I’ve been staring at a blank page for about an hour trying to drum up a sharp, quick-witted idea to write about. Unfortunately, creativity is sometimes a surreptitious process, and today, it evades me entirely. I’m in the throes of a stubborn case of writer’s block. It’s a vexing and unwanted condition that’s best remedied by watching Seinfeld reruns, rereading old issues of The Walrus, engaging in staring competitions with my dog, Levi, and partaking in other effective forms of procrastination. Times like this are a humbling reminder that compelling ideas aren’t drawn from a bottomless well of innovation that I have unreserved access to. Sometimes ideas are more elusive. Sometimes they are tucked away, out of sight, forcing me to seek them out. It can be an exhausting—at times even defeating—routine.
I am a houseplant fanatic. When it comes to beautifying my home, plants are my favorite go-to décor. Plants add natural character and texture to a room and infuse a space with a bright, fresh feeling. Apart from looking lovely, house plants possess attractive health benefits too! They have air purifying effects and stress-reducing qualities. House plants are an attractive design element that promote health and wellness while providing eye-appealing aesthetics in any home. Although I’ve always been an avid fan of houseplants, for a long time I possessed something of a black thumb—the opposite of a more nurturing “green” one. So much so that I garnered a bit of a reputation at home as a plant murderer (I would like to contest these charges by pleading herbslaughter or negligence in the first degree, as these recurrent killings were always accidental.) The death of multiple plants under my care was undeniably discouraging. By the twelfth plant-related tragedy, I had all but given up. I seemed to possess an unwanted ability to transform anything green and leafy into a withered and frail stick near death’s garden bed. This unfortunate pattern was largely due to a lack of knowledge on basic plant care coupled with my misplaced assumption that when it came to plants, there was a status quo in terms of required upkeep—an across-the-board criterion that applied to anything flora-related. I was wrong.
I bought you two years ago last Sunday. Since moving out on my own, I had always wanted a pet, but my building at the time didn’t allow cats or dogs. A pet fish seemed like a suitable compromise, and I was right. Some might think “Henrietta” is a bit too fancy of a name for a fish. I admit, it is a tad unconventional. It goes against the grain of more common fish names, such as Flounder, Flipper, Bubbles, Dory, or my personal favorite: Sushi. But you are no ordinary fish. In fact, I think you are rather extraordinary. A very special and unique fish, and so, Henrietta seemed a fitting name. We’ve never really spoken. Our exchanges are a bit one-sided. I’ll often say hello and ask how your day was. You just sort of stare at me, bobbing mid-water, opening and closing your mouth. No words emerge, but often little air bubbles do. You also flick your fins. I like to think this is because you are communicating with me in your own fishy way, akin to sign language. One flick means “Hello.” Two flicks mean “How are you?” Three flicks mean “Shut up and feed me already.” Sometimes I convince myself that when I walk into the room, you dart enthusiastically back and forth upon seeing me. But then you try to attack the tank filter, and I wonder if I haven’t just misunderstood the signals. Are you only attacking it to throw me off? I may never know.
I’ve always been an outspoken autumn enthusiast. My affinity for thick knit sweaters and decorative gourd centrepieces cannot be overstated enough. A passion that often has me wrestling another woolly top into my already crowded closet and decorating my countertops in miniature squashes. Though I’ve never jumped on the Pumpkin Spice Latte bandwagon (a beverage enjoyed by what seems like a seasonal cult), anything else fall-related I tend to embrace. This is to the disdain of my more summer-oriented friends who curse the arrival of fall and yearn for the sun-kissed days of July. My love of fall is vested in the season’s charming hallmarks: the way oak, elm, and crab apple trees—those magical changelings—transition across a spectrum of color, cloaking my neighborhood in autumnal hues of gold and bronze. Or how my favorite, the towering maples, shed their leaves until the sidewalks resemble a crimson carpet. The invigorating crispness of the morning air that spurs me to wrap myself in a thick scarf during my morning walk to work. Or the way I don’t have to apply SPF 100 to my sun-sensitive skin each time I venture outdoors.
I don’t often mention being on the southwest coast of Thailand on December 26, 2004. In the rare instance that I do, or it inadvertently comes up, it’s with far more acceptance than my previous self, with still raw sensibilities, could sufficiently feign. I hold no allusions that the events of that day will be graspable to others. There is no universal language for the individual experience; no way to translate things in a way that encapsulates all the subtle nuances and bold complexities of subjectivity. There are emotions and memories that have burrowed themselves away deep, beyond reach of our impulse to generalize. Yet, I am far more welcoming of people’s efforts to do so. Of their efforts to empathize through the lens of their own experienced sorrows. Of the underlying humanity that motivates their gesture. Of the sincerity and openness that fuels their inherent desire to connect. And of the humbling instances where I am met with mirrored vulnerability.
In a recent McSweeney's article titled "RIP, 2017" writer Pete Reynolds unapologetically sums up, “In life, 2017 was an avid collector of mass shootings, devastating natural disasters, and unfortunate accounts of famous old men groping their female colleagues.” Counter to this resoundingly "bad", 2017 also delivered varying degrees of good, including the Women’s March, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia, and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Ladybird. Whether your outlook is steely focused on inspiring stories of progress, or fixated on negative tales of resurgent fascism and our seemingly obdurate march toward nuclear warfare, I think we can all agree that we are bidding adieu to 2017 on a somewhat conflicted note.
Mr. P. was an eccentric. An intellectual. A philosophizing soul who was respected by staff and idolized by students. Broad-shouldered and tall, he had a lengthy beard matched by a pair of thick sideburns. When I first met him, I expected a deep, authoritative voice to emerge, but instead a far more tempered one spoke, with a candid hippie-like inflection reminiscent of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Though he evades description, if I were to venture one, physically, Mr. P. kind of resembled Santa Claus. Or rather, St. Nick’s maverick brother, who rebelled by rejecting the family business, and absconding to the Canadian West Coast, proclaiming, “To hell with snow and pine trees, man. I’m moving south and teaching the generation of tomorrow!”