May You Live in Interesting Times
I’ll be honest - this was a difficult newsletter for me to pull together. I had a lot of different topics drafted but nothing felt right given the riots and protests around the country over the last several days. I really just wanted to write about that, I wanted to process my experience of what’s currently unfolding. So I did that. But taking a look at the tone of the essay, it felt very heavy. And I wanted to match it with something a bit lighter, easier to read, and more uplifting.
Where I landed for this newsletter is a story of a conversation with a neighbor about a beautiful flowering plant of his, followed by an essay on my experience of current events in the U.S. Starting with the lighter fare, and then hitting you with the hard stuff. All-in-all, it’s a little snapshot of my weekend, I hope you find something of interest in what I’m sharing.
If you, too, are overwhelmed by recent events in the U.S., feel free to reach out. I think this stuff is worth discussing, it helps process the emotionality of the situation, and to understand the what and why this is happening.
🌵 Introducing: Epiphyllum Cactus!
Epiphyllum in bloom. 😍 My neighbor is growing the same plant with blooms of the same color, it’s quite amazing. Photo by Epiforums.
Earlier this week, Dave and I were going for our typical stroll of the neighborhood when I spotted a giant flower bloom in a neighbor’s yard. I had never seen this combination of colors in a flower before: a deep red and pink blended together just right, it was absolutely beautiful! The flower had been cut from the plant and was sitting on a low wall right by the side walk. I started looking around and found the plant where the bloom grew from—and there were other flowers budding as well. What a delight!
A few days later, Dave and I were again promenading, and the flower neighbor was outside, watering and pruning the plant! I was in luck, I could ask him about this special plant. We started chatting and I learned it was a type of cactus called epiphyllum. The specific cactus he was caring for was started by his dad years ago. I told him I’d never seen blooms like this before and shared how pretty I found the epiphyllum.
At this point in the conversation my interest in the cactus was clear, and my neighbor cheerfully asked if I would like a clipping from the plant, so I could grow my own. “Yes! Definitely, thank you!” We made a plan for a covert plant clipping exchange over the weekend: he would clip some leaves and leave them outside for me to pick-up. I was excited. I went home to research propagation of epiphyllum and made sure I had the right supplies. I was all set, just needed my clippings.
Yesterday, once again Dave and I were out walking (I promise we have a great neighborhood for walks, but also with shelter-in-place, it’s the easiest activity we know of). I had completely forgotten about the clippings until we walked by the neighbor’s house. I spied a box with an epiphyllum leaf poking out but waited to pick it up until we were headed back home. I carried the box home proudly, my new plant acquisition secured.
At home, I unwrapped my present and found six leaves ready for propagation. Following a YouTube video for the best way to propagate epiphyllum, I cut the leaves into ~10 inch pieces, and then cut a “V” shape into the bottom of each cutting. Then, I stuck them in a tall Tupperware, and filled it with water just past the line of the V’s on the plants. Now we wait.
Over the next several weeks, I should see roots start to grow from the cuttings, and I’ll eventually plant these in soil. From what I’ve read online, it’ll be at least a year or two until I see blooms of my own on the cactus. That is, if I can also successfully get the clippings to take and the cactus to grow in soil. Only time will tell, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated!
🥺 A time of civil unrest
This has been a difficult weekend for me given the current events in the United States. I'm talking about events ignited by the most recent incident of police brutality that resulted in the murder of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis, MN. The protests and riots. The vandalism, looting, burning of buildings. The violence. The escalating tension. All on a backdrop of this shelter-in-place and corona virus experience over the last few months.
It's enough to stop me in my tracks. Slow me down. Take stock in the current reality of the world. Truthfully, it's real painful to sit with reality right now! My typical reaction to experiences and events that are difficult to wrap my head around, is to freeze. Like a deer in headlights. I don't know what to think. And then then I think all the things at once. The gears in my mind lock-up as I try to process what’s going on, why it’s happening, and my role is in the event.
I slowly untie my knot of thinking, parsing through information. I try to understand who the players are, and see this is a two-sided ordeal: with the police on one side and the people on the other side. There are certainly many different factions of people, but primarily people are standing up to the inhumane treatment of black Americans by the police. Some may say that statement isn’t powerful enough, some may say U.S. police are murdering black people and it needs to stop. They aren’t wrong—there’s a lot of ways to explain current events right now, a lot of ways to experience what is happening in our country right now.
I continue down the rabbit hole and learn that there are protests and riots occurring across the country, from Seattle, to Oakland, to Houston, to Denver, to Chicago, to Newark, to Philadelphia, to Atlanta, to Miami. And more, so many more. So many I can’t keep track. Some are peaceful, some are not. This has gone on for 5 days now.
I learn a bit about organized agitators and protestors, folks who come to incite action, and sometimes violence. They travel to communities as outsiders to organize some kind of experience: often to rile things up, whip crowds into a frenzy, and get people acting in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. I imagine the roles of these professional protestors vary, in some instances they’re helpful in convening people and giving them structure; in other instances their motives aren’t so pure as they look to engage in destruction and violence.
I watch videos of protests across the country, I see police cars and dumpsters set on fire. I see store fronts vandalized, windows broken into, merchandise looted and property destroyed. I watch as a police SUV drives straight into a crowd of people, injuring many but luckily killing none. I find footage of a woman on her front porch, police in riot gear walking down her residential street who start yelling at her to get inside and shooting riot control rounds at her. I feel like I’m watching a movie and I say to myself over and over again: “This is real. This is not a movie.”
I cry. It’s difficult for me to witness the pain of so many people washing over the streets of my country. But I don’t want to ignore this, I don’t want to stick my head in the sand. I want to experience this historic time in our country. I can’t pretend to understand all of the diverse factors at play here, but I want to try. I want to be informed. Ultimately, I’d like to help and if I don’t understand the current events, I won’t know how to help.
Currently, I’m in self-care mode— putting my oxygen mask on first, before helping others. I’m taking things slowly this weekend, tuning into the news, mostly via Twitter, and then talking to Dave about what I’m learning and seeing. We compare notes and process the experience together. I’m journaling about what I’m feeling. I’m talking to family and friends about what’s going on. I’m writing this newsletter to you.
As the saying goes: may you live in interesting times. Finally, this phrase (allegedly a Chinese curse) makes sense experientially. It’s used ironically, as interesting times are most often chaotic and full of incomprehensible change.
With corona virus and its impact on society continuing to unfold, and now civil unrest spilling into the streets at scale, it’s safe to say we live in interesting times. It sure is chaotic. And it’s certainly not an enjoyable experience. At some level, though, I can see these events as a sign of growth, and this gives me hope. I’m an optimist at heart and for now, I’m going to stick with that—it keeps me moving forward.