I’ve watched this progression happening inside my home over the past month or so. The container garden in my sun porch at some point brought little flying bugs into the environment. Whether they came from the soil or from the great outdoors is unclear, but they arrived, nonetheless. And I have tried several remedies that promise to remove the microcosmic infestation in the front window, to no avail.
But the progressive part is that as the population of the tiny insects increased, so did the incidence of spotting arachnids. Spiders. I hate them. I have an irrational fear of the spiders. I’m the Ron Weasley of the real world—freezing, crying, losing the ability to speak, and basically freaking out when a spider comes calling.
For the most part, the arachnids have been tiny, in correlation to the tiny bugs, I suppose. So, I am coping with relative sanity.
Next have come the “creepy bugs”. Someone once told me not to kill them, because they consume spiders, so they are apparently a friend to the arachnophobe. But they are no friend to me, because I consider them creepy. They look downright scary. They are some sort of centipede, I suppose, but they have legs jutting out the bottom en masse, and they have a symmetrical wealth of leg-like protrusions on the top of their bodies. I’m getting a shiver up my spine just imagining them for long enough to describe them.
I remember a time with my friends Nic and Adam had a snake in their second floor apartment. We lived in the same apartment complex, and when the snake showed up in their environment, I immediately jumped into anti-snake mode. That meant a concerted effort to trap and kill any and all mice or rats that could be present in or around my apartment. I’m not sure how you snake-proof a home, but the concern I addressed was the food supply for snakes, not the snakes themselves.
I never had a snake in my apartment. I did catch some mice. And the mice were present because some lady in another building on the complex had made it her personal mission to capture and send to shelters the cats that lived around the apartments. Had she left them be, the cats would be eating the mice, and the snakes wouldn’t move in because they would have no food supply and a potential predator in the cats.
So, as I watch this little cycle of life in my window sill, I think about where I sit on the food chain. And by this I do not mean that I am concerned with who or what might consider me meat. By this I mean, what threats and resources are affecting my life, and why.
I’m not high on the list as far as human hierarchy goes. I’m a disabled, impoverished, woman. So that is at least three strikes against me. I’m also white and educated, so I am offered some privilege. I suppose if we were to consider the hierarchy of my society (and several others) a food chain, I might be the spider. (Ironic, since I am petrified of them.)
I might be the one who had a few being “below” and a few “above”. I am not in the worst position, but I am not in the best. I assist others, but I also need assistance. I live in this middle space, clinging to a rung halfway up the ladder. And it gives me, I believe, an interesting perspective. I can relate to those with more and those with less. I can relate with the “haves” and I can relate with the “have nots”. But there are days that I cannot relate with either—or I don’t want to.
There are days when I want to leave this underserved, loud, dirty, potentially dangerous area. I get tired of the noise—the sirens, the yelling, the gunfire. I get tired of the long commute to anything and everything. I get tired of not fitting in or looking right or getting stopped by the cops because of my white skin. I get tired of being followed by dudes yelling “damn” at my ass. I get tired of trying to explain away how or why I live here without outing myself as poor. And I get tired of all the other people who seize stereotypes and make assumptions about this place I am tired of being in, because despite its faults, this is my home, and there is much beauty and strength in this place.
There are days when I want to be a person with greater means. There are times that I feel jealous of the friends with cars and homes and second homes. There are times I want the “American Dream”.
There are more days, however, when I want to scream at the people who have all of this, and to tell them what selfish, self-serving, privileged bullshit they participate in, without even knowing. I get tired of people who are wealthy pretending they are poor. I get tired of people whining about the inconveniences of their gigantic remodel. I get tired of people saying they are broke and then going out to dinner every night. I get tired of being associated with this type of upper-middle class person just because I am white and educated. I get tired of people assuming that I belong with the “them” while I feel like an “us”.
Frankly, it is exhausting to be in this middle space, between two worlds, because I feel like I must constantly critique and defend one to the other. I want everyone in my neighborhood to know that there are some generous and kind, rich, white people. I want everyone who would not desire to set foot in my neighborhood to know that it is filled with intelligent, hard-working, kind people. I need to constantly justify all the things to all the people.
