When you just can't fling the spider
On spiders and big, scary problems
A few years ago, I was at my dad’s house helping him out for several days after he came home from the hospital. He’d arranged for his regular catsitter, Kay, to come over in the evenings to take care of his two Siamese, and one night she was getting their food ready in the kitchen when I heard her call me from the next room.
“Umm, Louise? Can you come here please? There’s a big spider in the kitchen …”
“Sure,” I said, walking in. “What’s up?”
She pointed to the spider from several feet away. “Can you just, uhh …”
I looked. There was indeed a good-sized, though not monstrous, dark spider sitting in the middle of the floor.
“No problem,” I said. “Mom taught me how to deal with spiders years ago.” I grabbed a stiff piece of junk mail from the wastebasket and a plastic cup from the cupboard. I knelt down and quickly trapped the spider under the cup. “All you do is slide the card underneath and turn it over.”
I stood up again with the offending spider trapped in the cup underneath an ad for duct cleaning.
“Now you just need to take it outside and fling it.” I held the cup out towards her, my other hand clamping down on the card.
“Fling it?” Kay looked at me, then down at the cup, her eyes getting bigger.
“Yup. You can go out through the garage. — Here”
I handed Kay the cup with the card on top. “Just make sure you keep your hand on tight so it doesn’t sneak out. I’ll open the garage door for you.”
Kay moved quickly past me and out through the garage, and I went back into the kitchen. But when she returned a minute or so later I noticed she was shaking, all the blood had drained from her face, and she was nearly in tears.
Uh-oh. I’d thought she just didn’t want to trap the spider herself, but now I realized I might have just traumatized this poor woman.
“Oh my goodness, are you okay?” I said.
Kay nodded her head, but one hand clung to the edge of the counter and I could tell she was making a huge effort to regain her composure.
“I’m so sorry!” I said. “I’ve been doing it this way for so long I forgot some people are just really afraid of spiders.”
“It’s okay,” she said, finally, taking a breath. “Whew!”
When I remembered this episode recently, I again felt bad for handing her what probably felt like a live grenade. It also made me think about how just because you’re brave in one area of your life doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas where you just cannot deal. And that’s both okay and also something that deserves to be looked at.
I can easily get overwhelmed by thinking about all the things going on in the world. Here’s a partial list of the stuff that sets up camp in my brain on the regular:
Climate change, corporate consumer surveillance, the decline of Western democracy, the wealth gap, mass extinctions, oppression of the Uighurs, domestic terrorism, systemic racism, political polarization, for-profit prisons, the Metaverse, the great Pacific garbage patch, colony collapse disorder, sexual assault, militarization of the border, superbugs, voter suppression, the opioid epidemic, disappearing wetlands, gun violence, mass refugee migrations, the singularity, the hedge fund that is gutting local newspapers, repressive abortion laws, anti-trans legislation, conspiracy theories, cyber attacks, the Omicron variant …
It’s a lot.
When I read or start thinking about any of these big issues, it makes me feel like I need to do something about it, right now. I have the kind of brain that really doesn’t like open loops. But most of the time there isn’t something actionable I can do right away or maybe even ever that will make much of a difference. Repeat this over and over and no wonder whenever I go to my mailbox and see the latest cover of The Atlantic it makes me want to crawl under a rock and hide.
My options seem to be this:
Just don’t engage. Avoid reading or exposing myself to information that is disturbing or troubling in any way.
Focus on one area where I feel like I can move the needle with clear, practical action, and let everything else go.
Read and expose myself to everything, feel like I need to do something about all of it, and end up doing nothing, numbing myself by puttering, and doomscrolling on Twitter (which is also a form of self-punishment because I then find myself exposed to more Things I Feel I Should Be Doing Something About).
Lately I’ve been going back and forth between 3 and 2. When I’m in Option 2 mode, the thing I’ve ended up focusing on is systemic racism, which is why you’ve seen more posts relating to that in these newsletters. It’s one area where I feel I can do something, starting by educating myself and engaging with others in my different communities about what anti-racism looks like and small actions we can take. That feels healthy. Option 2 is choosing to deal compassionately with that one spider.
Option 3 is obsessing over every spider that might be in the house and feeling like they are all going to come out at once, but just sitting there until the one on the kitchen floor crawls back into the woodwork.
Option 1 is when you just cannot deal with the spider and decide that maybe never going back into that room is definitely an option. Although it sounds like I am condemning Option 1, I must stress that it is a completely valid option depending on what else is going on in your life at the time. I don’t condemn anyone who goes for Option 1 because dealing with your day-to-day life on the ground in America or wherever you happen to live is just enough. I actually feel it is a privilege to not have to be in Option 1 mode all the time.
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Where it gets tricky with Options 1 and 2 is when I can see that I’m using my feelings of overwhelm to justify my avoidance. Option 1 is where I used to live most of the time, but I’m not willing to go back there. Here’s where I think there might actually be an Option 4:
Recognize that I don’t have to be brave in every area of my life or the world all at once. Read and engage judiciously, picking a few areas where I feel I can move the needle with clear, practical action, and a few areas where I might want to get engaged in the future. Try to become reasonably well-informed about the rest. Recognize that situations are fluid and I might move back and forth.
I recently learned that most spiders you find in your house actually aren’t adapted to live outdoors, so trapping and flinging them outside isn’t the compassionate act I’ve always thought it was. In fact, according to this article, some house spiders have been living indoors with people since the days of the Roman Empire. They also pose very little danger unless you are an earwig, mosquito, fly, roach, or clothes moth, so maybe the best strategy is to just recognize that they will always be there and learn to coexist.
The world will always have problems. Getting used to the idea that they are always there and that I’m not responsible for doing something about every single one of them right now is maybe the most compassionate thing I can do for myself.
What I’m Reading
I recently finished You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism, by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (because, Option 2). Amber Ruffin, a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, co-wrote the book with her sister Lacey about the mind-boggling number and variety of crazy racist encounters Lacey has faced over the years in the sisters’ home state of Nebraska.
I would recommend this book for anyone who is starting out on their anti-racism education or wants a book that focuses on personal stories rather than the sweep of history. Written with humor without pulling any punches in calling out the racism, this book is both informative and entertaining. I listened to it on audiobook and appreciated hearing the authors’ voices, although you do miss out on some of the included visuals.
New Bookshop List
Since last newsletter I’ve added one more curated list to my Bookshop store. The new list of Voice-driven essay collections highlights some of the single-author collections that have stuck with me and continue to earn their space on my nonfiction bookshelf. This list is in addition to other curated lists of all the books I’ve recommended here on BYOH, LGBTQ+ Memoirs, and Books for Writers of Memoir and Creative Nonfiction. And remember, now through the end of the year, any earnings from my store will go to support the International Women’s Media Foundation Emergency Fund for Female Journalists.
So there you have it, my friends. I hope this issue of Be Your Own Hero gave you something to think about. What’s your philosophy around house spiders and/or big, scary problems? I’d love to hear from you, so drop a comment below. All respectful discussion is welcome.
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