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Nashville, TN



Jen Hartry

Today I have flicked a ladybug off my phone and off my plate. There are eight ladybugs on the inside side of the window in front of me right now. When I take a shower there are at least ten ladybugs, on the window, on the loofah, flying round. A few of them will die before I’m done. They’ll try to land in a place that’s too wet and they’ll fall down to the floor and drown or go down the drain. They are not fast to drown though. One morning I found a ladybug swimming in the glass of water I keep next to my bed. A couple days ago I found one swimming in the toilet. During my last shower a ladybug landed backwards and upside down on a bead of water rolling down the shower wall. It rode the bead down, landed on its head and crawled away. Now that they’ve been in the house for awhile I’m beginning to find ladybug corpses everywhere. On the bottom of a shoe or sock. On my desk and on window sills. Yesterday I moved a guitar case in my office and found ten ladybug corpses beneath it. There isn’t a light fixture without a ring of red inside of it now. They’ve taken over a secede window in the kitchen. Twenty ladybugs at least. They leave their yellow blood all over it to draw the others there. When the first few ladybugs appeared I took them outside, or I set them out of harm’s way in the shower. Then I started just to flick them away if they’re on something I need, and otherwise ignore them. When last I vacuumed I sucked up a few live ladybugs with the dead ones.

It’s clear that the time has come to do something. The humane thing to do would be to vacuum all of them I can, release them into the woods, scrub away all the blood on the window sills so that they’ve no extra incentive to return, and then be diligent about capturing and releasing any newcomers. That’d probably do the trick. It would have been a good way to do it from the very beginning. I suppose I could have saved a lot of ladybug lives if I’d been diligent. But that is not how I do things. Generally, I’m the type of guy who ignores a minor problem until it becomes a huge problem. I wait until a few dirty clothes on the floor become a pile that pisses my wife off. Until the little noise in the car results in a breakdown and a tow-truck. In general, I don’t deal with something until it starts dealing with me in some negative way. The ladybugs are populating the house now, they’re everywhere, and so I have to do something. I beat myself up for how I am, but I know a lot of people are like me, and I know society is like me in a lot of ways too. Which is a big thing to come away with considering that I’m talking about ladybugs here. But of course I’m not just talking about ladybugs here. I’m rarely talking about just one thing. Or, more to the point, and hopefully I’ll get back to a point, I’m rarely thinking about just one thing, rarely talking about anything at all. Things try to connect themselves in my head, usually in a sad way. Ladybugs are starting to get connected now, their blood being spilled on my windows and all.

Just as an example, in the shower the other day I thought about how sad it is that a ladybug should die on the window, where they can see so clearly the outside, but are separated from it by a mere inch of glass. I ridiculed myself for the thought, because, of course, that pane of glass is several times thicker than the body of a ladybug, and so the ladybug’s death isn’t really wrought with so much tragedy. Moreover, regardless of a creature’s size, the width of the barrier between life and death, between captivity and freedom, is far less relevant than the material from which the barrier is composed. Were the glass 100 times thinner the ladybug would still die on the same side of it. Like the bars of a prison cell; they’re thin, but they’re still impenetrable. Which is where my mind went next. There are over 2.4 million human beings in prison in the United States. Over 80,000 of these human beings are being held in solitary confinement. Guards with sticks and guns aside, that’s a whole lot of creatures separated from their freedom by something as thin as a cinder block wall, or something as permeable as a set of bars. It’s an issue I think and read a lot about, incarceration in the US. It’s a terrible problem, the numbers and conditions. It’s unjust and unethical and inhumane and idiotic and expensive. It seems insane to me that more people aren’t talking about it, aren’t trying to do something about it.

Yet I haven’t done a damn thing about it either. It’s a ladybug problem. I probably won’t do anything about it until it gets out of hand in my brain. This post is an indication that that time is drawing near. None of “us” will do anything about it either, until it becomes bothersome enough. There are a few good things going on, but they generally just point to how fucked up things already are. For example, New York has just changed their solitary confinement policies so that “children and pregnant inmates…will no longer be subjected to solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons…” (Isn’t the fact that they are there in the first place horrific? And that they could be put there for something as vague and subjective as “disciplinary reasons”?) And Attorney General Eric Holder is encouraging federal prosecutors to charge low-level drug offenders with less severe crimes. Which is good. (But it points to the fact that hundreds of thousands of low level, nonviolent drug offenders are serving long sentences in the first place.) I’m not an idiot. A lot of prisoners are in prison for good reason. They aren’t as innocent as ladybugs. They have nothing to do with ladybugs. I’m not so much talking about them (though we should talk about how we treat them once they’re there). But so many are there for no good reason. And so many are in solitary for years, decades even, and there can be no reasoning for that. It’s a giant lady bug problem, made worse by the fact that our prisoners aren’t languishing on windows that we can easily see them through. They’re hidden, hidden well, and hidden intentionally.

I gotta wonder if we’re all like me in one way or another. I know we are. My intentions are good, but the action I take, if any, is sporadic and feeble. Like being SO outraged by some piece of injustice, some Trayvon, that you post something about it on Facebook one day and forget it the next. I’ve got a plan to save humanely the growing ladybug population in my house, and how humane I will be about it! But not before letting so many of them die on account of my laziness. Similarly, maybe we’ll figure out our prison problem, but not before letting millions languish there. It’s silly, I know, to compare ladybugs and human beings. But I dunno, my last thought in the shower was that maybe it isn’t silly at all. Maybe we should all be strict buddhists in the sense that we do all we can to avoid harming or killing another creature. Maybe if I could learn to do something to better the lives of ladybugs then I could learn to better the lives of my fellow humans. To be honest, I don’t think there’s any justifying my behavior toward either animal. I feel guilty about the things I can do but don’t. And to be honest, I think all of us should. And more than that, we should all be doing something about it.