ALL. This was a cauliflower seedling DISGUISED as a zucchini. I HAD BEEN READING LAST YEAR’S LABEL. WHY DID I NOT CROSS OUT LAST YEAR’S LABEL. WHAT AN IDIOT.
Panicking, with the sharp acidity of anxiety welling up in my chest, I scrambled to find the cauliflower seed packet, while the cauliflower seedlings and wet dirt languished in a sad pile on the table.
The cauliflower seed packet gave the following directions: “Thin seedlings when they are 4-6 inches in height, with the final spacing of the plants 2 feet apart.”
4-6 inches. I HAD PULLED THESE POOR LITTLE ONES OUT OF THEIR COMFY NEST AT A MERE 3 INCHES. This would absolutely not do. Thinning the cauliflower prematurely by 1 inch would most definitely be the death of them (yes, writing this now, I see the absurdity of that conclusion). I aborted mission. I quickly stuffed a bunch of dirt back into the plastic pot, and nestled the cauliflower seedlings back in there, all four of them. There. They seemed perky still. No harm done.
The anxiety stayed, though. I was now in a fog. I had that feeling you get when you’re in a room with two people who are in a huge fight, and you’re really trying to ignore the situation because you feel like you’re not supposed to be witnessing this ugly conflict, but you’re forced to just remain in the room, because it would be even weirder if you left at this point. That feeling, plus a feeling of being lightly choked, slowly but surely, by someone who really didn’t want me to exist.
I thinned a few other plants – some tomatoes, a few snap peas. Each seedling got its own little pot. Then, it happened.
In my now-disregulated (and thus significantly more clumsy) state, I brought all the seedlings over to the sink to water them. I placed the smaller pots along the edge of the sink, and let the large pot of snap peas sit in the sink to drain. Once the snap pea pot was ready, I hauled it up – too quickly. My elbow collided squarely with the pot of freshly-tucked-in cauliflower seedlings, and they fell, in slow motion, down into the sink. Face down.
The tiny green stems were crushed. They fell from such a high height and couldn’t withstand the weight of the pot and dirt. They had already been ripped out, left out, and replanted in the last half hour. It was too much. They lay there, splayed on the sink bottom, surrounded by globs of soggy potting soil. I tried to reconstruct the pot, but it was no use. The cauliflower seedlings were bent and disfigured beyond repair. They were not going to make it.
At this point, deep grief seeped into my bones. I picked up the four seedlings, so small, so new, so delicate, and slowly carried them to the compost in the palm of my hand. Placing them in the compost was way harder than my rational brain thought it should be. It felt wrong, like these cauliflower seedlings needed a song, a ritual, a funeral march, and not just an unceremonious trip to the compost bin. They were living just a second ago. They were thriving. They were making it in the world. They were so beautiful. And now I was just leaving them to decompose. And worse, it had been my fault. I had killed them.
I’m not sure why I spent so long describing my thinning shenanigans, and not nearly as long describing the grief. The grief was why I chose to come here and write this blog post. But maybe the grief will be a future post. Here are my brief thoughts on it before I sign off for the night:
- Why do we (and by we, I mean American humans) assign so much weight to death as an ending? Why is death not simply a rebirth or a transfer of energy?
- Why do I feel more tangible grief for these cauliflower seedlings than I do when I see news footage of people dying, or of climate change?
- What is it about young things dying that causes so much suffering in us?
- How did these seedlings dying remind me of my abortion 4 years ago?
