Kevin’s friend Ana is a Thai chef, and she grows her own peppers in pots for the sauce she makes. When she found out that Kevin’s new wife was a gardener, she brought me one dried pepper. I split it open and started the seeds, since you’re supposed to start peppers and tomatoes indoors and planted them out, and they did terribly and I was convinced I’d killed them all.
I don’t mind killing plants for the most part–gardeners slaughter plants right and left, it’s part of the process–but these were special. She’d brought them from Thailand decades ago, and you can’t exactly go out to the nursery and buy a beloved variety given as a gift to an old friend’s wife. So I was sad. I also hadn’t started any other peppers this year, because I didn’t want them to cross-pollinate.
And then Kevin looked in exactly the right spot and there it was. One of the ones I’d planted out and which had turned to a tiny, dying nubbin, and I had given up. But I hadn’t planted anything else in that planter, in case the planter was the problem, and apparently it pulled through and has been quietly growing all this time.
Kevin ate one and turned colors and assured me that yes, it was one of the Thai peppers. If I dry all these, I might get enough seeds to grow them with slightly less panic next year.
People ask if gardening is hard
but that’s not the problem
the problem is it’s easy
and it really ought to be impossible.
What is this
putting stuff in dirt and expecting to get food back
what are you, a communist?
You bought a bag of cowpeas
not even a proper seed packet with a glossy picture on it
and shoved a couple in the ground.
You know it can’t work.
Even fairy tales know better
everybody laughs when Jack trades a cow for beans
a cow is worth something, after all.
The whips that twined up into the hydrangeas have three green leaves
so they must be poison ivy
that’s probably it
the things that look like bean pods are a coincidence
it’s a new kind of poison ivy
you’ll probably be even more allergic to this one.
And the funny thing is that I know this
when they come for me and say “You have to stop now–
you know people aren’t allowed to do this sort of thing,”
I’ll bow my head and say “I know.”
It was much too easy
it had to be illegal
or at least in very questionable taste,
thinking you could put almost nothing into dirt
and get everything back
almost for free.
Other weirdness–they wrote their insult on a print-out of an author website with my bibliography. On both sides of the paper. Because…uh…I guess they needed to fit in Jackalope Wives and a couple of Digger volumes on the back for…maximum…offensiveness…?
For those of a curious bent, the crushing insult delivered with such care was “Your photo broke my computer, ugh!” Alas, they did not include a return address, allowing me to reply with the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” response that I believe is traditional in such cases.
(Really, I’m mostly just impressed they spent stamp money on it. But the postmark was from Portland, OR, and I would certainly expect any hate mail from Portland to be small-batch, artisanal, and presumably free-range and hormone-free as well.)
On the bright side, my turmeric really is kicking butt. I wedged it under the fig. I just hope it overwinters. I’ve read reports of it being too tropical to survive less than 65 degrees, and others of it overwintering outside in 7b, so we’ll find out, I guess.
Irish. I am told it is called Irish, not Gaelic, even if the linguists call it Irish Gaelic, because it’s Irish, goddammit.
The song my grandmother used to sing was a terribly mangled version of Did Your Mother Come From Ireland? Grandma liked Bing Crosby. The fact that I have now both kissed the Blarney and visited Killarney would impress her to no end.
I have returned safely from the Emerald Isle, and holy crap, I don’t even know what to say, but being me, I will now expend a pile of words to say it.
First, there’s the color.
To call Ireland green is to commit glaring sins of omission. It is the sort of green reserved for gods and Pantone swatches. Kelly green, acid green, the greens you see in jars of pure mineral pigment, greens that blow out your photos the way that red roses or blue skies do. Green as primary color.
When I lived in Oregon, I thought it was green, and then I moved to North Carolina and realized that it had been grey-green. North Carolina, I thought, was green. Then I went to Ireland. Now I see how yellow the undertones here are, and how desaturated the greens are by comparison. Fortunately, I am told that the only color that compares to Ireland is in the depths of the rainforest, so it will stay green in my head for a long time.
Also, as with so much of Europe, things are relentlessly old. I stood on the battlements of a ruined castle built at the same time as Blarney Castle and I could see three other ruins from the top. “Oh,” said my friend Carlota, “that’s the NEW ruin, over there…” Eventually it became a running joke–“Oh, that’s the NEW standing stone…” It became exciting when the new building wasn’t older than my country. Occasionally they predated Europeans in North America at all.
Yes, I’m including the Vikings.
But possibly the most intense thing was simply that it was relentlessly, savagely picturesque. You could point your camera in any direction and come away with a postcard. It was beautiful, and it kept being beautiful, and eventually it got to the point where you would look over the view and start swearing, because it was being beautiful again.
After awhile, you stopped going “How lovely!” and started going “How do people stand this?”
