Being a Quercus

My name is Ande Quercus. Last April, I got a book called The Magic of Trees as a gift from my friend Erin. I learned that oak trees (genus Quercus) are associated with various thunder gods because of their reputation for getting struck by lightning more than other trees. Elysa and I had a good laugh and called me “Ande the thunder tree” because of my impressive gassiness. But the association of Quercus with lightning soon came to have deeper spiritual meaning for me.

Last year was my first year at Midway Green Spirit Garden, the big awesome community garden in my neighborhood. Signing up was a big deal for me. I love plants. I love gardening. But a big part of community gardening is interfacing with other humans. A lot of them. Fifty-one plots’ worth, if I remember correctly. I’m afraid of humans, so this was really overwhelming for me. But I’m getting to know the people there. The most intimidating part has been the humans I encounter while traveling the mile between my house and the garden.

Last May, I had just picked my plot and gotten my volunteer assignment in tool maintenance, and I was really excited to jump in. One day, when I was biking home from the garden on a marked bikeway, some asshole in a pickup truck towing a large utility trailer cut me off to pull an aggressive but slow u-turn. I honked my air horn while skidding to an abrupt halt. He blocked me from traveling down that street for a minute or two. When he finally parked and let me pass, he shouted a rape threat at me.

This incident was really upsetting for me. I imagine it would be for most people. Less than a week after it happened, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. I told him I was still upset about the rape threat that had recently been directed at me. He laughed and told me I was inviting that kind of treatment by choosing to look the way I do (i.e. conspicuously gender non-conforming). To be clear, my doctor, who was supposed to be helping me manage my PTSD symptoms, told me I was inviting violent threats by not shaving my face when others wanted me to.

He went on to tell me that I’m basically a lightning rod. What is a lightning rod? It’s a thing humans build to attract dangerous lightning strikes away from important things. Its purpose is to get struck by lightning so other things don’t. I dislike being called a lightning rod.

After my upsetting appointment, I was a mess. Elysa let me cry on her and shout in anger at being blamed for the violence I endure. “I’m not a lightning rod,” I wept, not quite believing it as I said it. “You’re not a lightning rod,” she assured me. “You’re an oak tree, Ande Quercus.”

Following Through

I have a lot of trouble finishing all the projects I start. I have very many interests and I’m easily distractable. And since I turned 30 (I’m 35 now), time seems to pass a lot faster than it used to. I’m in the middle of reading three different books. I have half a dozen partially finished blog posts. I routinely forget to push the start button on the coffee pot and the rice maker. I have a habit of wandering off after cutting only a few of my fingernails. I want to get better at focusing well enough to finish some of the overwhelming projects. I feel like one way to accomplish this is to break the big projects into smaller tasks. I am starting my year by writing a blog post that is ten sentences long.

Solo Week

In just over a day, Elysa will be leaving for a week-long island vacation with her extended family at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. I will be staying home, doing bachelor things like eating dinner over the sink and going days without putting on pants. It’s been over eight and a half years since Elysa and I have spent more than a couple days apart. While I’m really not looking forward to this, I think I’m prepared to make the best of it. My goals for the week include the following: take my meds as directed, go to bed at night, eat food every day, be extra careful to avoid frostbite if I play outside, feed cats and scoop potty boxes as needed, empty mailbox on mail days, try to heal my scabby ear canals, and make a dent in my mending pile. I also hope to post about my progress to my blog here while pretending that I’m not just shouting into the void.

Physics

One time when I was riding in the car with Elysa, I saw some construction cranes.
I said, “Cranes make me think of physics.”
Elysa replied, “Everything makes you think of physics.” She was right.
Now when I see cranes, it makes me think of how everythinig makes me think of physics.

Socially Acceptable

Things I wish were less socially acceptable than they seem to be:

  • Driving around with an unsecured pile of lumber balanced on top of your van
  • Throwing a greasy wrapper on the ground in front of a seeing eye dog
  • Asking a stranger what their genitals look like
  • Killing someone with your car
  • Blowing cigarette smoke in someone’s face as they enter a building
  • Touching someone without their permission
  • Leaving a pile of trash in front of your house for several months at a time

Things I wish were more socially acceptable than they seem to be:

  • Requesting disability accommodations
  • Wearing a breathing mask
  • Stopping for a stop sign
  • Asking someone to stop touching you
  • Cleaning up litter from the ground
  • Declining a plastic bag

Family Resemblance

My first winter using public transportation, I found myself to be consistently unprepared for how much my nose ran when I was outside in the cold air. I was broke, so I would often grab some extra toilet paper for my nose when I used a public bathroom. Most of the tp I took was the standard institutional 2-ply that the U of M used. Then one day, I found that the alumni center on campus had way better toilet paper. It was some quilted stuff that was actually soft.

That evening, I felt compelled to tell my friends about my exciting discovery. I tried to explain how different the toilet papers were, but words can only do so much. Then I realized I had a few squares of each left in my coat pocket, so I passed those around for everyone to compare. While I was waiting for my samples to make their way around the group, I tried to describe the worst toilet paper I’d encountered in a public bathroom. It was narrow, thin, and slightly abrasive. And, as I was thrilled to discover, I had a sample of that with me too. I passed that around and had a giggle about my unusualness. I think most people don’t have toilet paper show and tell with their friends.

I talked to my mom on the phone a couple days later and told her about my strange Ande moment. She told me that while it surely was an unusual thing I had done, it was just another example of my uncanny resemblance to my grandmother, who had returned from a trip to Europe with a similar array of toilet paper samples many years before.