Monday, November 5, 2012
Stuck in the Doldrums
What was once a novelty is now the norm, and it's quickly become more than a little dreary. Pretty soon, even the burnt orange and tarnished gold colors of the leaves will run together into a murky brown, and there won't be any color much of anywhere. If I've learned anything from my past inability to do my homework in the same place where I spend all of my time (well, not ALL of my time) on Pinterest, it's that environment determines attitude, and as the clouds droop ever lower in the sky, so do the corners of my mouth. I'm uninspired, uninterested, unmotivated... quite frankly, as I confessed to my father a week ago, I'm stuck in the doldrums.
He told me to go back and reread this: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.
He had read it to my sister, The Cheerleader, and I for the first time when we were just tiny. Henceforth afterwards classified as my favorite children's book EVER, and just currently finished with celebrating its 50th Anniversary, this tale follows the travels of a regular boy named Milo - who was none too motivated or inspired himself -through a mysterious tollbooth into a fantastical world full of witty puns, tremendous wordplay, and important lessons, in the hopes of rescuing the beautiful princesses, Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. It was a hit when it was first published back in 1961, (and not so much a hit when it was made into a film about a decade later) and has gained comparisons to the likes of fantasy counterpart Alice in Wonderland, while proving itself to be just as durable, having been credited as the NPR Kid's Club Book Pick in 2011.
The most terrifying moment, for me, always happened within the first 30 pages: Milo, having breezed through the bright, colorful, cheery land of Expectations already, relaxes and lazes, simply enjoying the scenery, never knowing that he missed his turn, until his car sputters and stops in... the Doldrums. Home to the Lethargarians, a boring bunch whose only daily objectives are to relax and daze - as well as daydream, procrastinate, nap and sleep, and deem it illegal to smile or think - the Doldrums are inescapable to those who enter, as they fall into the ways of the Lethargarians as well. Thankfully, Milo is saved by Tock, the watchdog (my favorite character), who gives him the secret to restarting his car and escaping the Doldrums: to think. And so, Milo thought of "birds that swim and fish that fly," "yesterday's lunch and tomorrow's dinner," "words that began with J and numbers that end in 3," and "as he thought, the wheels began to turn."
As it turns out, The Phantom Tollbooth was my key to escaping the Doldrums as well.
A visit back to my childhood was exactly what I needed. Get caught up in day-to-day life, where the only objective is to get done with that which is required from you the most immediately, and strive for nothing exceeding expectations, is not the right way to live. I needed that harrowing trip back to the Mountains of Ignorance, and to regain the inner sight necessary to see those same demons who have been hounding me since senioritis kicked in back in the Spring: the Hopping Hindsight, who only moves forward based on what's behind him; the Gross Exaggeration, and his beastly buddy, the Know-It-All; the long-nosed, green-eyed, curly-haired, wide-mouthed, thick-necked, broad-shouldered, round-bodied, short-armed, bowlegged, big-footed demon... of insincerity, who really isn't any of those things he says he is. Most frightening to me, was a flimsy creature, simply riding on the backs of others, and not really proving substantial in anything but his victims: the Threadbare Excuse, the same demon that's been riding on my shoulder since I contracted a minor sinus infection a couple of weeks ago.
The Phantom Tollbooth has ties to my childhood, and therefore, my heart, and was exactly the kind of intelligent and lightly moralizing thing I needed to get me going again. And speaking of going, it's time for English class again.