#57 - on mice and irrational fears
And holding firm in our politics.
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There is a mouse in our house. I figured I should write about the mouse because I have been consumed by it. There is no conversation I have had in the last 7 days that has not included the mouse. The first thing I ask C when I wake up is, did you find the mouse, and the last thing I do before I go to bed is put on rugged shoes and run across the hall to the bathroom, lest the mouse runs over my bare skin.
The mouse was first spotted when I casually got up from the red velvet chair that I live on for most of the day to go and get a glass of water. I have not got a glass of water since. I have not made a meal or opened the pantry door where I first saw the mouse flee from. C has carried me: on his back, by making every meal and setting up at least 14 traps to try to relieve me of my discomfort.
But here is the thing, I don’t want to kill the mouse. I even understand why it is here. It is freezing with a capital F outside, it is warm in here and there is likely a medley of crumbs in corners of the house for a mouse to feast on. If I want heat, food and shelter, surely the mouse does too? My conflict of wanting the mouse to live and not knowing how to live with it is nothing short of existential.
When I tell my friends and also people who did not inquire about the mouse of my dilemma, I am usually hit with one of six responses.
Affirmation: I would be the same too. I couldn’t survive. Would leave that house immediately.
Nonchalance: Every house in Toronto has mice.
Positivity: But mice are soooooo cute.
Sense-making: Maybe there is some ancestral stuff of being attacked by a mouse plague. Maybe you were a mouse in your past life.
Coaching: Is this really about the mouse? Or is your ego finding ways to see life as a struggle?
Solutionizing: Have you tried peppermint spray? traps? cat litter? get a cat?
These responses have all been so generous. And oh so patient for such a trite issue. But do you want to know what has changed for me in the process of vomiting my discomfort on everyone? Nothing. I am still completely paralyzed by this mouse. And the reason for this is because I have an irrational fear of mice.
When I was in Grade 9, our 1600 sq. ft house in Scarborough got mice. Many many mice. My mom left for Mumbai abruptly for three months when she received news that Babi, her mother, had relapsed after having breast cancer a few years prior and was going to die. The cancer had spread like an oil spill in the ocean. The news left me, my sisters and my dad alone for the first time in our life, which is both an odd privilege and a shocking revelation on how little individual agency she had. My mom was the primary caregiver and caretaker of our family and home and the sole cook, so you can imagine how everything went a mock pretty quickly, which included leaving food items open and haphazardly in the basement pantry.
By the time she came back, the mice ran point on the basement, and slowly made their way upstairs to the kitchen. Every morning my dad would wake up, check the traps, clean the droppings, and discard the bodies of the dead mice captured. I didn’t go into the basement for over 6 months and could not enter the kitchen alone. At one point, I slept over at a friends place for a week to alleviate some of the stress in my body. One afternoon, after my dad had collected some fresh ruins, he dramatically began to run after me up the stairs with the bag of dead mice as some kind of unsubstantiated shock therapy technique. You need to get over this fear, he smirked. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. My parents would probably be pretty upset if they read this, given the stigma of uncleanliness associated with having mice.
Perhaps the only thing that has changed of me and mice, is that I am clear my fear is wholly irrational. There is no significant evidence to suggest that a mouse will harm me in any life-altering way and I have no legitimate argument to justify my position. And still, the discomfort is entirely real. Maybe my subconscious has linked the experience of my mom leaving for three months (which was traumatic because I had just started high school and my dad and I nearly destroyed one another) with mice? But that seems like a stretch and also how can one ever disentangle such abstraction? Irrespective, only I could decide my fear was irrational; only I could name and come to that conclusion. If anyone projected that conclusion on to me, I would feel dismissed in what feels like a truth I can not escape in this moment.
Oddly, the mouse situation has overlapped with the truck convoy protest against vaccine mandates that is taking place in Ottawa and across Canada right now and my mind is drawing parallels between the nature of fear and the ways that it manifests individually and in groups. Generally I am on the frontlines of shutting down a viewpoint that threatens the humanity of the most vulnerable, but since this usually only serves as a way to find and share discourse with your already comrades, I’m feeling too tired to participate.
Not surprisingly, I do not agree, support or endorse the platform, tactics or agenda that the truck convoy is protesting under, even though like many, I support the right to protest. I am appalled in the ways identity politics and references to other movements were mobilized to legitimize the protest. And disturbed by the gaslighting undertones that continue to reference the protesters as ‘just peaceful loving Canadians’ despite the reality of what their intentions suggest. At the minimum, I hope this chapter dismantles the false belief that being racialized does not assume the nuances within your political position and how you define liberation, love, peace and freedom.
Despite the triggering fanfare, in the tender midst of this mouse situation, I took some time to empathize with the fear, rational or irrational, that many are experiencing across the country (the world?) given the ways in which they have come to understand what freedom means to them - whether that freedom was given without a sense of consequence or responsibility, or taken without consent or remorse. I see the anger of not having your perspective seen or represented. And I understand the ways in which our histories and spirituality shape how we relate to the concept of a government or governing body aka the voted in parents of how this country, this home, functions. I also sense that the discombobulating exhaustion and burnout of having to survive within an isolating pandemic is going to summon some pretty big feelings.
Within the swell of protesters are individual stories that matter in as so much as they are an expression of consciousness and record of the nature of humanity in this moment. But protest is not about the individual, it is a technology of collective futurity and a ceremony for the values that matter to us. The sacred quality of protest demands us to ask the right questions about history, power and positionality because the coming together of people is so seriously potent that it can and will shape the values and stories that orient how we care and invest in the structures that support the breath, pulse and chewing of daily life. We love ‘platforms’ because they are the scaffolding of which power rests on.
We all have to come to our own terms about what is a threat and who is to fear. It is not and never a single person, but rather an ideology that has shaped a system of posts and pillars and masts that we consciously and unconsciously uphold. Our politics and what we stand for will be flawed, and sometimes confusing, because they exist within a violent capitalist system with histories of dispossession and leadership and language that upholds settler colonial logics — all of which some are trying to dismantle. This creates a lot of opportunities to find the ‘holes’ in an imperfect world.
But contributing to shaping reality means being firm in your blueprint, even when flawed, letting a felt sense guide you towards what feels true in order to construct new poles, bridges, roads and the gardens between them. We won’t all agree and that is okay and important for democracy to break the status quo and find a crooked and ephemeral path towards what is next, and next and next .
Liberation is going to piss a lot of people off. The mouse occupying my house is pissing me off. But perhaps in this moment we are continuing to learn and accept that the work of reimagining how we coexist is at times going to be very, very uncomfortable.