shedding

girl, not this

I’ve had a meme saved in my phone since March. It’s one of about two trillion memes I’ve saved, stacked up one by one by one; decaying with irrelevance in Photos. This meme scrolled up into my timeline and was instantly given a headstone with the last day of the month as it’s inscription. I loved it and saved it and didn’t look at it again. I assumed it was haunting some abandoned iOS space between Co-Star and Lidl Plus. But the other day it started hanging out in the neon junkyard that is My Everyday Thoughts like I’d summoned it from Page 5 of my home screen. I guess I had, but first let me tell you about the meme*.

This meme is based off an illustration from Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella “The Metamorphosis”. Here we see an insect lying on its back, on top of a bed. It appears to be immobilised. On a small side-table next to it, we can see a pair of spectacles and alarm clock. I refer to them as spectacles and not glasses because it is presumably supposed to be in 1915 and spectacles sounds right for that time. Above its head is a painting and also a quote bubble containing the words: girl, not this. Which is not right for the time — that is the meme part.

I decided to read “The Metamorphosis” again the other day after I thought about the meme, but seven pages in I stopped to watch reruns of True Blood. I’m not saying it’s not worth a read, but I’m looking for the exact moment that Sookie and Bill fall in love IRL on set. Oh and as a result of the environmental crisis it’s too hot in Leeds and I don’t want to think about a man-turned-giant-insect named Gregor Samsa who becomes increasingly depressed in a small bedroom as all of his loved ones begin to abandon him in disgust. That is what this book is about, if you want to know. Also at the very end his sister becomes hot. Her parents, realising this, decide that it is time for her to find a man.

The first like, three pages are the most important (to me) anyway. The opening line of the novella reads: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermon”. It’s here, in the context of the meme, Gregor speech bubbles: girl, not this.

In the novella, Gregor decides to lie in bed for a few more moments. Listening to the rain drum on his window pane, he decides to “sleep a little bit longer and forget about all this nonsense” (the “nonsense” being the fact that he’s woken up as an insect). I feel that. How many times have I thought: girl, not this; rain’s nice though, let’s sleep this one off. Unfortunately for Gregor, he was accustomed to sleeping on his side (relate), and having awoken as what know-it-all Vladimir Nabokov later identifies as a beetle, he is stuck on his back in his hardened shell. Importantly, Gregor does not freak out about his overnight transformation from salesman to beetle. It’s an FML moment of paralysis. A ‘can’t really be bothered with it’. Instead of considering the unexpected — and pretty dire, to be honest — shedding of his former self, he thinks about: work stress, train connections, bad and irregular food, the early mornings, office politics, his boss (ugh), family debt; being in “contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them.” We get it, at least I do. Shit sucks.

Next, Gregor considers the inconvenience of his newly adult beetle body, the squeaking insect tones that have replaced his voice, his struggle to get up from bed. He decides: he has a cold. This soon will pass. Reasonable. He chooses to lay for a while longer, “breathing lightly as if he perhaps expected the total stillness to bring things back to their real and natural state.”

girl, not this. please not this.

☾☽

In England, the heat is like no other. Not just the heat of July 2021 which is apocalyptic and to which we are are largely apathetic because — haven’t we got enough to deal with? I’m talking about the heat of always.

The heat of always in England is a meteorological anomaly, in that it comes from below. It rises, muddled and warm, from just beneath the surface. It awakens slowly, stretches towards the sky and then settles like a depressed cloud. We’re all just wading through it and breathing in the hot remnants of old puddles, soaked potholes and pavements. We face upwards to bask and the Sun just laughs and laughs and laughs: look down you sweaty idiots. The hot, hot heat is pooling beneath your feet.**

Maybe it was all the sticky, rolling beads crawling down my spine. Or the temp-induced eczema flare-up. Or that video of Matt Hancock making out with Gina Colandagelo. Or the anti-lockdown protestors chanting away for their liberties very ironically on Freedom Day (are we really calling it that? Like, officially?). Or the feeling of being dragged underneath the slow-moving tire wheel on a road trip that surely ends like The Wicker Man but in the ocean. Or a creeping sense of ok-ness; an alarming potential. Maybe it was all of those things or none of them or some others, but for whatever reason, I got thinking about insects. And shedding. But also: girl, not this. The meme crawled out from behind the rounded, dusty corner of Couch to 5K and was like: u summoned?

I thought about the meme and I thought about shedding and so I spent some time Googling beetles. In order to grow, a baby beetle (my palatable name for larva) must shed. The process is known as moulting and happens between 7-15 times in this stage of the beetle lifecycle according to the first few results. It seems like an intense amount of starting over, but it’s only way they can reach their adult form. Certain types of baby beetles prop their shedded exoskeleton over top of them like a tent, I kid you not. Beneath it, they are vulnerable and fresh but knowing; re-born without the luxury of bright-eyed Day One. These beetles have lived long enough to recognise that they need a shield of their former selves as protection from the fears they’ve already lived.

Real beetles have a lot more going for them than the salesman turned beetle Gregor Samsa. Real beetles just get on with it. They aren’t paralysed by transformation; or the feeling that they’ve shed themselves raw and expectant in a world so doomful and surreal that even Kafka couldn’t have dreamt it up. For us, for Gregor, for me, July 2021 is not the ideal backdrop for letting go of coarsened, former selves. But, like it or not, I woke up one day to discover I was moulting my way through heat and time like: girl, not this. But maybe it’s ok. Layers of deadened exoskeleton peeling away, making space for something softer and new.


Footnotes

* if you are the meme creator plz let me credit you
** no scientific evidence to support this

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