Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cranking Up the Volume

or Wild Thing, I Think You Move Me

Weddings don't seem to be for the faint of heart.   Even simple weddings in one's own family home with a frighteningly competent mother in charge have truckloads of small details that can't be pulled together until the last minute, frazzling brides who are normally calm and ultra-together.   I attended a wedding like that many years ago now (and, if anyone knows where all those years have gone, by all means let me know).   One of my dearest friends, whom we shall call S, was marrying an easy-going sweetheart of a gentleman out of her parents' home in California.

S is such a sensible person that, if she weren't also warm and generous and impulsive and loving, she would drive you insane by being sane all the time.   As a mutual friend put it, "She is the kind of person who sees that something is bad for her and so doesn't want it."   She considers eating small amounts of dark chocolate to be a vice; she has no other.   She doesn't procrastinate; she accepts criticism well; she runs five miles a day.   Even with all those strikes against her, however, somehow she's still quite lovable, but like the rest of us, S has her moments of human frailty.  Everything on the day of her wedding was going well and under control, but there were enough extra thises and thats demanding her attention—just extra, extra, EXTRA—that she began to fray around the edges.

In the midst of all the activity, S's 4-year-old niece had gotten wound up to bursting point and was racing around making a world-class racket.   The noise set S's teeth on edge, but when she asked her niece to be quiet, the little girl plumped down on a bench in a swirl of flouncing skirts, and with the wickedest twinkle in her eye that it has ever been my privilege to see, began chanting, "BE LOUD!   BE LOUD!   BE LOUD!" at the top of her lungs.

A part of me understood my friend's irritation and was pretty irritated myself;  the rest of me was filled with awe and envy:   awe that a 4-year-old should have such fearless confidence, should be so certain of her right to make a noise in the world; envy that she should feel so gleeful about being herself in the face of disapproval from every adult in the room.   Yes, I concurred, she needed to be sent to her room and put on bread and water for—well, for years; but secretly I was cheering her on.   While I hope she's learned better timing and a little consideration for others since then (now that she's starting college and all), I hope she still has the capacity to live at the top of her bent.   I don't know that I've ever been loud like that in my life, and I think it's a mighty fine thing for a girl to be.   Especially when she lives thousands of miles away from me.

We wind up our celebration of botanical vulgarity this week with a look at the loudest plant in my garden, one that puts even orange marigolds to shame—Wild Thing autumn sage (Salvia greggii Wild Thing).

It really is that color.

The funny thing is that, since being saddled with CFS and fibromyalgia, I can't handle noise at all, whether aural, mental, or visual; whatever mechanism we have to sort through stimuli and prioritize them seems to have gone awry.   All the useful "how to cope" materials, which the better kinds of physicians give you, offer tips for dealing with a broad range of situations, but when it comes to noise, they just say, "AVOID THIS."   (Oops—but not in block caps, because that's the online equivalent of shouting, which is very noisy.   Sorry.)   I generally seek out peace, quiet, tranquility; cool watery blues, gentle forest greens, pale buttery yellows.   Calm colors.   Serene colors.   But there are always exceptions that I can't explain, like orange marigolds and Wild Thing autumn sage.

I fell in love with this plant the first time I saw it, and I don't even like pink.   Yet now I have an entire baby hedgelet of astonishingly noisy flowers blooming in the garden.   Even at noon in mid-summer, when paler colors look faded and washed out under the New Mexico sun, Wild Thing is gleefully shouting, "Pink!   Pink!   Pink!"   It is the equivalent of a noisy little girl who, yes, was way too loud, but by golly, was loud with a vengeance.

I wouldn't call its contrast with the garden walls a subtle one.
Is loudness vulgarity, or is it vividness?   Garishness or glee?   Misbehavior or joie de vivre?   None of those options is mutually exclusive; the admirable qualities live side by side with those we turn our noses up at.   (So sorry—with those at which we turn up our noses.)   Do you really want to forgo the glee to avoid the garish?   Lose vividness to whatever passes for today's good taste?   Stifle joie de vivre in the name of good behavior?   If everyone is equally loud, of course, you can't hear anyone over the clamor; I suspect Wild Thing makes me so happy because it takes all the solos, while the greens and buttery yellows croon a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" in the background.   So by all means be smart in your timing, and definitely be considerate of others.

But go live loud today.   Make a noise in the world.

For what it's worth, I promise not to send you to your room.


  1. I love that you have a tag for vulgarity.

    I also believe that I live next door to the wedding-girl's little cousin. Thank goodness her mothers have a weekend house.

  2. Lisa and Robb, I kind of went on a pro-vulgarity rant for a while, though I have to admit to liking it best in small, quiet doses. The wedding girl appears to have a very large family! Would that they all had weekend houses a looooong way away.