- Why does it scare us when we realize we are a part of nature, and therefore have very little control over what lives and what dies?
an evening visit
I wouldn’t have thought to sit outside, with the air as cool as it was. This must be why we keep friends, I thought, so we’re not just doing what we always do, in the way we always do it. I wouldn’t have considered the blankets, and the warmth of the dogs, and the feeling of fresh air filling my lungs. It was my friend’s porch. Across town was my house, where we’ve experienced two drive-by shootings on our street, multiple stolen car chases, and a flat-out murder in our front yard, in which the wounded man stumbled down our driveway, finally collapsing and dying in our backyard by the lilac bush, where my partner found his body minutes later. Often, as I stand on our front porch drinking coffee, men will stop to inquire if I have a boyfriend, and if I work out, as if that is their business, as if I am inviting them to ask, just by existing on my own front porch in the morning. Across town, being outside has felt less relief, more risk. Outside, we’re at the whims of the natural order of things, but with guns. But here, in my friend’s neighborhood, where there hasn’t been a wayward gun shot for years, we took our blankets out to the back porch as the sun set in the evening. The light was a cool blue, sky still bright against the swallows and bats that flew eastward, mysteriously only flying in this one direction. We posited that maybe it was actually only one bat, flying in circles, just to confuse us. But this was simply a silly story made up to amuse ourselves as we sat there. We talked about the crops we were planting (zucchini, fruit trees, tomatoes) and what time of year was best to plant seeds. We talked about the work we were doing on our houses. We talked about how healing from trauma is non-linear, but how processing it seems to alleviate symptoms. We sat in silence a lot of the time. We talked to the dogs. We breathed in the air. Our nervous systems relaxed after each of our separate, scattered and stressful days. We watched the light die and noted how the longer days had somehow brought life back into our bodies. We talked about cycles. I wouldn’t have thought to sit outside, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
On Desire (revisited)
In honor of the last day of my daily writing challenge, I am reconnecting with the same topic I wrote about on the first day: desire. Here’s the original post. That day, I asked an important question. Can desire be trusted?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about desire this month:
1) Desire is not the same as disintegration. I can fully desire something while keeping my values, self, and identity intact. In fact, I can use desire to live life with more integrity.
2) I trust myself.
3) I can’t control most things, and desire is just one of many things I can’t control. That’s okay.
4) Desire is not an action. Desire is a guidepost. To desire something is not an automatic decision to pursue that thing. The decision stands in the way of action. Desire can be heeded, and it can be brushed aside.
5) BEING OUT OF CONTROL IS NOT DANGEROUS. BEING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT A SUPPORT SYSTEM IS DANGEROUS.
6) Yes. A line can be drawn between joyful attraction and dangerous obsession. And there are so many different kinds of love, that this binary doesn’t really exist anyway.
I wrote last month that “I might be running away from my own stubborn refusal to allow my desire to take up space.” That was true. I don’t want to tell some false transformation story here. I’m not much better, a month later, at letting my desire run free and do its thing. I’m still scared of it. I’m still scared to laugh a full belly laugh because someone might take advantage of my joy. I still feel cautious about showing too much interest in strangers, out of fear they will rope me into some complex plot to drain me of all my money and energy. But something has shifted. I wouldn’t have been able to write that list a month ago, and I owe that to my daily writing. Sometimes it was hard as fuck to force myself to write, but I combed through my values, behaviors, and experiences in a really unique way. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in any other format. For that, I’m grateful.
Thanks for following along this month. If you want to get to know me on other platforms, please consider following me on Instagram, joining me on Patreon, or subscribing to my YouTube channel. I’m gonna switch back to poetry now. At least for a bit.
On Banana Bread
My grandma can only eat unripe bananas because of this special diet she’s on. So, when the bananas got too ripe for her to eat, I made banana bread. Yesterday was tough for me because, the night before, I had a PTSD-related panic attack. The next afternoon, I was still dealing with the residual effects of my nervous system getting completely overwhelmed. Baking is often the only thing that keeps my body regulated on days like these.
I used Ruth Reichl’s recipe for Devil’s Food Cake, and totally revamped it to create an incredible baked treat with no added sugar. The sweetness comes just from the milk, butter and bananas. The whole thing is almost gone – my grandma and I have devoured it over the past 24 hours. I will admit that this banana bread was pretty much what we ate for dinner last night.
