Painting by BrandanC; for more information, visit etsy.com/shop/brandanc

Painting by BrandanC; for more information, visit etsy.com/shop/brandanc

The Earwig Emails

By Laura Jackson Roberts

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 2, 2015

Subject: get out

Attention earwigs!

You disgusting little freaks! Consider this notice! You’re everywhere I go in the summer. I’m done with you. You’re down in my couch cushions and my laundry baskets and just a minute ago I drank one of you out of my water glass!! WTF was he doing in there? I got EARWIG on my tongue. That’s it. Screw this shit. I want you out!! Next time I see one of you, I’m going to flatten your ass with my flip flop.

2. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 3, 2015

Subject: Greetings

Dear Laura,

Thank you for your correspondence of June 2, 2015.

Allow me to address your concerns.

I hear that you are feeling anxious about our presence and that the unfortunate act of drinking an earwig out of your water glass has left you ill at ease. This is understandable. My sincerest apologies. The individual in question may have been Great Uncle Neville. For several weeks now he has been showing signs of dementia and wandering off in a state of confusion. I fear we may have lost track of him, and somehow, tragically, he ended up in your beverage.

Nevertheless, I would like the opportunity to have a dialogue about your feelings, separate and apart from Great Uncle Neville. Please consider me a formal representative of the earwig community here in the yard. I’m available any evening this week, and if you’d prefer the daylight hours, you may find me under little Benjamin’s wet Star Wars towel on the upper back porch, next to the grill.

I look forward to our future communications and to building a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Sincerely,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 5, 2015

Subject: Re: Greetings

What the fuck earwig? Are you kidding me? “You sound upset.” Yes I’m upset! I just drank Uncle dried-up Neville! He was in my goddamn mouth! You guys creep me out. I don’t want to have a dialogue with an earwig. I want you to get out of my space. There’s like 47 of you in the hammock on a rainy day. It’s disgusting. Stop lurking around. Stop popping out of crevices at me. You’re like a scorpion and a centipede and a gag reflex all rolled together. I hate you guys even more than wasps. I’m not kidding—leave.

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 6, 2015

Subject: Getting to Know One Another

Dear Laura,

I’m pleased that you’ve responded. Again, I hear and acknowledge your feelings. Thank you for sharing them with me and for providing me with an opportunity to respond in kind.

I’d like to take this time to formally introduce myself and my species in the hopes that you may come to better understand us and tolerate our presence. We’ve been here quite a long time, you know. I think that we’ll enjoy getting to know one another.

Earwigs are not aggressive towards humans; we prefer the company of our own kind. As you’ve stated, we do indeed group together on your back porch, but we’re merely hiding and have no intention of causing problems. Given our small stature, we find ourselves at the mercy of larger creatures. I’ve had relatives eaten by spiders, birds, amphibians, mammals, and other insects. In a world where almost everyone is out to get us, we learn to scurry along walls and stick to the cover of night, under flower pots and crumpled rugs.

I think you’ll find that, compared to other insects, we keep to ourselves: seeking out human contact would be tantamount to earwig suicide. Unlike the mosquito, we harbor no infection, no disease. Unlike the wasp, we flee from our encounters with you. (I concede that he is a bit of a brute at times.)

Please take a moment to consider us.  I would very much like to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 8, 2015

Subject: Re: Getting to Know One Another

Earwig:

Fine. Here are my thoughts.

I’ve been finding you guys in my dirty laundry baskets down in the basement. I’ve seen you in my rec room under the toy bin, all over my porch, and in the garden tool bag where I keep my trowels. And every time I see you, my skin crawls, and I scream. And you guys run around in a chaotic cluster fuck. Why do you do that? Maybe I’m jumpy, but when you scatter you look like cartoon criminals caught in a spotlight. Yuck.

P.S.: I can’t get past those pinchers on your butt. You’re an EARwig, so you crawl into ears, right? And pinch the shit out of them with those things.

