In brief: Stop saying “landing on your feet” thinking I’ll accept your “compliment.”
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“Landing on your feet” is a phrase our culture’s powerful bestow upon those they perceive to be the steerage class. You don’t belong on deck, but you managed to scam your way into the cargo hold — Good for you! How resourceful! Just don’t try to come up looking for food or blankets or fresh air.
To anyone who’s never been closer to food insecurity or homelessness than the now unfortunately typical paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle extreme capitalism has imposed on us, I’m sure I appear to be massively overreacting. But I’ve been hearing some version of “Oh, you always land on your feet” as a brush off for 15 years and I’m over it.
My mom has said it. Friends have said it. Former co-workers and bosses have said it. They toss it out there when it is too uncomfortable for them to face the reality of a person they perceive as competent struggling with mental illness, a shitty economy, real life circumstances, or (typically) some combination of these factors we don’t dare speak of in polite company.
Now, some say it with amazement or with full knowledge of the work it takes to land on one’s feet. That is, in fact, a compliment. But even so…why is it a thing?
Why do we have a phrase — intended to be complimentary — that invokes an image of a cat flung off a high platform against their will, twisting and flipping in order to pull their feet down before smacking into the ground? This is a good thing in our culture?
The contorting cat is a metaphor as misguided as the bootstraps which were initially intended to be satire before some disgustingly earnest oligarch’s son latched onto it and made it an American virtue.
What if I don’t want to twist and contort? What if ledges and other high platform are dizzying and I’m tired from walking the high wire between them? What if, say, I want to live instead of just survive? What if I want to more than exist? What if I want to be well?
This appeared in a friend’s timeline this week as I was already pondering my missing bootstraps:
Everyone should follow Sp0ka for the constant awesomeness, but especially for the fed up moments. I’m less tactful and understated.
And then — because I was tired and a little hung over from an actual night out (first since I got here almost four months ago \o/ ) — I got teary at a response that’s just, yeah.
Preach, my friend.
This post is an entry in my year-long project documenting all the messiness and inconvenience and stigma of trying to get well in our culture. You can subscribe, follow, and join in the journey at #GetWell2015 HERE and on Twitter.