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup milk
2 tbsp almond flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
2-3 overripe bananas
½ cup butter (1 stick) – softened or at room temp
1 ¾ cup flour
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Optional: replace half of the butter with ½ cup apple sauce
Preheat oen to 350 F.
Heat milk in a small pan until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from heat.
Put almond flour and all three spices into a small bowl. Feel free to go overboard on the spices. I always do. Slowly beat in warm milk (I just used a fork). Let cool.
Partly mash the bananas with a fork. Then cream the butter into the banana mash mixture using the same fork. Beat in the eggs, almond extract, vanilla, and apple sauce if you’re using it (again, all you need is a fork). Add milk mixture.
Mix remaining dry ingredients together and gently blend into butter mixture. Do not overbeat.
Turn into a well-greased 8×8 square pan, and bake 20-30 minutes, depending on how gooey you want it. 25 minutes creates a perfect, moist bake, but you could underbake even more for more gooeyness.
Eat it with your grandma!
Also, yes, I understand the irony of my grandma not eating overripe bananas but then eating them in a banana bread. Who cares. YOLO.
We all watched Shrek and fell in love with the characters, humor, and revolutionary animation style. I saw it for the first time in the theater with my grandfather. I was entranced. It was the first time I’d seen such realistic animation, and I was completely enamored with the fart jokes, hilarious donkey, and tale of fairytale romance. Shrek even introduced me to one of my favorite songs: Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen.
I’ve rewatched Shrek many times since then. At first, it was just a nostalgic activity. But recently, it’s turned into an anthropological study for me. What cultural values was the movie pushing? What had I unknowingly absorbed as a kid watching Shrek?
The answer? Shrek was one of the many movies I watched as a kid that normalized, and made light of, abuse.
On the surface, the movie does seem to subvert the misogyny that exists in most classic Western fairytales. Fiona is a strong, badass woman who can take care of herself. She fights for herself, saves Shrek and Donkey from thieves on the road, and finds her own dwellings at night. That’s how I saw it at first too. But, the deeper messaging of Shrek does NOT support that surface-level story. Here are a few examples, taken from throughout the film, that proves the movie doesn’t actually subvert the original misogyny/patriarchal system at all, but supports it throughout.
1) In this scene, Fiona says “who could love a hideous, ugly beast” when speaking with Donkey towards the end of the movie. She truly believes that she is unloveable as an ogre (which is to say, she believes that she is unloveable as she is). It is not until the very end, when Shrek (a male character) tells her that she is beautiful, and that he wants her in whatever form she takes, that she seems to accept herself as she is, in her ogre form.
Fiona does not even have the confidence to assert herself in the conversation with Shrek following her secret discussion with Donkey about her being an ogre. Because of her true belief that she is unloveable and ugly, she assumes he’s talking about her when he repeats her words back to her: “who could love a hideous, ugly beast.” She doesn’t dig deeper into the issue. Shrek confirmed her greatest fear – that she won’t get what she wants (love) because she is not enough. She doesn’t deserve love. She doesn’t deserve desire. She doesn’t deserve a self.
Fiona was NOT, prior to the scene where Shrek interrupts the wedding and confesses his love, confident in herself. She hid this terrible secret, that she was UGLY, from all the other characters, every single night. The fact that she was ugly was shameful to her. The movie depicts a woman who does not have a strong sense of self, and cannot validate her own existence. She only validates herself when a man tells her that she is valid.
2) Fiona DOES have to be saved at the end of the film. When she perceives that Shrek has rejected her, she leaves to go marry Lord Farquad. Because that is what a man told her she has to do. The movie gives her two choices: be with one man who despises you (as she thinks Shrek does) or be with another man who you despise (Lord Farquad). There’s no third option, and it’s very important to realize that the movie does not depict her creating a third option for herself.