And then there is the added stress of my own situation needing to be constantly justified. I need money. I need help. I need time. I need energy. I need surgery. I need to make it sound acceptable to have all of these needs, or people refuse to take seriously or meet those needs.
The middle is an impossible place to live. You can almost touch the better things, but if you reach up you risk falling back down into a worse space. So you stay, clinging to the little that you have. Hustling and hoping. Wanting more but not able to live through less. Clinging to the place where you have barely enough to survive.
If that sounds depressing, it is.
There are no questions as to why my antidepressant medication dose keeps increasing. This rung is a depressing one. This middle of the food chain feels like a constant threat, but also like a huge blessing. I’m not at my worst. But I am also not at my best.
And here we arrive at the statement “ignorance is bliss”. Because if I didn’t know the best, or the worst, I wouldn’t feel trapped in this middle, fearful of losing my grip and too paralyzed to attempt upward mobility. The people around me hope with an unyielding strength I have never seen before. They keep believing in the more, in the higher rungs, and in a new and better day. I know that the new and better day is not what it appears to be. I know that there is just a dollar or two between rungs. I know that there is prejudice at the top that keeps those with enough dollars to move up tumbling back down. I know that there is abundance and that it isn’t being offered to the people on the lower rungs. I know that if the people above would just share, the whole fucking ladder could turn on its side, leaving us with equity, and even footing, and no need to compete at the climbing. I know that those people don’t share unless it is in their self-interest, and their dollars come with strings attached. I know because I am in the middle. I know because I am the spider. I know because I have one foot in poverty and one foot in opportunity.
The proverbial food chain allows for ignorance at the bottom and ignorance at the top. But the middle is the space filled with knowledge—frustrating, hope-stealing, anger inducing, devastating knowledge.
I know poverty and possibility. And I am not better off for it. I am tortured by it.
The wealth of the top is achieved upon the backs of the ones at the bottom. We are the macrocosm of the microcosmic activity in my window sill. We consume one and escape the other.
And I can’t stop thinking that this is wrong. I can’t stop thinking that humanity should be behaving with a more evolved and more educated system than the insects. I can’t stop feeling that we are very far from what we were intended to be, and that the ladder and the food chain and the striving and the inequity are all distractions from where our attention ought to be placed. I can’t stop believing that we should be placing our attention and energy on justice—on ending the ladder.
There is this line spoken by Daenerys Targaryen, a character in J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series, that mimics the sentiment that I often put forth. After the many powerful houses of the era are named and called spokes on a wheel, she says with great conviction, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”
In saying this, she expresses that she will not simply be the newest in the line of leaders that overtake the current system. She is, instead, going to destroy that system. She is going to make a new way of being possible by taking apart the system of injustice currently in place.
I’m going to break the wheel. I’m going to break the ladder.
I’m going to create a new system, and not allow the once unjust and oppressive way of being to survive. I’m not going to tolerate the present and hope for a better future, but I am going to smash through the present to create a new present.
What if we stopped being a glorified food chain and broke the ladder? What if we let go of the ideas of “earned” and “deserved” things and status? What would Daenerys do today?
WWDD: What Would Dany Do?
How do we break the wheel in our own society? How do I stop being the spider and consuming the fly? How do I keep the creepy bugs from chasing me? How do we create a system that doesn’t look like the unevolved and inhumane clamoring for power and money and resources, and instead looks like cooperative and compassionate co-existence?
I’m tired of being in the middle, but I am more tired of the idea of the middle. I’m tired of caste systems and hierarchies and patriarchy and all the other systems of oppression and power that make us predators or make us lunch, depending on the situation.
It is time to function on a higher plane. It is time to break the wheel. It is time to end this system and find a new one. It is time for human beings to step outside of the food chain, and use our enlightenment for good and not for evil.
It is time to stop treating one another like meat.