Lewis Carroll was a brilliant logician, epecially when it came to the strangeness of reality. Some dictionaries define the word as “the world as it actually exists”, “the thing that is actually experienced or seen”.
Routine has a familiarity, a known truthfulness that can ground us in reality. These experiences help map out our lives and, like mile markers, say yes, you are here. Really and actually. Walking my dog is reality; running errands is reality. But—
—reality has a certain duality. This goes back to that thing that is actually seen. Let’s take walking my dog after a lazy Saturday morning. I get the poop bags, her leash and harness. She dances around like usual, jumps, lioness-like into her harness like usual. We walk down the path to the sidewalk like usual. And then we turn the corner. About 10 kids and 7 adults are shouting in the middle of the street. Two adults are holding a huge banner and leading the group. Another two adults are bringing up the rear. “Corrupt Richard Barrera” splashes boldly across the top. They spend the next 10 minutes circling my block, tucking flyers under windshield wipers. Eventually, like a flock of birds, they roost in front of a house, still noisily squawking.
The other example is coming back home from errands. Two things seen during this perfectly average trek:
1. A woman my age (otherwise looking “normal”) is walking along a row of parked cars (opposite the side of the street that has a sidewalk) pushing a baby stroller. In the stroller is … a dog.
2. On a different street I see a tattered, faded flag bobbing up and down. It looks like it’s seen five decades of sun and rain, and another five decades of hanging in someone’s dusty, spider-infested attic. It’s only when I get closer that I see the person carrying the flag. He’s young, late teens, early 20s. Attractive, dressed in black skinny jeans, a dark blazer, and something that very closely resembles a Merchant Mariner’s cap from the late 1800s. He stands rigid. His knees raise high as he marches down the sidewalk. The flag pole is tucked against his shoulder, and the end of it plants into the partial cocoon of his cupped hand. I drive by, and he never takes his gaze from the horizon.
These scenes, that they all happened on the same day. I felt as if I was peering through Alice’s looking glass. Unreal, surreal. To see, but not believe. But why is such acceptance so difficult? Are our brains so trained and inflexible that they simply process certain sensorial experiences? Do we become victims of expectations?
This sort of bizarre is benign. Other instances of “difficult to process” reality exist. Rather than being an evolutionary adaptation, this mental dissection, categorization and relative rejection of experiences can be disadvantageous or even dangerous. How do we nurture our minds to be open and agile? And further, how do we move from observation to intervention if the situation needs it?