At the end, Shrek has to save her from being with Lord Farquad by interrupting the wedding. She made no decisions, except to accept Shrek’s offer. This is key: before Shrek assured her that he thought she was beautiful, she was unwilling to put herself out there to be with the one she loved. She was so insecure that she was resigned to be with a mean, ugly man, rather than get what she wanted: to be with Shrek. She needed a man’s validation to feel she deserved what she desired. In this way, Shrek did actually save her at the end. Fiona did not have agency in their romantic relationship. Shrek did.
3) Who were the other female characters in the movie? There are only three. Princess Fiona, the Dragon, and the Old Woman who sells the talking Donkey. Snow White and Cinderella are not characters in movie 1, since they’re just depicted on a screen for a couple seconds. Princess Fiona is not shown in a community of other women who are equally strong and able to take care of themselves. If she was, I would accept the claim that the movie depicts a badass woman, and therefore subverts the fairytale image of femaleness. However, Princess Fiona is an outlier. She’s shocking. Based on the movie’s depiction of female characters, she could be the only woman of her kind in the history of the universe, and the only woman of her kind in the foreseeable future.
None of the other female characters do anything besides display the regular tropes of weak, untrustworthy, and helpless femaleness. The Old Woman who sells Donkey is not taken seriously by the guards. They don’t believe her that Donkey talks. She is manhandled by the guards and never gets rewarded for the Donkey because he (the male character) saves himself. We never see this woman getting what she wants – money to support herself. She has no agency. Instead, we follow the male character, the Donkey, on his subsequent adventure.
The Dragon is a promising female character, because she can breath fire and goes right for what she wants: a romantic relationship with Donkey. However, she has no agency in her own world, either. She is extremely unhappy, forced to remain chained in the castle all on her own. She is incredibly lonely, and after Shrek, Donkey and Fiona escape her clutches, we don’t see an angry, aggressive female character. Instead, we see a sad one that longs for a life outside of her chains. She is a slave until Donkey comes to rescue her.
In contrast to the lack of female characters, there are MANY male characters, with a variety of personalities and storylines. “Maleness” is very fleshed out in this movie. There’s Shrek, Donkey, Lord Farquad, The Three Blind Mice… the list goes on and on and on.
There are literally no other female characters in the movie. So maybe on the surface, Fiona seems all badass and capable because she can fight and take care of herself, but that’s not the messaging we’re really receiving. The messaging we’re receiving is that she is an unusual case – not the norm. The movie doesn’t normalize her supposedly strong female nature.
4) Take a look at this scene from the movie, in which the Magic Mirror presents three eligible bachelorettes for Lord Farquad to marry. The Mirror makes a blatant joke about abuse, describing Cinderella as a “mentally-abused shut-in from a kingdom far, far away,” as if being mentally abused is not something to be concerned about. Then, we hear that Snow White lives with seven other men, but “she’s not easy.” The Mirror’s casual judgement of Snow White’s sexuality normalizes diminishing a women’s worth to her sexual tendencies and sexuality.
Diminishing women to sexual beings makes it much easier to abuse us.
But that’s not all. The Mirror continues, inviting Lord Farquad to “kiss her dead, frozen lips and find out what a live wire she is! Come on!” Then you hear a drum set go “ba dum smash,” which officially turns this image of treating a dead woman like a sex toy into a joke. This image should be disturbing, but the movie turns it into something funny. Once again, Shrek normalizes powerless women without agency: easy targets for abuse.
Disguised in jokes, it’s easy to miss how dangerous this normalization is. Boys and girls watching this absorb the following messages:
1) abused women are funny
2) women are just sexual playthings
3) a woman who cannot consent is fair game for sexual activities
5) In another scene, Donkey and Shrek finally arrive at the castle Fiona is trapped in. Donkey asks, “So where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” Shrek responds, saying, “Inside, waiting for us to rescue her.” I know it’s been discussed a lot, but I have to talk about the problematic message this sends. Shrek’s response assumes that there is a helpless woman inside the castle waiting for a man to rescue her. It takes away agency from women in our culture, showing us that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. This is dangerous because it gives men permission to control our lives – if women don’t have any agency, we don’t have any right to say no or argue with a man’s opinion/action in our lives. It might be “rescuing” one day, but it could be something much less desirable the next. And what if we don’t need to be saved?
