Consider the Snail

Consider the snail. Your dealings with it are, I imagine, limited. Mine are mostly limited to the sudden soft crunch, unexpected, when in the garden in my slippers the morning after it's rained.

Consider the Snail

Consider the snail. Your dealings with it are, I imagine, limited. Mine are mostly limited to the sudden soft crunch, unexpected, when in the garden in my slippers the morning after it's rained. Recently, I've seen a few baby snails: in their tiny translucency they're almost unbearably cute. But other than these instances I've never given snails much thought.

But, consider the snail. I learned today that many snails create 'love darts' as part of the sexual selection of courtship. One haemaphroditic snail will attempt to shoot the other with a chitinous or calcareous dart. Because they're haemaphrodites, they both whip out little white penises and exchange sperm. Trouble is, neither wants to be the mother – it's a lot of hard work. The snail's body starts to destroy the incoming sperm. However, the snail enpierced with the love dart is hormonally compromised, and is therefore less likely to be spermicidally successful, and is therefore more likely to end up being the mother. The love dart helps to determine who takes on the burden of motherhood.

Some believe that the Cupid myth has its roots in this behaviour. When Romeo tells Benvolio that he's 'too sore enpierced with his shaft', he's talking about Cupid's arrow, but also possibly snails. This makes snails an idiosyncratic but nonetheless reasonable metaphor for falling in love. Snails, when eaten, are considered aphrodisiacs, too.

And yet, snails are just following the slime. They're deaf and all but blind. My little brother used to lob them at the wall. Any symbolism attached to them is limited. All symbolism is. It's just a way to talk about other things. Communication is mostly just the successful connection of one idea to another. Good writers work with patterns. They find them, tease them out, brute-force them. Talking about snails can help us talk about love, if we're so inclined.

But we aren't done with considering the snail. Its symbolic treasures have not yet all been mined. To help us along the way, I'm going to introduce you to Leucochloridium, a parasitic worm that invades a snail's eyestalks. When infected, the snail's eyestalks bulge and pulsate in imitation of a caterpillar. Leucochloridium then manipulates the unwitting mollusc to slither into the open. Birds peck out its eyes, transferring the parasite into the bird's gut. The parasite exits by means of the bird's excreta.

And the excreta is eaten by the snail. And so the whole sorry cycle perpetuates.

What symbolism lies here? Pecking out the eyes – seems rather Oedipal. But this is my writing, so I'm going to make it personal. It's the only way.

Depression is a parasite. It burrows in and takes up residence. Its tendrils loop around one's lobes. The depressed person, dazed and dark-drunk, is helpless. Depression is discussed in terms of what it does to one's mind, but it takes a brutal toll on the body. Lights scream. Soft sounds grow teeth and claws. Loved ones are imposters, wearing macabre skin suits. The depressed person shrinks back, ashamed, as the self atrophies, but at the same time the body does, too. Tautness gives way to softness; wakefulness gives way to sandy sleep. Nausea, biting awake at three or four. The delay between knowing and feeling. Hold up your hand. Move it in front of your face. Watch the pink contrails blow smoky from your fingertips.

We're a long way from snails and parasites now. That's okay. The symbolism and the connection isn't strong. Sometimes, we just need a way in. I wanted to talk about where I'd been; I still want to. This is as far as I can go on the internet, at least for now. Infer the rest, or talk to me – do as you will.

If you read this, though, and it makes sense to you, in some way, you can speak. Find me on Twitter. I'm not one for big ostentatious displays of emotion or pain on social media, but I'll talk in private if you want to.

You might think you're out in the open, waiting for the birds to peck out your eyes. You might want them to.

Let them come. I am in the open, too.