your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun [life-writing, 3 {being in time}]

Denis Petrov and Elena Bechke of Russia performing in the pairs skating event during the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France, circa February 1992. (Photo by Eileen Langsley/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

i inherited a zz plant in may 2020. like all plants, so it seems, this one is billed by everyone on the internet as “indestructible.” and, like so many of the “indestructible” plants i have encountered in my life, it is clearly my unconscious desire to take that as a dare and kill this thing.

***

i went down a rabbit hole the other day looking for viktor petrenko’s mid-90s exhibition routine choreographed to salt ‘n’ peppa’s “whatta man.”

this does not, apparently, exist on the internet. still. i have been looking for nigh on a decade and the internet has yet to provide.

i did however, through this, stumble across bechke and petrov’s silver medal winning performance in albertville. which i remember, for some reason AS THOUGH IT WERE YESTERDAY.

whycome?!? some combo of the tchaikovsky, excessive VHS re-watching, scott hamilton’s singular focus on bechke and almost total indifference to petrov, plus the moment in the middle, in the voiceover, where verne (? what was that dude’s name?) says “these are difficult times in the former Soviet Union” (troyer? verne troyer? NO. that was mini-me.) and waxes on about hard russian times while totally ignoring the ongoing gorgeous performance (LUNDQUIST. VERNE LUNDQUIST, ladies and gentlemen).

still, all these years later, when i hear tchaikovsky’s “pax de deux” from the nutcracker, i think of this performance and how sad it is that bechke and petrov came in second, and so they did not win the house.

***

according to the internet, zz plants hate sun. and they love sun.

the internet is confusing.

nothing is true and everything is possible!

why is no one making the argument that zz plants are in love/hate with the sun?

***

one of my students finished out their rant of the week (because the only thing i insist on in this assignment is that they take up ALL OF THE SPACE THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN) with seven lines on the redness of strawberries.

as in, strawberries are red strawberries are red strawberries are red over and over and over for seven lines.

this afternoon [by which i mean an afternoon in september 2020, because that is when this was written], i went to the market and the strawberries were on sale, two for one.

tomorrow, i already know, in every class (because, 95% likely, this person is in the last class of the day), i’ll give a shout-out to whoever used strawberries to take up all of the space, and thank them for this small kindness.

[update: i did this all day and i still do not know. the strawberry person, they remain a mystery but i thank them nonetheless.]

***

THIS AIN’T DETECTIVE FICTION 101, i tell my students. (i throw in the “ain’t” there so they’ll think i’m relatable.)

we are not writing mysteries, i remind them. i am not jessica fletcher, i am not matlock. (i say that and, immediately, they know i am 4,000 years old. [they are too young to know that what i actually am is someone whose grandparents liked to watch a lot of TBS in the 90’s.])

BE SPECIFIC.

***

would i respond to this tchaikovsky piece were it not connected, in my brain, my heart, to that bechke and petrov routine?

i’m trying to remember back to when a friend and i went to see the nutcracker on horseback, back when i lived in chicago. i don’t remember weeping when this song played. i do not even recall it being played. (though maybe, maybe, i kind of do? the horseback rider looked like delta burke. i remember that. i remember feeling a kinship with her. is it because she rode to this song? or is it because she looked like delta burke and that is all it takes for me to feel a bond with another human being?)

the thing is, whenever i have heard it before, this song– because i spent a decade forgetting and being surprised whenever i was reminded where it’s from– and especially when i hear it now, i know that with that crescendo at 3:00, he is lifting her in the air for that one handed thing.

and at 3:12, she is landing that triple salcow (fuck you, scott hamilton for negging her by pointing out the “slight hesitation.” i would hesitate. you would hesitate. she landed it as it is meant to be landed and it is GLORIOUS, sir, sit down.)

and when she lands it her mouth flies open and SHE BEAMS.

