The Neon Pagan

Neil Gaiman told me to be a dandelion.

My daughter went to hear Neil speak, and she asked him to inscribe a book for me.  “Buzzy,” he wrote, “be a dandelion!” (Buzzy is my nickname.)

I asked my daughter what Neil meant by that. She gave me a convoluted response about caring less about making money and replicating the species than sending seeds of creativity out into the world. This was amusing information, coming from a daughter whose college tuition requires payment so she is eligible to see Neil Gaiman speak at her school. Silly me, for replicating the species.

However, I am blissfully happy to be a dandelion. Gladly, Mr. Gaiman!

Is there anything that reveals the contradictions in the human condition more than our relationship with dandelions?

Dandelions produce the most vivid and beautiful spring flower in the landscape. They continue to bloom all summer long. When they go to seed, they’re still pretty, and then they’re fun to play with. If they’re living in a close-cut lawn, they bloom an inch from the ground. Unperturbed by overzealous landscapers, they can soar to a foot in height. Their leaves are edible: cooked, raw, or made into wine.

It therefore follows logically that dandelions are the most expensive and popular plant at landscape stores.

No, I’ve got that wrong. A whole industry revolves around chemicals created to eradicate the dandelion, to wipe it from the face of a verdant lawn, to eliminate it from cracks in the sidewalk, to keep it from intruding on the marigolds and begonias.

A friend of mine who spent his life farming told me that a weed is just a plant that grows where we don’t want it to grow. This is the whole crux of the dandelion conundrum. While they are beautiful to look at, and fun to play with, and undetectable in a salad of mixed greens, they won’t grow by demand in orderly clusters. Even if they’re purposely cultivated in a garden, they’re quite unruly when it comes to sending their seeds off into the world.

I’m very happy to be a dandelion, thank you very much. Pleased to meet you. I’m Anne Johnson, the weed.

For most of my life I tried to fit into the cultivated bed, but not once did I ever sleep comfortably there. My imagination has run amok since childhood. I’ve never taken a vow that I couldn’t, or didn’t, break. The minute I seem poised to take root in one religion, one opinion, one behavior pattern, whoosh! Off I go to a whole new crack in the sidewalk.

When he told me to be a dandelion, Neil Gaiman no doubt meant for me to send my creativity into the charming summer breezes to take root everywhere. The reality is that I’m a bright, flashy contrarian who takes pleasure in messing up the tidiest lawn. Cut me to the quick. I’ll still bloom. Leave me alone – all alone – and I’ll bloom just the same. Poison me with toxic chemicals, and I’ll … die. Oh, damn. That metaphor didn’t go as planned.

This is my first column for PaganPages. I promise to be as coherent in the future as I’ve been this time. Deities of Disorder adore me. Anne Johnson, as tidy and predictable as the dandelion.