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 9, 2015

Subject: On the Subject of Fear

Dear Laura,

The author H. P. Lovecraft once wrote that “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” To that end, I’m happy to shed some truth on the unknown, to assuage your particular concerns regarding the matter of earwigs entering human ears.

If you please, we refer to our abdominal appendages as pincers, not pinchers. Many arthropods possess such a tool, including ants (as part of their mandible, or mouth-parts), lobsters, and scorpions. They’re an amazing evolutionary adaptation, I’m sure you’ll agree. We females possess a straight set while those of male earwigs are curved.

I assure you that in all my months I’ve never known an earwig who desired to approach a human. We do not crawl into your ears. We know that Homo sapiens have developed a violent revulsion towards us, in particular to our very small and harmless pincers. Alas, we cannot survive without them, much like the human thumb, and I can assure you that we tire of the stories and your inevitable, shoulder-hunching, nose-crinkling reaction to the subject.

Fear not. Your ears are safe as you sleep.

Sincerely,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 11, 2015

Subject: read this

Earwig:

I did a little digging and Wikipedia says that you’re called earwigs because people thought you crawled into human ears during sleep. It also says that this is mostly myth. Mostly myth?? How much is mostly? 99% percent myth? 75%? If a crawly critter has a chance of wandering into my ear canal I want to know exactly what those chances are, in hard numbers. Give me a percentage. Give me Vegas odds.

You know what else I dug up? A medical report from Arizona. I cut and pasted it so you can read it.

>>>>>A letter from a Dr. Jeffrey R. Fisher, MD, appeared in the August 1986 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine concerning a documented case of an earwig in an ear. An 8-year-old girl in Arizona woke to “‘the sound of little feet.’ Otoscopic examination revealed a dark brown mass near the tympanic membrane. [His] brief discussion with her on the importance of proper hygiene was interrupted when [he] saw the form move…a female earwig, measuring 20mm in length, cautiously emerged, to the relief of insect, child and father.” This was the second documented case in Arizona; the other involved an earwig puncturing the tympanic membrane of a graduate student as he slept.

>>>

-Laura

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 11, 2015

Subject: Truth and Origin

Dear Laura,

As I was not privy to those incidents, I cannot speak to their veracity. Nor would I attempt to explain what earwigs were doing in those ear canals. I do, however, suspect that the report you’ve provided either recalls an example of a very confused and sorely misplaced earwig (note the author’s use of the word “relief” to describe insect as well as human) or has been blatantly exaggerated. I have noticed that humans tend to allow their emotions to override their sensibilities. This is a perfectly justifiable behavior, of course. You recoil from what you do not understand, and this is precisely why I’m pursuing our discourse.

It is often helpful to step into the exoskeleton of one’s opponent, so let us refresh our point of view by looking at the situation from another side. Earwigs are both blessed and cursed with a keen self-awareness. We are quite familiar with our reputation, and we know what happens to earwigs who get too close to humans. An inborn sense of self-preservation naturally guides us away from contact with mankind. Your own instincts seem to compel you to lash out with a shoe whenever we meet, so it is in an earwig’s best interest to eschew such an encounter. Only a fool earwig would attempt to inhabit any part of a human body, and if you’ll pardon my saying so, your ear canals do not strike us as a healthy or sensible place in which to reside. In fact, some of them need a sound flushing.

I note with no small amount of irony that earwigs arrived in North America on human vessels, as so many of your reviled pests have done. (The hated red imported fire ant arrived on a ship carrying South American mulch in the 1930’s. Zebra mussels disembarked at an American port of call many years later.) While your native spine tailed earwig once laid sole claim to North American lands, my common earwig ancestors found no difficulty in colonizing the western world, and we are now the dominant earwig species in both the Americas and Eurasia.

Your ecologists consider the arrival of exotics to be an environmental calamity. Millions of dollars are spent every year to fight the spread of kudzu, the Asian carp, and the emerald ash borer. But your history books recall a similar invasion, do they not? Of course you prefer not to refer to the human colonization of North America as an invasion; you ‘discovered’ this land. You brought it into the light of the civilized world. Earwigs, say your scientists, ‘sneaked’ in on a boat. Ironic, indeed.

