In dead fields reach lilies to the sky, to the sky.
In my sophomore year of college, my roommate Becky had an amaryllis. Over a period of weeks, we watched its leafy parts grow and grow, and then we saw a bud form, and then out of nowhere (all of a sudden, if you will), BAM! It bloomed.
That year was a hard one for us. Navigating friends’ toxic relationships, coming home from class to crude and cruel answering machine messages, staying up for hours at night caught in challenging and painful AOL Instant Messenger conversations with boys who happily let us bear the emotional burden of their struggles — we tried so hard. We carried so much.
I worked at a fancy Italian restaurant that year, where all of the waitstaff would take turns singing show tunes and opera hits for the patrons. One night I dropped a fork next to a man’s chair. He was the loud-and-drunk type that all waitresses know well. When I knelt down to pick the fork up, he told me, “might as well suck my dick while you’re down there.” I stood up, laughed nervously, and left with the dirty dishes as quickly as I could.
Later that night, I was grabbing fresh cloth napkins from a walk-in closet at the back of the restaurant and turned around to find that same man had followed me into the small space. He leered at me, swaying on his feet. I pushed past him, got out, and went back to work.
He was not the first, nor the last, gross man in my life. He wasn’t even the first gross man to follow me into a small room that I had to brush past him to get out of, heart pounding. But every encounter like this shakes you up, stays with you in frustrating ways, adds another rock to the pile.
I went home to my dorm that night, tired in myriad ways. Becky’s amaryllis was blooming. Soon after, I wrote this song.
We recorded “Sudden Amaryllis” to be an uplifting, swirling anthem of sorts. It ended up being the title track on my 2009 album that is ten years old, exactly, today.
On hope, ten years later
In the past I’ve called this album “so damn earnest.” It is a deeply personal set of songs, many written when I was in college or just after, and for a while I would cringe a bit when I thought of it. It felt silly, or oblivious, or maybe just naive.
For a while—many of the ten years that have since passed—I would look back at the version of me who wrote these songs about hope and think, “Ugh, you were so ignorant.” I would look at all the tracks with my now ex-husband’s name in the musician credits and think, “Ugh, you had no idea what was coming.” I would look at myself on the cover and think, “Ugh, Christina, you were so naive.”
What a tragedy! What a loss! In letting my cynicism and grief turn into self-derision, I added more rocks to my own pile.
The life of an artist is a strange one. Albums are caught and preserved in amber in the exact time you make them. But the artist keeps growing! We change, and sometimes we leave our work behind. But I want to see Sudden Amaryllis, the album, as mine again. Now when I look at it I think, “Oh! Hang in there, love.” Now I listen to these songs and feel profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful. For the innocence in these songs. For the friends who have stood beside me, telling me I am stronger than I know. For the lessons I’ve learned since then, more with each passing year.
Snowbound fluorescence is blinding me now.
Intriguing question: in which direction points a soul?
Surround existence and laugh with me now —
ambivalence drifting, confidence lifting your eyes. (Lift your eyes!)
Don’t believe staggering fools who tell you you should fear.
Don’t believe any love but true — darling, I will stand beside you.
I know you are stronger than that.
Broken and barren with hailstones falling, hearts languish frozen,
misery chosen in the dark.
But stronger weapons than despair are calling.
Sudden amaryllis! In dead fields reach lilies to the sky, to the sky.
Hope is dancing in the sky.
(Hope is staring right at you.)
Top left: Plantarum indigenarum et exoticarum icones ad vivum coloratae, oder, Sammlung nach der Natur gemalter Abbildungen inn- und ausländlischer Pflanzen, für Liebhaber und Beflissene der Botanik. By Lukas Hochenleitter und Kompagnie, 1779. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Top right: Two women in snow, by Tudor Washington Collins. Auckland Museum [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.