COVID Companions is a series of creative pieces featuring snippets of life during COVID-19, with a special focus on the other individuals or creatures who are keeping us company during quarantine, lockdown, ‘circuit breaker’, or whatever your equivalent might be.
As feelings of distress simmer in times of collective grief, we are called to create new routines for resetting and reflection. From Zoom Meetings to Google Meets, the affordances of digital platforms have given us ways to connect with one another while being apart. Yet on days when screens become overstimulating, I am learning to divert my attention offline.
With a longing for green spaces, my houseplants and seedlings become my new companions. There is an emerging obsession with houseplants. I take this rising trend in my stride to connect with the community of house-plants lovers and grow my plant knowledge. Care takes the form of receiving a gardening tip from a stranger halfway across the globe after posting “what’s wrong with my plant?” They may be right to say when you share plant tips, you create more green thumbs. I am learning something new every day – be it moisture control, root systems, plant types or making my own potting mix (for good drainage!), organic fertilizers and pesticides. Fascinating discoveries also go beyond practical gardening tips to music. Recently, a dear friend, Judea shared with me Mother Earth’s Plantasia (1976). Composed by Mort Garson, this electronic album has music dedicated for plants to listen to and grow.
These might all be the early signs of becoming a plant mom, but it is surely uplifting to witness how we can grow a community when we share our knowledge generously – or even simply some anecdotes about everyday life.
Living to grow
Caring for plants brings wonder. The process is both rewarding and revelatory when I witness them thriving day by day. Growth is distinctively made visible during plant propagation by leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, air layering, root division, and more. Each plant requires differentiated care, which forces me to pay attention and embrace its unique conditions and traits. There is something cathartic about this enduring process as I journal and await new growth.
Moving towards growth, relationship, regeneration
Through little daily routines of gardening, tending and pruning, these green companions remind me that we can be wired for growth as we find our flow. Grounding in nature, adrienne maree brown’s writings in Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds has been a timely complement, bringing wisdom to both my gardening and life’s work. Particularly, her chapter on Intentional Adaptation is compelling to me as she meditates on the process of change, specifically how we work towards changing for the better as we live, grow and stay purposeful when we move into action together.
We are part of nature. Imarisha and brown remind us of that, urging us to practice being intentional about where we put our energies and to let go of what no longer supports our visionary work. While easier said than done, the resilience of plants is humbling in showing us how we can work towards this possibility. When leaves are yellowing, we find out what is wrong and let go of those that are keeping the plant from growing. We repot our plants when they begin to outgrow their pots so that they can grow better and bigger. When things work out, we continue going. When things don’t, we learn to lean in and figure out how we can adapt for the better. Other times, we learn to take a deep breath.
Our plants as mirrors of our well-being
In a way, this is a confession. There is a parallel desire to nurture, as well as to be nurtured. By carving out space and time to heal our relationships and reconnect with beings around us – humans, plants or pets alike – we can begin to find a ground for stillness. In times of precarity, caring for our surrounding beings reminds us of the importance of nourishment and patience for the body and soul. For plants, an act of care is made visible through pouring in time, water, research, love, and resources. Perhaps we too would appreciate some watering and pruning as we recharge our fuel to create our new normal.
Quek Jia Qi is an interdisciplinary artist who works at the intersection of art, education and civic practice. Through experimental modes of storytelling, her socially engaged practice explores how modalities of exchange can bring individuals and communities together for civic imagination, engagement and care.