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Through My Looking Glass: Reviewing My Magnum Opus About Amoebas From 9th Grade

May. 25, 2022 at 2:31PM

You open up your Google Drive, find a file from a year ago, open it up in a new tab, and watch in horror as the words, your words, pepper the screen. That word doesn’t have the impact you intended. That’s not flow; that’s a log jam. Oof. Definitely thought that was profound but it’s super cliché.

Revisiting old work as a creative can be—confrontational. It’s a free tour of your cheesiest hits. Like your very own “Barbie Girl” complete with equal doses of nostalgia and shame. Yet, time allows a much more level-headed perspective and it’s easy to see both the flaws and the brilliance. There’s a lot to learn from the writing of days past.

I frequently revisit dated work to keep my writing fresh and clean—client projects from a year ago, poems I wrote last summer. But what happens when you revisit your own Iliad, the ancient work you created decades ago?

What follows is an essay I wrote in 9th grade, yes, 20 years ago, that I’m sharing with all of you. Because sharing is caring, and 14-year-old me would love your company. Because if we’re not going big, we’re going home, where it’s safe under these blankets, with the blinds closed, where we don’t have to face earlier versions of ourselves.

I will be providing commentary and analysis of my work as we go, for your enjoyment and at the cost of my dignity. I’ve transcribed my work exactly as I submitted it to my teacher, grammatical errors and all. Without further ado, here’s “The Joy of Having a Pseudopodium: How to Regress Into An Amoebic State in Six Easy Steps.”

Buckle up friends, it’s about to get weird.

There’s a lot to digest here. Let me start by saying I am not an artist today, and I was not an artist back then. At the same time, I give myself a lot of credit for the rising action I created around the poor helpless algae running away from the vaguely psychotic amoeba giving moon emoji vibes.

Whenever you participate in casual conversation, there are a few questions that become repetitive. One such question that most people have been asked at least one time in their life is: 

“If you could be any animal what would you be?”

I often write like I talk, meandering through my thoughts out loud as I process in real-time. What results is my introductions often make perfect sense to me but come across like I just welcomed you into my brain hole mid-thought. It’s indirect. A touch confusing. And takes a sentence or two to get to the point. Here’s your proof this started early and has persisted for decades. At least I’m consistent.

The average American citizen’s answer would sound something like: “Oh I would love to be a cheetah so I could run really fast. It would also be really fun to fly. Maybe I would like to be an eagle!” A rarely heard answer would be: “Man I wish I was an amoeba! Amoebas are so cool. I mean, they get to move using pseudopodia. And they live in ponds!”

I think the dialogue is most of the way there but does come across a touch awkward. I cannot vouch for whether that was intentional or not, so let’s just say it was a stylistic choice. We’re missing some commas here but I didn’t have time for commas; I was too busy making thinly-veiled social commentary in 9th grade English class.

This brings up an interesting question. Why would one not want to be an amoeba?

Great question. Probably because they’re a single-celled microbe and you can’t see them with the naked eye. It’s hard to conceptualize existence for a eukaryote, and then, how do you imagine yourself as one? I mean, are they even conscious or do they just float around eating and pooping without a butthole and going hard on the self-love? … Oh … I think that’s the point. 

Amoebas are Other. Amoebas are the kid picked last for kickball. Amoebas are a stand-in for every outcast that ever felt alone. As you’ll see in subsequent sections of my essay, I present amoebas as both self-other and as an allegory for the in-crowd’s emotional ineptitude. It’s deep as shit.

Unfortunately, I did a bit of digging and amoebas recognize their own kind and engage in cooperative hunting which implies some level of consciousness. Even though this undermines the whole underlying theme of this essay—amoebas represent an emotionless, meaningless existence—I think we can all agree that we get what I was trying to say. I’m going to give myself the benefit of the doubt. I was 14 and let’s not hold Caitlin 1.0 to adult standards.

They get to reproduce asexually. Amoebas have pseudopodia (false feet). They are unicellular and part of the kingdom Protista. If that isn’t ideal, ideal should be redefined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as “See AMOEBA.”

Jokes! We’ve got jokes!

The good news is that regressing into an amoebic state is not unattainable. In fact, this feat can be accomplished in six entirely feasible steps.

Okay! Love me a listicle.

First of all, if you want to become an amoeba, you must get used to asexual reproduction. How you do this is to become more considerate of yourself than of others. Once you cease to feel compassion for others and care deeply for yourself, [you] are on the way to becoming an amoeba.

Topical. Still relevant. I was ahead of my time. If Caitlin 1.0 could see us all today with our hand-wringing and selfish pursuit of our needs above the needs of others, she would probably hold up this essay and say, “See! I TOLD YOU.” And she would be right.

… In fact, you should be willing to jump off a bridge for yourself if yourself asks it of you.