Yes, “rescuing the princess” is a classic fairytale trope. I don’t care. it needs to change. Luckily, movies like Tangled and Brave have JUST STARTED to unravel this dangerous message.
Then, as if that’s not enough negative messaging, Donkey delivers the punchline. After he asks “where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” and Shrek responds “waiting for us to rescue her,” Donkey retorts, “I was talking about the dragon, Shrek.” This joke, laughing at a woman’s needs and display of anger, is so overused and so damaging. It’s the Eve story. Eve gives in to temptation and eats the fruit she’s not supposed to eat. This woman’s desire is the downfall of man. Women are evil. Women are a “pain in the ass,” in the words of Shrek. It’s not difficult to make the leap to “we should hate women” and “we don’t need to take any woman’s needs seriously.” Again, Shrek writers manage to turn “stripping women of their power” into a joke, as if it’s suddenly okay because they’re joking about it.
Shrek paints a truly disturbing image of what a woman is in our society. She is powerless, hated, needs others to validate her experience, and doesn’t need to consent to be touched by you. She is, in other words, extremely susceptible to abuse. This is a MOVIE FOR KIDS. And it’s contributing to abuse culture by NORMALIZING WOMEN WITH NO AGENCY.
I am not, by any means, discounting Shrek as a movie. I don’t believe in cancel culture – I think things are always so much more nuanced than that. The movie really does bring me so much joy, even watching it this new perspective, even after the abuse I’ve experienced at the hands of multiple men.
But. I think it’s important to recognize this dangerous, deeper messaging. Why is it important? Because I know for a fact that it’s watching innocuous movies like this, that hide true misogyny behind a surface-level strong female character story arch, that led to me thinking it was OKAY TO BE ABUSED. Abuse culture is serious and needs to be examined from every angle. Even a movie we all know and love so much. I’ve been rewatching a lot of the movies I watched when I was a kid, and noticing similar messaging popping up in almost every movie. Abuse culture was very prevalent in the media I consumed as a kid, and there was nothing my parents or school could do to reverse that. It was just…there. I just absorbed it.
And I haven’t even started discussing the way “Blackness,” as well as the complete lack of female Blackness, is portrayed in this movie. That’s a whole other conversation and blog post.
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For the second time today, I’ve left the pot of water boiling on the stove. It sat there, bubbling away, until the last drop of water sizzled out, the kitchen filled up with a concerning hot-chemical smell, and the inside of the pot turned a sickly white color. I discovered this scene when I casually ambled back into the kitchen, totally unaware that anything was amiss…until I sniffed the air and caught sight of the pot.
Aaaand cue the shame and amusement. Ashamed because I know it’s dangerous to leave the stove on, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve forgotten to turn it off this week. Amused because it’s pretty hilarious to forget something so simple. Turns out everything is gonna be okay, because my 82 year-old grandma is teaching me how to not forget.
Apparently electric stoves can cause electrical fires, which you can’t put out with water. I did not know this before sitting down to write this, so yeah, I’m glad I know now. I guess you’re supposed to use baking soda. Who would’ve known. Side note: I am absolutely floored by the number of uses baking soda has. Almost every time I ask Google how to do some daily activity, the answer is “use baking soda.” Get a grease stain out of a shirt? Throw baking soda on it. Cat pee in the carpet smelling up your hallway? Shake some baking soda on that shit. Rusty pan? Baking soda. Gunky sink? Baking soda. Clogged garbage disposal? Make a volcano by dumping baking soda and vinegar in there! (This is not even a joke – I actually looked this up once, tried it, and it worked). Pro tip.
