Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The letter 'A' is for...

     In an extreme fit of writer sleep deprivation one morning, I began listing all the words that came to mind that began with the letter A.
     Apple, atlas, apartment, AC, accountant, accompanist, accordion, acupuncture, acorn, appendix, apricot, aspirin, afternoon, auto, August, activist, allowance, advocate, advanced.
     The list was substantial, but I won’t bore you to tears with my failed experiment supposedly meant to stimulate my brain.
      Nothing. A preschooler could have done better making the connections and writing something…anything.
     I put the list away and moved on to other projects. Certain assignments are time-sensitive, and a deadline is a deadline all fooling around aside.
     Still, I kept returning to the first letter in the alphabet, and I must admit that it became a minor obsession. One of those words should trigger a thought, wouldn’t you think?
     I became “curiouser and curiouser” like Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” fame where Lewis Carroll has her speaking with astonishment at her plight.
      Alleluia. There is my word: Alice.

     Since I was the one making up the challenging game, why couldn’t I use proper nouns? You know that annoying, competitive person who changes the rules midstream? That’s never been me up until now.
     Alice and I were fast storybook companions when I was growing up, and unfortunately she isn’t quite as popular today. Alas, Dora, the Explorer and The Little Mermaid have made Alice swim upstream to catch children’s attention.
      It’s a shame the story is off the radar screen as it is a classic tale of a child going into an imaginary world meeting all sorts of mad – extremely “foolish” as the Brits would say - nonsensical characters.
      There were books for children before 1865 when Alice was published, but they were almost all written to make a moral point. Good children behave like this; bad children behave like that. They are punished for it, and it serves them right. In Alice, for the first time, you find a realistic child taking part in a story whose intention was entirely fun.

     I had the great fortune to see the stage production of Alice in Wonderland at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the Lake, and I traipsed down the rabbit hole willingly for an afternoon of whimsical memories, lush costumes and fantastic modern technology tricks from the production crew.
     There were a lot of children at the performance. I overheard one grandma in the ladies room tell her granddaughter a couple rules of theatre etiquette, and the little girl assured her grandma that her mother had told her all that stuff that morning. I got a kick out of what the grandma replied. “ I’m glad she remembered herself.”
      I asked the teenage boy sitting next to me about his love of Alice, and he said that he didn’t know anything about it, or the back-story of how the book got written. He was enthusiastic, though, and went right to his program notes only to discover that Charles Dodgson told stories on afternoon boat rides to Alice Liddell and her two sisters, which Alice insisted he write down.
     I have a couple favorite parts including The Mad Hatter’s Tea party, which has one quip after the other, and the Queen of Hearts is as wicked as wicked can be at the croquet tournament.

     “Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
     "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
       "You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
   "Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.”
     In fact, out of all the quotes during the play, the one that made me giggle the most was this one: “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cheshire cat. “We’re all mad here.”
     “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
     “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
     “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
     “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
     “The best people are mad.”

      I found a t-shirt stating, “We are all mad here,” in bold lettering in the gift store and I had to have it.
     We Americans think of someone crazy as a synonym for mad and take the darker road with the meaning of the word. I’ll stick with the Brits on that one.
     Well, it got one reaction right away when I went to check out and a young man in his twenties working the counter said, “Oh, my mother says each of us needs one of these in our household. We’re all mad.” He smiled and checked me out. “You’ve bought the perfect shirt.”
      If you think about it, you know families that are a hoot to be around. They make a laughing matter out of family gatherings, birthday shenanigans and just about every social event in-between. There’s never a dull moment, nor a gap in the entertainment like a vaudeville troupe gone mad with glee.
     One family’s style of humor is never the same as the neighbor’s across the lawn. It grows as the combination of family members increases through marriage and birth with their idiosyncrasies and flaws. Every generation raises the bar a tiny bit, but still, grandpa usually wins hands down every time as the master of the art of wit.
    Those families recognize that no one is perfect and life is nonsensical to a degree anyway. What’s the point of taking it all too seriously?
     How about the rest of us?  About face and rethink silliness like Alice and friends.