***

i am always torn between tchaikovsky and beethoven (though but also, liszt and mozart and rachmaninoff are my true loves [fucking white dudes {please imagine a surly emoji here}]). tchaikovsky because i took/failed ballet and played the piano. beethoven because i’ve a hearing impairment and played the piano.

whenever i had ear surgery, when all the packing was still in it, my piano practicing was lit. because i fancied it felt different.

whether it actually did or if this was just a story i told myself, i’m not sure. but i’d sit there in my pajamas, ear full of packing and stitches and bandages, and feel like the notes felt different.

the piano of my childhood still sits at my parents’. i think, without saying it aloud, we have reached a consensus to let it die. [i am publishing this 18 months after it was written. the piano of my childhood has left us.]

the hammers and strings, they are tired.

aren’t we all.

***

the zz plant, allegedly, doesn’t need direct light.

but in lieu of it, it drops its leaves and grows upwards. it grows in search of the light. “your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun,” says someone on the internet in response to a photograph that captures the state of my own zz plant.

your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun.

aren’t we all.

***

this is my new habit. my new, pandemic-related verbal tic.

aren’t we all. 

my mother says something desperate about, i don’t know… truly, i have no example. but she makes some remark about something totally unrelated to the pandemic or our stuckness, and i say “don’t we all” or “aren’t we all.”

and, always, always she laughs. it is a reliable laugh. like whenever i use the word madcap. she laughs then too.

i do this more often now, though it’s lost its seriousness and is pure joke, because i love her laugh.

***

online teaching is exhausting because no one ever laughs. they are all muted.

no one is going to unmute to laugh. that would be weird. i know this. the random delayed cackling would be far worse than the silence. [i was wrong. may blessings forever rain upon the student who unmuted to laugh in february 2021.]

and i’m not going to make them turn on their cameras so i can see them laugh. that would be unfair, selfish. i know that too.

and so there are these days where i just throw laugh lines down the empty alley.

and i know they’re connecting, i know they’re out there and they know i’m on their side, because i am the receiver of their rants and their thoughts on strawberries. i know, all evidence to the contrary, this is not a one way street. they tell me strawberries are red and we have established such a relationship that i am then moved to go out and buy a carton and also to tell them that i did so and to thank them in all of my classes even if they don’t show up to whatever class they’re enrolled in, whoever they are.

that’s capitalism, but it’s also connection.

***

god, this sounds so stupid.

i feel so stupid writing it.

but, true story, it feels like it matters so fucking much.

***

the zz plant, from what i can gather, love/hates the sun. don’t we all 🙂

denied the light, it reaches out to find it.

i’m aware that, now my publisher has stolen the title of my blog for my book [this is 2022, hi, hello.], i’m working to make this a different space. trying to reclaim it. (HILARIOUS that their first title suggestion was reclaiming jackie. and, lo, we have come full circle.)

hence the new name is the rejected book title. rejected because the word “alarming,” it was off-putting, too negative. the word “alarming,” ya’ll, it will not sell.

ok, fine, but life is really fucking alarming, non? i am not wrong. gore vidal or gay talese or whoever said of jackie “that woman has had an alarming life” at a dinner party my former agent’s boss attended, sorry to that man, i don’t remember who you were, but you were not wrong.

***

[back to 2020…] they won the silver medal, bechke and petrov.

SILVER?! for this tchaikovsky masterpiece. but then, suraya bonaly is a rockstar and she didn’t even medal that year, so clearly the system is broken.

***

i love it when the women smile, when their blade hits the ice and their mouth blows open in this just irrepressible grin.

when i wrote that sentence, it was september 2020. i’d just finished teaching a unit on description. i’d just asked a student to make 100% sure there were no sensations of taste involved in their experience of the gathering at the supreme court for RBG’s wake, so i’m aware of the inadequacy of that image above, as well as the unnecessary repetition of the word “just.” (the thing about teaching is it really highlights all of the ways in which you, personally, fail.)

i wonder if they say anything, the figure skaters, the women. if there’s an exclamation of “YES!!!!” that we can’t hear because of the music over the PA.

like, if the music weren’t playing, would figure skating sound like tennis?

no, really, i want to know. would it?

have they been shouting and grunting and screaming all along and we’ve just not heard their cries because the music is pumped out too loud so as to emphasize the delicacy of their white femininity?

(for me, the men in figure skating– bless– have always been ancillary. it is, for me, a sport through which women find a way out. [you know me. or maybe you don’t! hi, hello, nice to meet you, love, fyi, i am always looking for the exit.])

