Sunday, November 04, 2007

Convenient Skepticism

I think astrology is a crock. I mean, come ON, you've got huge balls of flaming gas that are gazillions of light years away from us and each other. When observed from earth, they mark out a pattern that someone ages ago thought suggested a crab or a goat or something, then that ancient observer decided that when the sun, moon, or one of the planets crossed into those animal outlines, this somehow exerted mysterious yet powerful forces on a newborn, that was, this is key, markedly different from the effect it was having on everyone else on the planet at that moment, and thus ended up shaping that baby's drives, emotions, general characteristics etc. I mean, really. Even if we accept the idea that all bodies in the universe are exerting gravitational pulls on every other body, do we really think that the star Sirius is exerting more force on us in September than it is in June? Nope, this is all nonsense.

That said, I love astrology. I think it's a fun little construct, I love how elaborate it is, and I want to know it better. I have on occasion correctly guessed a new acquaintance's sign, and am always pleased when information I read is accurate about me. Seven years in Seattle generally made me more open to hearing about this sort of thing, and a good friend once even did my entire chart. Sadly, it seems to have gotten lost in one of my dozen moves, and I don't really remember what it said, other than the fact that I am a Cancer sun, Pisces moon, and rising sign Gemini, and the rising sign is supposedly a more accurate representation of my personality than the sun sign, the latter is just easier to figure out. Astrology is fun, I enjoy reading about it, discussing it, learning about it, though I don't buy it for a moment.

I have a similar reaction to Feng Shui. Okay with that one I think there are more elements that have validity, being good sense, or good design. Science has found that different colors affect our moods differently, for example, so why not make use of that in our homes? No, your life won't magicly be filled with serenity and riches if you paint your living room orange, but you might feel more cozy there, and what's wrong with that? Feng Shui also recommends a desk always be positioned so one can see the door to the room when seated at it, and while this had never really occurred to me before, I realized that all those times when I had been sitting with my back to a door, deep in concentration, only to find myself hanging from my fingernails embedded in the ceiling when someone tapped me on the shoulder... all those moments could have been avoided if I had just faced the stupid desk the other way.

Now, once you get into the ba gua, and all the different quandrants of the room, house, neighborhood, where the left-hand corner (as seen when standing in the 'main doorway') affects your family life, but it's different if it's on the south side of the building, and if the room is shaped in such a way that this quadrant is 'missing' then you need to do complicated things with mirrors in order to strengthen that missing part, or weaken the adjacent part which might overwhelming your family quandrant... that's where I check out. I would imagine that's also the stuff some clever-boots hundreds of years ago came up with so he would have be able to make money 'tuning' other people's homes, and teaching them secret knowledge.

Okay, so Feng Shui, also a crock, but again, a fun little construct I enjoy reading about and tinkering with, seeing if my mood changes notably if I put up some metal wind chimes (though not too big as this will 'damage my liver'). One suggestion is to have plants in certain areas, to strengthen that area and give it vibrancy. Naturally there are rules about how to do this; I think if that area already has an excess of wood, then a plant is a really bad idea, and one should instead introduce more metal (which cuts wood, dontcha know) to tone things down, I don't really get any of that, mostly because I can't be bothered.

One source I read said it's a good idea to have a plant in your career quadrant, to keep your professional life healthy and expanding. I liked this idea. I had absolutely no idea which quadrant was my 'career' area, nor did I know if I needed to locate it in each room, or only once in the apartment as a whole, and what would I do if the career area for the whole place was in my roommate's room, evict him? No, I just decided to designate one of my houseplants my 'career plant.' I didn't mean it now had magical powers in my life, I just thought it might be useful to have something I regularly looked at and cared for be a meditative focus for an important element of my life. I liked the idea that a career thrives in the same way a plant does, that you have to take care of it, see to its basic needs for food, light and air, check it for disease or parasites and treat it accordingly, but just as important you had to know when to leave it alone, and let it do its own thing. A career needs many of the same things, daily attention, careful maintenance, trust and patience.

So, I chose my angel wing begonia to be the focus of career meditations. This plant is a scion of my grandmother's begonia; at least two of her children took cuttings from it, my sister, brother and I all have cuttings from my mother's plant, so it felt like this plant was well woven into my family's life. It connected me to my relatives and the Iowa farm that was in my mother's family for over a hundred years. It is also a beautiful plant, with big leaves that can be green to salmon color with metallic silver spots, and it puts out blooms that will go through three distinct shapes, that can be anywhere from white to deep red, depending on how much sunlight they get. My plant in particular had already attained an impressive height and vigor, due to the fact that it spent most of its life in a southern window. At one point it was almost six feet tall, with stalks over an inch in diameter weaving around one another, covered with lush, big leaves. Beautiful, healthy, fertile, it was everything I could hope for in a career.

That was three or four years ago. This summer things took a slight turn for the worst. The plant started dropping leaves more quickly than usual and they often had weird burned edges, soft, pale rotten spots, or both. Still, as a whole the plant seemed fine, and I assumed maybe I was watering it too much, or something. Then when I went to Indiana for the month of August, my roommate was uncharacteristically careless in caring for my plants. In a month he watered them all exactly once. I was lucky only to lose two plants, everything else rallied, but when I walked in the door, the begonia looked very distressed, it proud upright stalks all keeled over limply. The plant's distress couldn't have been clearer or more eloquent (not sure how my roommate managed to miss it).

Okay, so, if there were any lessons to learn here about my career -and I'm not saying there are, mind you, but if there were- then maybe it might be something like I shouldn't expect to leave my career in the hands of others, that it is ultimately my responsibility and even if I do need the help of others, I should make my needs clear and make sure the person I ask is willing and able to fill that need. Okay, that seems like a useful lesson. I wouldn't say it was exactly NEWS to me, but hey, learning is often re-learning, in fact when it comes to acting it's almost ALL re-learning, so okay, got it.

