I was admiring a container of dragon's blood sedum (Sedum spurium) the other day over a cup of coffee, when it set me to thinking about limericks. Actually, it set me thinking about growing things in pots v. in the ground, which brought me to the occasional usefulness of limitations, which led tangentially to a recent New York Times article on decision fatigue, and then to the ways typical art forms can prevent creative "option paralysis," and then onward to painted still lifes and from there to Mozart's operas to sonnets to limericks, which sounded like fun, and so here we are. (Coffee: yes.)
In a way a limerick is an incredibly constrained little poem. It has a teeny-tiny, hedged-about form, with its five lines and two rhyme schemes and rollicking, anapestic rhythms. That can be a pain (or half the fun), as you're constantly bumping against the need for a particular pattern of accents. On the other hand, once you've chosen to write a limerick, you've freed yourself from all sorts of other choices. You know how long the lines will be, you know the general tone. Meanwhile, you still have creative room to roam inside those parameters. Like squeezing a water balloon on one end, the pressure from the limerick's rhythms and rhymes just forces your creativity to pop up somewhere else.*
I laughed at these two limericks for all kinds of reasons today:
There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck.
When they said, "Are you friz?"
He replied, "Yes, I is—
But we don't call this cold in Quebec."
T. S. Eliot is quite at a loss
When clubwomen bustle across
At literary teas
Crying, “What, if you please,
Did you mean by The Mill On the Floss?”
—W. H. Auden
They say such completely different things in such different styles. The limerick's constraints don't prevent individual voices from popping up through them.
In an odd way they remind me of a friend who moved to New York City. When he first arrived he had a serious case of option paralysis. With such a vast array of choices in restaurants, for example—Ethiopian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Brazilian, Cuban, Tex-Mex, diner—all within walking distance, he found himself choosing the path of least resistance: to stay home. Artificially narrowing his options to restaurants within one block on the right-hand side of the street freed him to make choices, and from there he was off and running.
All to say, the sedum is doing unexpectedly well in its little pot. It's growing much, much better than it did in the ground, when its roots had all the room they wanted. Then, the most you could say about it was that it wasn't dead. Now it's a happy little thing with all kinds of new growth and good color. The improvement could possibly owe a little something to the daily water and good soil all the container plants get (ahem). But the impression it gives—at least for the purposes of this post—is that now that its roots are constrained the growth is popping up someplace else, that instead of forging root systems underground, the life in the sedum is fountaining up over the top of the pot. Before, it had option paralysis. "Roots or leaves? Roots or leaves?" Now it doesn't—it has limited choices, and that energy has to go someplace.
It just needs some room to roam.
* What other art form would have me hunting for words that rhyme with Albuquerque? So far the most promising are murky, perky, quirky, and tofurkey. The next step—and this will take some creativity—is to come up with a rational way to put them together.