***

my zz plant is approximately 3 feet tall. the original one. i’ve recently procured another and, god go with it, i will do my best.

they both live in the window now, under the light of the sequined curtains.

***

my students tell me they love my “background.”

which is my home.

the only room i have. after years of displacement and instability.

the room in which i eat and binge watch and read and teach and grade and do yoga and sleep.

the room i borrow from some faceless corporate agency for $1175 every month (+$35 for claude). [this is 2020.]

thank god i had the foresight to buy a convertible couch! [this is the couch on which the man would rape me on january 16, 2021, three days before the start of the spring semester.]

in their rants they write: i love your background. [i moved in march. my background is different but it is still my life and, still, they ❤️ it.]

in my replies, i tell them to watch out for my musical chairs-ing of the plants and books. because i want them to be there, to be present, to be entertained. and in this weird world we live in i somehow imagine my rotating new plants onstage will be the thing that brings them in at 9:40 am.

but i so want them to be clear on the fact that i am 100% here for them, that we are all of us here, that this is real. it really, really, is. i assure you, it really is real.

i cannot stress that enough.

this is real. this is really happening.

when we were in a classroom, it was intense.

i said this in april 2020. already, ALREADY, before all of this, it felt like life and death.

now.

NOW.

people.

PEOPLE.

dear people.

before, way way back in the way back of last april, we teachers were the band on titanic.

there were memes. maybe you saw them. (interjection from 2022: a friend was in town a few weeks ago and we laid up in the bed together, in our pajamas, drinking champagne, and watching titanic on the laptop balanced on a pillow between us. [no doubt exactly how james cameron imagined the ideal viewing experience.] and i hesitate to say i was triggered. but also this meme loomed large.) 

but now.

NOW.

NOW?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

NOW!!?!??!?!?!?!?!~!?!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!!??!?

[by which i mean…

THEN.

THEN?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

THEN!!?!??!?!?!?!?!~!?!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!!??!?]

now [/then, we are occupying two moments in time simultaneously within these words {cool, yeah?}], i don’t want to be an alarmist and i do not speak for everyone but speaking only for myself, now, it feels like we are those people, those people that, just looking at them and based on how limited their lines are, you already know they are doomed. those people hanging onto the edge with their fingertips, knuckles gone white, gripping the side of the boat as it slides down into the atlantic.

[lol. this was fall 2020. now it’s just normal, now it’s just how teaching is. i have made my peace with abandoning my life-long quest to stop biting my nails.]

think of me as the man in whose eyes rose dewitt bukater looked before he let go.

you remember that guy? we all of us who saw that movie remember that guy. the one who let go and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced down the deck as he fell into the freezing waters to die.

hi.

it me.

A FEAT OF COMPUTER-GENERATED IMAGERY, the critics called it.

hey, me again, along with all of my comrades.

we are not a pretty picture so you may be tempted to look away but DO NOT DO IT. i command you. listen to the teacher: LOOK AT US.

as jackie’s mom reportedly always told her and her sister during arguments, according to that one book by jerry oppenheimer, EYES ON ME!!!!!!

we come to you every tuesday/thursday and/or every monday/wednesday/friday and/or– god bless the k-12s!!!!– every single fucking weekday as a feat of computer-generated imagery but we are here, we are real, we also are in our homes pasting on our smiles, throwing laughs down the alley.

we are here. this is us.

c’mon, you loved that show, right? lookit!!

THIS IS US.

***

they’re sitting by the air conditioner, the zz plants. IS THE AIR CONDITIONER KILLING THEM? are they too cold??! i do not know.

i was too hot, so this is where we are now.

it’s good to sit back and assess…

tomorrow, i will welcome 65 people into my bedroom and we will do i do not yet know what for 80 minutes.

elena bechke is 54 and a figure skating coach in north carolina. in 1992, she won the silver medal in the XVI olympic winter games.

verne lundquist lives!

so does scott hamilton!

my zz plants are… too soon to tell. [true story: it was an enormous, very old jade plant, and it died in spring 2021.]

but, still, they set down their leaves and, tired (aren’t we all), still, they reach for the light.

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