I’ve never met Rohin Guha. I’ve never heard his voice. I don’t know how tall he is. I don’t know what he’s currently reading. I don’t know how he takes his tea.
Thanks to a TinyLetter project he conducted last December, however, I do know that he’s a writer who, in choosing to make himself vulnerable in that format, introduced me to a truly inspiring set of essays. During the run-up to his 32nd birthday, Rohin wrote a TinyLetter for each day during the month of December. The subjects covered varied widely: dating, identity, writing, unemployment, family. All subjects that I’ve no doubt any reader would find interesting. All subjects to which I felt almost painfully drawn. If my emotional reaction to his essays alone produce this sort of faith, I can only imagine the laundry list of common ground we’d dig up in person.
Here at Queen Mob’s, with Rohin’s blessing, I’ll be archiving my five favorite TinyLetters from his project. What follows is taken exactly from his missives, and is dated the day of their original receipt. My hope is that you find them as revealing of Rohin’s nature and his talent as I did.
“Plant God” — Nov. 11, 2015
|It’s important to remind myself that there are circumstances in our world where I can, in fact, be a god.
Once you kind of accept that about 98 percent of the variables in your life are totally, sadly, completely, and pathetically out of your control, you can feel like an omnipotent being in negotiating that remaining two percent.
I finished graduate school in the summer of 2008. Soon thereafter, the American economy cratered, delivering a blistering blow to all of my dreams of ascending into the highest echelons of a Manhattan-based pop culture glossy with the grace of Betty Suárez. Instead, I took a freelance gig writing about art and pop culture for a magazine that never paid me on time. In fact, it was one of the worst-paid gigs of my grown-up life–and most of the time, I was $50 away from having absolutely nothing left in my savings.
I didn’t have health insurance; my apartment was infested with all kinds of unsavory beasts (cockroaches and sketchy one-night stands alike.) I was miserable and hungry most of the time…and naturally, I was drunk a lot. New York is a city where, inexplicably, everything in your life is tends up end up out of your control. There is no two percent.
Surviving under these conditions meant that writing became less of a thing I loved to do and more of a thing I had to do. It was the only thing I could get hired to do. I came of age on the internet when every writer in New York City wanted to be the next Emily Gould or Choire Sicha. At some point, the writing became less of the ends itself, but more of a means to fame. Being famous was tantamount to making a modest living as a working writer in New York. Being famous was tantamount to reclaiming a little control in a city where you seemingly had none.
Does it sound tedious and maddening? It was.
Around this same time, though, I developed a really peculiar habit for coping with my misery. I would notice produce sprouting around the house–ginger roots, potatoes, garlic bulbs. It didn’t matter what was sprouting–I had no plans to eat the produce I was growing. I absent-mindedly began dunking anything that looked viable in Bustelo coffee cans filled with soil, with holes poked at the bottom. After several months, plants were growing! There was life everywhere! In a city characterized by lack and coldness, I had made more.
I had managed to cultivate life.
I had created time in a world where I was somehow always out of time–and in this time, I had brought new life into this world.
I had unexpectedly become a god.
“Rohin, are you like Dr. Bushroot from Darkwing Duck?” my brother asked me over the phone one day.
“Rohin, are you like Poison Ivy from one of the worse Batman movies?” another friend asked.
It sounds so pretentious, right? As if I was the only New Yorker who was growing plants in his shoebox shit-hole of an apartment. It wasn’t the actual plants or the act of dunking things into soil that made me feel this way, it was the idea that I could somehow–in a city that seemed determined to wear me down a nub–make something to make myself happy, to watch a plant emerge among particles of dirt and then, weeks later, have it grow a few inches, then a few more, have it take an unexpected turn–perhaps shoot up another stem from the rhizome!
This was my two percent.
There were neighbors who were moving cross-town and had posted on Craigslist that they were selling birds of paradise. It was a giant, majestic plant that I would end up carrying back ten blocks to my hovel. Another friend was getting rid of her shamrock plant–and knew to give it to me. The dracena I bought years earlier was shooting out new branches–its leaves bushier than ever.
At some point, I had a makeshift jungle growing all around me; it was wonderful. New York City would continue wearing me down and yet, even on a cross-town walk, I observed weeds managing to grow through cracks in the pavement, trees persisting for generations when they could easily be cut down to make room for the next piece-of-shit hipster palace. There is sound logic in the idea that if trees can weather the absurd conditions of the modern world, then even the weakest among us can survive.
Once I left the city–bequeathing my family of plants to a trusted friend–and moved back to Detroit, I found myself spoiled: There was more land, there were trees and wildlife. I was so happy to give up skyscrapers for forests. In the years since, I’ve accrued a ponytail plant, a row of wild succulents, and I’ve even coaxed a plant out of an avocado pit.
At some point….at some point, I decided that I wouldn’t worry myself into ulcers or sleepless nights over things like my career–an abstraction defined mostly by the desires of people who would sooner push me into oncoming traffic to save themselves than watch me grow.
This is not a New York thing; it is not a Detroit thing. It is a life thing. It is how the working world has evolved.
If as grown-ups, we inhabit a hostile landscape that seeks to starve us, kill us at every turn, then a chance to feel like a god, even for just a few minutes a day, even for about two percent of our entire lives, allows us to reshape this world, to make things of beauty, to encourage life in the face of constant destruction.