Last week, I asked my open thread subscribers what I should write about this week. I’ve been struggling to write for the past couple of months — a combination of holiday schedule turmoil, burnout, and medication side-effects — so I turned to my readers, and they said they wanted to know about my new fishtank.
Currently, the tank is in a process of Becoming; there are no creatures in there. Last week, unthinking, I went to the aquarium store planning to purchase all of the fishtank components I desired. I thought I would bring all the pieces home and assemble them, look upon my works with pleasure, and enjoy the state of godhood to which one ascends when one has the power to keep a small thing alive.
I am thankful for the intervention of the small, slick-haired man at the aquarium store. He looked at my intended purchases and guessed that I was setting up a new tank, and he refused to dispense a small shrimp into a plastic bag for me to take home. “You have to let the tank settle,” he said, pushing gravel and plants and potions across the counter to me. “Put the water in there, condition it, and see if the plants live before you come back.”
I have followed his instructions. So far, the plants seem to be alive, although it’s hard to tell whether they’re flourishing. They’re very pretty, though; plants submerged in water are hypnotic and soothing to my reptile brain. The balance of the water seems to be good, and is holding steady. I accidentally bought more moss balls than I needed, so two of them are currently floating in a jar of water on my desk. They’re very charming.
I hate this.
I am impatient by nature, eager to complete projects, always waiting for the moment when I can check an item off my endless list of infinite tasks. Living things don’t respond well to this haste, though. Creatures require time, space, patience. There is no way to nurture a thing without forming a relationship with it, and relationships demand that we acknowledge discomfort, sit with it, allow it to take up space in some way.
I am uncomfortable when I sit in therapy and discuss my childhood; I am uncomfortable when my partner is sad and I can’t fix it; I am uncomfortable with the time it is going to take to find out if I can keep plants alive underwater. I want to know the answers now. I want to solve the problems that I have created by filling a tall glass cylinder with filtered Los Angeles tap water. I want to find a way to sustain life without pain or struggle or all that much effort, and then I want to move on, having done the thing we all spend our lives trying to accomplish.
But that’s not how things will go. Waiting isn’t the same thing as drowning; discomfort isn’t the same thing as dying. The way to prevent suffering later is to apply patience and care now. So I’m going to wait the two weeks it will take for the water to settle. Then, I’ll go and ask that small slick-haired man to decant a shrimp into a bag for me, and I’ll bring the shrimp home and try to learn to interpret its alien signals and fulfill its alien needs.
I will not shove a strange creature into a place designed to kill it, and then get mad when it responds to the environment I’ve created by failing to thrive. I will create a place that is safe for a thing that has no ability to protect itself. I will give it the things it needs to grow, and I will hope that I have done right.
I will want simple answers and concrete solutions. I will want everything to be okay right away, fixed, solved, checked-off.
That is not what will happen.
It never is.