From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
Attack of the Shiny Black Oxford
by Dodie Bellamy
I commit to vote in 2018 because when I close my eyes in a gesture of “active imagination” — an activity I considered really stupid when I actually was in therapy, and I was horrible at it, but now I see plenty — I see a slug on a sidewalk, its tentacles trembling as a shiny black leather Oxford looms above it, slowly descending in a grinding motion. The slug says to me, “This is how precarious it feels to live in America today.” The slug says, “Ignore those on the radical left who post online that Democrats are as bad as Republicans, so it’s a moral imperative to opt out of the system and refuse to vote.” Of course capitalism is oppressive and corrupt — this past year since Trump was elected, we can feel that in our gut — and perhaps that gut sense of systemic wrongness is the only good thing Trump has given us. We all know the Democrats aren’t going to get rid of capitalism any time soon, and they’re not going to lead us to a paradise where slugs frolic in moist earth with delectable rotting vegetation to feed on. But maybe they can halt this apocalyptic momentum that’s traumatizing living beings and their environments.
I’ve only seen slugs once, a few weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. My cat Stanley fell or jumped out of a window and went missing for three weeks. Then one evening as I was doing the dishes, staring vacantly into the backyard of the building next door, I saw these two eyes gleaming in the darkness. I ran outside, but nothing would get Stanley to come to me. So I rented a humane trap from this guy in Oakland who called me “Babe” and snuck it into the neighbor’s backyard. I armed the trap with a bowl of cat food to make it more enticing, and I waited. Later, when I checked, there was no Stanley, but the bowl was swarming with slugs. They were disgusting. But so resourceful. When attacked, a slug contracts its soft watery body, hardening it into a still, round ball. Slugs exude slippery foul-tasting mucus that makes them difficult to catch. In a pinch, some of them will amputate their own tails, like the Spartan warriors. In arid conditions, a desert slug can hibernate for years, waiting for moisture to revitalize it. Despite its lack of shell, when pushed too far, a slug will attack. My imaginary slug burps up a wad of slime and says, “We’ve got to get rid of that Oxford or it’s going to squish our guts in a big splat. Get off your complacent consumerist ass and vote Democrat in 2018!” The next night my cat Stanley beat the slugs to the food, and he lived a long healthy life until 2002.
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Dodie Bellamy is a novelist, poet, and essayist. Her most recent book is When the Sick Rule the World.