Flowers and Feelings
another instance of having emotions and overly romanticizing life... what's new, am i right, ladies?
Flowers invite proclamations of their symbolic value the same way slips of the tongue invite Freudian interpretation. Whether or not either is inherently meaningful is irrelevant to the fact that it’s a human inclination to seek and exaggerate the significance of what could just as easily be perfectly meaningless. Freud viewed erroneous speech as psychic confessions of unconscious desires, whereas Chinese Buddhists viewed flowers as a way to express the harmony between heaven, man, and earth by intertwining the stems of three flowers so tightly they appeared to emerge from their water bath as one; they would then leave this kuge at temple altars. Inspired by this practice, the Japanese developed the ever-evolving practice of ikebana, the purpose of which, according to Toshiro Kawase, is to show that “the whole universe is contained within a single flower.” Elsewhere, the Victorians, ever customary and pretentious, used flowers to convey messages they couldn’t voice themselves. Similarly, practitioners of the Sufism tradition of Islam imbued roses specifically with significant spiritual weight, fating them to forever represent the mystical journey to Allah.
And when I look at my flowers, stuffed into old wine bottles and peach juice jars, I feel gratitude for their natural perfume that masks the smell of weed in my room. I recognize their beauty, I understand their innate healing properties, and I’ve been moved by their poetic invocations in literature, but I’ve also never allowed myself to remain fully ignorant of the arbitrary nature of their symbolism. As Fariha Róisín wrote in an essay, there’s a surrender inherent to nature that we, regardless of time or place or culture, can’t help but give into, and it’s that inclination that has driven the emotional connotations flowers enjoy. It’s an inclination I recognize every time I find myself breathing in the wet, earthy smell of a mountain trail or being lulled by the gentle lapping of the ocean; for me, that surrender is akin to looking into a mirror and seeing all the emotions and experiences I hold dear reflected back at me, subsuming me in their profundity. But once I’ve returned to my city life, a counter-sensation of quasi-nihilism creeps in that dismisses whatever I felt in nature as an instance of being swept up in the serenity of the moment and feeling things I want to feel, not necessarily feeling things that have basis in my material reality.
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This is why when the flowers I buy (according to how good they smell or how well their colors complement each other) start to emanate a soft, metaphorical glow that tempts me to lose myself in overt romanticization, I pause. I look around my room for the cause of such a shift, and more often than not the reason is a boy sitting at my desk, rolling a joint and laughing, telling me how much he enjoys my company. Whether he says this sincerely or duplicitously, in Spanish or in English, is beside the point because my flowers have already ceased to be mere petals atop a green stem; my carnations are now undeniable solidifications of love and captivation; my daisies nothing more than the spirit of innocence and new beginnings manifest; my irises bloom open not to reach more sunshine but to release hope and trust.
Though there is always a part of my brain (the “buzzkill” part, as I may refer to it in the height of my crush) that prevents me from diving head-first into my delusions of romantic grandeur, the fact that my emotions can be swayed so heavily by a boy I knew for two weeks after meeting at a bar or with a guy who was never meant to be more than a Tinder hook-up, is frightening. It feels like a treacherous revelation of desires I’ve kept dormant in order to live the life that I lead (and enjoy)–– one that is in a constant state of transition, that is facilitated by the ubiquitous entering and exiting of people similarly in a confused phase of perpetual motion, and ultimately one that is largely, in my opinion, counter-intuitive to any type of long-lasting romantic fling, which necessitates stability, consistency, forethought–– all of which are things that, as someone who is hardly ever in the same place for more than a year, are generally absent from my life.
Yet, when the flowers become dizzying in their symbolic encouragement of my romantic delusions, I start to picture life a little bit different. Every date filled with laughter and chemistry becomes evidence that this time it’s special, maybe special enough to rearrange my future a little. Every conversation heavy with emotional confessions or bond-deepening similarities brings with it the vexing persistence of what if? My flowers exude hallucinogenic scents that invade my brain with innocent lovelorn daydreams, enticing me with their sweetness like a refreshing oasis that seductively lurks in the corner of the eye of a person delirious with heat stroke.
