Cover image by Hope “Silver” Bobb
There’s this play I’ve helped teach for a couple of years now—Chekov’s The Seagull.
It’s… well, it’s Chekov, so it’s a bit weird and the characters behave simultaneously too realistically and too dramatically to be totally comfortable, but for purposes of this blog post all you really need to know is that The Seagull does indeed contain seagulls.
A seagull is shot. A seagull is taxidermied. The strangeness of seagulls on a lake is commented on. Seagulls are envied for their ability to fly away. At the end of the play a character who has been suicidal since the first act successfully kills himself.
Chekov intended and marketed this play as a comedy, by the way, and then was confused by its poor reception.
The conceit of this is that seagulls in The Seagull can have as much or as little meaning as the audience wants.
The futility of art, the struggle for meaning, the meaninglessness of freedom, or of life, it’s all in there for those who want to make those arguments.
Conversely, a really meta-reader might say that the point of the seagulls in the play is their arbitrariness.
That we, the audience watching the world on Chekov’s stage unfold, can see what the characters in that world can’t: that the seagulls have no meaning.
That they are random and the characters in the play are trying to impose meaning on the inherently meaningless, the same way we in the real world have trained ourselves endow meaning on shooting stars or coins found in the street.
Events like finding a dropped penny in a parking lot or seeing a comet at night only have meaning on our lives because we, as a culture, decided that they do. Not because the object or event itself carries that meaning inherently.
Like I said, a very meta way of reading The Seagull, and a very cold way of looking at the world.
I tell you this, because I have my own, happier, seagulls.
Because roses are my seagulls.
I have a rose in my name, inherited from a great grandmother I never met, and my Mom once told me that the Sunday I was baptized, one of the alter flowers was the biggest rose she’d ever seen.
True to Texas cliché, yellow roses are my favorites.
I spent the summer I turned 20 working with the Ute Tribe and the cliff dwellings out in Colorado. When a group of students from the University of Denver working an archeological site in the area found out I was from Texas, they started belting out “Deep in the Heart of Texas” every time they saw me at the campground where we all stayed.
I in turn belted back “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, mostly because I couldn’t think of any songs about Colorado besides John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and I don’t know all the words to that one.
The fact that the image of a compass down in the corner of a map is called a compass rose appeals to my traveler’s heart, just like Poison’s “Every Rose Has its Thorns” appeals to the part of me that wishes I was just a little more dangerous.
Roses are what drew me to the book blog I write for, to Katherine Paterson’s Bread and Roses, Too as a child, and to this poem by Barbara Guest.
It’s why I hum “Coming Up Roses” when I’m happy, why I tear up every time to this scene from the movie Pride(2014), and why I performed Bette Midler’s mildly maudlin “The Rose” at a concert with my piano teacher as a child.
It’s why I bought (rescued!) a reduced-price miniature yellow rose bush at the grocery store a year ago and have nursed it along ever since. This was not my first attempt with miniature roses, but this is definitely the longest lived.
Typically I “rescue” them and then prolong their suffering in all my well-intentioned ignorance.
Objectively, academically, I know that roses only hold meaning in my life because I’ve given them that power. I’ve spent a lifetime training myself to see them, and thus I notice them everywhere.
My arbitrary sign from the uncaring universe.
Any yet, they’re still my lucky charm.
My history, my namesake, and the thing that will always lead me home.
Chase thunder lovelies,