The Ants Are Back In Town!
Greetings! It’s March 2023 and the ants are back and so it seems appropriate that I come back, too. Just for a little while. Not too long. Like, maybe long enough to nibble on an apple core and three Ritz crackers that someone left on an end table overnight. I might come here and write more, I might not. I don’t know. Depends on how much this apple fills me up. I might head on over to the kitchen to check out those strawberry tops someone left in the sink. Maybe write another paragraph or ten next week. We’ll see how much ant bait there is to dodge, how this apple settles in my stomach.
Ants, the tiny ones that make their appearance in early Spring, will forever remind me of the beginning of the pandemic, of the lockdown orders specifically. That time when our yard was torn up from the sewer repair, and I was trying to school two kids under the age of 6 at home, and we were scrambling to make sense of the world amongst, of all things, toilet paper shortages. I remember the ants crawling all over everything, oblivious to anything besides the pursuit of food. They crawled all over us. Humans! Beings that could potentially crush them between two diminutive fingertips. Back then, I had the willies about them, was mildly annoyed at them, but only at the sensation of them, and not at the existence of them. In fact, their existence was so curious to me, so comically timed. Ants? During a pandemic? Didn’t the Universe know we already had enough to handle? Now, three years later, I can identify in me a kind of jealousy as well. To be so blinded by a desire for, say, raspberry jam on a dirty countertop, I could face down the mountain of death! Well, actually. Now that I think about… that’s kinda what we were doing, weren’t we? Potentially dancing with our mortality every time we ached for guacamole or butter pecan ice cream? We suited up and took our chances, scuttling like insects from aisle to aisle, bee-lining it for the checkout stand, hoping, praying, mouth-breathing into masks, willing ourselves to go on. I’ll never forget the woman I saw at the grocery store wearing gardening gloves for protection… or that meme going around of the man with a sneaker tied around his face in lieu of a mask. A man’s tennis shoe. The ants? They didn’t have those same anxieties about death. Or, if they did, didn’t choose to suffer the indignity of strapping smelly footwear to their heads to buy, say, a Coke at a bodega. They just went for it. Man, who woulda thunk I’d be looking back at the past three years and finding something sage about ants, for chrissakes?
I suppose that’s our (ant-like) imperative, as humans: we’re always mining for silver linings. Always trying to make things make sense, always trying to glean some lesson, trying to justify that some “things happen for a reason” when, really, they sometimes don’t. I’ve always been allergic to that kind of rationale, even as I participate in it. The idea that “God gives us what we can handle”… it registers like sour milk in my mouth. Still, I carry on, and try to encourage others to do the same. I’m beholden to carry on, even as I can’t bring myself to offer up platitudes. I don’t know if it’s uniquely American or just human at this point, but it feels like there has always been enormous pressure to Always Be Learning. Can I let you in on a little secret? I’m exhausted by it. Truly, bone-weary and worn down. I’m crossing my arms over my chest and declaring I don’t wanna. I know, I know what you’re thinking. Quit yer complanin’, entitled white lady. I feel that too. It’s the duality of being alive. I’m just saying it here because I need to let it out of my head. And in case anyone else is tired, too.
Why is this relevant now?
I’ve taken on a writing project, a big one. I don’t want to share too many details right now because this project feels like a newborn, all red and wailing and with a dangerous soft spot I need to cover with my hand at all times. I’m protective of it. And? It’s hard to talk about the writing itself. I can’t seem to make it make sense in spoken words the way it makes sense in my head. I’m finding it extremely difficult to justify its existence. It’s like: as soon as I open my mouth to lay out a line of reasoning, all that comes out is Cindy Brady-esque doe-eyes and tangential blah blah blah. Really, I don’t want to have to justify it. I don’t want to show some great lesson that I’ve learned and now want to share with the world. (We can have a whole separate post about me feeling like I’m not really on the other side of wisdom, and why I don’t feel like I’m qualified to “teach” anyone anything, so we’ll just put a pin in that for now). Anyway, what I want is for all this domestic stuff I’m in the middle of to just go away so I can just write and not worry about the “product”. Try telling that to the good folks who would be in a position to publish such a thing. Or my family for that matter. “Yeah, so, if you could like, just pay me to sit at my desk and drink endless cups of black tea and wander aimlessly for about 200 pages, that would greaaaaaaaat.” “Also, Mama’s gonna go in her room and not come out for three weeks. The crackers are in the snack cabinet. Call Nana if you run out of fruit”.
To quote my (writer) friends, collectively: sometimes I want to write just to share, and not to demonstrate some great lesson I’ve learned. I write to connect, to be human alongside other humans. Sometimes I’m still in the shit, and there’s not a clear lesson in sight. I just want to make other people in the shit feel seen and heard and okay about still being in it.
I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been around the bend with kale smoothies and self help books and my takeaway is a little bit more down and out than not: people still get cancer, houses still get cluttered, people still say awful things to one another. I’m not saying “why bother?”. Maybe I’m saying: I’m not a great candidate for the almighty Before And After.
Or maybe I just can’t see it yet. Maybe if I write it, something will be revealed that I couldn’t see before. Of course it will. That’s what writing does: shows you yourself.
I want to keep the project, words and all, tucked up inside me because it feels more tidy that way…but I it also feels like it’s time to let it out into the world. I’m not doing this alone, so don’t worry. I have help. And I understand that I can self-publish and not be held to someone else’s standard, so everyone please remain seated. I’m just telegraphing out that this is hard, writing is hard. It’s hard work. And it’s necessary, but so is brushing your teeth. No one pays you to do that or critiques you publicly when you’re done, though.
There is more to it, of course. Mr. Burdy is recovering from major surgery and Bobo had to go to the ER recently with mysterious stomach pains, and Beaversons is being raised by an iPad, so finding the time to do all this excavating of the soul is damn near impossible. And don’t you love it when someone dumps the important part of the story in the last paragraph and then runs off to work? Sorry. I also have to go to work now.
But the ants are here, and that means Spring is around the corner (even though we’re slated for a nor’easter this evening), so look at me! Trying to leave you with hope in spite of everything I’ve said! A silver lining! I’m trained in the art of NOT leaving anyone at loose ends. So here: this is for you (and maybe me, too). Just around the bend there is renewal, and tulips in the front yard and, maybe, if we’re lucky, another abandoned piece of fruit under the couch ready for us to snack on. I’ll meet you there.