Thursday, March 1, 2018

Houseplants: A question of morality.

Dear Dwellers,

The living things that are here around me in pots bring me much happiness, but I worry about them.  They live, and sometimes they even grow, but very few of them go forth, be fruitful, and multiply.  Some of the succulents in pots do go forth, etc., but a lot of my other beloved, leafy companions do not.  They languish, they suffer, they are Camilles, rotting in their boudoirs feigning jollity. 

I loved Camille, absolutely loved Camille.  It's fair to ask why; and I think it had something to do with trying not to inflict suffering, or with the noble idea of self-sacrifice.  Of course, it's all a terrible disaster:  She makes her poor true lover (whose name I cannot even recall, even though it's more his story than hers) suffer endlessly, spurning him on every page.  Breaking his heart over and over, and we let her do this, because, as the reader, we accept her terrible pain, shame, and imminent mortality as a just cause for her treatment of this poor sap.  Yes, I wonder why I loved Camille.  If I had even a shred of curiosity, I'd read it again and look for clues.

On the other hand, it's very comfortable to love a thing based on a time that has gone very far by.  It's also a bit of a lie.  I had this sweater once, I loved it- it was a horrible royal blue with a red intarsia design of an outsized Cadbury chocolate bar- the Wispa, I think.  Which, for those of you who like a bit of detail, was the kind of candy bar that had an aerated texture- it was firm, but not hard, because it was filled with tiny holes.  It was not chewy, sticky, fluffy, or creamy.  The sweater had metallic yarn outlining the bar and its name.  It was, in my mind now, fairly hideous, and I loved it.  I wore it in absolute conviction.  I knew it was terrific and I knew people envied me wearing it.  I don't think I could summon even the courage to wear it to Target today.  But my love for it is still a comfort to me:  I was once a brave person who knew no adversity.

So, now what?  Is each little attempt to regain that joie de vivre a pathetic and meaningless, grasping hobby, or a talisman against ultimate dismissal of relevance?  Wait, don't answer that, because I don't really want to know the answer and you don't either.  We could look for answers another day.  Or, even look on eBay to find that sweater.  A lot of us do that, don't we?  We get the car we had as a teenager because we loved the first times, we loved the learning, the figuring out of that time.  Love is perhaps not even the right word- we felt more perhaps.  Things maybe were more pungent, more engaging, more exciting.

Yes, I think I am going to look for that sweater, but not until I consider my relationship to my poor houseplants.  What is right?  Do I let these ones die their slow, indoor, dusty death?  Do I enjoy them 'while they last?'  Put them out of their misery?  Swear off any further houseplants?  I am a poor steward of houseplants in a world that barely considers plants or sentience.  These little plants have a great deal of life churning in them, and I am aware of my position as caregiver, judge, jury, and executioner.  What mandate could make it all right to enjoy these plants?   What could I tell myself to give me the right?  Perhaps the answer is also available on eBay....  Perhaps my dilemma is that I cannot learn to love loss as an equal partner to possession as the way of the world and the nature of time and the universe.   

I see that now, copies of Camille are also titled parenthetically La Dame aux Camélias, but my copy was from a wonderful, huge, musty, dim old used bookstore, and it was embossed on its blue cover in a silver script with only a single word:  Camille.