Not going to lie, I love this sentence. Though I might change it to, “ if you ask it of yourself.” 

… It is entirely about having outrageously high self-esteem. Your self-esteem should be so high and your ego so massive, that you will develop a desire to procreate with yourself. You might ask, “How can one produce such a huge ego and such great self-esteem?”

Jesus Christ. How did I have a grasp of concepts like self-esteem and ego at 14-years-old?

The answer is simple: stare at yourself in the mirror no less than 8 hours a day. Along with the persistent staring, you must tell yourself every half an hour:

Get ready, folks. Here comes a mantra far better than any watered-down bullocks you’ll read on the ‘gram.

“Look at you gorgeous! You are the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen in all my existence. I would die content if I could watch you breathe for three seconds more!” 

When you reach the point when you have to come to terms with asexual reproduction (See Figure 1.A), you can move on.

Look at that beautiful sourcing. I also really appreciate that I had so much to say about asexual reproduction that I commented on my own graphic. It’s a touch extra. And honestly, the more I read this, the more this comes across as an excuse to talk about sex without talking about sex. Teenagers, am I right? 

Step 2 is to participate in activities that will make one immune to emotion. There are two main ways to accomplish this. The first way is to listen to heavy metal music for no less than six hours a day. This genre of music makes the listener resentful of their life. Anger will become the only emotion you feel because you are being fed anger propaganda by the heavy metal music.

Whoa, buddy. This reads like some satanic panic shit. A little Karen in the making. To those of you who hold metal music near and dear to your hearts, I’m sorry. But I still won’t listen to your music.

Subliminal (or rather not-so-subliminal) messages in the lyrics will tell you that anger is the only emotion worth feeling. With repetition of this same music, you will gradually become immune to anger because you have felt so much of it. It will lose its power on you. At this same point in time you should feel no emotions whatsoever.

So, I don’t remember ever actually reading the lyrics to metal music, which doesn’t mean I didn’t do it; memory is imperfect. But I find it hard to believe all metal lyrics have an undertone of anger. Maybe it’s like the opposite of “Pumped Up Kicks;” it sounds angry but is really about how soft bunnies are and DAMMIT how cute their noses are when they TWITCHHHHHHHHHHH!

Therefore, the argument could use some tweaking. Perhaps a focus on how the 24-hour news cycle can negatively impact your emotional health. 

Strength of the argument aside, I see what’s going on here. The metal music is a mere vessel for my burgeoning discomfort with the emotion of anger. In my early 30s I finally stopped suppressing my anger, so SUCCESS. Again, no dice on the metal music though.

The other main way to become devoid of emotion is to watch at least one horror movie a day. Once a person has seen that many people perish and that much gore, they will feel no sympathy for human suffering. There goes your compassion, down the hole.

Anecdotally, I experienced the opposite when I went on a horror movie bender a few years ago. It’s like suffering was amplified. In any case, I never claimed this creative writing exercise was based on legit studies. In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, this essay is a prime example of how I utilized creativity to cope with existing in the world as a deep processor. So if instead you read this as an essay about me and what I felt in high school, it makes a lot more sense.

Some might say, “That is terrible! If you don’t have emotion what do you have?” You have an amoeba.

I mean, come on, this is brilliant pacing. In many ways, this essay is far better than some of the pieces I’ve written as an adult. I bow down.

If a person wants to become an amoeba, they must get rid of their emotions because amoebas have none. It is best not to let this be a cause of stress and sadness. Once you’re an amoeba and feel no emotions, you can’t dwell on it. It is not physically possible. After all, amoebas are unicellular and cannot even produce thought.

Let me translate this for all of you. Caitlin 1.0 felt so much and so deeply, and she knew her peers experienced life differently. She felt caught between wanting to be able to be herself but believing that to fit in with her peers she would have to feel less. So this is part “you’re all sheep”—classic projection—and part, “I wish I could just be an amoeba so I could fit in.” Yeah, there’s a lot there.

The next step is to destroy the supposed main characteristic of humans: higher-level thinking.

“Supposed.” Salty, she is.

Again, there are two main methods of accomplishing this step. The first method is to play violent video games (or video games in general) incessantly for a month. Once you have watched Mario go down 100,000 pipes, cars go around a track 500 times, and characters get shot and killed 800 times, you will be dangerously close to becoming legally brain dead. Congratulations. You are now that much closer to becoming an amoeba. When the video games get boring, you can always take a break from those and flip on the television to some reality T.V. After ten hours of reality television you will become so disillusioned with what the world is really like that you will begin to believe that you are, in fact, Mario.

Caitlin 1.0 was making a statement about how we all spend so much time with media and devices that we could be spending in more meaningful pursuits, and same page, girl, same page.  

