Until February my apartment was usually filled with flies.
I know what you’re thinking: “That seems normal, flies aren’t anything to worry about” but it still always bothered me, sort of a nagging, dark cloud, a cloud of flies that is, hovering slowly around my apartment like a small horrible indoor weather system.
It was the plants that were causing the problem, if you considered it a problem. The flies would just sort of emanate from them. I thought maybe these particular plants grew flies instead of flowers, or that dirt was made from ground-up fly eggs. It seemed possible, I don’t know much about plants. But I still liked having them. I loved having them.
The best way to show plants you love them is to water them at least once a day. Twice a day if you think of it. And the best sort of plants to buy are ones that say they need to be watered once a week or less - those plants are low maintenance. Plants are beautiful and fun but after a few days they always turn brown and soft and then the flies come and the plants get super dead and I know what you’re thinking: How could this possibly be happening. It defies logic.
Then one day in January I accidentally left one of my plants behind a bookcase and forgot it existed. Safely out of reach from my care it transformed into a completely healthy plant, no more flies, green and vibrant and adorable.
So I did a little research, which is my second-favorite thing to do (my favorite thing is to do a lot of research) and found out that my plants not only don’t need the love I was giving them, but due to the humidity of my apartment, need no love at all. The most informative article summarized them as plants that “thrive under neglect.”
Those three words seemed a little harsh. The gardening article was a little too personal. Because looking at the healthy plant refugee made me think of all the other terrifying ways I try to make the world better, and made me wonder if they had failed as conclusively. The middle school girl I mentored, the birthday card someone at work asked me to sign, that blind French man I tried to help in the subway and ended up getting us both lost in a corner because I didn’t know the French word for “turnstile.” And the woman in Namibia I bought a cow for last year. Looking at my plants made me sure things with that cow must have gone horribly.
The list of well-intentioned things I had done during my life was suddenly disconcerting long.
Luckily less than a heartbeat later I had already thought of all the things I neglect every day. Thank goodness I didn’t knit any sweaters for those penguins, or remember to call my former roommate on her birthday. I’ve never played that game where you have to know vocab words to give people rice, and my mom wouldn’t let me be a Girl Scout. How many times had someone posted on Facebook about something where I needed to call a congressperson and tell them something was important to me, and I didn’t call them? That must have happened ten thousand times.
So now I keep my plants by the window, untouched, unloved, and thriving, healthier than any plants I have ever had, after nine years of plant-ownership. I look at them every morning from a safe distance while I swallow a fistful of vitamins. As long as I don’t have too much of a hand in it, it’s going to be another great day.
These aren’t my plants, but I don’t have a good picture of my plants.
These aren’t my penguins either, but if they're yours I'd like to meet them.