I used to watch the Alice in Wonderland cartoon a lot as a child. The story was equal parts confusing as hell and so gloriously insane that it became amazing. Some days I felt a great sense of relief and solidarity after watching Alice blunder through Wonderland, though I couldn’t say why. Other times I would stare at the annoying Cheshire cat and think, WTF did Mom slip in my chocolate milk?
The judgmental, busybody floral landscape always managed to piss me off, too. I figured they were so bitter because they were common flowers instead of something more exotic. This is probably where my own aversion to peonies, violets, and chrysanthemums comes from; I feel judged just standing in their presence.
It wasn’t until I got older, and viewed Tim Burton’s version of this story, that I began to understand why I had so many conflicting feelings about Alice and her psychedelic adventures. I know some people didn’t like his vision, but I was absolutely enthralled, especially because I was old enough to appreciate the parallels and Alice’s indecision over what she wanted versus what was expected of her.
Everyone goes through that, but sometimes I think it hits writers a bit harder. What we create is cool and everything, but non-writers tend to say or imply something along the lines of when are you going to give up that daydream and join the real world?
But that’s the catch, isn’t it? The real world is not our world.
I resonate with Alice because she brings up my own deep seated feelings of being an alien. I’ve always had the distinct feeling that I don’t really belong; I’m on the outside observing people interact with each other, pay their bills, go grocery shopping, and I feel like I’m watching a German movie with Chinese subtitles and bad CGI with random intervals of singing Mariachis. It can be utterly fascinating, beautiful, scary, and confusing, but there’s not much that makes sense.
Like Alice in the beginning of Burton’s movie, I think all writers come from a place of dissatisfaction with the world/society/immediate setting we live in. We examine everything much more closely than others because we’re trying to figure out the whys and hows and whats, and when they fail to make sense we don’t understand why we still need to do them.
What’s the point of wearing a corset if all it does is prevent breathing?
Because that’s what people expect you to do.
We encounter these kinds of arguments all the time throughout our lives. For me, it’s an argument of college. People tell me I need to go, I’d rather not. I’m not adverse to learning, but I don’t learn well in that type of setting, particularly for the career paths that are most “logical” for me to follow. I understand good money can be made in those fields, but I also understand I don’t belong there because I know myself. Alice was expected to marry a man so opposite of herself that she could never be happy with him. That is how I view the idea of going to college in a field I don’t want to be in. It’s an arrangement that could bring me more money, societal respect, and acceptable “opportunities”. It would also bring me misery.
Trying to look at the world through the lenses everyone else uses only further distorts the strangeness of what I see. It is full of foreign rules I have to follow to some extent, but they make as much sense as hookah smoking caterpillars, or wearing a codfish as a hat.
Sometimes, when the world is squashing me with all its strangeness, it’s hard to remember why I fight so hard to remain true to myself. Sometimes I simply give up and say, no, I can’t do this anymore. I’m retreating to my blanket fort to watch Supernatural and drink vodka and fuck you, you’re not invited.
To be fair, I also do the latter on good days, but on bad days I wanna do it permanently, m’kay?
To quote the Hatter when Alice was unconvinced she could slay the Jabberwocky, “You were much… muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.”
Last year was my fifth year of working in pretty much a dead end job. I had moved up as much as I could with no hope, or desire, to go any farther. I made okay money, but the job itself sucked the muchness right out of me. I came home after my shift and stared at an open document and was too exhausted to fill it with words. I can’t keep on this way, I kept thinking. Something had to change.
That something was me. Or not really me-me, but my outlook, my choices.
It came to a point where I had to choose my health and happiness over a steady income and the safety net I had back in Texas. I chose to gather up my muchness and moved over two thousand miles away with not even the promise that I could find a job.
I had, officially, lost my marbles. I think they are somewhere in Australia getting down and dirty down under, but that’s neither here nor there.
It was hard. It was crazy. It was stupid and marvelous and wonderful. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. In no way was it easy, and there have been many instances where I closed my eyes and thought I had made the worst mistake in the world (and with my track record, yeah, no, we won’t go there. We’ll just say it felt like a nine on my scale of fucked-up-ness, because even this doesn’t quite beat out that one time at that one place with the BFF). But then, whaddya know, I learned how to breathe again.
And that led to more writing and revisions and rewriting and making friends and doing things and really smiling again.
Lewis Carrol is quoted as saying that he had believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Burton made a point of weaving that into the fabric of his movie. Some things are only impossible because you believe them to be. Some impossible sounding things are done because you believe you can do them.
I believed there had to be something better for me. I took the first step, and there are still so many more ahead of me, but I believe I can make my own way and create a life in this strange place despite not belonging to it. I believe I can do something with all the characters in my head. I believe they won’t be ghosts taking up space on my hard drive forever.
We all have a bit of Alice in us. We come into this wacky world and stumble through trying to make sense of it all, and the only way we can is to write it. Along the way we meet a lot of intriguing characters; some want to help us, some want to conform us, and some want to cut off our heads. We may never feel like we belong, but the only way to survive is to keep writing, to keep on the path we know we need to travel, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
By doing that, I believe we can slay the Jabberwocky of normality.
So, why is a raven like a writing desk?
Because if you believe it is, it can be.
©Shiloh Ohmes 2013