Growing Bananas in Iceland

Recently my horoscope cited the above as a fitting metaphor for the challenges ahead in my life: “encouraging and overseeing growth in a place that doesn’t seem hospitable in the usual ways…. And you must be patient, knowing that the process might take awhile longer than it would in other circumstances.”

Although I love discovering that such a feat is not only possible but happens already (in a geothermally heated greenhouse), the patience part is ominous, that virtue not being one of my strengths. The closest I usually get to approximating patience is covering up my impatience, which is no approximation at all. I always assumed I’d be more patient when I got older, but so far the magic doesn’t seem to be kicking in. If anything, I might be even less patient now than when I was a child, which can’t be good.

I’m intensely aware of time and often surprised how long it takes things to happen. I wonder if this could be a side effect of reading so much when young — an unreasonable expectation of eventfulness. In books, things happen in an artificially compressed timeframe; there aren’t many pages devoted to people brushing their teeth or running errands, usually, and if by some mistake there are, we can always skip them. But there remain large and unskippable swaths of life consigned to these and other relatively unexciting ventures.

This fact underlies David Foster Wallace’s excellent advice for young people:

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

There’s probably no easier way to make yourself miserable than constantly wishing things would happen differently…for example, faster. Everything travels at its own speed: light, sound, imagination, life. I think part of my problem is an active imagination that’s as real to me as any reality out there, and sometimes more so. Imagination generally moves a good deal faster than life.

Image Ian Vollmer

How much scenery is wasted on someone impatient for a particular view, which may never materialize? We do need our visions, and we need to believe in them sufficiently to keep trying. Part of that belief, that faith or trust, is patience. Things happen the way they can, given the myriad causes and conditions of the moment. In a letter today, a friend writes: “If the future is just more present….” This I think is true — in the deepest sense, the future is simply more of the present. It takes two years to ripen bananas in Iceland.
I wonder what they taste like?