Humans pride themselves on their adaptability as a species. You fit your surroundings—whatever and wherever they may be—quite comfortably within a few generations. Though we too command an expansive range, our own success shines a spotlight on our perceived flaws. When earwigs cover the globe, it’s a sign of pestilence. Wherever we exist, humans contort their faces when they hear our name; the language of disgust is the same in every human tongue.

Certainly now you can understand why earwigs are frustrated by humans. Though we are small in stature, your words, your attitudes, and your actions wound us.

Sincerely,

Earwig

PS: Would you mind using a serif font? It’s a bit easier on the compound eyes.

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 15, 2015

Subject: Khaaan!

Earwig,

I don’t know what to think. I read a lot of stories about doctors finding cockroaches in ears too. I just don’t trust bugs. Did you ever see Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan? I saw it when I was 8 and there was this freaky part where an Enterprise crewman is captured by Khan and they put a big crawly bug in his ear. That was really gross.

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 20, 2015

Subject: Let’s Talk About Anxiety

Dear Laura,

I’m afraid I haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We don’t watch much television under the ‘Welcome’ mat.

However, I’m glad you’ve mentioned the experience. I believe that the first ten years of a human’s life are the most psychologically significant. This leads me to suspect that, in your case, your earwig fears may be far more deeply rooted than I had initially suspected. Many humans claim to be “grossed out” by earwigs. The pathology of your fear indicates a subconscious origin.

It’s about violation. Your entire being is contained within your physical form. Your bodies define you, and the idea of an intruder in that space cannot be tolerated. It digs into the root of your deepest nightmares. I have noted that all humans are afraid of something. Your husband is clearly terrified of bats (we’ve heard him scream). Your father doesn’t care for snakes (he’s more of a jumper than a screamer). I don’t know what it is about your individual natures that act like a magnet in reverse towards certain species, but I wonder if early trauma—a childhood encounter with such a violator—compels you to repel, to revile an animal that your family members tolerate with kindness.

Have you thought about your early years as a source of earwig anxiety? It might be a worthwhile endeavour. As Freud said, “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Sincerely,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 23, 2015

Subject: my anxiety

Earwig,

I was thinking about your email, and what you said about my deep-rooted fears.

You’re right that the rest of my family doesn’t seem to care. Last week a big earwig showed up on a kitchen counter I had just cleaned with bleach. I don’t know how it survived the spray, but it scurried down into the sink. I freaked out, and my husband actually picked it up with his bare hand! Gawd! I think he was going to put it outside. He let it crawl on his finger—blech—but when he saw the look on my face, he put it down the drain and ran the disposal. I don’t get why it didn’t rattle him. Maybe he doesn’t have bug trauma. I don’t think he saw that movie.

Back in 2000 we had the “Summer of the Earwig” here in West Virginia. The news said there were exploding earwig populations from all the rain. They were everywhere. In the kitchen and the shower, and one popped out of a loaf of bread. One came out from under a kitchen sponge. I guess they were just trying to hide from us but it was disgusting.

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 26, 2015

Subject: Regarding Beatrice

Dear Laura,

I deeply regret that you encouraged your husband to toss that stray earwig into the garbage disposal. This disheartens me. I’d hoped that I was making more of an impact on you. I suspect the hapless victim was my second cousin, Beatrice. She has larvae under the new downspout caulking, and I fear they won’t survive in her absence. Perhaps next time you’ll recall our discussions and think before you recoil.

You seem to have taken a hard look at the source of your earwig anxiety, exaggerated though it may be. Should we blame Gene Roddenberry, then, when one of us meets the heel end of your hiking shoe?

Forgive me. Beatrice’s death will take some time to process.

Sincerely,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 27, 2015

Subject: sorry

Earwig—

I’m sorry we chopped up your cousin Beatrice in the garbage disposal.

