I couldn’t stand being Anne Dunbar anymore. My mother told me it’s classy, but it didn’t feel like me, so a couple months ago I decided it had to go. But I didn’t want to replace it with anything that sounded similar. I didn’t want something that had the same initials only fancier. I didn’t want to be Annalise Du Cliffs or Arielle Duvalle or Artemis Duraddly.
So I thought maybe I should use the same system I used to pick a name for my cat five years ago: I thought of all the things I liked best about life, and then chose the one that gave me the best feelings for the longest time after saying it. Well, first there was Sugar Plum Jones (on account of how much I like sweets); then Judge Hershey Bars (sweets again); June Strawberryshortcakes (sweets again, but summer, too); Oceans Brine (love of the sea and over-salting my dinner plate); and, last, Oracular Destinies (my wish to have better eye sight instead of being nearsighted plus my hope destinies exist).
I chanted each of these names over and over again starting on a Friday night, and continued with it, all during the weekend, even under my breath while talking to my accountant about my taxes (it was tax season so Murster, Rum, and Cockly were in the office on a Saturday afternoon). Henry Murster probably thought I was running a prostitution ring or call girl service given the way I knew those names sounded, but I didn’t let that stop me, and he was too embarrassed to ask. My cat would be very important to me (much more important than whatever I’d be getting back from the government), so I knew where my concentration belonged.
By Sunday that weekend, at about 8 p.m., I was getting a little nervous about not being able to name the kitten. She was a tabby cat that looked like a miniature tiger, but I would never call her just “tiger” because such a name is insulting. It’s like naming your son “John” or your daughter “Jennifer.” My female tabby would never be a duplicate of any kind. I had met plenty of duplicates in the office, and most everywhere (especially the post office at noon), and had no intention of cultivating a feline assembly output cog.
So, with my nerves in such a state, I did what I do, and I wish I could tell you it was Scotch on the rocks or pot. But I don’t have a taste for anything other than sugar when life gets desperate. I had no choice but to turn to the lollipops. Grape lollipops—I lost count of how many—as an early spring storm set in outside made me feel like I was in a black and white detective movie from the forties, or maybe an old fashioned Western, because I started imagining the lollipops were cigarettes or cigars. I decided I’d make my decision when my tongue had turned entirely purple. Not just part of it—the whole thing had to be purple, and then I’d know I’d been a prudent deliberator.
What I decided on was Sugar Plum Jones. While this could have been little more than a subconscious reflex due to the purple on my tongue and the fact that plums also are purple, I think it was a decision of transcendent authenticity. I had always loved the Nutcracker, and when you combine ballet with sweets, I felt I was being true to myself, and the things I really like (not just what I say I like), and that was the whole point.
Now I would have to do the same thing for myself because Anne Dunbar had to go. She had a “bar” as part of her name, and bars are what’s in prison and cages for big animals (they don’t have to be as big as bars if the animals are small, of course). Then, too, “Anne” is just one syllable, and it was a name given to royalty, which I hated. Why would I want a name that was the same one given to people who were probably prejudiced and wouldn’t invite me in for scones? I wanted to be called something that recalled to me a time I had a revelation.
So, I thought of my favorite poems. “Patterns” by Amy Lowell I remembered liking a lot because I felt like I was wandering along patterned garden paths, all “boned and stayed,” and agreed that you could feel that way even in a garden, a place that makes you think of vibrancy and colors. I’ve always loathed the sound of lawn mowers and the obsession places like Central Florida have with symmetrically groomed, short lawns reminiscent of military haircuts. I feel strongly all greenery should be set free to be what it will, as much as we can let it while still living with it, so the idea of patterned garden paths, and the state of being stuffed or shuttered and boarded up inside yourself, spoke to me. I made a mental note at that part of my decision-making process of the connection I intuitively make between trueness and freely growing greenery.
Shrubs made into topiary is obscene, I thought to myself. They had that at a hotel in Disney World I stayed at, so those English people with the fancy gardens that include topiary shouldn’t give themselves too much credit. Most of all I hated topiary (and still hate topiary) because a person should be able to appreciate the greenery for what it is rather than feeling they have to cut it up into something it’s not before it can be fully appreciated.
I also remembered liking the William Wordsworth poem, “Daffodils” so much. “Lonely as a cloud” felt like me, and his use of the word “solitude,” and the way he internalized the field of daffodils was a lot like me, too. I like the way Daffodils are democratic in that they sometimes bloom in pre-arranged gardens, but just as often can be found scattered here and there by the side of the road or at the perimeter of the woods. You can find all flowers that way, but some, like roses or tulips, seem a lot harder to find by chance. Finding by chance is important to me.
So, I filed daffodils away into my mental folder of new Anne Dunbars. I hate the thought that you have to plan to find things. Where’s the genuine aura in that? If you planned to find it, and worked at finding it, then how do you know you didn’t order it to you? The unbound garden that has no restrictions or prisons placed on its growth, or any pre-definitions, is meaningful to me because it isn’t something I’ve ordered to be that way—it just is. I didn’t want to live my life as a philosophical military general, ordering everything from companionship to daffodils to come to me. I wanted to see whom and what wanted, of its own accord, to come to me. I didn’t seek anything but to be kind and receptive to what presented itself to me, and I hoped the places I presented myself would be receptive in kind. So, daffodils made perfect sense. They were where I needed them to be without ever having to ask.
The last flower drawing me to abandon my name was the rose. It also connected in my mind with poetry—with Robert Burns’ “Red, Red Rose” poem. It was written over a hundred years before I was born, but I always liked to pretend he was talking about me, and it didn’t come hard imagining that. For one thing, I was born in June, so the line about being “newly sprung in June” felt like a direct reference to me. The part about loving the subject of the poem “Till a’ the seas gang dry” seemed right, too, so I filed that one away. Only “Rose” was too common a name for me. I didn’t want a name that thousands, if not millions, of other women had. I wanted something that if you were in the second grade and the teacher was taking roll call, there would be about no chance you’d hear your name refer to anyone but you.
I had become so frantic now in my deliberations that the purple lollipops were no longer getting sucked, but bitten, and bitten violently. I think lollipop pieces even began flying. I felt like I was at the threshold of an epiphany. But something was still missing, and I was embarrassed to admit what it was. I hate to tell you, but I really wanted to add some esteem to myself. I didn’t believe in royalty because I didn’t understand why so much should be heaped for free on some people’s plates while others were limping around starving just outside the gate, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want a little something for myself.
Queen Whomever-I-Ended-Up-Being wasn’t anything I would be called (whatever “I” ended up being), but maybe some other prefix I would enjoy, and could bring out like a toy, was necessary. I always liked France because I heard people lie around there a lot of the time, eating pastries and going to spas, and that’s my idea of a great country, so I figured on adding a French element of esteem to my name (which I had by now determined also would be tied to some form of greenery). How about “Madame” Somebody-Or-Other I shouted in glee, spitting purple lollipop fragments at the moment of religious revelation. But, hating pretention as I did (the planned, posed part of pretension), I thought “Madame” better be pronounced the American way. So, there it was: I would be a naturally occurring piece of greenery who came from a place where people said “Madam” rather than “Madame.”
For which part of greenery would be me, I looked to my arc of rational thinking. Roses are beautiful, and goddesses of flowers, but I didn’t expect to be a goddess or, as I previously explained, a being that would need to be cajoled and searched for. I wanted my friends to find me easily, and not have to go out of their way to preserve me, so I would need to be hardy.
So, daffodils won. I would thereafter be known as Madam Daffodils.