If you didn’t know. I’ve been obsessed with plants lately. I went over to my friend's house two months ago (they recently moved up from LA) and their house was filled with plants. I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. My friend was also in the middle of “propagating” a plant that day (I didn’t know what that meant at the moment), but he dropped the plant and he freaked out. I honestly didn’t know what the big deal was. “You guys are weird,” I said. And they just laughed. Probably because they knew that eventually, I would be just as obsessed as they were, and this would all make sense sooner than later.
Long story short, just a month later, I have 25+ plants in my room and I’m obsessed with them. I frequent plant shops now, and I know all the best shops in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking for pots, plants, or soil, I know them all. I also know a guy who’s got the hookup for super rare plants if you’re ever on the hunt for, say, a Monstera Thai Constellation.
But what’s the big deal? Why plants?
I’ve only recently come to realize that I’ve always been around plants. Growing up, my parents always brought me to Home Depot to go plant shopping and I saw my mom working in the garden every week. When I finally got my drivers license at the age of 16, she always asked me to drive her to the plant shops and I’d get so annoyed and frustrated and just say a hard, “No!” (I’m such a bad kid). So I guess in a way, this was all destined to happen. It’s just funny that it’s happening now.
A little back story.
I’ve noticed in myself that whenever I’m going through a big change in my life, I will go about rearranging my room. And yes, I did this before Marie Kondo came onto the scene. Going through my things and donating large garbage bags of random items to Goodwill was a regular thing for me. Running back and forth from IKEA and measuring all the furniture to make sure everything fit just right wasn’t foreign. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to my room arrangement because I know how sensitive I am to my environment. And granted, since I can only afford to live in this tiny room in the San Francisco Bay, I seek to make the most of it.
(I probably also get this from my parents, when my college sweetheart and I broke up, my mom asked if it happened before or after I rearranged my furniture - Feng Shui).
Most recently, I’ve repainted my walls white. Before that, my walls were a dark blue. It suited the “dark ages” of my life as I’d like to call it. That was when I was heavy into my series “I think I’m just lonely,” and in the beginning phases of doing black and white video.
But the past few months I’ve been feeling a change. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve started to spend more time with my friends. A different group of friends. Ones that I feel love and accept me for who I am. Ones that I feel energize me, instead of drain me when I’m with them. I look forward to seeing them. And they look forward to seeing me. In addition to a resurged social life. I’ve also changed my mindset on art, on money, on my career, and myself.
Before, I felt like I had to make money as a full-time artist in order to actually call myself an artist. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve built up a strong enough portfolio to the point where I know, from this point on, whatever happens, I can call myself an artist and have the work to back it up. I can say that with confidence. And that means something.
Back then, I hated money. I thought it was the root of all evil. But now I see it as a tool to get me where I need to go. There are real money problems in the world. And in order to live the life I want to live and create the change I want to see in the world, I must have money working in my favor. I never actually wanted to make much money because I felt I would become a rich asshole as a result. I’ve rehabbed my relationship with money now, as weird as it sounds. I could probably still be better at it, but we’re good now.
Turning 30 does things to you. It makes you think. Think about things you normally wouldn’t think about, or to put it another way, it makes you think about things that you’ve thought about briefly in the past but now with a little more weight. You feel your mortality a little more. You feel the passage of time more. The wrinkles on your face grow a little deeper. And for the life of you, you’ve got to face the fact that if you’re going to make some real changes in your life, you’ve got to do it now.
I want to accept myself for who I am.
I admit. I’m weird. I’m not your typical kid who grew up in the sunset district. I left San Francisco as soon as I could when I got into UCLA for college. I forced my way into the film program and was the only Asian-American man trying to create stories regarding our identity. I moved abroad as soon as I finished college. And soon as that was over, I went out to NYC because I wanted nothing to do with my hometown. For a long time, the place made me sick. For some reason, it represented lackluster, old, thoughts, ideas, and identities that I wanted to get as far away from as possible.
But I ended up back here. With my parents. With no dollar signs to show for it and just a bunch of artwork that wasn’t generating any sort of income. I kept trying. But things weren’t looking up. Eventually, this past year, I got a 9-5 job. It’s definitely the most uneventful job I’ve ever had. But I also notice the benefits of having the stability of knowing exactly what’s going to happen Monday - Friday, 365 days of the year. I’m no longer stressing about my next paycheck. No longer putting all my weight and success on this next project I’m working on. No longer over identifying myself with my art. And acknowledging the fact that it’s ok to not make money as an artist. It’s ok to do things for money. It’s okay to take a step back and take care of myself, for once.
You might think plants are a lot of work. After all, you gotta water them. They need the proper amount of sunlight. What if they die? Doesn’t it attract bugs and spiders and stuff? None of these things are wrong. They are all things you have to think about when you decide to introduce plants into your life. But one other thing that you also introduce with all those tangibles is the concept of care. More so, the concept of how taking care of plants reminds you of how to take care of yourself.
You might think to yourself. Wait, if you want to take care of yourself. Why don’t you just take care of yourself? Good question. And it makes me think of the few times when I had to take care of my parent's cats and dogs. For any of you who have ever owned a pet, you know that you need to be on a pretty strict schedule. Take the dogs out for a walk every 3-4 hours. Feed the cat every morning. Change out the litter box once a week. Or to put it simply, you’re placed on a schedule, and the livelihood of these beings are your responsibility. If they fail, you failed.
Not unlike plants, if they die, it’s because of something you did or did not do. So, plants, at least their role in my life right now, is sort of like a mirror. And sort of like practice. By being mindful of what the plants need — the care, attention, and love — I get to go through the motions of helping something thrive. And by going through those motions I also get to mirror those same motions in my life. Seeing how much “light” I also need, how much “water”, how much “love” or sometimes, just how much “alone time” because, yes, plants, too, can die if you smother them too much with your love.
I find the regular sight of just seeing my plants thriving makes me happy because it’s also a reminder that I am capable of not just taking care of others, but I can also take care of myself. It’s almost as if, without these outside signifiers of what you’re capable of, you, yourself, can forget that you are capable of creating those same positive changes in your life. After all, we are our own worst critics, so maybe it’s a bit beneficial to have something outside of us to remind us that despite it all, and our past, and our traumas, and fears, we’re still capable of helping something thrive. In this case, plants. In this case, ourselves.
So, long story, I know. Plants?? Of all things? I know. But I suggest you try it. If there’s something you’re going through. That’s right. Become responsible for something. Because it places you on a schedule. And it holds you accountable. And it forces you to do things that you might not normally do, like care for something and help for something thrive. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all play a role in our own demise. So maybe it’s also a good idea for us to remind ourselves that we could also play a role in our own success. For you, it might not be plants. It could be a dog or a cat. It could be taking on a new hobby. A new skill. Anything, really, to remind yourself that you are capable. And regardless of all the trials and tribulations that you’ve been through, you are still capable of living the life you want to live. Just one step at a time. Or in my case, one plant at a time. I wish you all the best.
by Jason Lam