The Hellebore

I don’t usually write blog posts late at night. But tonight, I felt as though I had to. Earlier today, I had been scrolling through Facebook and had seen the image I’m including in this post: a picture of a hellebore. This post is a response to that image.

You see, hellebores are among my favorite flowers. I value them particularly because they bloom in winter, when all the other flowers are asleep, underground. They are a promise: that spring will come again, despite the darkness, despite the snow. Facebook is silly: you and I both know how silly it is. But sometimes it does allow you to see something magical, simply because it’s populated by human beings, who are intermittently magical. Some more than others, of course . . . Seeing this hellebore was like getting a glimpse of another country, like getting a sign that said “Wait, hope.”

Here, in case you are wondering what I’m talking about, is the image:


Tonight, I was trying to answer a question, which was, “Why do I feel so sick?” I thought, it’s the rich food — I never eat the way I’ve eaten in the last two days. (I had marzipan for breakfast.) I thought, it’s the lack of sleep — I’ve been overworked for so long now that I don’t remember how to be anything else. But no, I concluded. It’s something else, something deeper, a sickness not of the body but of the soul — and any sickness of the body is a symptom of that underlying sickness. I’ve gone too long needing something that is difficult to find — that deep connection with the world, or the world behind the world: the reality behind all our human games and constructs. I’ve gone too long saying and doing what I’m expected to, being who I’m expected to be. Moving through the world automatically, in a way I’ve learned to move through it, because don’t we all? So as to create the least possible friction.

Once upon a time, I lived in a teeny-tiny house in a forgotten town close to Boston, and I had a garden, in which I planted hellebores. They would come up every winter. I always dreamed that someday I would have a house with a large garden, one which bordered a wood, and in the wood I would plant all the wild flowers: hellebores, which are wild, and the old species daffodils, and fritillaries. I mention this because gardens can connect you to what is real, if they are real gardens, magical gardens. (Mine was magical.)

I’ve been so busy that I’ve barely been writing, and when I do write, it’s because someone has asked me for a story and offered me money for it. I barely write poetry anymore, because there’s no money in it. And yet I think poetry keeps us from becoming sick, and I think I’m healthiest when I can write poetry. It’s a sort of thermometer for the soul. (It occurred to me tonight that there is a certain irony in the fact that the world will pay me enough to live on for teaching others to write, but not for writing myself.)

The hellebore: it reminded me of all this, and helped me diagnose my own illness. But it cannot answer the question that remains, which is, what then? How to effect a cure? And that, I don’t know. But it does hold out the promise of spring after the snows . . .

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7 Responses to The Hellebore

  1. Sofia says:

    I love this. And you’re so right. You should write poetry!

    I also think it’s important to read defiantly–by which I mean, reading that book which will not get you anything. It will not help you to understand “the field” and it will not contribute to your next essay and it will not make you look cool if you blog about it. You just want to read it. (As often as not, it winds up doing all of the above for you anyway… but you are defiant in the beginning because you believe it won’t.)

    Hugs & hellebore. πŸ™‚

  2. tommiaw says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Theodora. It is important to write for self and take care of yourself before you tend to others and that means making time doing the things you love.
    Thank you for introducing me to hellebore, too.

  3. Through the years I have found Stanislavki’s advice for actors, and equally useful
    for writers: “Love the art in yourself not yourself in the art.”

    • What do you think that means, Phyllis? I honestly don’t know . . .

      • Had to ponder. I came to this: for actors, it is to be true to the character you inhabit and not what the audience might think of you. When you dance, you have the art of what your body can do, and you do not stop to wonder what others see. When we write we need to keep this odd gift in view, and not care while we are writing if it will end up successful and make us famous or present us with a desirable amount of money. Not that there’s anything wrong with being noticed or paid. It keeps us knowing we are read and that is not shabby. When one performs and senses the audience, it is a weird and thrilling to and fro. Writing is a little bit like being on radio. On radio I feel loose, as if nobody is listening and amazed when somebody tells me they heard me. That is about all I can fit into a comment.

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