I’ve decided to kill Bill. Bill is my aloe plant. And I’ve decided to kill him.
It’s the only way he can live.
Never listen to anyone, ever. People love to give you advice, and 51% of the time they don’t know what they’re taking about. Unless you’re at a blackjack table in a casino. I don’t know if dealers are obligated to give advice, but they will. This is because no matter how perfectly you play the blackjack table, if you play long enough, you’re going to lose. So blackjack dealers will give you advice.
People told me all different kinds of things about watering my aloe plant. “Water him every 2-3 days,” they said. “Water him once a week.” “Water him once every three weeks.” “Water him when you notice the soil is dry.”
But I have a new tactic: Never water him, ever.
Right now Bill is sitting in the courtyard, slowly dying of thirst. But here’s the deal: Bill was built for exactly this kind of situation. Bill’s ancestors come from the desert, where they sometimes had to subsist for long periods of time without water. Apparently, a scarcity of water doesn’t hurt aloe plants; it makes them stronger. The worst thing you can do with aloe plants is give them too much water; the roots rot.
Which is why I’m done watering Bill. Eventually the rains will come, maybe in April, maybe in May, maybe in June, and the rains will water Bill. Bill will be happy, he will live, or maybe he won’t live, in which case he was destined to die.
Not that I believe in destiny.
It’s a beautiful night here in Guadalajara. The stars are out as much as they can be in a city of five million people. It’s Friday, but I’m not going to do anything except maybe walk to El Expiatorio and sit admiring the neo-gothic architecture. And maybe when I come back I’ll watch a movie, and ignore Bill.
I was thinking this morning about whether or not I could consider Bill, my aloe plant, an actual friend. After a thorough inquiry into what makes a “friend,” i.e. me thinking about it briefly as a I washed dishes, I concluded that yes, Bill definitely is a friend.
In fact, he might be the ideal friend.
For starters, Bill is a wonderful listener. That’s all he’s capable of. When I sit him on the table next to me and tell him about my day he never criticizes, never plays “the devil’s advocate,” never gives “suggestions” or “advice” that are just thinly-veiled criticisms. Instead, he just sits there and basks. Basking is one of Bill’s favorite activities. Basking in the sun. Basking in the afternoon heat. Because in a slight breeze. Basking under the glow of the Guadalajara stars. Basking next to Joy, my newest aloe plant (named after the sensation I hope she brings me and also a girl in my master’s program I was briefly in love with).
Joy is my newest plant. Joy is extremely healthy. She’s robust. She’s the kind of aloe plant you look at and think, Man, I almost want to cut myself. When Marta, the lady I get sandwiches from, gave me Joy I was elated, but also instantly a bit sad. What if I kill her? I thought. What if she becomes like Bill, a creature I desperately love who’s withering in front of my very eyes? Because that’s the thing about Bill: he’s not doing much better. He also doesn’t seem to be doing much worse, but I assumed that transplanting him to the new pot with drainage and watering him less and playing him “La Follia” by Vivaldi in the evenings would instantly revive him. Does he want to die? Is Bill depressed? Sometimes I wish Bill actually was more of a talker, so he could communicate what he needs.
Another possibility has crossed my mind concerning Bill, one I hadn’t considered before: it’s possible Bill isn’t even an aloe plant. Or it’s possible he’s an aloe plant, but just a different strain than the classic, juicy, luscious green aloe plant Joy is. Right now Bill and Joy are sitting next to each other in the courtyard. I now have two plants in the courtyard. Yesterday was “watering day,” and it gave me untold pleasure to actually water them, since this is something I wish I could do every two minutes but I have to restrain myself to only do it twice a week. I have no doubt Joy and Bill are communicating, albeit in very slow, muted electronic impulses, and I would love to know what they’re saying.
Joy: “Are you…basking?”
Joy: “I love….basking.”
Joy: “Remember that sun from five minutes ago?”
Joy: “That was really nice….”
Someone said to me the other day they thought it was great I was so concerned about taking care of Bill, but that it was important I be ready in the event he passed away. After restraining an urge to punch this person in the face, I realized they’re probably right. The sad truth is it might be too late for Bill, and no amount of love and care on my part will be able to save him. I certainly hope this isn’t the case. Joy and I would both be sad. Life in Guadalajara would go on, but I’d certainly feel I’d lost a friend. Because, at this point, as I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear, that’s exactly what Bill is.
Two weeks ago someone gave me an aloe plant. They said, “Water it once a week.” Since then, I’ve been steadily killing it. Today I finally googled “aloe plant care” and read a bit about what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to leave it in direct sunlight. You’re not supposed to water it more than once every three weeks (according to this site), and most importantly, you’re supposed to put it in a planter with good drainage.
I’ve done the opposite of all of these things.
And now the plant is dying. In fact, there may be no saving it. Today I found a planter with holes in the bottom. When I went to transplant the plant, who’s sort of named Bill but will be re-christened if he lives (I’ll let Patreon subscribers name him), I saw his roots. There was mold growing on them. They were black and brittle. I recoiled in nausea and chastised myself for letting things get to this point. I felt like an early settler crossing The Rockies whose foot has been numb for three days — ever since the blizzard — but he’s too scared to look at it. When he finally does he almost vomits. His foot has gangrene. It’s rotting.
There’s a metaphor to be had here, I just don’t know what it is.
