One Little Plant, Alive Again
I recently travelled from New York City where I used to live to California where I currently live. In New York a winter storm had turned the city cold and unforgiving, making each journey outside feel like a chore. Coats, and scarves, masks and boots had to be donned in a lengthy ritual at the doorway. I grew up on the East Coast, a thing I constantly feel the need to remind everyone, and this is how I remember my childhood, or parts of it anyway.
I suppose there is a part of me that feels I am not a complete person, that I won’t be seen as my complete self, if people think of me as a California person, if it’s not understood that I, too, grew up in a place where the pipes burst in the winter and sometimes school was cancelled because it was too cold to be safely outside. I attribute this to a dumb kind of leftover manliness that comes from a childhood in a rusted steel town where social value was based largely upon how deep into the winter season you were willing to play tackle football.
There will always be a part of me that embraces whatever it is I learned by growing up this way, this feeling it gives me that I can, if need be, make myself impervious to discomfort, that I don’t entirely need warmth or beauty or comfort in order to survive, that I can turn myself into a vessel, free of attachments.
Of course this is ridiculous. A ridiculous lie. I do need warmth and comfort just as all humans do. When I returned to California after this trip, I was more delighted that I wanted to admit to see that spring was already in full swing. There were blossoms on the trees, lilies pushing toward the sky, the amaryllis bulb that a friend had gifted me a year and a half ago and which I keep in my bedroom, was sprouting its flower for only the second time, paper thin and white, a pink ring making a halo around it’s star-like shape.
Mostly I am afraid of needing anything that cannot be promised and knowing that life can promise nothing means it’s safer not to need anything. That is why there is a comfort in the illusion of sufficiency. No one can kill me if I’m already dead.
The problem with this, of course, is that you can kill others, and will. Spiritually, emotionally. To allow yourself to be in need is to be connected to the needs of others. To want for beauty is to understand how and why others want beauty. When I was growing up, boys were in so many ways taught to believe that the less you needed the safer you were. But the primary destructive force of manhood under patriarchy is to serve your illusion of safety at the expense of others.
My experience of being an adult man of the age I am, from the time I’m from, sometimes feels like the experience of taking a long journey across a vast tundra from one civilization to another. Where I am coming from, men are taught control and power, the economics of fear and abuse. Isolation and mistrust. Violence and Emptiness. Where I am going, or trying to go is a place entirely more human, a place where we don’t have to be alone to be safe, where we care, quite simply, care with gentleness and strength, vulnerability, and honesty, and yes even need, for ourselves and each other. It often feels like I’m walking this alone, because I don’t know where the men are who were raised how I was raised but are trying to become how I’m trying to become.
I guess that’s why it feels like a tundra. But of course even that image seems like some leftover shit from my childhood lessons on manhood.
The amaryllis bulb is so astonishing, how it disappears all year, and then suddenly springs to life unbothered, alive, bathing in its beauty as though nothing else in this relentlessly ugly world, no matter how dark, how cold or cruel, could have possibly mattered in the interim. There is an easy genius to it that, if I’m being honest, I don’t entirely understand, but I entirely wish to embody.
Me and my two friends all got them all at the same time back in December of 2019. During COVID, our group chat, mostly held together by monthly outings to the movie theatre, has all but died. I recently scrolled through it and saw that the last round of each of us sending pics and updating one another on the progress of our flowers happened not that long ago in the thread. It was February 29th 2020. After that, a few movie suggestions were thrown out, but we could not decide on a time. A week after that, everything stopped.
Of course, I revived the chat today with a picture of my 2021 flower and doing so gave me a bizarre subtle feeling of having understood something new about the universe, or at least our journey in it. Steady, beautiful, without hurry or pause, turned toward light, shared with those you love.