When you are born, you are given a shelf to put things on. The shelf is angled away from the wall a little bit, but that’s okay, because the things you put on it are boxes and they don’t slide around too much.

But as you get older you’re given more things to put on the shelf. And one of them is a bit round.

It’s fine, though. If you perch it up against one of the square things, it sits in the back, just out of view, although sometimes it wiggles a bit and shakes itself loose and you have to catch it before it falls and breaks.

But people keep on giving you things, and more of them are rounder and rounder. You start having to keep an eye on your things and occasionally move them to the back of the shelf.

The bracket that mounted the shelf was a bit flimsy, though, and the added weight of all the things makes it start to tilt further and further from the back wall. So you find yourself spending more and more time moving the items to the back. And you notice that some of the round items will bounce off the square items and are pushing them towards the edge too. And one side of the shelf has been tilting more than the other so you have to also watch out for things going to the side, and some of the objects are weird shapes that make them bob and weave back and forth as they roll.

Eventually you can’t keep up, and one of the items drops and breaks, and the person who gave it to you is absolutely furious with you – how dare you let that happen? Don’t you care about the thing, or the person who gave it to you? Can’t you see the mess it made? You had better clean it up, and try to find a replacement for the thing, because it was so very important to them that you have one.

So you have to start cleaning it up, while also still keeping the other things from falling.

More and more things show up, and they’re rounder and rounder. Simply keeping them from falling becomes a full-time job. People approach you with other items but you tell them you can’t take them right now, you’re already too busy with the ones you have, and they wonder why you’re having so much trouble with it.

Sometimes people notice that you have a lot of round things and figure you love collecting them. So they just put one on your shelf without even asking, and you don’t know it’s there until it falls off and breaks. And the person who gave it to you thought they were giving you a nice surprise but all you’ve done is made them upset because you simply didn’t care about the wonderful, perfect, fragile glass sphere they found for you.

In the middle of juggling a bunch of stuff this way you finally have a chance to ask someone else how they deal with their shelves. “What do you mean?” they say. “I don’t have any trouble with things rolling.”

Eventually someone else comes by who is keeping a bunch of their round things in an overflowing basket, and they’re having difficulty keeping it all contained while they walk around ever so slowly. “Oh, yeah, my shelf is tilted too, I use this basket to help, but I can only talk to you for a little bit because I gotta go home and make sure nothing’s falling off.”

Now you realize that your shelf is misaligned, and you need help with it. You carefully arrange all of your square objects so that your round things just precariously rest against them and start looking at other peoples' shelves. You find out they’re all straight and level, or some of them are even tilted so that the objects roll towards the wall, and they have little rims so that things don’t just fall when they reach the edge.

You explain the situation to people with these shelves, and they tell you, “Oh, you should adjust your shelf and install some rims.”

“Can you help me with this?” you ask.

“Oh, sorry, I don’t have the tools for it. But surely you can find someone who does.”

So you start looking for people with the right tools and materials. But you can’t look for very long at a time, because your items are still rolling and need to be checked on periodically. You find a lot of people who can tell you what you need to do, or some of them have other ideas like pouring sand on it or using fans to blow things back, but none of them are able to come over and help you adjust the shelf.

You might find someone who is able to put in an extra-tight screw that helps to level the shelf a little bit, but the material in the wall is weak and eventually the fix-up fails, and now the shelf is even more crooked and things are rolling even faster. You can’t take any time away from your shelf. More and more things are falling on the ground and breaking. You wonder why you even have these things to begin with. You find other people who will take your spheres and eggs and cylinders, and then people just stop giving you things entirely, even the squares and triangles that you enjoy having around. Everyone sees you as ungrateful and angry, and they don’t have problems with their shelves so why should yours be any different?

Finally someone comes around who notices that the problem isn’t with the shelf, but with the bracket. Your brackets sag and dig into the wall. But there are little chucks that you can shove into them which makes them sag more slowly, and you tell people about your bracket problem and suddenly you get a lot of people telling you how horrible that is, or that they knew there was something wrong with your shelf all along (and ask you if the problem was just that the shelf was a bit warped, maybe you should look to see if that was the problem instead). And you’re also spending a lot of time looking at the brackets themselves, thinking about how you’re going to fix them.

People still aren’t helping you to fix the shelves or find the tools or materials you need, and they keep distracting you from juggling your items – they never stopped rolling, after all – but at least while they talk to you about how your shelving situation has affected them they don’t give you spheres. Now they’re oblate cylinders instead.

At least that’s an improvement.


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