Plant tendrils spiraling around fingers
Jennie Vang/TMD

At the farm, I’ve seen plants grow. A few days ago, I smoothed my fingers over thousands of black scallion seeds with a funky smell at the bottom of a glass container; the seeds rolled around in small yet persistent waves of water harvested from a pump on the farm. They stuck to my hands, even as I shook off water droplets. Hiding in my sleeve, under my nails, in between fingers, the yet-to-germinate black particles wouldn’t leave. Suddenly, their weight was noticeable.

My coworkers and boss were fascinated by the scallion seeds.

“How do they know what to do?” they marveled. 

“I wish I knew what I was supposed to do next,” another one remarked over their shoulder while we packed the seeds into small cartons of soil, designed to be transplanted once the scallions grow. 

To be fair, to be stationary and to have a functioning procedure for food and water consumption — which is your main concern for survival — decided before your ancestors’ ancestors were born doesn’t lead to analysis paralysis. To be a plant is to be that and nothing more (or less); they are fragile and ephemeral and feathery, and, yes, they feed and shelter much of the natural and built world. The entire life of the next generation is already written in their seeds before they flutter to the ground, never realizing the exhilarating taste of autonomy, nor the bitter, overwhelming flavor of possibility that makes you forget everything else you came for. 

In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a movie I have seen no less than three times in theaters, the main antagonist is Joy, a Queer Asian American girl with mommy issues. She is influenced by a giant everything bagel black hole of her own creation that inexplicably sucks in those in a tender, desperate state of mind. Joy, who is forced by her mother to always see all of her potential futures in an infinity of alternate timelines, collapses and puts it “all onto a bagel” (also with sesame and poppy seeds) that implodes under its own weight. This creates a dark void that sucks the goodness out of the worlds of those who come close to the bagel, those who cannot bear the unbearable weight of vision, of possibility, of life during late-stage capitalism. The movie shows that to exist in multiple timelines of what “could have been,” to be solely obsessed with countless possibilities, as Mitski and David Byrne sing in “This is a Life” during the end credits, “View of other worlds / From our window sills / With the weight of eternity / At the speed of light” is to fracture the self.

But how can a fragmented self glue itself together? How can we scrape off the seeds we’ve longed for, the seeds that stick to us, in a world of extreme connectivity, an age of “opportunity,” with the highest worldwide average wealth recorded in history (adjusted for inflation) and more pretty people than we can process? If anyone can do “anything,” why haven’t we done what we’ve wanted to do? And what am I supposed to do?

“Enough”. Maybe I don’t say it often enough. I have grown up learning that the last person to tap out, to declare “enough,” wins. Enough. I am practicing the word in my mouth and it feels fluffy. Enough. Maybe there were signs all along, telling me to stop before I burnt to a crisp, and I have just been ignoring them. 

In Robin Sloan’s book “Sourdough,” a book I have read at least six times, the main character Lois grows disillusioned with her lucrative programming job, and instead, throws herself into the world of breadmaking day and night, immersing herself in a new business that engulfs her with more work. This has been my favorite book since I was 16, but I always assumed that once Lois left her programming job, she was safe. She gets to do what she wants now, right? Likewise, I left the College of Engineering after my freshman year: right after what was supposed to be a moment of reflection and learning, I threw myself into working as much as I possibly could. I didn’t (and don’t) know what I want, but I assumed that once I found it, the future wouldn’t seem so all-encompassing, so suffocating. 

Well, upon a recent re-read, I realized that Lois doesn’t find the inner peace I ascribed to her story (and obviously, neither did I). As she grows her business, Lois’s bread gets stolen by a scientist who feeds her starter into a factory-manufactured, mass-produced food replacement, ignoring the lives of the billions of organisms within the culture. Dizzy and exhausted from her business, Lois runs into a bioreactor explosion at an underground farmer’s market, within which her own starter is pulverized; a “fungal party hellscape” of multiple structures block the sun, while strands of bread float lightly. As her anxieties about the future literally explode in her face, I realized that perhaps the most important moment of the book is when Lois realizes that her starter has been sucking her in, with no intention of stopping. Overwhelmed, she decides to walk away.

Growth, in all forms, is heralded, chased after, prized. Expansion is always an underlying goal. We always want too much of a good thing. Bite off more than you can chew, and chew as fast as you can, to stretch yourself like a rubber band right before it snaps. To look at someone or something and see a potential for harvest instead of a current existence is nothing new, after all. As Tema Okun writes in the article “White Supremacy Culture,” the idea that “progress is bigger, more” informs the culture that we live in and its intellectual ancestors.

It is easy to understand how this attitude has been the guiding principle for so much of the violent history of the United States, from the destructive seizure of land from North American indigenous groups under the guise of Manifest Destiny to the dire conditions of industrialization to the creation of the American suburbs to the now gentrification and displacement of those who live in many American cities, especially Detroit, which I walk through daily to get to the farm on which I work. This attitude has been forced, imbued into the landscape.

Because I have planted seeds, too. I have planted my own roots where I can, but there have just been too many places where it was too bleak to germinate, with not enough nourishment to go around. Now, I am tired. I have been clipped and sheared, wrangled and wilted into something I don’t understand, thinking I would finally match my environment. When is enough? Less than I could ever know. Vincent Van Gogh is known for saying, “If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is grass in the beginning.” The anticipation of positive transformation gives hope, it builds the desire to strive ever upwards. But what about now? In a hurry to prove worth, I can only state potential. This is a travesty. I am trying to learn how to pick up my feet and walk away, while everyone around me, worried, screams not to move. As I work with the ground, I slowly learn what my ancestors always knew: that the cool, damp seeds that feel itchy on the skin of my palms are worth as much as, if not more, than the kernels that have yet to be sown.

MiC Columnist Meera Kumar can be reached at