It all starts with my word of the year: change.
It is such a perplexing, but necessary human experience. It is exciting–like getting the first apartment in college and adorning the walls in your own quirky art, but it is also painful–like driving through your hometown where the gas station is now shut down.
So much has changed for me in this past year. However, it happens every day, doesn’t it? Slowly. And then all at once. From hazelnut to vanilla creamer, to ultimately a new lover and a new life.
Talk about change. This is me in high school trying to look artistic with a flower. Why have I always been obsessed with flowers? I will try to explain.
I’ve always loved flowers, especially orchids, plumerias, and tulips. Orchids are my favorite for their elegant grace (ask me about “Ophelia” and my orchid’s tragic death my freshman year of college).
I also have a tattoo of a plumeria on my foot (each petal symbolizing a Hawaiian virtue: sincerity, faith, devotion, courage, and endurance) to recognize my family’s intimate connection to Maui and to honor my dear Oma.
Additionally, the plumeria (encircled by an infinity symbol of pearls) symbolized the lesson learned from the writer, Anais Nin.
As a shy girl growing up, I was always afraid to open up to the world and instead show my fierce dedication to my comfort zone, where I was safe.
Lately though, I have had a bizarre obsession with tulips. Aside from being my favorite springtime tradition, they also hold a simple, but powerful lesson for me. When I was growing up, I was in charge of the little garden behind the white picket fence in our front yard. Yes, I literally lived in the middle of the suburbs with an actual white picket fence around our garden of flowers.
My mom planted tulips long before I was old enough to garden and once they had blossomed and died, I went to Nick’s Garden Center to pick out some new flowers to spruce up our garden. While shopping, my sweet Oma would gently advise me to pick the flowers with the most newborn buds so that they would last longer. As much as I treasured my Oma’s input, I always picked the most mature, full-bodied flowers with ostentatious petals. If I bought the ones with a bunch of baby green buds on it, who knew if it would ever bloom? Who knew if a hail storm would come (after all it is Colorado!)? It was because of my lack of faith in Mother Nature that I preferred to plant the most exquisite, albeit mature, flowers I could find. When I brought my blooming beauties home, I started to dig holes and discovered brown, ridged balls in the soil. I remember splitting some in half accidentally, exposing a white alien-looking newborn Pokemon. I would dig them up, throw them out, and replace them with the roots and sprouts of some blooming dahlias and violets. Once I was finished, I was so proud of my planted perfection.
I remember being confused and shocked when my mom was upset that I replaced those nasty bulbs in the ground with beautiful blooming flowers.
I could not understand that the latent seeds were enough because I couldn’t see them. I guess I knew that the tulips would come eventually, but all I saw was dirt at the time. How could I trust they would come back? That they would bloom again?
Despite the 2Lip Massacre of 1999, the following Spring, the surviving tulips popped up in their simple glory. The flowers I planted the previous summer were dead and gone for the season. I didn’t have to do anything to bring the tulips back. They just came. Kind of like each new day. Kind of like the new love of my life.
Do you see how this functions as a metaphor for life?
You see, I think this is why I hate change. I like my present and immediate future, but I do not hold the patience to see wormy looking bulbs become beautiful tulips. Just as all moments of life, when they are dreary and painful, I just think back to the nice times I’ve had instead of patiently anticipating what joys can bloom from the sorrows.
Tulips taught me that as ugly as those bulbs can be, as dead as the sprouted stems can rot, and as empty as the garden can look, I have to trust that something beautiful will bloom there.
So rather than tattoo a burnt-looking garlic head on my body, I decided to plant my blooming tulips.
Now, as an AP Lit teacher, you must expect some significance of the three (besides your typical archetype of the Trinity):
- Tulip #1 (named “Rose”*): No, it is not a floral identity crisis. This tulip honors my Oma, who has taught me everything I know about trying to make the world a better place than I found it. I know it would make more sense to have a rose tattoo, but my Oma preferred tulips and irony anyway.
- Tulip #2 (named “Holly”): I planned my tattoo before my European getaway to complete my transformation from heart-broken ex-girlfriend into strong, independent woman. As I journeyed on, I wanted something to commemorate my trip, my precious once-in-a-lifetime experience. A couple fellow travelers received tattoos of airplanes, but based on how much I hug the barf bag on those massive machines, I knew it wouldn’t work for me. It was a sure stroke of fate (or whatever you would like to call it) when I arrived in my last destination of my European road trip and I recognized the “Tulip Mania” of Amsterdam. During the Dutch Golden Age, people sold and traded their houses and land in exchange for tulip bulbs–the symbol of beauty and luxury. Now, “Tulip Mania” refers to money-sucking economic bubbles–probably much like my tattoo to be honest. However, it also stands for the reminder that I blossomed when my garden was destroyed.
- Tulip #3 (named “Paige”): Remember this lesson forever, Alexa Paige Brooks.
*I apologize for reaching a whole new level of pathetic in naming each individual tulip in my tattoo, but honestly what did you expect from a neurotic?
Moral of the story: We are all those gross garlicky crusty poop sacks that sometimes are just barren bulbs in dirt. Sometimes, we are the magnificent Dutch treasures welcoming warmer weather and Spring. And regardless of where we are in our growth, it is a cyclical part of life.
Even if when you bloom you are one of those funny-looking stripped ones, those tulips were worth the most in Holland. It is ironic though because they were later discovered as genetic mutations (meaning the imperfect tulips).
I will be honest, my carefully calculated tattoo did not come out exactly as I had imagined. Just like life. It isn’t what I expected, but it is just as lovely. And because of its lack of realism and imperfections, I love it even more. It reminds me that I do not have to be perfect. I need not seek perfection. In fact, I should embrace my imperfection (like those thunderous Brooks family thighs!) just as the freakish striped tulips of mutation ended up being worthy of some Dutchman trading his home for a packet of bulbs.
I know that some people will despise my new addition and I understand that point of view, but I have found freedom in relinquishing the need to find approval and praise from everyone around me. In digging up my garden, I have found the courage to be the messy, dirty version of myself that I have for too long buried. It is time to stop existing for the masses, for the temporary praise of the blossom, and to start living for my own growth and development as a bulb in the soil of society.
I think it is time to bury this metaphor. 😉