On July 9th, 2020, artist Jenny Yurshansky led a writing workshop, organized as part of the Soraya Sarah Nazarian Program in Fine Arts, inspired and propelled by the audio guide, Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory.
Participants were invited to outline narratives of plants in their immediate surroundings, plants that have been bearing witness to our world long before us, and will remain long after we will be gone.
These are some of the stories created during and following the workshop:
Lindsay Shen / Gardenia
I found love in a cold climate. But it didn’t do me any good. I was coddled in a glasshouse, fussed over, fed bone-meal and wood ash, shifted around like an invalid to catch the pale rays of northern sun. I wasn’t a grateful patient. I sputtered a few blistered blooms and gave myself over to aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites.
He liked the cold as little as I do—Alexander Garden, the botanist I’m named after. (I know, his horticultural surname sounds improbable, but Nature often commits random acts of felicity). He abandoned rain-lashed Edinburgh for sultry South Carolina and gave himself over to roses, magnolia, and jasmine.
He would have liked my first home just as much—the sun-soaked swathes of southern China. I need the subtropics to really relax. I dress in white, and if I’m a little obtrusive, a little flamboyant, it’s only because the warm rain carries my ginger-coconut scent like a gift.
Like Alexander Garden was a gift. A gifted physician whose greatest act of generosity was to staunch a smallpox epidemic in Charleston with 2000 doses of vaccine. People don’t tend to remember that. Like they don’t remember that I can staunch their bleeding, calm their eczema, soothe their burns. Stalking the warmth, I take their heat inside myself, cool their restlessness, dispel their discontent. My greatest gift is hating the cold.
Lynn Gladstone Weisman / THREE WOMEN
In spite of the itch in her crotch, she stood erect and beautiful as ever. The plumeria didn’t scratch down there. Instead, her short, regal bearing kept on offering emerging blooms. They were yellow and white, star-like, with just a faint, pleasing odor reminiscent of the lemons growing nearby her.
She came to this place, this seaside hill, from which she listened to the children. They screeched in glee at the sandy shore all day into dusk. When she, herself, was a child, her mother told her many times, “Don’t underestimate your beauty. It will get you places you want to go. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer to gaze at a lovely person rather than an ordinary looking so and so?”
Even as it was subtle, her intoxicating scent could make you swoon. And if you swooned too much, you ended up prone on the slope, cushioned in the ice plants that populated the entire park. That would make the plumeria giggle every time.
She had passed the primary stage of her development, no longer a little gangly branched tree. Grown into shapely musculature, she now possessed so many well-formed branches that it might have reminded you of a full-out dance troupe in final rehearsal.
A dancer, in fact, had transported her to relish the full sun and to give her food and drink like she had done for her now mature children.
She felt there could not have been a better match. The tree and the grandmother. In the early morning, at sunrise, they would stand together, spread their arms in unison as if in prayer to the heavens. The older one circled her at a lumbering pace, deliberately slow. At other times, the older one playfully sprinted around the tree, maybe four or five times. Either way, they laughed, arms flapping in amusement. Their friendship multiplied as did the number of blooms each July.
They were so pretty; pleasant to behold by the men and women who stopped by to look.