Paying Attention

August 7th, 2014

Memphasis by Dan Conaway, Author’s Note, August 7, 2014:

The loss of discourse, even of common courtesy. The loss of respect for opinion, even for knowledge. The loss of shared citizenship, even of inclusion. The loss of informed objectivity, even of common sense.

All the harvest of individual seeds.

As published in The Daily News, August 8, 2014, and in The Memphis News, August 9-15, 2014



Mrs. Parker tends her corner of the garden at Trezevant with loving dedication, looking up from her planting and fussing with a gloved wave to Nora and me as we walk by of a morning. A couple of years ago, she presented us with a bag of ginger lily roots. Hers was taking up too much room, and she didn’t want it to spread any more. 

The white ginger lily – genus Hedychium, if you’re taking notes – is accessible exotic, a little Hawaii right here, a bloom in Tahiti in a Gauguin painting right in front of you. And if anything smells better than that bloom, if anything in a moment can so entice and intoxicate, I don’t know what it is.

We planted the roots in front of our home in the common area of our little community. We watched as they emerged the next spring, bloomed in the early fall, and did it again the next year, larger and more prolific. This year, in fact yesterday, they were already five feet tall.

This morning, Mrs. Parker’s ginger lilies weren’t there at all.

Bob, my late college roommate, saw it in the corner of a Knoxville nursery – a little potted Japanese maple with a long, weird branch. “I think this a split-leaf,” he said, “and I also think they don’t know it.” It was cheap, even for a regular Japanese maple much less the more valued split-leaf. I took it, planted it in a big pot on our patio in Memphis, and thought about Bob as it grew and that branch turned from weird to signature.

But I didn’t pay proper attention as it began to become root-bound, ignoring the too-many brown leaves as the drainage holes became blocked and water stood in the pot.

Last week, Bob’s Japanese maple was gone, all the leaves withered on that long branch.

Was the lily the victim of a landscaping crew’s errant weedeater, or mistaken for some unwanted volunteer in the monkey grass sea? Was the loss of the maple due to too much rain in too short a time, an overburdened pot, or were they both just one of those things?

No, they were both the victims of inattention. Mine. All those things were readily apparent symptoms and I did nothing. My complacency is what proved fatal.

As you read this, we are wrapping up an election and we have another one coming up in November. Are we trading blooms for weeds, or worse, for nothing at all?

Whatever grows or dies won’t be because of a party or an ideology, or the failure to return to some mythical past, or a sign of the apocalypse. It won’t be Washington’s fault, or Nashville’s, or Memphis’, or some bogeyman or woman in any one of those places.

It’s you and me. And until we start taking individual responsibility for what happens, God only knows what will happen.

I’m a Memphian, and I’m planting a new ginger lily and a new maple. You?


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.

Soon to be released as an audio book. Listen for it. 



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