I have a hypothesis about Lewis Carroll when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. I think he was busy getting stoned when his publisher called him and told him that he wanted the final draft on his desk by noon tomorrow, and that Carroll , in his compromised state, slouched in front of his typewriter and did the best he could.
Which, by the way, is what I really wanted to write in my book report in the seventh grade, but didn’t. I mean, how the hell did that story get published in the first place?
But a bigger question plagues me. Why do I sort of like it? Why did the absurd world of Alice’s dream appeal to me? What kept me reading? Fortunately, I have a theory for this too. I mean, I really should, I’ve been gnawing at this question since that fateful book report, and I’m in college now.
My theory is that our world is not unlike the one of Carroll’s invention. (With all due credit to whatever it was that he was smoking, of course.) For all we know our world is just as absurd, and the only reason we don’t consider it as such is because we’re used to it. As if the universe was curated to make sense, as if its existence was less than a roll of the dice.
If existentialism isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you just figured God remembered to say no to drugs.
Regardless, the rules we accept as fundamentally un-strange could just as well be exactly the opposite. Take a wooden coffee table. It seems underwhelming. Dull. But if you look at it long enough, if you trace its grooves and arcs until your index finger goes numb, you find a spark of interest. You recall that one day, maybe not even that long ago, your coffee table was a tree. And not long before that, a sapling. And a remarkably short amount of time before that, a seed.
And then maybe you marvel at the wonders of the known universe, that something can go from seed to coffee table. You sip your morning brew and appreciate the order of the universe.
But for all you know, you content-coffee sipper, our universe’s order is completely and utterly peculiar. Imagine how someone’s ideas about order from a different universe might be dumbfounded by ours. Maybe they’re from a Looking-Glass universe, where time flows backwards and coffee tables are coffee tables before they are seeds. And even more distressingly, to them the coffee tables to seeds cycle is forwards, and seed to coffee table is backwards. And suddenly, order turns mystery.
There is, by the way, no antidote to this crisis. You’ll fall head over heels for the ordinary-turned-absurd. The absurd-turned-ordinary. It will plague you for eternity.
You’ll treasure oddities in everything. In lyrical novels and songs that paint your heart with music notes. In cities of towering steel and in dust particles illuminated by golden streaks of sunlight. It’s not a bad way to see the world, with mystery unfurling from raindrops and starry night skies and everything else in between.
But I must warn you, before you go off into the world with inquires and absurdities fizzling in your mind and melting on your tongue. The more you notice, the more you grow impatient. Mysteries, you begin to realize, in a quiet panic, are meant to be solved.
Of course, it doesn’t start off this way. Once you start asking questions, it’s just a little hum in your heart, accompanied by the sensation of humility questions bring, the sentiment of not-knowing. And then the humming grows louder, day by day, electricity zapping your heart and burning your veins. In your mind, questions flicker like a fire. The world you took for granted morphs into a world full of peculiarity. Of the fundamentally strange. You fell down the rabbit hole but now you can’t wake up. It’s maddening, to be trapped in the hands of Lewis Carroll for infinity. To read about Alice is one thing; to be her is another.
I don’t know about you. But I know I’ll forever be free-falling. I’ll be forever exploring, coughing in the the eye-watering smoke of the Chesire Cat, joining the absurd for tea. I’m an addict, I suppose. Just another adrenaline junkie, no better than the sweaty throngs of amusement park-goers. Hunting for shocking thoughts and ripping them apart, savoring their conquest of my mind. It scares the hell out of me, slices my brains with a machete. But that’s the whole point, I suppose. The thrill. The rush. Things not being the way I thought them to be.
“You know,” I said to my roommate the other evening, “we talk about the universe looming above us. Stars and darkness surrounding the Earth. But the Earth is part of the universe too. And everything on it. Including us. And if you think about it, you realize that we are not just individuals. No, we’re more than that. We’re the universe considering itself.”
If you’re anything like me, that thought gives you the fear you seek. You might rub your temples and mutter, Not again. I don’t need another existential crisis this afternoon. But as you tumble down the rabbit hole, and swallow the potion, you might wonder what you would do if it weren’t for your Lewis-Carroll mind, thinking your Looking-Glass thoughts.