Choosing Our Bubbles and Boxes

Over the weekend I was contacted by a journalist who asked me to elaborate on my reactions to a popular web series that I wrote about a year or more ago. I’ve received both praise and derision for that article, with a fellow writer going as far as refusing to acknowledge me by name in her own write-up about the show and referring to me merely as an “irate blogger”… which gives me an odd sense of pride. (It’s the latent sadist in me craving punishment, I suppose.) Anyway, this journalist had been scouring the internet for reactions to the show now that it’s in its second season and said was looking to bring an alternative perspective to her piece, which would largely slant positive (of course).

“I thought your piece was smart, witty and balanced,” she claimed.

Uh huh. ‘Smart’, you say?

My father has always told me to beware of flatterers. That she wanted to quote me as the one voice of dissent did not sit well with my Spidey Senses. So I answered her questions cautiously (which was difficult, since caution is something I normally opt to abandon), while trying to be as honest as possible. In a world where battles are laid before you like king crap legs at a Vegas buffet, a potential skirmish with the show’s stans over something written and taken out of context is not one I was eager to forge ahead with.

I have a friend who has postulated that there is a “culture of silence” surrounding this show, and that anyone who does not respond to it with rabid approval is relegated to the dreaded status of Hater. This is why all of my critical responses to the journalist’s questions about elitism and classism were punctuated with praise. Like: “Yes, I think jelly and hot sauce mixed together on eggs is utterly disgusting and I don’t see why ANYONE would combine the three…but you have to understand that like a little heat with their sweet.” You see? No matter how gently she tried to needle me into saying something even slightly ascorbic, I stuck to this tactic like Trump clinging to his misguided assertions of being a force for national unity.

Then she asked me a very interesting question that caused me to drop all of my defenses.

“But doesn’t it bother you that these women live in a bubble?”

I hesitated before answering. How interesting!

“No. I think we all live in a bubble of some sort. Some people live in bubbles of fantasy and wealth. Others live in a bubble structured by horror. Everyone’s got their bubble.”

We concluded the call shortly after that, but her question lingered in my mind. Doesn’t it bother you that these women live in a bubble…

When we think of people who live in bubbles, we typically conjure images of painted, plastic women who drive fancy cars, destination Nowhere in Particular or men in blue blazers and Sperrys pacing parking lots on the cell phones, checking the time on their TAG Heuer watches. Bubbles are for privileged people. Poor people don’t occupy bubbles…except when they do.

I live in Atlanta; North Fulton to be precise. North Fulton differs vastly from South Fulton, where one notices a stark contrast in terms of development and upkeep of municipal facilities once one passes a certain point on I-85. There are people in my fair city who have never been outside of 285 (our beltway), let alone outside of the state. These people certainly exist in a bubble. The totality of their human experience will never extend beyond where the MARTA can take them. The people who exist in the bubble constructed by SNAP. TANF, WIC payments and blue-collar wages will only taste food seasoned one way, will watch their loved ones die of diabetes or through gun violence, and will only interact with people whose experiences mirror their own.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the people in this latter group experience their confinement in a box rather than a bubble. After all, bubbles have the benefit of independent mobility whereas boxes were built for stagnation. Nevertheless, the point is that the majority of humanity exists in prescribed restrictions that govern our reality. Most of know exactly where we’ll be when we die, give or take a mile or two. I became more acutely aware of this when we announced our temporary relocation to South Africa. The reaction has been the same, no matter what social strata or race the recipient of the news happens to fall in. It’s one of shock.

“What? Really?” After the shock wears off, the presumed impetus for my family’s relocation is always the same, 100% of the time. “Are you moving there for work?”

Bubbles.

Because no one can imagine that in our cookie-cutter human existence, a fair number of us might want to see and/or live outside of our structured confinement. If one must move, it must be in pursuit of a dollar, not to broaden the scope of our experience. We’ve been conditioned to believe that there is one acceptable way to live and to veer from that path is madness! Why is it that it’s easier for people to contend with (and applaud) the idea of a group of astronauts journeying to Mars for 3 years than it is for an African American family to sojourn to South Africa for the same amount of time? I mean…it’s Mars. We’re just going down the road in comparison. My husband and I have often been hailed as brave, but I don’t see anything particularly gallant about seeing a planet we were meant to explore anyway.

The sad truth is even those of us who are fortunate enough to travel abroad tend to take our bubble mentality with us to our host country. This is why expats who live in developing nations cluster amongst themselves in gated communities; only shopping in air-conditioned malls and never learning to speak local language(s). Likewise, there are swaths of immigrants on Buford Highway who have carved out Korean or Hispanic niches for themselves where nigh a word of English is spoken. Going to Buford Highway is like having the benefit going from China to Peru in a matter of feet, not miles.

Instinctively, I understand this need to cluster. Bubbles are comfortable and familiar. There are few things more devastating than when that shiny translucent floating sphere is burst before you’re ready! Does it bother me though? No. I find it pitiable, but not concerning. I think of it as akin to being a hamster in those plastic globes you set on the floor: Sure, you can see anything you want, but will never touch or feel anything besides the artificial material that surrounds you.

 

Have you examined your own bubble? Furthermore, have you ever considered that you might live in one, or do you consider your life as one lived outside of the box? Given the opportunity, would you break free? Discuss!

Bubble