In October I finally fulfilled my New Year’s resolution: I would grow a plant inside the house. Not much of a resolution, you say? Not the usual lose ten pounds, drink less, hit the gym hard, don’t beat the children (just kidding on that one—I was in a Ruby Tuesday’s in Hanover, PA yesterday, and watched a father smack his toddler daughter’s hands so casually and efficiently with only a tightening of his lips that I could well imagine the rest). I’ve never liked New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it’s because I’m oppositional, and will oppose myself if necessary. In which case I ought to resolve to eat a chocolate glazed donut every day and pass out drunk on the sofa while middle child watches “Archer” at max volume with his little brother watching in stunned loss-of-innocence. But that would be perverse, and I’m not quite perverse yet (a few more episodes of “Arrested Development” watched with middle child, and I may be, though). So, in an attempt to cooperate with the whole spirit of New Year’s Eve and American self-improvement, I chose a resolution that felt attainable: grow a plant inside. Plants provide oxygen and clean the air, so why not?
Somehow ten months passed. Time flies, and I can’t even buy a plant? The neuroscientist David Eagleman talked to Burkhard Bilger about time for a profile in the The New Yorker. “’Time is this rubbery thing,’ Eagleman said. ‘It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ’Oh, I got this, everything is expected,’ it shrinks up.’” (April 25, 2011). In my domestic queendom, time went right on rolling merrily riverlike. Day after day I doled out vitamins (boys), carrot peelings (guinea pig) and Prozac (aggressive little dog). Time shrunk up in the routine. As Bilger writes: “‘This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,’ Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.” Now I understand why seventh grade haunts me in its every detail, because I entered junior high, with its unfamiliar culture (I was a slow developer, and the new culture featured platform shoes, push-up bras, flasks of liquor in the bathrooms, and a nursery for the junior-high mothers’ babies), while, say, sophomore year at civilized college was unmemorable.
Time keeps on going, though, in its one direction, whether we notice or not. My decisions are made in time, or not. As Jonathan Goldstein remarks, “Life isn’t about saying the right thing; life is about failing. It’s about letting the tape play.” (quote #154 in David Shields’ book Reality Hunger). The tape plays, time goes. Or does it? Have you thought much about deja vu? I have, lots, but my essay about it keeps jumping around, ha ha, and will not behave and become coherent. One of my questions is, why are the experiences of deja vu so inconsequential? If I have visions of the future, they do not resemble any utterance spoken by a sibyl in a cave. Someday, I will be talking to my husband and a colleague, and we’ll be leafing through her c.v., and someone will say “oasis.” Someday, a woman will be standing next to a beaded curtain waiting for takeout, and the light will fall across her hair and glimmer through her tortoiseshell sunglass frames. What do these weird little windows accomplish?
I don’t like plants. Especially the spider plants of the 1970s. Instead of the falling dream people have as they drop off to sleep, I would have a spider vision, of spiders descending from the ceiling. Why people liked spider plants, which proliferated with baby spiders parachuting off them, was beyond me. Sure, I learned how to macrame jute plant holders like everyone else. I learned how to weave in the beads and do a cool spiral stitch, and our house had spider plants and ferns and even a terrarium. Yet plant life seemed menacing to me, indoors and out, as my mother battled an insidious orange vine in the pachysandra patch, and we hauled mucky watercress out of the neighbor’s pond by its hair roots, and yanked weeds from in between the bricks on the neighbor’s brick terrace. Plants would take over, it was clear. Better that they stay outside the house, at least. Also I am terrible at growing plants, and have killed everything from ornamental peppers to begonias to thyme. Isn’t it enough to deal with dead school fair goldfish floating like tiny surfboards, and dead hamsters and guinea pigs and even a rabbit? (Go on, pretend it’s like a large loaf of bread as you carry it, but it’s really as heavy as a baby.) Chucking out dead plants is just too much. Outside the house, I carefully study everything that survives despite me, and plant more of it: perennials and thorny plants. Inside, I try to minimize the body count. However, for whatever reason (too many self-improvement magazines! I should confine myself to The New Yorker!), I pledged to grow a plant indoors, and before the year expired, I planted this fern. I will try really hard not to kill it.