But just as the mirage dissolves into the curvature of the heatwaves upon closer inspection, the high of the dalliance always comes to an abrupt halt, despite the momentum produced by my heightened excitement. Still reeling from the shock of what I feel is an unexpected end, the only relief I have is Charlotte York’s mandate that it takes half as long as the time you knew your partner in order to get over the (relationship/situationship/friends-with-benefits/whatever) you two shared; during this period of time, I accept that there’s no longer anyone to pass idle days in the park with, that I will have to go to yoga classes alone, that the possibility of creating a new inside joke is as likely to occur as a child’s most ridiculous pipedream.
Each day, as my delirium subsides, I reflect and realize there was no sudden, unexpected final, just signs and inklings I overlooked in favor of the ecstasy of my romantic daydreams. I analyze and pinpoint and overthink and by the end of my “recovery period,” my brain has been so mercilessly inundated with studies of another person’s behavior, speech pattern, likes and dislikes that it feels leaden and stagnant. It’s at this point, when the other person no longer elates me, and the mere thought of them instantly fatigues me, that a sense of calm and logical stability begins to set in.
My flowers are no longer alive with the potential of a great love story, but return to being pretty fixtures in my room, positioned towards the sun so they can perform their photosynthetic duties as seamlessly as possible. My journal entries brimming with academic essays reflecting on what he meant when he said I “get it,” are no different from my younger self’s diary entries written with a pink feathery pen about the injustices of the tetherball court. Life becomes bland without the ubiquitous glimmer of romantic optimism, but it’s also more settled and grounded and guided by clarity of thought rather than a flurry of emotions. The rapidity with which I can get over something which utterly subsumed me just a week or so prior makes me even more suspect of the feelings I experienced while it was happening. I chastise myself for never learning how to react to things moderately, how to not make whatever I have or had more special than it actually is.
But, as Davey Davis wrote for his Substack, “Personally, I don’t think that imposing significance is all that different from finding it.” Maybe there was nothing arbitrary driving the Ancient Chinese to imbue a holy sanctity onto the flowers comprising their kuge; nothing arbitrary behind the Japanese decision to use flowers to facilitate harmony in their surroundings; nothing arbitrary as to why the Victorians chose flowers as vessels for their thoughts. Maybe the flowers’ significance and symbolism were already there to find, and it was discovered by those who were able to see it, and who then could impose it onto cultural traditions and social connections. Maybe all of life’s meaning is already there to be discovered, even in places beyond nature and flowers–– in the smile of the old man at the park clearly grateful to share his knowledge of the orange trees with someone; in the humidity of the summer air as a group of friends laugh and drink refreshing white wine on a balcony; in the intimate stillness of an elevator ascending like a halo of light, where all that can be heard is the thunderous beating of two lovers’ hearts as they lean in for a first kiss.
And maybe I do imbue all of my dalliances with a bloated significance that may or may not be rooted in reality, but the alternative to ignoring the magic of a moment is to deny the power of imagination, to deny the necessary search for meaning. Ignoring it dismisses the emotional energy expended on chasing these special moments and the pure joy a person feels upon finally catching up to one. Ignoring it concedes a dreary outlook, one in which our inner lives are incapable of mirroring or paralleling the raw beauty and emotional profundity we find in nature, as if we are destined to be numb, stultified agents of a rigid reality. Perhaps this is why, either to my detriment or to my strength, I haven’t yet been able to learn how to turn my gaze from the splendor of these moments.
So now when I walk down the street, I become mesmerized by the knowledge that the sun warming my face is the same one whose light is majestically slanted against the sculptured detailings of the buildings. I listen to the voice in my headphones crooning about the multiple quirks of its owner’s beloved, and I fail miserably trying to keep count of all the myriad ways we have of telling each other “I love you.” And once I arrive at the florería, I say hello to the smiling woman who always calls me “bonica” (“pretty” in Valencian) and proceed to select a bouquet of orange and white and purple flowers simply because they meet my aesthetic requirements.
After all, they’ll just be in my room and, besides, they are only
boys, sorry, I mean flowers, at the end of the day.
At least, that’s what I got from A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
You justify my existence
in memoriam of Macabre