A tiny Lemon Tree, Part II

December 3 2017

In this post:

“There is no knowledge that is not power.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Society and Solitude” (1870).

I love this quote, but this post is not about it.

Another week starts, it feels as if it is suspended in time. There are so many things that are going to change and that are going to happen, just at the tipping point, but nothing happens. The job hunt is a total failure, at least for me. My awesome husband has got a couple of interviews, they look promising and yet time crawls and we are still here.

The weather has improved a lot and now I spend several hours a day outdoors mostly tending to my garden plants. They don’t need my care; we even have gardeners here.—They do not have much of a green thumb; more often than not they kill the lawn when they mow it, deform the bougainvilleas when they prune them, and never allow the hibiscus to grow enough to flower. But the garden is clean.—It just for my sanity, not for the plant’s sake that I feed them, wash the dust off their leaves with a pump-bottle, and remove the odd grass that doesn’t belong and that has survived the gardeners’ more drastic methods.

And then there is the little lemon tree. Since I repotted it, I have been fussing over it more than ever and it seems to be improving, faster than I had hoped and slower that I want it to improve. I searched online until I found a website that offered some advice on how to take care of a lemon tree.—I have assumed that el palito is a young lemon tree, mostly out of hope, I like lemons.—Based on what I read I made a diagnostic for the poor thing and mercilessly trimmed all the extra branches, acidified its soil, and moved it to the kitchen’s window sill to have it under sun most of the day. It didn’t take long until it started to grow new healthy leaves and fattening it’s trunk. Before, it looked like a renegade bush that clung to live but had no intention of being healthy.—You know, like those people who are chain smokers and avid joggers.—Now el palito de limón looks kinda like a bonsai. At least with this project there is hope. And el palito appears to need me and to respond to my care. It gives me some purpose in life. If I wanted even more care and purpose in life I could possibly adopt a pet or a child, but I doubt that the gardeners will water them when we travel.


Besides the unnecessary care of the plants, I also go outside to write. Most of the time when I feel stuck with writer’s block I just go somewhere that is not my office with a pen, a notebook, a highlighter, and a ruler. If I have some material to read, I take that with me too. I would go to the kitchen table, or to the living room. If the weather is good, I like to sit outdoors.—As a matter of fact, I wrote the first draft of two of my post-doctoral papers sitting under an old tree in front of the lab. Nobody bothered me then. It was a given that a little eccentricity was part of my geekhood and included in the unofficial bill of geek rights. Or maybe I just had good bosses back then. Why, oh why did I ever leave them! I was just a post-doc, it was my destiny to leave and find a permanent position of my own. As it has been amply ranted, that didn’t work for me. But as much as I love to complain and regret, the past is the past and I am moving ever forward.—November has been a busy month, and I have been writing up a storm, mostly about that little book that I had promised to preview in November and now has been moved to January. I also wrote some drafts for blog posts that should appear before Christmas. Philosophy stuff and the deeper meaning of live are notoriously time-consuming to write about. Most of what you would read in this blog for the next three months or so has been first put to paper under the shade of a bougainvillea, with the soft scratch of desert dust in my cheeks and a faint smell of bird poop mixed in with the stronger and much pleasanter scent of plumeria. We have a lot of pigeons and other birds in here, and keeping the terrace poop-free is a constant battle.

Under the shade of the bougainvillea I also study. I have a table outside which I endeavor to keep clean of dust and pigeon poop by moving it around the patio and assiduous cleaning. What do I study? Chemistry, the self, and grammar. Use it or loose it and a whole lot of curiosity. Now that I am getting old I am even more knowledge-hungry than when I was a kid. Also, I find myself forgetting the most basic of things. Not precisely forgetting, but not completely sure if I have it all right. One of the things that has always driven me crazy is spelling and grammar. They are so difficult! I cannot even trust the spellcheck in the computer; most spellchecks have the vocabulary of a high school kid, don’t understand metaphors or non-standard language usage, and are very, very, very (!) bossy. It is their way or the highway. I specially hate those “correct as you type” options which rarely catch all the typos or grammar mistakes that one makes, bitch about scientific terms, and have limited memory to learn new words. My remedy has been rather old-fashioned and twentieth century, I bought a book and I am working my way through the topics that are more important and interesting to me.—That’s how I learned, for example, that I can put an exclamation point in parenthesis in the middle of a sentence to denote excitement about the word or concept immediately preceding it.—After reading this, I am sure some people can recommend this new app or this other older app, and I’d say, you know what? I will stick with my book, my table, and the compounded smells of my garden. There is some poetic beauty in an anachronistic way of life. Figure that! I am an anachronistic geek.

Life-long learning and working hard for my knowledge are two of those recurrent themes in which I base most of my sense of self. They are completely useless things in the real world. As it has been slowly revealed to me during these last few years, the world admires renaissance men but despises renaissance women, specially the world of science, and specially in Spain and in the Middle East.—I worked almost three years in Spain before giving up in disgust and coming to Qatar. What a stupid choice, in both cases! It is a long and boring story, but at decision time, it looked like these places offered the best opportunities for a dual-career scientific couple. Obviously not. But I will rant about that in a memoir some day.—The scorn of the world doesn’t stop me, if I cannot be myself, I cannot pass myself as anything other no matter how hard I try. I am naturally bad at quenching my personality. I’ve tried. Hard. Specially lately. It doesn’t work. Being me doesn’t work either but at least I have an anchor before I totally disappear down the hole of reality. Does anybody else ever feel like this?

This line of thought is kind of depressing, though. I think we deserve better. We, them, you and I, all the smart, nice people in the world deserve all the rainbows and unicorns that we could possibly find. I am not saying that the world is perfect and that everybody has some tangible reason to be happy. I am just saying that one needs to be fortified by all the good little things in life in order to survive all the big bad ones, even if hope and optimism seem just temporary patches.

My temporary patch right now: It is a beautiful day, my little lemon tree is growing, the sun is shinning, and I am gonna learn me some more rules of punctuation and word usage today.


And, possibly my favorite quote of all times, “There is no knowledge that is not power.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Society and Solitude” (1870).

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References and Resoures:

  1. How to take care of a lemon tree in a container by Gardening Know-How.
  2. “The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need”, Susan Thurman, 2003 F+W Media Inc., ISBN 10:1-58062-855-9, ISBN 13:978-1-58062-855-6.