I really enjoyed the piece in this week’s Atlantic about the orchid and dandelion children. Oversimplifyingly summarized: Certain genes can predispose people to conditions that make them more fragile, like depression, attention deficit, or being restless and risk-prone. New genetic research shows that these genes can be as helpful as they hurtful; much depends on what conditions a person grows up in and lives with as an adult. The “orchids” are people born with more fragile combinations of genes, while “dandelions” are the people with hardier gene patterns. I also appreciated the exchange between authors David Dobbs and David Shenk clarifying some of the limits of the orchid-dandelion metaphor and the subtleties of genetic science.
While the critical thinker in me sagely agrees that oversimplifying metaphors are tsk, tsk, not to be taken lightly, the writer in me loves the orchid-dandelion imagery. The happy dandelion goofing around on every field and lawn, cheerful and nice to look at, the decadent orchid languishing in its hot-house solitude, or withering away to a colorless little crisp when exposed to the harsh outside elements. So poetic.
You’d think most writers and a lot of other creative types would be complete and total orchids. So it’s interesting that a lot of the famous and great writers you hear about worked under such difficult conditions. Dostoyevsky exiled to Siberia, later saddled with massive debts, a compulsive gambler, battling depression, all the while writing frantically to pay the bills; George Orwell racing to finish 1984 before dying of tuberculosis; F. Scott Fitzgerald an alcoholic, his wife Zelda suffering from schizophrenia, etc. All of which makes you think that these people must have quite a lot of dandelion in them, too.
I was thankful for the dandelion in me (such as there is) the other day; I was upstairs editing a manuscript and Amandine, my 2-year-old, went downstairs and seemed to be playing quietly down there for a while. I was happy for the chance to get a little work done. After about ten minutes, I heard her come up the stairs again, saying “Mommy – I all dirty.” I was like … uh-oh. And I look at her, and at first I think she’s covered from head to toe in purple mud—she was only wearing a diaper that day because she has those days when she’s anti-clothes. So I go to look closer, and gradually I realize she has slathered her entire body in my expensive Lancome Plum Passion lipstick, which she got out of my backpack pocket that I’d left open downstairs. She’d used the whole tube on herself.
Okay, so it’s not quite like dying of tuberculosis, but I ask you, did Dostoyevsky or Kafka ever have to interrupt their literary endeavors to spend an hour washing lipstick out from between the toes, underarms, and neckfolds of a squirming toddler, not to mention another hour wiping down the walls and scrubbing the stuff out of cheap beige shag carpet? We mom-authors are seriously underrated with regard to the challenges we have to overcome in order to get any writing done, is all I’m saying.
I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas (or whatever your winter holiday of choice is). Happy holidays, everyone!