Collecting Flowers

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” — Mary Oliver”

Yesterday in lecture we discussed the creation of anthologies, and how terribly subjective their creation often is. Our tutor, a young man going prematurely grey, was a nervous genius. As he stuttered out his words and thoughts, their meaning struck me as relevant not just to literature, but life, unpredictable and sticky.

The Greek origin of the word “anthology” is anthologein, which means ‘to collect flowers.’ Anthologies of English poetry, for instance, are a collection of works individually distinct, but sometimes made more beautiful by their variety in comparison to other poems. Roses are lovely by themselves, but what about hydrangeas, lilies, asters, and honey-suckle? To me, the idea of creating anthology of life experience is more natural than the idea of writing a single life story.  I want to collect beauty wherever I go and create an arrangement of experience marked by color and depth. Under the metaphor of writing your own story, Bristol was the start of a new chapter, and for many reasons, it is. The idea of a book, though, suggests a central theme, but often, unity is fleeting and confusing.  My five weeks in Africa loving Ugandan babies feels as far removed from the clean lines and order of England as could be. My undergraduate years at Concordia, tucked comfortably in my hometown stands in vivid contrast to my first time abroad in the tiny ski-town of Lillehammer, Norway.  The common thread of new experience runs through them, but there is a stronger disconnect.

A purple hydrangea in November

But when flowers are cut, they wither and lose their beauty. The beauty of the most striking bouquet is temporary and fleeting. Maybe then, if we want tulips, we must go to Holland. If we admire east African lilies, why not go to Uganda? Maybe, like verses of an anthology, we must take ourselves of context to create meaning from chaos and beauty from ashes. Removed from our ordinary context, we use muscles not stretched since building tree forts and creating sand castles. With an anthology, life can take abrupt turns without ruining the plot. Characters can come and go without the story leaving with them. Mistakes are more easily forgiven. When I’m ninety-two and living with flowers and Scottish terriers, I’d rather read a collection of vibrant, divergent short stories than a novel weighed down by agreement.



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November 2011