So now Bill is in a bigger pot with adequate drainage. I don’t know if he’ll live. The best thing to do at this point is to let him be. The reason I’ve killed him is a strange combination of paying too much attention to him and completely neglecting him. On the one hand, I paid too much attention to him, watering him every couple of days, putting him in the sun because I thought this was what you’re supposed to do, while a nagging voice said to me, “You really should research this a bit and figure out how to take care of these plants.” But I was too lazy. Too lazy to take 15 seconds to google something. So in that way, I completely neglected Bill. I failed him.
There’s a metaphor to be had here, and I’m starting to get an idea of what it might be.
In a completely unrelated bit of a news (see: directly related) I have a new English student. He’s moving to the US in a couple months, and thus quite motivated. Yesterday, however, I discovered that his English, while somewhat competent on the surface, is actually in need of a major overall. I had him conjugate the verb “to be” and he could barely do it. I had him conjugate verbs in various forms of the present tense (negative, questions, negative questions), and he could only do it with much help. And so I realized: We need to start from the beginning. We need to go slow so he understands everything, and only then can we continue to more advanced structures like present perfect and simple past and the various forms for talking about the future. I like to think about it like building a house. You can put the prettiest coat of paint on a house, but if the framing is done wrong you better start over. And so that’s what we’re doing with my student’s English.
There’s a metaphor to be had here, and I think I know what it is.
In a final bit of news, I’m trying to learn how to be a competent person, a competent adult. I’m trying to build the best life possible for myself here in Mexico, but I suspect certain habits are holding me back. I try meditating one day, and writing, and going on long walks. I try alcohol. I try food. I try talking to friends and going on Tinder dates and watching chess videos and immersing myself in work. I’m starting to wonder if I have more in common with Bill than I thought. I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the wrong planter, if the instructions I’ve gotten are maybe just a little off, and if I should do a bit of research and figure out how to really take care of this human being that is myself.
Because I feel like I might be doing exactly what I did to Bill: I’m paying attention, just in all the wrong ways. It’s like I’ve gotten an instruction manual for a human that isn’t even me, or some kind of general instruction manual whose tips need to be custom-fit before they can be effective, and the the challenge becomes how to do that. Strangely, I think Bill might be able to help me here. I think he might have some of the secrets. Which is why it’s imperative he doesn’t die. It’s imperative I find some good soil for him. And most importantly, it’s imperative that, at least for the time being, I leave him alone.
I’m trying to keep the positivity of yesterday going. (I think) I learned two things from yesterday: write even more, be positive, and do away with preconceptions of what I think this blog should be, or what I think I’m capable of as a writer. I might start posting twice a day on some days, and the reason I might do this is it would make me write more, even if people wouldn’t necessarily read it more. I need to get my 10,000 hours in.
But anyway, here are 5 more things I love:
1) Christian Pulisic
He’s my favorite soccer player. He’s the best American soccer player to have ever lived, and he’s only 19 years old. I went to Germany to watch him play, and this trip resulted in five of my favorite days in 2017, staying in a tiny town called Florsheim am Main just west of Frankfurt, talking to my housemate Zelda only in German, attending the Dortmund vs. Mainz game, and going to the Frankfurt Christmas market. I also have a blog dedicated entirely to this young phenom, which you can check out here.
Flörsheim am Main, Germany.
2) Marta’s Lonches
I’ve now mentioned these delectable sandwiches in several posts. They cost 28 pesos, which is about $1.50. Getting them and talking with Marta, the owner of the little corner store that sells things like fruit and cheese and candy and toilet paper, might be the highlight of my days. Most recently she told me about a meditation class she attends Monday nights that only costs 50 pesos and is guided. She calls me “vecino” (neighbor), even though I don’t live near her.
3) Mexican Spanish
Last night my housemates and I sat in the courtyard drinking beer and talking about, amongst other things: drug cartels in Mexico, Spanish rap (i.e. from Spain, not just in Spanish), and La Bestia, the train — or series of trains –that traverse all of Mexico from south to north bringing immigrants from Honduras and other places in Central America and Mexico to the US border. This train is incredibly dangerous, incredibly famous, and passes fairly close to our house, or at least close enough to hear its whistle, and I had no idea.
As I sat there listening to this conversation and sometimes participating, I remarked on how much I love Mexican Spanish, how beautiful it can sound to me, and the spot I will always have for it in my heart, since my Spanish was first solidified in Mexico (Mexico City), and it’s the Spanish I know best.
This may seem a bit general. It may seem a bit obvious. But since I got to Guadalajara I haven’t had a book; that is, I haven’t had a printed book. I’ve been reading on my phone a bit, but reading on your phone is nowhere near as satisfying as holding a book in your hands. Then yesterday there was a basket of books at the Starbucks I always go to that said, “Free. Take one.” and so I did, I took Satyricon by Petronius, and it instantly elevated my quality of life. I like reading, and since I’m in Mexico I like reading Spanish even better. Thank you, Starbucks, for unwittingly gifting me a friend.
5) My aloe plant
A friend gave me an aloe plant and, like the book I got yesterday, it’s also elevated my quality of life. It keeps me company. I have to care for it. Right now, for example, it’s sitting in the courtyard because I feel like being in my room is killing it. I cannot kill this aloe plant. It must live at all costs. Today I will look for a bigger pot for it, since, like me, it wants to grow, it wants to flourish, it wants to be the maximum expression of its aloe self. In a word, it wants to be actualized.
So there’s a little more love. And maybe, since it’s Friday, I’ll also write another post this evening. Also, since it’s nearing the end of the month, I’m going to start bugging you guys about sponsoring this blog on Patreon. You can pledge as little as a dollar a month, or more if you want. Right now I have seven patrons, contributing a combined $20 a month. My goal is $1000 a month. I won’t stop until I get it.