PHANTOM FLOWER

by Jancie Creaney

Jancie Creaney is a writer and filmmaker from Montreal, currently living in Manhattan. Her prose has appeared in Entropy, Longleaf Review,  and Soliloquies Anthology.

Yes you can sit down under a tree and enjoy the time you have in the garden.                     

(4 stars)


On Saturday in Prospect Heights I saw a girl slapping flowers. With every slap, she said: Flower.

It was like practice, her naming of things in the world. She wasn’t older than four. It was like a game too, the way she spoke firmly and quickly, like it was her turn and she’d been waiting. Flower. Flower. Flower. I try to measure her temperament: is this really a game? Is this work? You can practice for both.  

As she slapped, once, twice, three times, it became clear: she was naming every flower in the world, one by one.  


In a document on my computer, I compile public park reviews from Google. It began one spring evening when I walked by Stuyvesant Square, just north of Manhattan’s East Village. Wet leaves sparkled like coins. I wanted to sit in the park. No, I wanted to want to sit in the park but had recently become uncomfortable spending indefinite amounts of time, leisure time, alone without a discernible objective.

I street-viewed the park virtually when I got home and read through 874 starred reviews.  


This park is lovely with enormous elm trees that are now rare in NY

(4 stars) 

In the morning and evening RATS

(3 stars) 

Peacefully with nice view and fun squirrels

(4 stars)

The street cut the park into two parts. There are places for children to play. They have a playground. Nice flowers but like any park in NYC there is rats at night.

(3 stars)

A beautiful hawk hunting for mice

(5 stars)

Great god park!! Great for todlers!

(5 stars)

Not a really good atmosphere, maybe because it was too cold that day idk

(2 stars) 

My friend was greeted by a giant dog that looked like a mop

(5 stars)

Quiet, alone. Good for reading.

(5 stars)

I actually was across the street at 317 East 17th St. at a Doctor’s appointment, but enjoyed the view from the lobby.

(5 stars)


There are so many parks within walking distance of my apartment but I only experience them on my way someplace else. Their abundance (of space, of time) frightens me the way falling in love frightens me. Being in a park and falling in love—both are like entering an expanse. They heighten feelings of being adrift, rudderless, offering little shelter. And they require, by nature, a slackening of control. Later, I thought, I don’t have the time.

Being in a park and falling in love—both are like entering an expanse.


Just because is an unacceptable answer. A flower is a flower just because? That is not enough. If that’s true, then what am I? I imagine the girl quizzing her parent.

She hit the flowers. Just because? It’s a flower. Flower. Flower!

As petals bounced on their stems from the impact, the young girl became a thing that causes, a thing of consequence.


You’ve been here: a moment outdoors that absolutely must be stretched, even at the risk of being late to whatever, just to sit on a curb for ten minutes more facing the sun; just to scribble a few words down in a notebook, words suddenly as urgent-seeming as bubbles spattering from a pot. What a perfect dilemma. This staggering and irresistible mission of naming something, of grasping a flicker of lucidity, of taking what feels like hopelessly one-sided love for a stupidly pleasant day, and describing its impact—all while under the impression that time is running out.

I’m liable to burst, like a girl learning.

Occasionally, fits are quiet. A sigh or a whimper. Other times, they are more violent. I wouldn’t slap a person, but I have slapped many leaves—those that hang low over sidewalks. Usually an outburst will come from an imbalance of sorts, like a scale tipping in favour of the planet’s excessive wealth of ineffable things.

Or maybe more like upping the gain on a microphone to catch quieter sounds and picking up only static. Output outweighing input.

Like an excess of silence or an excess of something not there.

My knuckles and fingers tense up as I type. I fantasize about slamming my head or fist against the keyboard. Instead, I am forced to refine, and to name, since that is my goal—however it came to be.


 

I was just passing through

(5 stars)

Oh was great looking at planets

(5 stars)

It’s a nice place to visit

(4 stars)

Glimpse of heaven

(5 stars) 

Kids loved running around the fields.

(5 stars)


The first work of art I made was a drawing of an apple with real apple seeds glued to the paper at the centre—the core. I scribbled something before that, I’m sure, but this apple seed diagram is the first I remember.

Unlike a regular drawing of a fruit, which always imitates, my apple seed diagram had both real and unreal properties. I didn’t have to pretend the seeds were seeds. They were tiny truths in my mock-up, a relief. I stared at them, ran my fingers over the bumps before my art was hung up on the wall of the classroom. I could say, It’s real and it’s fake—or more accurately, It’s not real and it’s not fake. I only knew what it wasn’t. The mystery of it was fascinating.

