I think, if asked right now, what is my favourite book, I would answer Alice in Wonderland. I say ‘right now’ because I read about 15 books a month and they range like mountains in their diversity, over continents and across the world, ignoring oceans and other stops in the proceedings. I read books on Nature, History, Spirituality, Science (well, easy science and including Geology, Astrology, Mountainology and other ologies) Novels, Poetry, Essays and whatever else catches my eye at any one time. That time depends on mood, openess of heart, time and weather. In the colder days, cold writings pull me in. The Eye of the Reindeer being one that springs to mind. In desert times, when I am too hot for toffees, I might pick up something about a woman in the Amazonian jungle fighting mosquitos and other things that bite or swell, like a river, for instance or the chest of a malefactor.
But, when someone asks that question about my favourite book, and I am obliged to answer, I will say Alice. She walked with me through childhood. I had the long hair, the curiosity, the wilfulness and the desire for escape into adventure. Even my mum said so as she rolled her eyes and shook her head. Oh Alice! she breathed, even if that wasn’t my name, but I knew what she meant. Inside I smiled, even though she may not have intended a compliment.
To be curious is to be a child, so they say, but the greatest thinkers counter that, urging us to remain curious throughout our lives. When we put away childish things we might be excused for chucking curiosity out too, but we make a mistake in doing so. I agree that we should probably stop sucking our thumbs in public, or eating soup with our fingers, but, in the chucking, the very core of what makes us human goes too. Suddenly we have to be sensible, and that word has distorted itself. It originates in a late Middle English ‘perceptible by the senses’, its origin from Old French or from the Latin ‘sensibilis.’ Either which way it refers to what we sense, not what someone else senses on our behalf, such as ‘sensible’ shoes or behaviour or choices. In other words, not my choice at all.
Watching a child or puppy or kitten or small thing learn something new, with a little fear and a lot of bravado always fills our mouths with Aaaws and our hearts with a skoosh of watery warmth. Is that nostalgia for what we left behind so long ago? Why did we leave it, and where? Have we, in our sensible shoes and with our sensible choices got just a bit lost in the forest? I get that we are required to live politely inside our worlds. Anarchy is scary and nobody wants that amount of unrest, not least because there is quite enough of it on the inside of our own front door, but our choices are never hung on the horns of dilemma. It is never either this, or that, either black or white, either crazy or sensible. No way.
There is a place in between This and That, where the BFG and Winnie the Pooh and Alice, Dr Zeuss and children all live in perfect harmony. This place is not for anyone who has understood sensible to be ‘it’, that turning into an adult, minus all childlike fantasy, hope, fun, play and curiosity is what we all inevitably morph into; that life becomes a circular saw on repeat. I know it threatens when we are overly influenced by worldly pressures and opinions, I know this well because I fell for it too. But, and this is the wisdom of old age, I now know that my falling wasn’t new. Generations have done it, turning into stuffy and distant dads and over-chirpy controlling mums, both of whom concealed and protected their self medication in the face of emptiness like a ‘precious’. Those of us who lie sleepless and disappointed, full of wonder but not the Alice kind.
Well, the good news is that nothing is ever lost. We might have agreed, momentarily, on the sensible shoes, but we have not lost the curiosity knack, any more than we have forgotten how to ride a bike. All we have to do is turn, ever so slightly towards what we know really matters; the play of our children, the sudden sunset that begs us to watch right up to the end; the time when cats reset a computer just by walking across the keyboard. Or, that moment when someone says ‘Coffee?’ when we have a long list for Tescos and are running late. Those times where Curiosity beckons. Where we could just find laughter and sharing and suddenness and light and all those things you never find in a Tesco queue.
Even though Curiouser is not a dictionary word, in fact, precisely because it is not, I call it to the witness stand. We need wild things in the witness stand, even if the sensible and judgemental world would have a conniption at the very thought. At least the wild things can swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth without thinking a single thought.
And be believed.