Ant Farm


One of the first things we develop our imagination for is pretending to be God. The actual first thing is imagining how you would act as an adult. You see mom as a giant who takes away your toy and asks you to eat a plate of spaghetti instead of a fudge pop. Even though you made it perfectly clear you want the fudge pop. This is the most important thing you can learn about God and if you don't get this lesson then you'll probably get sucked into religion. God can't be bargained or reasoned with, God operates on another level. You get the spaghetti because God knows something about spaghetti that you don't. Your human wants and desires amount to squat next to the cosmic order.

Of course, you find out later that mom is also driven by human emotions, not some kind of transcendental genius. She gets a lot of stuff wrong, actually. And maybe she gave you spaghetti because you were being a little shit and somewhere inside of her, even though she loves you, she wanted you to suffer. That's another lesson about God.

So anyway you imagine what if you were a giant adult. You would step right over mom and reach up into the freezer in the sky and take the entire box of fudge pops and eat them all. Then you would get into your car and drive to the beach and tame a shark. Then you would make the shark eat all the bad people in the world: teachers, fathers, babies. You would also drink beers because that's what adults do. Adults drink a lot of beers and then fall down and hit their head and blood comes out, and then they yell at each other. They like drinking beers so much they forget to make food and then you cry and they give you a fudge pop, which is great.

But even in your wildest imaginations being an adult isn't enough to sustain you. They have to go to jobs where they have a boss that scares them and they always talk about running out of money. None of the adults in your life do anything exciting. Your dad drives a garbage truck. Which would be cool, except he has to drive it to where his boss tells him. He can't just drive down the street throwing cars and mail boxes and people into the trash compactor and he's never once found a treasure chest full of gold in the someone's garbage.

Adults are powerful but they can't do the things you really desire: they can't ride dinosaurs or fly in space or become a super-villain. So then you imagine that you're God, and you remake the world so that cool things happen all the time instead of never. You create in your mind your version of Heaven. The world is magic and everyone is rich and happy and anything is possible. Eros actualized. It's an entertaining thought for about two minutes and then you arrive logically to the real meaty chunk of fantasy, the thing that will occupy you for the rest of childhood and dig itself deep into your subconscious and color your outlook forever and be a force you grapple with in therapy and relationships and when you're alone and can't just enjoy the nice things in life like sitting in the sun eating a piece of tropical fruit and listening to bland folk-rock.

You get into pain.

The thought of utopia gets old quick. It's hard to figure out a world where everyone's happy.  What would that even look like? On the other hand it's easy to imagine a world where everyone is in constant horrible agony. Entertaining, too! You figured it out young, you little Buddhist. All is suffering. You step into your God-shoes and take back the advanced alien civilizations and the super-powered mutants who keep order, the talking dogs, the shining cities of smiling brainless beauties and you replace them with wars and famine and evil aliens that wear human skins like mittens. You've stopped playing with your toys. Now you roll around on the floor for hours, eyes unfocused, lost in your own personal apocalypse, drunk with power.

It's even better when you have this game running side-by-side with real life. A big lady is in line ahead of mom at the grocery store and it's taking too long. Well, what if she exploded? A big dog scares you, but it wouldn't be so scary if you kicked it into the sun. And then the sun exploded. This is another lesson you learn. The fantasy realm is where everything important happens and real life is gray and slow and impossible in comparison. An earnest attempt to function in this miserable disenchanted world would be like admitting defeat.

Dad loves his beers more than you, but would he love being trapped inside of a giant beer bottle? A giant beer bottle that's being drunk by a giant You? Probably not. Probably he would hate being sloshed around in your giant guts and being attacked by the creatures that live in your belly. Maybe one of them would take pity on the human and drag him back to the village and tend to the wounds he sustained from your stomach acids. Then he would have to live in the town and get a job where he drives a truck down to the butt hole and dumps the village's trash into a pile that gets turned into poop.

I think every kid discovers ants as a reasonable substitute for actual tiny humans to lord over. You dig up your backyard with just your hands, capturing dozens of workers at a time and occasionally finding valuable pockets of pupae and drones. You fill a baking pan with dirt for them to live in, and decorate their new home with geodes and plastic army men and a flag you make out of notebook paper. You smile down upon your kingdom and are proud of what you've created. On the first day God made Ant-topia, and God saw that it was good.

On the second day you get home from school and find the ungrateful little shits have fled your kingdom in droves, and are currently carrying the last few pupae back to their neglectful mother Queen. So you fling the baking pan across the yard and send the fuckers flying. Well, the Garden of Eden was a failure too. So you re-build. A bigger container -- your dead cat's litter box -- and a plan. You line the bottom with gravel and pile dirt high in the center. You place a couple Little Debbie Honey Buns on top of the dirt and grab just a few workers and drop them in.

Meanwhile, Mom is starting to complain. There's holes all over the backyard, her baking pan is missing, and ants are in the house. At night when you take a bath you discover a few stowaways have clung to your body and they float on the surface of the water, dog-paddling. It gives you an idea.

The next day there's a bunch of ants in the little box breaking up the Honey Buns and you pat the dirt down tight around them, creating a gap running around the container. You come back with a gallon of water and slowly pour it. An island nation of cast-offs. Paradise. Ant-lantis. You watch for hours as the workers slowly piece together what's happened. At dusk their tiny dark movements blend into the dirt and dance in your vision like a black flame. A hallucination. You can almost hear them.

The next day you hurry to the backyard and see the litter box empty against the fence. Wet clumps of mud pocked with dead ants and Honey Bun crumbs sit all around it. You tear into the house screaming murder. Mom, what have you done? It's an Ant-pocalypse. Over and over you've been shown to be powerless. Someday you'll come to terms with it. For now, you take a jug of bleach and dump it all over the spot with the pupae and drones. Mom wants the ants gone, fine. I'll do it my way.

When the Queen dies the remaining colony begins a funeral procession out of your yard and down the street. They're going to find a new home. You've never seen so many of them and in such a neat line, about the width of a pencil. For fun you drop a grasshopper and few roly polies on the line and watch them get quickly taken down and swept along like twigs in a river.  They were never yours in the first place, just part of the world. A world you can't control.

When God retreats and allows his stubborn creations to live for themselves, what's left for him? What is power un-exercised? Does he simply cease to exist? Or does he occupy himself with the fantasy that things could have gone another way? I don't believe in God, but I do believe in powerlessness. When the day-dream of control vanishes and you find yourself trapped in real life, it's something you can truly rely upon. Not just for yourself, but your parents and bugs and dirt and everything and all of us. Powerless. Start there and you can do anything.