Laura

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: June 28, 2015

Subject: Motherhood

Laura,

Your apology has been received and I have passed it along to the community. We acknowledge your regret and thank you for offering it.

My thoughts now return to the gulf between us. If you would remove your common, human neuroses from the equation and focus on biology, you would see that the earwig isn’t a demon. It occurs to me that you might better relate to me if I approach our discussions with a note of familiarity.

You may be shocked to learn that your enemy is a devoted mother. We females care for our eggs continuously, licking them to prevent fungal growth, eating nothing during this time but the occasional bad egg. When the young hatch they huddle under our bodies as they mature, and we provide food and defend them vigorously from predators. Though the male spends the prior winter with us in our underground nest, he leaves when we lay our eggs, and we carry on alone as the sole guardians of our dear children. As they grow and mature, it is our job to see them through to adulthood, and we take the task most seriously. You, too, are a mother; perhaps this strikes a chord.

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: June 29, 2015

Subject: totally motherhood

Hey,

So you’re going it alone. That’s not easy. None of it is, right?

When I had the boys my husband was pretty useless. I mean, he always tried to help. He did what he could and, you know, I was really grateful. After a while though I just didn’t even want to be touched. Being a mom is really hard. I mean, it’s good. But hard.

Kids are tough.

—Laura

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 1, 2015

Subject: Motherhood Recollections

Dear Laura,

Indeed. We try to be good and protective mothers. In fact, after we have raised our offspring, if we should happen to die of sheer maternal exhaustion, our children will consume us for nourishment. Earwig mothers make the ultimate sacrifice for future generations. Perhaps it sounds too intense for human sensibilities, but this is the earwig way.

I recall vividly the day we ate Mother. It was a Tuesday, and we were second instar nymphs—not newborns, but undergoing the second of four nymphal stages before adulthood. Mother allowed all forty-seven of us to explore during the nighttime, and we returned to the nest during the day. We lost about six or eight siblings each night, but those of us who came home did so with wonderful stories to tell of the adventures we had amongst your herbs, and Mother tended to us even as her strength waned. Finally, she just couldn’t make it to her feet and, with her dying breath, told us to take small bites so we wouldn’t choke (knowing that she wouldn’t be able to slap us on the back once we’d eaten her feet).

She was a tough lady. I hope my own offspring will say the same of me.

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 1, 2015

Subject: Ew!

Wait a minute. You ATE your own mother? Are you kidding me? What the hell!?!? Jesus, earwig. Every single time I think maybe you’re not so terrible you prove me wrong.

You’re. Utterly. Horrifying.

Yeah, maybe in some sort of Donner Party situation, my kids would eat me. But holy crap, not while I’m still alive!

You are sick bugs.

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 2, 2015

Subject: An Unjust Label

Laura,

Again, you prove to me that the limits of your humanity prevent you from understanding that which you do not know.

We are not human beings. We are earwigs. Do you genuinely expect us to behave as though we are anything but ourselves? We are a miracle of evolution. Our species has mutated and changed and perfected itself for this moment, this climate, this world. We thrive in your backyard. We thrive everywhere.

Do you deny that humans also do what they must to flourish, at the expense of their environment and, at times, their own health and that of their children? Look at yourselves. What could be more horrifying?

E

 

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 3, 2015

Subject: Re: An Unjust Label

Earwig,

Okay. Point taken about wrecking our own environment. Yeah, we definitely do that. We don’t eat each other, though. Not that often. Maybe we’ll agree to disagree.

I want to talk to you about something else. You know, you guys aren’t all brainiacs. You can be real jerks. You’ve been in my vegetable garden and in my flowers too. Just this morning I saw those weird holes in my plant leaves, tunnels bored into my buds, and seedlings munched to a nub. I know we’re having a moment and all, but check out my zucchini patch. There’s real damage to my vegetables, and my tuberous begonia looks pretty gnarly too.

