Biologist Merlin Sheldrake knows a lot about fungi. We can believe him when he says that fungi make worlds. I’m here to let you know that sometimes, they make them in your ear.
They also unmake them. Like when you’re driving down the street and have the worst pain you’ve ever experienced inside your head. Your world is unmade right then. The doctor freaks out when he says he can’t see your eardrum. You think there must be an alien giving birth inside your head. And in some ways, there is.
There are lots of ways to catch fungi in the act of making worlds. One way is to get a referral to a specialist who looks in your ear and says, “Oh yeah, I saw a lot of this when I was in the Philippines. You have a fungus in your ear.”
Fungi are versatile. You can cook mushroom soup, stir fry, or eat them in a variety of other ways. You can go out gathering mushrooms or buy them in the store. They are around when you ferment alcohol, plant a plant, or just bury your hands in the soil. And sometimes, they will just arrive in your head on their own. Whether you let a fungus into your mind is one issue. It can be in your head regardless.
When this happened to me, a specialist sucked the fungus out with a little vacuum and sent me home with gentian violet. I painted the inside of my ear with it for the prescribed amount of time. The pain went away, and presumably the fungus did, too. But I’m certain that fungi are still alive inside me, making worlds and occasionally making trouble.
Whether a fungus heals you, or you use one to heal someone else; whether you start growing mushrooms at home or collect them in the wild; whether a fungus finds its way to your ear or someone else’s; fungi will let you know they are no more alien than you. They make worlds wherever they make themselves at home. Sometimes, they make their worlds in you.
This piece references and reworks the following quote: “Fungi make worlds. They also unmake them. There are lots of ways to catch them in the act. When you cook mushroom soup, or just eat it. When you go out gathering mushrooms, or buy them. When you ferment alcohol, plant a plant, or just bury your hands in the soil; and whether you let a fungus into your mind, or marvel at the way that it might enter the mind of another. Whether you’re cured by a fungus, or watch it cure someone else; whether you build your home from fungi, or start growing mushrooms in your home, fungi will catch you in the act. If you’re alive, they already have.”
–Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
Mary Salome (she/her) is a queer Arab and Irish American writer and media activist who lives in San Francisco. Her prose and poetry have been published in Food for our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, Tiny Seed Journal, Solstice: A Winter Anthology Vol 2, and Archive of the Odd. Her short story “Okami in the Bayview” has been nominated for a WSFA Small Press Award. Find her at Spoutible and Twitter @Mary Salome