I took a walk down to my beloved Utah Lake recently with every intention of stripping down to my briefs, wading into the water, and swimming out to the buoys. But when I arrived and approached the water’s edge, I hesitated. A thin layer of grime floated on the surface. I couldn’t tell if my repulsion originated in my biological intuition to stay safe or the comfortable sense of cleanliness I’ve adopted in adulthood. Looking away from the water, I could still observe a unique beauty…
… which was then made insidious by the quantity of insects buzz, buzz, buzzing around me. One of these bugs—a botfly—flew up my shorts and “impregnated” my thigh with a painless “sting.” Six or seven days later, I started growing larvae under my skin that I had to suffocate with petroleum jelly and extract with knives and tweezers. I could barely perform the “operation” without passing out, falling from the toilet, and smacking my head against the bathtub.
In the past, I would’ve gone to a doctor for such an operation but, like so many of my friends, peers, and colleagues, I have joined the ranks of the so-called “precariat.” My financial security ebbs and flows with what kind of work I can find as I juggle life, my dissertation, and other academic or professional responsibilities. I fight daily to sustain a precarious balance far more common among the proletariat than anyone with power and influence cares to recognize much anymore. No wonder we, the precariat, suck down so many amphetamines to keep going and even more benzodiazepines to keep sane. Life has become an existential grind punctuated by too few moments of beauty and rest.
Indeed, I’ve been in graduate school going on five years now. During that time, my wife of seven years cheated on me, left me with full custody of the kids, and manipulated the system to avoid meeting any of her financial obligations to them. My three surviving grandparents died. My social circle underwent both intentional and unintentional upheaval. My dependence on the prescription drugs meant to relieve my suffering started doing the opposite. My world had to be rebuilt, demolished, and rebuilt again on several occasions. I’ve only survived through the support of friends and family—including my Lucenti partners, ferox and missdansie—and academic advisors as kind as they are forgiving.
I may sound like I’m complaining. I’m not, I assure you. I suspect that my trials sound familiar to a lot of people, and I have no interest in competing in some sort of trauma olympics. There are people throughout the world with stories far more traumatic than mine. Besides, I’m more worried about widespread ecological collapse than I am about my own insignificant personal pain. The botfly may’ve been uncomfortable and gross. But it reminded me of something.
Socrates once referred to Athens as a horse and to himself as a gadfly whose responsibility it was to irritate the city and keep it from falling into complacency. Whenever I hear people discuss this metaphor, they talk about the gadfly as if it’s little more than a housefly, buzzing around their room when they’re trying to read. But no, gadflies are botflies. They do more than irritate. They implant. What Socrates implanted in Athens before they killed him (the way I swatted that damn fly) was a revelation of their hubris. They claimed to possess certainty even though they were ignorant to almost everything of importance. The botfly that implanted its larvae in my leg reminded me that I live in an out-of-balance ecosystem, next to a lake that has been polluted and abused, surrounded by developers who buy up fertile land to build houses in gated communities unironically named “the fields.” Yet, here I sit, so focused on my troubled personal life that I’ve forgotten how to study, understand, and help the land that nourishes me. Each larvae that I pluck out of my leg reveals to me the hubris of which I am most guilty: “everything will be OK.” No, actually—it fucking won’t.