Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Reflection on The Essay that Almost Did Me In
Christopher L Miller
The second essay’s due date glared at me as it crept closer. Each closing step amplified its dank odor of hot breath and intimidation. I had to start writing, but I could not begin yet. I needed to let the information I read simmer just a bit longer.
To hasten the process, I resorted to the tried and true method of pacing. I had performed this ritual in the living room during previous writing excursions and found the practice to be fruitful. That day, however, I chose to pace the kitchen. I was a barefooted kid playing hopscotch, rambling back and forth across the tiled floor. Half my mind was focused on housing, evictions, and redlining issues. The other half kept my feet from landing on cracked tiles.
I must have crisscrossed the kitchen two or three dozen times. Images of the Opportunity Atlas had begun to mix with articles from Lawrence Yun and Tracy Jan when a sharp pain in my right foot drew my mind’s full attention. I looked down to see that my half-hearted dodging had failed to prevent a jagged, ceramic edge from ripping into my plantar aspect. As I watched the blood trickle into the tile crevasses, I realized that a comparison between redlining and my misstep was staring me in the face.
I did not want to risk losing the idea, so I hobbled to the kitchen table and picked up my notepad. I jotted down the idea that the red splotches on both the housing map and my floor were meant to serve as a warning to others–this area is high risk.
A state of shock had begun to wash over me. To regain my focus, I counted the cracked tiles. One; two; three; four. Had I stepped on all of those? What would it be like to use only the broken tiles to traverse the kitchen? The floor shifted into a chessboard, patterned in red and white – a Jigsaw-esque game that restricts the player to knight’s movements. After a few rounds, my feet would probably resemble ground chuck. Thinking about the situation in this manner made me realize that, even if my life depended on my moving from one tile to the next, such a treacherous path would leave me hesitant or unable to move. I would be hamstrung and locked in place just like those who are caught in the red tape left behind from 1930s asinine bureaucracy.
My stamina faltered after I wrote this bit of information. I had to pause the paper’s development. I set aside my notepad, grabbed a hand towel, and began to clean up the smudged, red footprints that dotted my floor.
The next morning, Cam, my eldest son, nudged me awake. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and peeled the red-crusted dishtowel from the side of my face. On his way out the door, Cam informed me that I had lost consciousness last night. That light blood loss must have nearly done me in. I would have asked why he hadn’t called the ambulance, but I already knew the answer. No paramedic in their right mind would come to this neighborhood after dark. No matter. I lacked the insurance and the money to cover a visit to the hospital, anyway. Aside from that, I was running out of time. I needed to work on my essay. I’d be damned if I was going to let a minor flesh wound stop me.
Pale and nauseous, I rose from the floor. A dull ache had begun to gnaw on my leg as I trudged over to the table. The room let out a woozy wobble when I sat down. After a couple deep breaths, the haze in my head lifted, and I entered my writing trance.
For the next few hours, I broadcast my thoughts across the page and let them develop the way a Taoist gardener might. I found this method more user-friendly than the outline method I was required to use on the first essay. (Note: A major side effect of that approach had been a severe case of contact dermatitis that took six days to clear up. I was not about to go through that again.) After a brief period of word gardening, I assembled the written parts into working order. Within no time, my paper was up and running.
A crescent moon had fished the last rays of daylight from the sky by the time my thoughts landed on eviction. I found a correlation between John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Matthew Desmond’s (as cited in Gross 2018) statement that “2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016” (para. 1). This comparison concerned the heartless machine–the banks and enforcers for the banks–behind the evictions. In my paper, I wrote:
Like the 2016 victims of eviction that Desmond mentioned on NPR, the characters in Steinbeck’s novel were also forced out of their homes. Steinbeck’s narrator asks why those who work for banks would let an evil, such as unjust eviction, perpetuate. The narrator’s explanation says that the enforcers would “take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because [the enforcers] were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time” (Steinbeck 1943, 43). The bank representatives were part of the reason that the evictions in The Grapes of Wrath occurred because they were scared to act against company policy, even when that policy was detrimental to their fellow human (Miller 2019, para. 4).
This led me to ask what might happen if the enforcers in our world stopped carrying out the eviction orders. Would this be a step toward making affordable housing more accessible? I inserted my response and proceeded with a second revision.
The morning star peeked through the kitchen window and watched me complete the third round of editing. I decided this was as good a place to stop as any. Besides, the wound on my right foot had begun to fester. Fortunately, I was able to submit my essay before the fever set in.
Given the circumstances, I did well and learned a few things. For one, I learned that I should not pace in the kitchen without shoes. Of more importance, I came to understand that housing horrors and the resultant family displacements have plagued the United States for decades.
I should have
plenty of time to mull over these lessons before the next essay because I have
since been quarantined. The doctors say this new retrovirus is nothing to worry
about. However, I think their bio suits say otherwise.
Gross, T. (2018, April 12). First-ever evictions database shows: ‘We’re in the middle of a housing crisis.’ NPR Fresh Air. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/04/12/601783346/first-ever-evictions-database-shows-were-in-the-middle-of-a-housing-crisis
Miller, C. (2019). Kick out the jams: Fight for your right (is it a right?) to housing. Undiscovered notebooks.
Steinbeck, J. (1939). The grapes of wrath. New York, NY: Random House.