This morning after completing a filmed interview for LearningNowTV, (a role I undertake for fun and which gets me out of the house meeting all sorts of interesting people), I decided to go to the Alice in Wonderland Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, ACMI.
I’ve never been a fan of the Lewis Carroll book and I pondered whether I should go to this exhibition OR to the Colony Frontier Wars Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria across Federation Square. Half-heartedly I decided to go for Alice. (Who would have thought that I would turn down an exhibition on Australian history?!).
However, it felt like an Alice kinda day. Let me explain.
It was the kind of day where it was the day before a public holiday. It was relatively quiet. It wasn’t sunny nor was it cold or wet either. It was grey and warm. It was a weird day. The type of day where you just want to curl up and have a nap. The city was relatively quiet, the school children were back at school and the only people about were cafe workers and Asian tourists albeit a few soldiers selling ANZAC day lapel badges at street corners. I even saw a couple of Army RSMs with their pace sticks undoubtedly doing a “recce run” (reconnaissance) in preparation for the big parade through the city streets tomorrow.
I pondered. Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Should I go into a cafe and treat myself to a coffee and cake? Shall I go home? What will I do if I get home?
See the quandary? It was a ho-hum day so it had to be shaken up to snap myself out of the ordinary and mundane of the grey day. I looked over at the Colony sign and saw the same drab greyness and eucalyptus green reflected back at me.
Nope, I needed colour. I needed some spontaneity. I needed quirk.
The Alice Exhibition it was…
I read the picture book as a kid many years ago and had seen all the movies but I don’t recall reading the entire Lewis Carroll novel from start to finish.
Even in my younger years, the character of Alice and her weird world never gelled with me.
It was TOO nonsensical, TOO illogical and didn’t seem to have a point. It’s how I feel about many of Neil Gaiman novels. (Don’t shoot me, it’s true).
Also, Alice herself never was someone I connected with. For one, she wore “girly clothes” (read: a dress and apron) and was constantly worrying about not fitting in. Too big, too small. Drink this, eat that. These things would annoy me because it meant that she couldn’t make up her mind and even worse, she let these mythical talking animals steer her on some impossible journey where she couldn’t get back to reality. The nonsensical language and the impossible puzzles added to my frustration and exasperation with the story.
Who knows, maybe I missed out on being born with the ‘fantasy gene’? My husband explains it that I “lack imagination”. Possibly so.
However, I know what it is.
The story never made any sense to me in the past because back then, my world was black and white. I knew my role and the part I played in it. Things seemed logical to me. A pragmatist at heart, everything I did had a reason and an end goal. Frivolities and spontaneity were welcome but they had to be planned into the schedule. They also had to have some reason – an end game.
You also followed a path and that path was…You go to school, you go to university, get a job, get married, start a family. You live your life as your parents did then you die.
The circle of life. Akuna Matata.
Going through the exhibition today (I had to crouch down and go through a small door to enter) and learning more about the background story of the author, as well as the various exhibits from puppet shows, movies, plays and books, it suddenly dawned on me, that now, edging dangerously close to my 50s, I’m beginning to feel a lot like Alice. I’m as lost as ever – but at the same time, stronger and more confident. Dare I say it, I now understand her!
Who would have thought?
At the time, the author wrote the story as a metaphor for a young girl going through change but its story is relevant for many of us today – regardless of our age.
Alice in Wonderland to me is my new Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
When the internet came along, I started to engage in a world that was so much bigger than the one I was playing my day-to-day part. The internet gave me an opportunity to open and close doors and took me down rabbit warrens meeting and connecting with all sorts of wonderful characters (my personal learning network) who showed me a completely different world than the one I was cloistered in and in the end, my fantastical world online seemed more real and made sense than the staid one I was actually living, working and constantly questioning.
As I pondered over the exhibits, I felt that the illogical puzzles and the ruthless Queen making up rules as she went along was indeed a metaphor for my corporate life. A life where I tried to appease senior managers and their egos, play by the rules (or my own interpretation of the rules) and get out of it alive (or at least with my sanity intact).
I think the metaphors in Alice in Wonderland came at the right time and right place and I’m glad I decided to go today. Obviously, I wasn’t ready to recognise them in the past but now the story makes so much sense. There’s also a quietly comforting thought to think that if we are all like Alice, we will be able to navigate this weird and wonderful world.
Here is the video of the day if you can’t be bothered reading it all…
This blog post by Helen Blunden was written in Melbourne, Australia and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.