30 May 2014

dear plants on my balcony: on slowing down

Dear Plants on My Balcony,

I know you probably don't care about this {How could you? You're plants.}, but 2014 is my year of paring down. By limiting how much I do and schedule, I'm trying to slow down my life, a thing I very much need in this busy world.

You may not know this {again, because you're plants and the world you interact with is a constant one of soil, sun, and water}, but our world has become increasingly frantic, disjointed, and harried.

This is proven by our 24-hour news cycle that jolts us from story to story in 30-second chunks: Are we unable to focus now?

Our disjointed world is proven by a new syntax that is developing because Internet. That was it, by the way—the new way of speaking that chops out words and snappily contains these sardonic concepts. Even Hemingway himself—he the great papa of shortened, punchy prose—would look verbose and flowery in this world of fragments and odd punctuation. All. The. Time. {Why so many periods? Why such a need for emphasis and full stops? Is our new punctuation trying to tell us that we need to take more pauses?}

Our frantic world is proven by our hyperbole that pairs so well with that new way of talking and writing. Every experience, interaction, meal, vacation, weekend, video, song, Facebook post is so. Over. The. Top.

Because clicks.

Because likes.

Because feeling popular.

We toss around phrases like "the most amazing ever," and why is that? Is it because we are ever looking for that emotional high, that smooth, easy, enviable life promised us by movies and Hallmark commercials? Are we tricked into describing everything as better than best because we're frightened of appearing boring, let alone being bored?

And think about this: If that pizza you just ate is "amazingly awesome," what phrase will you use when you see the red rocks of Utah on a perfectly blue sky day? Or when you feel the ocean rush in around your calves as you look out at the sunrise and think about how deep and wide that ocean is? What will you say when your baby smiles at you the first time?

What words do we have left when our language is so bulked up with superlatives?

Beyond diminishing those big experiences, this hyperbole can also make our small moments seem just that: Small. Unworthy. Not enough. If we're always looking for the next best, will we overlook that moment sitting on the balcony in the summer twilight as the fireflies are blinking—little stars here on earth—as the cicadas are singing?

And we're back to the balcony, dear plants, which is where you come in—or more correctly, where you are.

You're probably confused as to why I just went off on a rant about syntax and the Internet {when you were expecting a nice welcome letter, maybe}, but it all does relate to you.

Every summer since I moved in to my condo six years ago, I have tried to grow bright, cheerful flowers on my balcony. Some years have been moderately successful, but most years have involved brown leaves, flowers that don't thrive, and much disappointment.

I go into the season dreaming contentedly of being surrounded by color and life as I do the Saturday morning crossword and drink French press coffee. It may just be a balcony, but I believe every year that I can make it feel like an English garden: Structured but inviting, tended but with just a touch of wild.

Then July comes, and I'm sorry to tell you, my plants, but I kill you. I have killed your cousins or best friends or whoever, despite my best intentions and hard work and desire to be a good gardener.

This might seem really meta, but here's a letter I wrote to my flowers a few years ago {a letter within a letter!}. You can hear my disappointment and bewilderment, as well as my realization that even if you oh-so-fervently desire something, it might not come to pass. I might not be a good gardener, and I need to accept this.

So here we are in the year of paring down, and I'm applying it even to my balcony foliage. Look around you: There are no flowering plants among you, you ferns and succulents. When I went plant shopping this year—Monday night after work, a night when it looked like it was just about to rain and then it never did—I looked only for tags that said "Easy Care!" or "Low Maintenance!"

I'm writing you now, green plants, to say that—no pressure—but you're part of my slowing down plan. In our frantic, disjointed, harried world, I'm trying to create space that is low-pressure, calming, and doesn't demand much. When I sit out on my balcony, I don't want to see something I should be trying harder to manage and take care of; instead, I want to admire verdant life as I sit with a glass of wine.

In summary, PLEASE don't die on me, my dear plants. I will give you water, and I've put you where you can see the sun. I'll tend you as best I can, which is all any of us can ask.

Now let's all relax, slow down, and have a non-dead plant summer, one where I sit surrounded by your green life. If you'd like, I'd even read to you from books that resound with the beauty of our language, ones that echo with true things, so that we can remember that our world wasn't always too busy to take the time to express a good idea slowly.

Ever yours,

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