I’m not going to completely freak out but what’s the dealio? I called the extension office and they said you have “chewing mouthparts.” What do you do with these mouthparts? What else are you chewing on in my gardens?

-L

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 6, 2015

Subject: Check Your Leaves

Laura,

I concede that we do indeed eat your crops. I will take responsibility for some of the damage to your tender shoots and the leaves of your dahlias.

However, we are not the primary source of damage for most gardeners and farmers. I’d advise you to check for the slime trails of slugs and snails before accusing us, as these are the more likely culprits. In addition to consuming greens, we are also preying on other, equally-destructive pests, many of whom cause the very damage for which we earwigs are blamed. True, we’ve dallied in your spinach, but we’ve also eaten our fair share of aphids, and we scavenge, which is a lowly but essential duty in the web of life. It would seem we’re far more workaday than the average evil demon, would it not?

Gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to ward off many hated bugs, including my kind. As we crawl along, the diatoms in the gritty powder abrade our exoskeletons and scrape the waxy coating from our soft underbellies. This layer prevents moisture loss. Without it, we cannot retain water, and we succumb to desiccation and dehydration. Are you familiar with this manner of death? It’s agonizing.

In layman’s terms, we die of thirst, slowly, in the hot garden, in front of our families and our children. Once the process has begun, once our exoskeletons are damaged, death is inevitable. We must wait for it with as much dignity as we can muster.

There was diatomaceous earth on your tuberous begonia last week, was there not?

E

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 7, 2015

Subject: Yikes

Dear Earwig,

That must be a bad way to die.

Laura

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 8, 2015

Subject: Your Thoughts

Yes. It is indeed an unfortunate end. And I wonder if it is justified. You, after all, set your garden on top of me. Am I supposed to ignore it?

I feel now that I have presented a true and accurate picture of the earwig life. You’ve learned about me, and I, you. Perhaps now, after such lengthy and open correspondence, you will admit that you have judged the Dermapterans unfairly.

E

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 12, 2015

Subject: The Matter of Your Son

Dear Laura,

It has come to my attention that on July 8, 2015, young Benjamin was permitted to engage in inappropriate earwig play. Specifically, you allowed him to collect frightened earwigs from underneath the porch settee and place them in the drivers’ seats of his toy dump trucks, whereupon he flung said construction vehicles off the side of the deck and into the koi pond. You took no immediate disciplinary action other than to redirect him to another activity.

Laura, I am without speech. My efforts have clearly been in vain.

Thank you,

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 13, 2015

Subject: Re: The Matter of Your Son

Earwig,

I had no idea that Ben was putting earwigs into the dump trucks. I didn’t see him do that. Are you sure that’s how it went?

Anyway, he’s not permitted to toss toys into the fish pond again. Those koi are very valuable and I’ve raised them from fingerlings.

Laura

  1. Earwig to Laura

Date: July 13, 2015

Subject: Farewell

Dear Laura,

It’s clear that earwigs will never be one of your priorities.

I have been considering the earwig-human relationship during my quiet moments in the crotch of your husband’s damp bathing suit. We earwigs find ourselves mired in your human myths and the target of your repellence. Though we’re minute, we are not oblivious. We know you hate us; you do nothing to conceal your disgust. I admit we’ve done our share of damage, and yet our pest control efforts should count for something in the way of redemption in your eyes. However, after expending such effort to reach out to you, I believe that I should no longer have to justify our intrinsic nature.

I feel my composure waver now, because you anger us. You don’t want to know us. We earwigs make no secret of our desire for plants. Any human with internet access should know this, as should you, in particular, Laura. We hear you’re a recent graduate of the West Virginia Master Gardeners Program, though the scuttlebutt under the drip hose is that you failed to give your final presentation in front of the group, so technically you’re not a master gardener but just a regular one with holes in her kale.