You know, with the exception of The Great British Bake Off, I’m still fairly opposed to reality TV. I make no apologies. Pure garbage much of the time though garbage plays a role in our lives. Like on those days when a fog sets into your brain and you have nothing left to give, okay! Reality TV (Selling Sunset, anyone?) is a salve for our modern woes.

When you have reached the point where you find yourself saying: “Wait, is it the green or blue button that makes Luigi Jump? I think that button is blue. Isn’t it?” You can move on to Step 4: Discontinue caring about anything.

YES. Convey that disorientation. I can’t think, therefore I am NO MORE.

Part of being an amoeba is to eat and rest. Actually, that is all amoebas do. Your next goal: Make your sole purpose in life to eat and rest.

Where do I sign up? The people of 2022 actually find a life of eating and rest pretty appealing. Again, the argument doesn’t stand the test of time.

You can accomplish this by ceasing to care about anything. You have to stop caring about your appearance. Stop washing your hair immediately and for the love of all things beautiful, stop showering! In about a month, you will turn into a walking pile of refuse.

Yep. Fourteen was about the time the pressure to look a certain way reached critical mass. I know the cool kids today do great things like letting their body positivity all hang out on social media but this was the best I could do at their age; share my inner turmoil in a personal essay for 9th grade English class, where it literally did nothing but give me a hit of temporary relief before I had to go worry about whether I was too fat or not for the 5,000th time.

You can’t simply stop caring about your appearance, you must stop caring about knowledge. If you don’t care about school, then your brain will diminish in size because you will not be giving your brain any new challenges or even be keeping it in shape. Pretty soon you will become illiterate and will only be able to do simple adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Don’t fret! You no longer care about retaining or learning information. In about three months time you will have forgotten everything you ever learned.

Bold. Refreshing. Reassuring.

It is also necessary to stop caring about food. By all means, do not stop eating! Instead of having that Fettuccini Alfredo, substitute some scrumptious seaweed or plankton. It is vital to have a diet of simple-celled organisms because once you are an amoeba that is all you will consume. Now that you are a walking vegetable, you can saunter on to the next step.

So, I have always hated Fettuccine Alfredo (not sure why that was capitalized but just humoring myself) so this must be some kind of statement. Like my adolescent brain was offended by creamy noodles and all they represented. Best guess? Everybody else liked them, and I didn’t so I felt left out. They became symbolic of social isolation. 

You know, I’m trying to be gentle with Caitlin 1.0 because she wasn’t a professional writer but at this point in the essay I am itching to do line edits. The flipping between numerals and written numbers is making my eye twitch. At the same time, super impressed with her vocabulary. She would be thrilled to receive my Grammarly updates that I have a better vocabulary than 99% of users. Not bragging or anything (yes I am).

Now you are closer than ever to becoming an amoeba. All that’s left to lose is normal body functions. How can you simplify your body functions? Spend more time asleep than awake. Your breathing will become slower and your heart will beat more slowly. Another perk of this step is that while you are asleep, you cannot be learning, bathing, or caring about anything or anyone. It simply enforces all the steps you have accomplished up until now.

Would you like a foam roller for that stretch? The idea that sleeping, which is restorative, diminishes bodily functions until you’re no longer human requires more imagination than I think I can offer Caitlin 1.0 right now.

Especially if you are an insomniac, this step might be difficult. There is a limit to how long you can sleep at one time. When you find yourself awake, put all your effort into staring blankly at the wall or ceiling. Make sure that while you do this, you filter every coherent thought out of your brain.

How sweet! Providing options for insomniacs, the frontrunners to oppose this framework, I guess? As if that was a super pressing concern in the halls of my high school.

At this point, you should be losing weight and shrinking from malnutrition. It will be nearly impossible to perform any simple tasks you used to be able to do such as combing your hair and doing dishes.

Shit. That got dark.

Hopefully, your mind will be void of any thought. All that is left to do is to find a body of water and to submerge yourself in it.

Sounds moist.

Soon enough, you should get a strange feeling in the area formerly known as your “torso.” Yes, that is your pseudopodia sprouting from your body! You have done it: you are now an amoeba.

Well hot damn. It’s that easy!

Yep, that amoeba is definitely winking at you. There is so much sexual innuendo on this page, and honestly it’s a great representation of how I learned to flirt (and how I still flirt to this day). 

Awkwardly, and with references to asexual reproduction.

But let’s give credit where credit is due; I’m incredibly proud of myself for letting that creativity run wild back then. In many ways, it’s the voice I always had that I needed to be back in touch with to become a professional writer. So, thank you, Caitlin 1.0. You started the dream. I’m just living it now.

About the author

Caitlin Knudsen

Propagator of succulents, hobbyist baker, healthcare by day, pug wrangler always.