Apple Seed In Glue (1999) still lies flat in a box at my parents’ house. I retrieved it a few years ago and held it up like a frozen flag. Glue and time made waves in the paper. One of the seeds had fallen off.


All that I saw of the girl on Saturday in Prospect Heights was the back of her head and long black hair as she orbited a flowerbed.

I continued on my way, wondering if I had just witnessed an early manifestation of art-making. She was hitting those flowers; she wasn’t just calling out their names. It seemed a pressurized element had erupted. An ardent bid to be a collaborator. I was sure she was making art. Whether she knew this, however, was unclear.

Last week, I slammed the entrance door to my apartment building, thinking Again, August! You got me! for no reason other than I felt I was being accosted by another premature autumn. I dressed in a sparkly tank top, gold-coloured, in defiance of the sickeningly sweet air. These sparkles say June! or January! Not August, which says deep purple linen pants held up by a drawstring leaving marks on hips.

I’m going to be sick. That’s how I talk to August when I think it is listening. The shrubs by the sidewalk smell ready for a funeral. Too much perfume, too many overripe petals. These plants are a little arrogant. We did our job, looked pretty all summer, had bees over for happy hour every night and now we are going away for the colder months, they seem to say.

I did not look pretty all summer, did not do my job. Fuming beneath the hot sun, I summoned a careful tantrum.


But what is your job? asks a friend.

I’ve been thinking about how the ringing in my ears has affected my relationship to time.

It has steadily become louder in my left ear over the last 15 years. As a kid, I thought the ringing was a normal human frequency. That it was standard; people heard silence as a distant fire alarm going off in their heads.

My job, for a while now, has been to pretend I don’t hear it.

My job is to ignore the temporal frequency, to ignore a subjectively perceptible yet objectively imperceptible continuum.

Ringing is a series of oscillations, continual waves. The speed at which they undulate creates the pitch. This ringing is sometimes called a “phantom sound” because the brain is producing noise that is not externally stimulated. Due to damaged hair cells in the inner ear, the brain overcompensates by “hearing more” than is truly there.

My job is to ignore the temporal frequency, to ignore a subjectively perceptible yet objectively imperceptible continuum. It never stops. I only forget about it when I’m asleep. It is a lot like time.

There is a term in positive psychology called the “flow state.” It happens when a person is deeply absorbed in an activity. A side effect of this state is a collapsed sense of time. The flow state is considered extremely

rewarding and soothing (5 stars).

To exist, the ringing depends on time; waveform peaks and dips travel linearly. Noise interrupts flow, if not making it impossible to dwell in at all, because it disallows a collapse of time. One is never without the other; my phantom sound and time are tethered.

At some point, they morphed, became the same thing: continuum twins. So at some point, my job became to ignore, to the best of my ability, the sound of time.


In a park, there is a sculpture and a water fountain. Though sometimes it is

broken (3 stars).

I have found that to avoid time is to avoid parks. To avoid parks is to avoid   

an oasis (5 stars).

Or a reservoir of spare time, which I’d come to view as an opening, a gorge, an invitation to fall.


I’ve often thought that the observations I try to come to, in writing especially, are just beyond me, right out of reach. It has only occurred to me recently that writing takes a certain faith in something not yet known, a belief in something nearly imperceptible. The work requires this discomfort, this lag. It requires the gorge.


At the MoMA, crowds suffocate Starry Night. How long do we wait in front of a painting until we get what we came for? A security guard watches us watching the work. Back up is what he will warn if one of us gets too close. The painting is trying to concentrate is what I wish he’d say.

One hundred years after his death, researchers found that Van Gogh was misdiagnosed with epilepsy. It’s likely he had Meniere’s disease, which causes vertigo and ringing in the ear.

When I look at the painted sky, the swirling winds of Starry Night, I hear it whistling.

I follow a woman in a red coat through the exhibit and linger as she sits on a bench for five, then ten, then 15 minutes. Now I’ve waited the same amount of time, which is a personal achievement, and thank her in my head for the guidance.


The linearity of sound is at odds with the nonlinearity of time in a park. To sit there, two conflicting dimensions are forced together.

I aimed to be acutely aware of time and timelessness in the context of nature. Though I didn’t think I could have both.

I summon the courage to sit on a bench and wait under a blooming magnolia, having practiced meandering by following the woman in red at the museum.

I aimed to be acutely aware of time and timelessness in the context of nature. Though I didn’t think I could have both.

Birdsong concerted with the phantom sound. Two things at once: one that none could hear, paired with one that most could.  


Yes you can sit down under a tree and enjoy the time you have in the garden.                     

(4 stars)

 


Jancie Creaney is a writer and filmmaker from Montreal, currently living in Manhattan. Her prose has appeared in Entropy, Longleaf Review,  and Soliloquies Anthology.

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