Spring Fling

Spring is the horniest season, horticulturally speaking. One day it’s nothing but dirt the color of an ashtray left unattended at a casino slot machine and the next—shazam! Nature is all heavy-breathing and green tumescence. Tightly coiled buds pulse, eager for release like sweaty teens awkwardly pawing each other on the basement couch. No judgment. Spring is all about the freaky fling, horticulturally speaking.

The randiest seasonal offender is, without a doubt, the magnolia tree. Even before they bloom in earnest, they get you with this come hither move. Their buds look like fingers drawn up together as if rubbing something achingly fine between their tips. And when they bloom in full: shameless. Creamy pink, white, or yellow tea-cup sized blossoms audaciously unfurl themselves on the edge of branches, gleeful in their wanton arbor lust. I do believe they would make even Monsieur Toulous-Lautrec blush.   

I had never really experienced magnolias until I moved close to Boston. What in the world would a tree synonymous with southern belles and sprawling Mississippi estates be doing in the almost unseasonably cold Northeast? The short answer: science. Though originally acclimated to the southern states when they were brought to America in the 1780s, magnolias have spread and bred up the northeast corridor from Virginia to Maine. Then again, these saucy minxes are wired for resilience. They’ve been around for more than 90 million years (so, only slightly younger than Keith Richards). They existed before bees. Though we’re rapidly approaching an alarming moment when we might make that statement true again, it’s still mind-bending to think about. The trees we see today form a direct line to a world that included duck-billed dinosaurs and, of course, Keith Richards (just ringing every drop from that joke). That’s some serious staying power. Maybe we’ve done at least a small thing right by our weary earth.

In the early-1960s, a woman named Laura Dwight began a beautification project in her Back Bay Boston neighborhood. What began with planting a handful of magnolias around Dwight’s street grew into a large-scale effort to plant the trees throughout the Back Bay neighborhood. As a result, for a precious few weeks each spring, the magnolias drape themselves over the doorways of stately Boston brownstones. They caress the sides of buildings. They lure you underneath splayed canopies, your face upturned like a hopeful young thing waiting to feel their soft pink lips graze your cheek. At least that’s been my experience. The magnolias are the joyful riot and the sweet exhale of Mardi Gras. They seem to show up every year just when you need them most. Attention must be paid.

I recently learned about floriography: the language of flowers. A cryptology crafted from genus and species, a conversation conducted through petal shape and color and variety. “There’s rosemary,” wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet, “that’s for remembrance.” The enduring powers of folklore and myth given to us in stems and leaves and roots and fruits to help us say what we can’t easily say ourselves. This seems worth hanging onto, especially in the spring when the harsh edges of the world start to soften, when our own selves become more pliable and we feel capable of gentleness again, and we find ourselves stopping in front of a luxurious cascade of pink and white and yellow blossoms that seem to murmur. And we find ourselves listening.  

Not Reentry Ready

I’m not ready. Are you?

Apparently the pandemic is coming to a close. Only four episodes left before the 3-hour series finale with limited commercial interruptions sponsored by Progressive Insurance. Streaming live. Tweet about it with your friends.

Aside from the hours and weeks spent paralyzed by palpable dread and anxiety, that sure went by pretty fast! And here I am rotating my three pairs of soft pants (denim? Isn’t that the new Coldplay album?) and finally realizing my childhood dream of being able to sit on my hair. Is this all I have to show for myself? Split ends growing their own split ends and a slavish devotion to stretchy, breathable fabrics? It’s like, what have I been doing this entire time?  

All this talk of reopening malls and movie theatres and Chuck E. Cheeses has me in a bit of pit sweat because, honestly, I’m so behind. I haven’t started a podcast and my closets are full of the same junk they were in 2012. I haven’t used a funny or ironic or vaguely offensive Zoom background and now I fear I’ll never “accidently” click on something that turns me into a pig or chicken during my congressional hearing. I’m still buying my bread at the grocery store like it was 2018 and have barely made a dent in my toilet paper reserves. Slacker, thy name is me.

While we’re on the subject of abject failure: I didn’t write the next King Lear. I know. I KNOW! I had over a year of mostly uninterrupted time–it was practically a retreat, right? If that retreat was held in the scorched remains of a dystopian nightmare novel—to write a book or screenplay or opera (also set in the scorched remains of a dystopian nightmare novel), but have come up empty handed. I’m a flop, an embarrassment to creatives who are thinking, feeling humans and not cyborgs like William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton and, I’m guessing, everyone at Apple (even a pandemic can’t slow the rollout of tech junk we don’t actually need). While there’s still some time left, maybe I can master watercolors or learn Farsi—you know, knock a few easy things off the list so I at least have something to talk about at all the cocktail parties I’ll feel obligated to attend.

That reminds me of something else that I’m not ready for: peopling. How do we say words in the right order toward other humans while also reacting, wait, responding, wait rejoindering (new word?) to the mouth words coming out of their face spaces? Can I still put you on mute? Can I put me on mute? WHERE IS THE MUTE BUTTON ON THIS THING? Once I have it sorted out on how to do the peopling talk-talk again, that brings me to my next worry: What do I say? Of course we will both want to rehash in great and painstakingly finite detail the nuances of our experiences weathering PANDEMIC 2020 (Anderson Cooper and Tina Fey sit down with the entire cast following the series finale—don’t miss it! YouTube with your friends!). What’s left? I suppose there are old standbys of polite chit-chat like climate change, reproductive rights, and baseball (Boy, those Ravenclaws are going to have a tough season without Gandalf pitching. Am I right?). What I’m saying is I feel ill-equipped to downshift out of conversations related on how to get Icelandic citizenship to ones about the avocado shortage. A Pandemic Reentry Guide to Successful Reentry would be helpful. I’d write it, but I only have a few months or weeks left and this sci-fi screenplay about King Lear and Isaac Newton isn’t going to write itself.

It feels like a lot. The pressure to expel yourself back into the world. Not just to a movie or a reopened indoor restaurant, but to vacation in Bali, to commit to the pilgrimage to Mecca, to cash in the 80’s Heavy Metal Rock’n Cruise voucher and get back out there. Go big and do not go home, this is the message I’m receiving. Because we’ve suffered so much and gone without for so long, we deserve to let loose, spend all the money on non-essential items, and crack some ribs hugging people again. I want that, too. I’m just not all the way there yet. Aside from finally getting around to fixing the chimney and falling in love with the art of scrapbooking, I simply feel poorly prepared for reentry and all that comes with it. I don’t know if I want my memory wiped like a new SIM card. I guess I didn’t do much, but I’d like to hang on to what I learned.  

So maybe we can pump the breaks, just a hare, a scooch, really. Maybe there is a reentry-lite option that exists somewhere between MTV Spring Break Booze Beach House ’97 and going to a place that isn’t the grocery store or post office. And maybe it would be enough if we could still wear soft pants while sitting just a bit closer together and laugh more easily and still listen to the birds and talk about the million different nothings or maybe not talk at all and instead just be okay with being okay together.