“Roach Farm” is about the fall of 2020, a period of intense national and personal unrest. The chaos of COVID, the election, and the general doom-fog felt separate from the chaos of my work and relationships. But, in writing this essay, I started to understand that the external and the internal were actually in conversation the whole time, behind my back.
I chose to work at the roach farm because I thought it might offer an escape. I’d be working in a remote warehouse, laboring over bugs—what I thought to be an apolitical life form—alongside strangers. But still, there was the ghost of politics in most of the conversations there. By the end of my tenure, even the roaches felt symbolic of gender issues.
In the fall of 2020, I wondered about my belief systems and what to do with them. I was constantly attempting (both with great self-consciousness and great ego) to figure out where I fell on the spectrum of being a person who cared about the well-being of the world. This attempt was complicated because the only problem actually keeping me up at night was a breakup. It was my first real breakup with my first love. It was excruciating.
This past year. I’ve been reading a lot of amazing braided nonfiction books and essays: Jia Tolentino, Carmen Maria Machado, Jo Ann Beard, Karla Conejo Villavicencio. I think it’s incredible when an author winds narrative and research so tightly together they feel like one story. “Roach Farm” is my attempt at braiding three stories at once: Dubia roaches, the politics of existing in 2020, and my breakup.
I read somewhere that if what’s on the page doesn’t scare you, you’re doing it wrong. With this piece, I set out with the goal to pursue honesty until I scared myself. So, here I am, totally scared.
JT BALDASSARRE is a freelance writer and filmmaker living in Brooklyn, New York. In 2020, she won the James E. Michael Prize in Playwriting. She just finished filming a pilot, and is currently writing a four-part miniseries. She is also developing new personal essays and nonfiction pieces. Find her current work and contact information at her website linked above. She’s on Instagram @jtbaldassarre.