I watched Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse this weekend. I left the theater with tears in my eyes. From laughing at the post credit scene? Yeah, that.
But not just that.
There’s also a feeling that I’m struggling to describe, even though I feel it so strongly. It is something incredibly important, that, because of who I am, I just don’t feel too often.
The feeling that someone, out there, understands you. That your experiences, your anxieties, your dreams, your struggles - they aren’t yours alone.
That feeling of being a brown-skinned Hispanic kid in NYC? Yeah, that.
That feeling of being the only one in your class? Maybe one of 10 in the grade? Yeah, that.
That feeling of barely keeping up sometimes, while others seem to handle things effortlessly? Yeah, that.
That feeling of always asking yourself, quietly in the back of your head, even when you’re doing fine, ‘do I really deserve to be here, or is it just because of luck/affirmative action/my mom being able to pay for that prep course’?
Yeah, definitely that.
That feeling of being an awkward teenager, simultaneously distracted and comforted by your own interior monologue and running commentary? Yeah, that too.
That feeling of crossing the covered glass bridge every morning as you enter school? Yeah, even that.
That feeling of being a 27 year old PhD student struggling to balance work and the people important to you?
That feeling of working hard all day, but when someone asks, you can’t really explain what you’ve been stressing out over?
That feeling of toiling behind the scenes, stretching yourself thin for what you know - what you tell yourself - what you sometimes question - is your passion?
That feeling of slowly giving up aspects of your life, bit by bit, so that you can keep up with your job?
Yeah, all of that.
That feeling of ‘Arachnogod forbid you die before you graduate from your program’? Yeah, sometimes that.
And, that feeling that, with the right nudge, anyone could have ended up on the same path as you? Facing the same, seemingly impossible struggles? Getting knocked down and standing up again? After every failed grant? After every rejected paper? After every painful teaching evaluation? After every experiment completely ruined because of a small mistake? Because of something out of your control? After every project you pour yourself into? After every project you’re forced to abandon? After every project you’re forced to watch someone else take and succeed with?
That feeling when it finally works? Of an actual living scientist actually citing your work? Of your mind racing with every new idea? Of helping a colleague during a tough spot? Of knowing that you’ve got friends that understand what you’re going through? Of teaching someone about a cool spider?
That feeling that anyone out there, no matter their race, sex, gender, skin color, where they grew up - even you - could
wear the mask be a scientist?
I suspect that people sometimes think that I like Spider-man because I love spiders, or perhaps vice versa. But, really? Spiders are almost tangential to the appeal of Spider-man (and that does upset me to the point that I’ll write about it later, because spiders are absolutely amazing and deserve to be in the spotlight).
For me, the most important part of any serious Spider-man media is the idea of a daily struggle that both feels incredibly, personally, lonely, and is also something so familiar to so many. You don’t have to be a superhero, or a scientist, or a person of color, to get what it means to learn that you’re not the only one.
Illustration is of a jumping spider using their pedipalps to clean their eyes and face. Drawn from a DSLR photo reference by SAE.