So I keep leaving pots on the stove until they boil out. The irony of this is that I’m living with my grandmother, who does not leave pots boiling on the stove, and who is dealing with the lasting effects of a stroke. She is fascinated with the ways her mind has changed in old age: she mixes up opposite concepts (lemons with limes, hot with cold, dark with light) and sometimes will do the thing opposite to what she wanted to do. She says that since our memory of binary concepts lives in the same part of our brain, it’s difficult for her to separate them. It’s like you’re reaching into a single dark cupboard, feeling around for two identical cups. They might be different colors, but they feel exactly the same. At least that’s how I imagine it might feel like.
She also talks about how it’s often difficult to recall words (I imagine this like trying to draw water out of a deep well full of lily pads and cattails with a small bucket, but she’s the only one who knows what it’s actually like) and how her short-term memory is less powerful than it used to be, and more selective.
So just to recap: who is the one leaving pots on the stove? It’s me. Me, the 25-year-old whose frontal lobe JUUUUST BARELY firmed up into its full-fledged adult form. I have a newly-minted brain. So what’s going on here? I have no idea, but I find it intriguing, so here are some musings on memory.
Memory is a fickle thing. It turns out that most of us remember in stories, not in concrete accounts of exactly what happened. Each time we recall something, dredging it up from our well of past experiences, we handle it, shape it, and share it. We mix up the memory while fitting it into our current belief systems and habits. When we put it back, it’s more of a story than before. It’s a reflection of our identity.
In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk invites us even deeper into the confusing world of memories and recollection. He describes a study in which veterans were interviewed directly after returning home from the Vietnam war, and then again years later, when they were in their 80s. In their old age, the healthy vets gave very different descriptions of the war than when they were young and fresh out of battle. Over the years, they had moulded their memories to fit nicely into their current identity. They had a core self, and their recollections had become fully transformed by it.
Conversely, the vets who developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder gave THE EXACT SAME descriptions of the war when they were 80 years old as when they were 20. They told the same story. Their memories (of the traumatic event) were frozen in time. Here’s the crucial difference between the vets with PTSD and the vets without: for vets with PTSD, memory was not transformed by identity. In fact, the memory itself, stuck forever in its original form, becomes a permanent part of their identity. Not the other way around.
People with PTSD don’t just have trouble integrating our memories with our current core self. We also have trouble with basic memory functions. Specifically, PTSD affects the first stage of memory function: initially acquiring and learning information. This is very crucial when we’re trying to remember something in the short-term. Like returning to the stove a few minutes after putting the water on to boil to pour our tea, for example.
All this memory gobbledegook may have something to do with why my grandma is the expert on memory in this household (besides the fact that she has a PhD in psychology from Columbia). She’s had many more years of practice not remembering things. She knows the secrets. The solution? Don’t use your memory at all. Just use your senses. Sensory memory comes before short-term memory on the path to storing information in our brains. Use a physical habit that takes the place of needing to remember. Stay in the room. Don’t let yourself leave while the pot is on the stove. Keep it within sight. And voila! No need to remember a thing.
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On Plant Babies
I’ve been writing about some heavy shit recently, so tonight I want to talk about something more joyful: house plants. I’m obsessed. I feel like a lot of people got super into house plants over the past two years. We were stuck inside in quarantine for so much of 2020: forced to face our own inner worlds for months at a time, as well as our dreary apartments that we hadn’t quite gotten around to fixing up. We needed relief.
We needed something to care about, other than the global pandemic and the presidential election. We needed something that was our own, something we didn’t have to do in tandem with our housemates, who were ALWAYS AROUND (why were they always popping up in the room we wanted to be alone in?). We needed some friggen house plants.
I harbor real love for my plants. They’re like little babies, except they don’t wake up screaming in the middle of the night, or suck up all of your hard-earned cash as soon as you put it in the bank. They’re the perfect progeny: demanding just enough attention that you feel accomplished, even benevolent, for nurturing them, but not so needy that you feel overwhelmed and desperate for a break. Plus, I’ve been learning so much. Now I know that you can propagate almost any plant, as long as you have time and a lot of patience.
