lumped in

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Something I hate and try not to do but catch myself doing too much is starting sentences with “S/he was one of those people who…”.

There is nothing lazier,  less descriptive, more general and generic than lumping everyone together, especially when trying to nail down with some precision the nuance or detail that makes that person who s/he is, whether you love or hate him.

I try to move outside these lazy generalizations and even into different descriptive territory. Not too long ago, for example, I wrote about someone who was like a fruit fly to me, and elaborated on why.

Later, I felt that the same person is a lot like a tiny, live frog, trapped in a bag of fresh salad. Every so often, I’ve read a news story here in Sweden about someone opening a ready-to-eat bag of greens, only to witness a little frog, still alive, hop out. Me, I’d find this horrifying (the companies selling these frog-laden salads claim that live frogs prove the freshness of their goods…). In comparing a person to these frogs, though, I isolate certain aspects of the individual’s personality: living in a confined, non-reality, oblivious to the fact that she does not belong there and that that environment is inherently unhealthy and won’t lead her anywhere. She may die there.

When some unsuspecting consumer opens the bag, and she – this oblivious frog – jumps out, she is unwelcome and terrifies the person holding the bag. This can’t be happening! Even if it’s a fascinating and strange curiosity, that fascination lasts only for the briefest moment. This uninvited, intrusive guest must go.

A bout of stress

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You know how it is: as soon as you have a conversation about something you will see information about that thing -whatever it is- everywhere. A few weeks ago it was fruit flies, last week (or possibly earlier this week) it was aging/living longer lives and this week it’s stress.

The voices tell us:

And how does stress manifest? How does it serve?

As a child, I internalized all the anxiety I felt around me; I worried constantly. I did not know – and could not have – that this was ‘stress’ until a doctor diagnosed it as such. It took many more years before my own brand of ‘fuck it’ developed, and even as recently as ten years ago, there were situations that could push my buttons. Life, of course, was more stressful then – moving to a new country, starting a new job, figuring a lot of things out all alone, etc. But first I coped, then I conquered.

I don’t feel anything resembling stress now. I wish I could give that gift to everyone I know.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

As inconsequential as a fruit fly

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In trying to describe to someone how pesky another person was – not annoying enough to think about, but still there when you didn’t care for her to be, inserting herself into situations in which she had no business, I realized she had become like a fruit fly. Nothing you really notice at all unless you’re close to them (or unless they exist in a giant swarm), mostly harmless but nothing you want around either. To cap off my discussion on how I thought of her, I declared, “If I were to say another word to her, it would be: ‘Get the fuck away from me, annoying fruit fly’.”

This seemed appropriate because she wanted to be so much more consequential than that, to occupy space, time, thought. But do fruit flies occupy that much space, time, thought for most of us? No, not for most of us.

But, for science, yes. As soon as I had made this analogy of woman as fruit fly, every other story I saw on my science and tech blogs seemed to be fruit-fly related. Do I notice them now because I evoked the fruit fly in my mind’s eye? Or is there really such a sudden glut of fruit fly stories?

Everything from “Fruit fly mutation foretells 40 million years of evolution” to, perhaps appropriately in this case, “Family break-ups lead to domestic violence in fruit fly relationships”. Perhaps most relevant of all: “Too near, or too far? What fruit flies teach us about personal space”.

Yes – personal space. My human fruit fly has no concept of boundaries or personal space (so perhaps would not even be good at being a fruit fly, really). Ignoring her or trying to create some distance ignited the kind of drama that I don’t permit in my life. She could never understand that I, like most people, appreciate personal space, and she was constantly invading it. And she knew it but had no self-control. It was not that I hated her (I barely knew her), was angry at her, or never wanted to talk to her again. It was simply that with her pushing and constant presence, she was an uninvited annoyance (exactly like fruit flies), not irritating like house flies, not predatory like spiders.

Simply… innocuous and ever-present, but unwelcome.

Photo (c) 2014 ZEISS Microscopy used under Creative Commons license.