If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. – Woody Allen
Madame Clarabelle Rossignol is a woman of a certain age. She wears a bright orange dress with long sleeves. Her hat, more decorative than functional, matches in form and color the large purple shawl wrapped high around her neck. Her delicate little glasses magnify the whites of her eyes. She stands in front of a bookshelf on which sits a houseplant in a yellow pot. She is turning it. How strange. What can this act possibly mean?
To answer that question, look not at the painting, but rather the title. Consider the verb. It’s in the present participle. If it were instead in the present tense, the meaning of the sentence would be quite different. There would be purpose to the act. Madame Clarabelle Rossignol tourne la plante, perhaps to give the side that faces the wall a chance to receive direct sunlight from the window, and then she moves on to whatever else it is she needs to do. In the use of the present participle tournant, however, there is no purpose to the act, there is no end. Madame Clarabelle Rossignol is simply turning the plant for no reason, for an indefinite period. She is stuck. She is stagnating.
It’s the end of January. I’m single and don’t want to be. My job search for a school in a city smaller than but as cool as Brooklyn has come up empty. My application for express entry into Canada is collecting dust on some bureaucrat’s desk in Ottowa. I’ve turned 45 since filling out the paperwork, and it has cost me six points on their Comprehensive Ranking System. I’m too old for Canada. I’m too old for city schools in Covid-induced financial crisis who can hire younger teachers for much less. I’m too old for the kind of men in Brooklyn I am interested in dating.
Do I look the way I feel? Like Madame Clarabelle Rossignol, with her head of gray hair and old lady spectacles and old lady shawl? I’m tired and discouraged. I dressed up to go outside, I tried a couple doors, but none of them opened. Contracts for the school at which I currently work have come out. I have no choice; I must sign mine. I’m stuck here, in Brooklyn, turning this plant around and around for at least another year. Maybe more. Maybe forever. Am I doomed to grow old and die here, alone, unwanted, unloved?
To answer that question, look not at the title, but rather the painting. The whole painting. In the bright yellow pot, is there not hope? In the robust, healthy plant, is there not life? In the pages of the books, is there not the promise of a new start in a new world? And not just any old new world, but a pastel colored one.
You made some plans that didn’t come to fruition. It’s frustrating and discouraging, of course, but waste no more of your precious energy despairing over it. God has heard you, and he has a plan. He’s working on it presently, in fact. It’s brilliant, you’ll see. There’s this ridiculously sexy French-speaking Lebanese architect who treats you like a queen in it, a beagle and a pit-bull, and you all live in a clean and sunny palatial apartment equipped with central air and a washer and dryer and never any cockroaches ever! So be patient. Wait for it. And keep your shawl and hat on. When God decides to open the door, you’ll want to be ready to walk through it.