When I graduated from the University of Rochester in 2019, a close friend gave me his Pothos babies that he had been rooting in plastic water-bottles. I planted them in hanging baskets that were WAY too big for their tiny little roots. Not knowing that at the time, I just patiently waited for them to grow, keeping them in a sunny spot on our porch in the summer, and by a window upstairs in the winter. Now, they’re huge, healthy vines that cascade down into my home studio.
Plants are amazing for sharing love, and passing down traditions. I’ve propagated more Pothos babies from those original plants than I can count, and gifted a precious Pothos baby to a close friend. I also gave a Pilea pup to my mom to bring back to her farmhouse in Vermont. For awhile, she sent me daily updates on how the plant was doing. It was so cute. My grandmother has a 30-year old jade tree, with a thick trunk, that I absolutely love. When I was there last, I collected a jade pup from this primordial mother, a small, dark-green baby that’s now growing happily on my windowsill in Rochester.
It feels really lovely to know that the plants you’re growing can actually make other people’s lives brighter, not just your own. Sharing plants is a huge reason I love growing them.
For more propagating madness, I picked up a couple of Arrowhead cuttings from my neighbors, which I rooted in water. Most of them didn’t make it, since I was pretty inexperienced and had no idea how much to water anything, but one plant survived. I’ve had that little one for over a year now. Once, she was down to a single leaf, and I valiantly nursed her back to health. Now, she’s healthy and happy with lots of leaves, sitting on my piano in front of a south-facing window.
I find it hilarious, and touching, that word is getting out that I’m obsessed with plants. One friend moved away from Rochester for a year-long graduate program in Spain and left her house plants with me to “babysit.” I happily welcomed her Cat Palm and Zebra succulent into my growing indoor jungle. It’s a bit more pressure taking care of someone else’s plants, but I like the challenge.
My mom, seeing how excited I was about all of my house plants, brought me a Prayer plant as a gift. She said it was my grandmother’s favorite plant. It made me feel more connected to my family. Now, whenever I water my Prayer plant or trim yellowing leaves, I feel like I’m with my mother and grandmother.
I’ll tell one last plant story, and then I have to go to sleep. My dad, who is a real estate agent in Vermont, was showing a house that had been abandoned for a few years. It belonged to an old couple, both deceased now, and the family was finally selling it. Sitting on a small stool by the front door, forgotten in its terra cotta pot, was an ancient aloe plant struggling to survive. This thing was huge. It mostly consisted of dry, yellow stalks. Just the tips of the plant were green, juicy aloe leaves. He saw it, and immediately knew what he had to do. He brought it to Rochester as a gift for me.
I was ecstatic. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to have this nearly-dead aloe plant. I immediately went to work digging out individual roots, cutting off excess dried leaves, replanting the big old plants in their own individual pots, potting the healthier pups, and composting the parts that were too far gone to save. I now have an entire guest room FULL of aloe plants. Some are large, some are tiny, some have long yellow stalks, and I love them all. A lot of them have started growing pups, and I can’t wait until I have pots overflowing with green, healthy aloe. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it, but I don’t really care.
Now that I’m in Florida, I genuinely miss all my plant babies. They bring me so much joy. When I’m feeling really anxious, angry, or lonely, watering and pruning my plants is one of the only things that can bring me out of my funk. Or at least make me feel less alone.
Here are the house plants I’m taking care of right now:
-Laurentii Snake plant
-Whale’s Fin Snake plant
-Vittatum Spider plant
-Pilea (Chinese money plant)
-Alice evans succulent
–Succulent Bush Senecio
Here are the house plants I’ve managed to kill so far:
-Mexican Snow Ball
-Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’
-Lavender (I’ve actually killed two different lavender plants….)
-probably more I’m forgetting