I quickly watered the plant, and hoped it would rally. The limp stalks never regained their strength, though, and that was just the beginning. The leaf drop began to pick up, and the burned edges and soft rotten spots grew and spread. I wondered if the prisms in my window were burning the plants in spots, but if so, I don't know why that would suddenly be a problem now, after nearly eight years without mishap, no, I didn't know what had changed, but clearly something had. I checked one of my houseplant books, and began to suspect my poor begonia had a fungus and due to the month of neglect the fungus had become overpowering.

Okay, less certain how to interprete this in metaphorical terms regarding my career. Sometimes your work gets moldy? Sometimes outside forces make your professional leaves rot and fall off? You always have to be prepared to prune your career and spray it with a good fungicide? I got nothin'.

Per the plant book's instructions, I have cut away all the sickly parts of the plant, which means it now has a whole lot of four foot stumps, and the remains of thick stalks that now hold only a single, tiny leaf aloft. I discovered this morning that the scented geraniums nearest the begonia may have also contracted the fungus, so I've pruned and quarantined the worse of the two.

On a side note, a rosemary plant I bought a few weeks ago somehow managed to contract aphids. In a fifth story walk-up. In Harlem. Hmm, a few years back, before it was designated my career plant, the begonia also contracted aphids. It rallied nicely after treatment, but maybe that should have warned me about something. Getting a fungus is bad enough, but when my plants have aphids, it's hard not to feel like I've come down with parasites myself. Very weird.

I'll be sorry if I have to lose this plant all together. It started out as a six inch cutting I got from my mom's plant soon after I moved into this apartment, so its growth and change has stood as a record of my eight year residency. It has helped me deal with my ambivalence about city living. If I have to get rid of it, it will be too bad, my plants do feel a bit like small green pets to me, but I can always get another cutting from the same plant. My mom's, sister's and brother's plants were all thriving when I saw them in August. It will be not the end of the world by any stretch.

I just want it on record that I really, really, REALLY do not believe in Feng Shui.


Anonymous said...

You should have made the spider plant your career plant. Your career would wait until everyone else was asleep, then slowly creep up on them, burrow into their flesh and steal their souls to feed itself. That, my friend, is a recipe for stardom.

I think the spider plant cutting you gave me must be my career plant. I ignore it for weeks at a time, yet it stubbornly refuses to die. That's my career, all right.

Cooper said...

I have a whole forest greening my career, so I'm not sure what one single plant would do for me, although I love the concept. I designate candles for the people in my life and their various desires and hopes and dreams. (A throw back to my RC childhood, no doubt). These candles are named and lit often and talked to and well loved. Weird, I know ... :)

Patrick, as an aside, I must just say that your new profile photo is HOT ... hellishly hades hot!

Patrick said...

I have to admit, Brian, I'm kind of amazed that spider plant is still hanging on, especially since mine suddenly took turns for the worse a few months ago. I only have one small one left, and it doesn't seem very happy or healthy either. Tommy took his life into his hands by bringing another spider plant into the house (this, when there were still FOUR already in residence), but it also seems to be thriving on neglect. It sits in his room, out of the light, I don't know if he ever waters it, and it still looks lush and green. I'm trying to ignore mine now too, to see if it rallies on its own, but so far it's not looking so good.
I thought of you when I threw out the old dead ones, because the roots would have really given you the heebie jeebies. They had these huge translucent pods on them, like the plant was growing people, or had just eaten some. Frankly they freaked me out a touch too.

Cooper, I do envy you the forest in your life, but the candles are nice too. I've never named mine, but I light them often. Maybe designating them for certain things would be a better focus. I love the candles you have on your blog page. Sometime I will probably ask you to light one for me too; I'm waiting for the right occasion.

And thanks for your thoughts on the photo. You're a doll. That's actually my headshot, so we'll hope some casting directors react the same way. Sigh.

Cooper said...

What I mean by naming my candles is that they are referred to by the name of the person for whom they are lit. :) When someone has a special event or hope, or simply needs extra love, I light their specific candle for a time as I send my thoughts their way.

tornwordo said...

I'm on board with the "it's a crock" and yet my curiosity compels me to read about it anyway. Now just redesignate the healthiest plant as the career plant.

Patrick said...

But see, now I'm scared that designating any plant the career plant is the kiss of death! Seriously, if you had seen this begonia, you'd know what I mean. Maybe I could designate the golden pothos that is climbing all the way around my living room (it's close to 40 feet long)... but it's been acting just a bit odd recently too.

Maybe this should be telling me that the atmosphere in my apartment has become more toxic lately. There's a cheery thought. Why do I go there?

Brian said... it the golden pothos that you gave me, not the spider plant? I think it's the same as the giant vine from the living room. I really should know the name of the plant I'm failing to kill.

Patrick said...

Oh, yeah, that's the golden pothos. I'm less shocked that is still alive, since it likes shade, and could probably live indefinitely in the jar of water. It's still in that jar, isn't it. The one here was just a couple of cuttings in a vase when I moved, and I have no idea how long it lived like that. I left it alone for years because I assumed it was Kurt's. I think I planted it sometime in '99, which means it lived on water alone for at least two years. So, you're probably fine as long as you don't let it get completely dry.

NO, I don't think I gave you a spider plant, because they freaked you out from the get-go. They were the ones with long thin leaves and runners with root balls at the ends that you were sure were going to sink into your flesh and kill you.

Brian said...


No, definitely not a spider plant. And yes, it's still in the jar of water. I remember to add more water every other month or so. Sometimes I have to snip off a brown leaf or two, but otherwise it seems to be doing pretty well. It doesn't get significantly longer, but it's still alive.