"Dear Prudence" by Amanda Grieme

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dear Alice... Introspection

3/26 - Introspection
Dear Alice -

I am confident that you are the most profound character in literary history, because you represent the one commonality that every human shares; you are forced to question who you are at the ripe young age of five, when seemingly most people spend their entire lives searching for their true identity, or at least trying to crack the surface.

Usually the “search” begins with a seemingly life altering moment, or with a bright philosophical or religious epiphany. You were lucky; your search was instigated by curiosity, then a long plunge down a rabbit hole into an alter reality. We certainly would be ill-developed, one-dimensional characters without curiosity:

“Alice was beginning to bet very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’ So she was considering, in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a white rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the rabbit say to itself, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well. Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and bookshelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed: it was labeled ‘ORANGE MARMALADE,’ but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar, for fear of killing somebody underneath, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.”

You kept falling Alice, questioning where you were falling to, what the longitude and latitude of your location was (not that you had a clue what those words meant), and how impressed everyone would be at home with your ability to endure such a fall. Then your curiosity made you lonely, and you began to ponder comforts:

“Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. ‘Dinah’ll miss me very much tonight, I should think!’ (Dinah was the cat.) ‘I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah, my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?’ And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, ‘Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?’ And sometimes, ‘Do bats eat cats?’ For, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that she was walking hand in hand with Dinah, and was saying to her, very earnestly, ‘Now, Dinah, tell me the truth: did you ever eat a bat?’ When suddenly, thump! Thump! Down she came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.”

You questioned the natural order of things; do cats eat bats, or do bats eat cats? It is one of the great questions; why are things the way they are? Who created the food chain? Why is it a “given” to so many that people are the superior being, and have the divine right to smote the life of a forest creature, simply for sport? I remember being your age and witnessing a bloody deer carcass roped to a trailer being towed behind a pick up truck stuffed with men with orange hats, adorned in tasteless camoflauge jackets. They were laughing, and enjoying the ride. “How?” I thought in disgust. I was horrified! It was the first time that I had encountered such sheer brutality, and I asked my mother who was driving why they killed that beautiful deer? And she said, “Oh honey, don’t look. Some people hunt deer.” I couldn’t fathom that concept. I remember the horror that I felt; I couldn’t wipe that image out of my head. Then I asked my mom, “But why, mommy? Why would those men hurt that deer? Who said that they could do that?” I was infuriated. “Isn’t that murder?” She couldn’t answer me, but she felt for me. It was the first time that I was faced with the image of cruelty, and I wanted to know “why.”

So I understand why you followed the rabbit; how would we get to the bottom of anything, if we didn’t take the crazy route? It’s humbling, and you can usually find out some pretty interesting things about yourself, and about human nature in general. As Jim Morrison once said, “People are strange, when you’re a stranger...faces look ugly, when you’re alone;” but that’s just our initial response to fear of the unknown. If we take your path, Alice, the things that once seemed foreign to us become “real,” and we begin to question our perception asking, “who am I” and “what is reality?” I think that it leads to clarity.

The Caterpillar changed your entire perception of yourself with one question; “Who are you?” It was the first time that you had to step outside of yourself and question your existence. Were you simply Alice in patent leather shoes, with a bow in her hair, or was there more to you? The caterpillar wasn’t happy with simple answers; he was a thinker and a philosopher, and wasn’t concerned with Alice in the physical sense, but wanted to know who the all-encompassing Alice was ...which is pretty tough for a little girl to articulate, but you attempted it:

“Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass, but she could not see anything that looked like the right think to eat or drink under the circumstances. There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself: and, when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on top of it. She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top, with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else. The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. ‘Who are You?’ said the caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar, sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’ ‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’ ‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar. ‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself, to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’ ‘It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar. ‘Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,’ said Alice; ‘but when you have to turn into a chrysalis – you will some day, you know – and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?’ ‘Not a bit,’ said the Caterpillar. ‘Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice: ‘all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.’ ‘You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. ‘Who are you?’”

This, of course frustrated you, but the Caterpillar went on to teach you that there is more to life than your preconceived notion of “Alice” and that if you want anything, you have to get it yourself. Between frustrating pauses filled with rips from the hookah, the Caterpillar taught you about that often overlooked space between reality and understanding: patience.

Your story should be required reading.

You are very real to me. Love, Ana

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