Am I being too harsh? I think not. We rarely make it out of our encounters with you alive. Countless relatives—parents and children and cousins—meet their grisly ends under your flip-flops every summer. Just as you know what we are, we know what you are: volatile. I do believe that if I chose to deliver this correspondence in person, you’d crush me too, or bleach me as you tried to do the earwig in your kitchen. Do you fault me for the way I scurry, the way I dart along the edge of the room? It is not because I enjoy your squeamish vocalizations. I’m not trying to impress you. I’m running for my life, because if you catch me, I know that you’ll kill me.

You regard us as a ‘bad bug.’ Your use of that nebulous term screams of your humanity, your need to categorize all living creatures as either good or bad, a benevolent thing or a malicious thing. In reality, neither word means anything when applied to a living creature because a living creature simply is. Is a mushroom evil because it poisons? Is a firefly benevolent because it twinkles? Humans have long been using the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe beings in the various kingdoms, as though you had the right to pass final judgment, as though the presence of your neat rows of vegetables would alter my behavior. You and I should be able to relate to one another, because you are a blended ball of ethics and ill-manners on any given day. You humans spent some time in a Garden once, if I recall, and that didn’t go so well.

Perhaps you’ve softened to me as we’ve spoken, but now I believe I’ve hardened to you and your species even as I’ve tried to explain us, because I shouldn’t have to try with such effort. You think you’ll change, now that you’ve considered me. But I’m old enough to know humans, how you recoil, and the involuntary reaction that controls your physical form. You’re too committed to your categories: good bug, bad bug. Your doors are not open, and you have not invited us in.

Thus, I take my leave of you.

Earwig

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 14, 2015

Subject: Sorry again

Dear Earwig,

Oh come on. Don’t go away mad. I thought we were getting there.

You know, you were right when you said we distrust creatures we don’t know. It’s a character flaw. We’re only human. And we just don’t know you.

When I drank that earwig, it was bad. Can you see why we have trouble with these encounters? You act so weird. Humans have a hard time understanding you. And I’m not saying it’s your fault because you are what you are. But so are we.

Just so you know, I’m trying to stop and take a breath when I see earwigs. They’re still everywhere. They fall out of my gardening gloves. They rocket out of my mailbox on a hot day when I open the lid. I’m sure they feel like they can’t get away from me either, because wherever they try to hide I accidentally find them and freak the hell out.

Do you think that if our roles were reversed they’d squish me, just because they could? You’re right that I’ve done it to them.

-Laura

  1. Laura to Earwig

Date: July 25, 2015

Subject: Still there?

Dear Earwig,

Haven’t heard from you. I feel like you’re upset.

I just wanted to say I was thinking about everything, and I’ve decided that maybe we’re not compatible on a fundamental level. Humans have difficulty with cohabitation. You said it yourself: if you were a truly beneficial insect who killed destructive pests, then yeah, we’d probably be able to accept your pinchers and weird earwig conventions in the shower drain. But you’re not reliably on our side, and that’s a deal-breaker in the human world. Sometimes you earwigs eat a bad bug, and sometimes you eat my rhubarb. We never know what to expect from you, and so we find it easier to remove you from the garden—and our lives—altogether. The truth is that humans don’t have a very good track record when it comes to peaceful coexistence. We tend to identify other species as all good or all bad. I’m afraid you know which side of the fence the earwigs landed on.

Sorry about that. At least for me, I’ll try harder not to be afraid and disgusted. You’re bugs, not demons. You’re doing what you do, and I’ll remember that, and maybe react rationally, when possible. I’ll do my best to share what I’ve learned from you. I’m ready, now, to re-categorize you as something other than a foe. Sorry if I was a jerk.

We always end up in the same place, huh? Humans and earwigs, a match made in hell. But, really, I don’t think it’s you. I think it’s me.

See you around the squash, I guess.

-Laura

l-roberts-headshot

About Laura Jackson Roberts

Laura Jackson Roberts is a blog editor for Literary Mama and a graduate of Chatham University’s MFA program. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child Magazine, and Vandaleer. She lives in West Virginia with many wild animals.”
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