(I asked Twitter. Residents uttered some variation on “Whiskey” and “You get used to it, but whiskey helps.”)
You just have to figure that sooner or later, living in that kind of beauty would weigh down on you, and you’d either become hard as diamond or break and become a poet. It’s just…intense. I think of people who left there–my ancestors, some of ’em–to come to America because of poverty or starvation or hope or whatever, and I can get just the smallest glimpse of what that must have been like–enough to know what I can’t really imagine what it was really like. America is beautiful, don’t get me wrong! (I believe there’s a song about it.) But it’s a completely different sort of beauty, a sort that doesn’t much care about the people on it. If we all died tomorrow, I doubt America would even notice much, but Ireland would be sad that the people were gone. It’s the difference between the Rockies and a green field with a black horse grazing surrounded by rooks, under a hill covered in mist. They’re both beautiful, it’s just…scale.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m raving. I am only a tourist and don’t pretend to know anything about what life is really like there. It was just…so intense.
Hound ate my white chocolate baguette and then had the nerve to act like she was starving. *grumble* But true love is ordering your wife a pizza remotely from across the country because you have the app and presets already installed and she is still moving through the stages of baguette grief.
The travel app problem is that I feel like I forgot so much about Botswana because I couldn’t get it all down! So I’m looking for a kind of…photo-and-journal on the fly app that will let me get everything down in one place, even if I don’t have wi-fi. I’ll put pages like this together later, but I need something just to get stuff down and organize. My memory is dreadfully fallible.
Day One 2 looks like the best app so far, but I’m poking at a few others. We’ll see what’s actually easy to use.
…I am one of those tiny post-apocalyptic survivors huddled in a cave who do not have Instagram.
I dreamed last night that I was back in high school and of course there was an enormous science project that I had to do in a class that I only vaguely remembered.
I was in the class and everyone was discussing what sort of project to do–chromatography of various liquids or determining whether some tiny particle had six gears or ten (apparently on some subconscious level I believe that subatomic particles are made of tiny interlocking gears) and I realized quickly that I was simply not equipped to do any of these things.
So I went to the teacher and said “None of this is really playing to my skillset. Can I maybe write a travel guide to the laboratory? A pop science piece explaining subatomic particles? Something?”
He said no. I gritted my teeth and explained again that I had no idea how one did the thing with the gases and the light spectrums and my grasp of the perfect gas laws was shaky at best.
“No,” he said, “and you’d better figure something out, because otherwise you will fail the class and then you won’t graduate.”
And then my sleeping brain said “Wait just a damn minute here.”
“Actually,” I said, “I’m an author. I’m already supporting myself and nobody cares if I graduated or not. I’m just here to get my diploma so all the paperwork’s in order.”
This irritated him. I left the room and wandered off, thinking I am late for another classand I don’t know where it is and then so what? why the hell am I here, anyway, I should probably be writing a book and then even if I fail every class this semester, I am an adult, I am nearly forty, I can go by the office and explain and re-enroll, there is paperwork to handle this circumstance, possibly I can just take a test and opt out anyway, they are not going to take away my books and my house because I did not pass high school physics.
This is the second or third time I’ve had a dream like this and suddenly thought “Wait, this no longer applies to me, does it?”
I suspect that in anxiety dreams we’re the people we believe we are, and perhaps slowly, as I get older, I start to believe that I really am an adult, or at least no longer a person who is a single sheet of paperwork away from failing utterly at life, and that my worth is not hinged on a single grade from decades past.
Sadly, if my anxiety dreams are to be believed, I am still a person who is constantly moving between houses and trying to pack everything on a shoestring, and I am still angry at a number of people from my past, and my teeth are prone to falling out occasionally, but at least I am slowly overcoming my fear of missing class.
Someday I hope to travel without a week of sickening dread that I will do something egregiously wrong in the process. I figure if I can just do it ENOUGH I will come to accept it as a grand adventure, instead of a labyrinth of half-understood public transit options punctuated by moments of breathtaking scenery.
I want to be a world traveler. I want to be that calm person who just wanders across Europe with a rail pass and a backpack of clothes that can be packed for six weeks without wrinkling. I want to speak familiarly of markets in both Bangkok and Berlin.
I just am not very good at it. Anxiety problems tend to manifest for me as a terrible fear that I am Doing It Wrong and if I don’t know all the unwritten rules, I am sure to be Wrong and I will say something that will mortally offend someone because Americans seem to have a natural talent for that and even though I was given dispensation by my friend Heather to pretend to be Canadian while traveling because I apologize instinctively and can dig a car out of deep snow, thereby qualifying for at least honorary protective status, there are so many, many unwritten rules.
The only solution seems to be to keep trying as often as my budget will allow. And to go with people who know all the rules already, or who have that mystical gift of making friends with total strangers, which I envy but do not at all possess.