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If you give a fish a cracker, you’re bound to have an existential crisis

| Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

Maybe it’s nominal kinship — the tragic divide between hunter and the hunted — but I’ve always liked fish. I finally overcame my penchant for irresponsibility and adopted a betta fish this summer, adding Ezra to my family unit. Recently, I was cleaning Ezra’s tank when I found his home — a mason jar, in case you were wondering — unmistakably empty. My first assumption was that my roommate had hidden him, but she had no idea where he was. A quick, panicky glance around the desk revealed the presence of a literal fish out of water lying still on the faux wood surface. I quickly scooped him up and threw him into his tank where he immediately resumed his swim, unbothered. Laughter was shared, but the presence of the now identifiably suicidal fish looking for a better place led me to reflect upon the value he brings to our room.

Half-jokingly, I played Ezra Harry Style’s music video for “Adore You” in the hope that he could relate to the video’s story (about a similarly-suicidal fish). Standing there watching my fish watch a video on my phone, I couldn’t help but think about how the absurd becomes reality. In the process of trying to create something unique and creative to point fun at reality, occasionally an artist manages to point out the absurdism of life itself.

My thoughts quickly moved on to the song itself: the desperation of unrequited love that is so easily visible in regard to an unthinking creature like my fish, and the strange applicability of a song concerned with human love to an uncaring creature that sits on my desk. The connection between the song, the fish and myself faded as the song came to an end. I was reminded of the strange hum following a particularly emotional live performance when the connection is broken and the artist looks out at a sea of people, only to realize that they don’t have a real connection with any of them — this same realization, of course, is reflected in each concert-goer’s eyes. This strange sensation marks the jarring end of the reprieve that a connection made by music can provide. I experienced this same sensation when I realized that the fish was incapable of feeling the same value towards me as I experienced in the half-second I thought he was dead. This pale image of unrequited love followed me around for days, leaving me to wonder if there is a reason for all those fish metaphors when talking about love. 

My fish continued to swim around unknowingly, as it was expected to do. I found myself in a similar situation only days later. As I was watching him, waiting for my roommate to start up “Grey’s Anatomy” on her laptop and mindlessly munching on Baby Goldfish crackers, I childishly felt the need to share my snack with him. I watched the cracker plop into the water and slowly start to disintegrate, only to hear my roommate ask what I was doing.

I suddenly remembered a book I read last summer where the narrator fed his lover’s goldfish crackers only for them to die the next morning. As I plunged my hand into Ezra’s tank, I remembered the narrator’s lament for the rest of the book: “But why did they have to die?” I was once again reminded of the toxicity of unreturned love, of simply wanting to share or provide in a way that is damaging. I was once again presented with art I had previously found to be absurd; I once again saw the absurdity of unrequited love.

Again, I overthought the situation, desperate for the people around me to find the same meaning in it as I did. I even texted someone I hadn’t talked to since June about it, but my roommate simply hit play on Netflix, my friends laughed at another story of my ditziness and the text reply was about the book. I continued to think about it and tell anyone who was willing to listen to the story, looking for someone to explain the emptiness of fish ownership to me.

I was coming back from a shower, simultaneously reprimanding myself for overthinking and thinking about the absurdity of my writing this piece about a literal fish, when I looked on the closet door to see a collection of rainbows dancing along the wood — they had appeared as a result of Ezra’s tank, which acts as a prism at sunset. I immediately took a picture and sent it to my friends, who all responded with cute comments. I realized that they probably understood all along — the feeling of connection that comes with listening to your favorite artist for the first time or reading a good book was back. The feeling of the universe gifting you something to help you understand was setting in. I can’t write a novel or create a music video, but I do get to participate in the absurd life that inspires art. Sometimes, that’s enough. In the end, I realized this all because of a stupid fish — that, and an even dumber rainbow. 

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