I am bad at New Year’s Resolutions. I sort of half make them last minute, then I sort of half stick to them. So this year, I decided to combine something I am bad at (Resolutions) with something I am good at (Procrastination). I will officially plan ahead my New Year’s Resolutions, and put them on this here public record, so I have to stick to them. Or at least shamefully go back and delete them when I don’t stick to them. So if you’re reading this, you may have never actually read this, if you catch my drift.
My first resolution involves dolphins. And squids. And actually has nothing to do with either. Let me explain.
If you’ve traveled in Europe, you may have come across one of my most favorite things, the ‘toothy dolphin monsters’ of stone statuary fame. They often look something like this:
They often have gills or fins, scales or dragon tails. They almost always have frighteningly giant teeth, and strange large foreheads. They, in short, do not look much like dolphins, which look, in reality, like this:
And the first time I saw these fearsome, not-quite-right beasts, I laughed and thought ‘did the sculptor ever SEE a dolphin?!’. And then I stopped laughing and thought, well no, probably not. Or maybe once, on a long journey. Or maybe a grandfather had traveled on a ship and seen one, and the sculptor was trying to recreate what his grandfather had glimpsed once, and talked about ever since.
You see, I love how connected the world is today; how much we know, and how accessible information on almost anything is, immediately. But sometimes I think about what it would have been like to be a person who had grown up in a small village somewhere in Europe in a past centuries, surrounded by people who had grown up in the same village, and then venture outside it. Can you imagine what it would have been like to come from a place where sheep were the most exotic animal, then to get in a ship and travel across an ocean and see a dolphin? Or even to be staring at that stone dolphin in the sculpture and know that somewhere out there existed animals that looked like that? Somewhere, in a world whose magnitude and variation you couldn’t even begin to guess at? And to have only the sculpture, or maybe a painting, as visual evidence? To hear someone tell you about a giraffe?
I don’t precisely envy those people – I am happy in my own time and place, and I enjoy showering and penicillin- but what I do envy is that sense of wonder; that moment when you see something you have never even suspected exists, that moment when you almost feel your brain shifting and adjusting to make sense of this new thing. Our world is very large right now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there is little left unexplored. Nor are we unused to new information, or ways of life, so adapting to the new (people in other places eat bugs? Whatevs) isn’t a challenge. So we have to work a little harder to find that sense of wonder at the unexplored, or that moment of awe that makes your brain go still to shift and adjust. And though I know that there are few things as exciting to me as finding something I never knew I never knew (thanks, Pocahontas lyrics!), I don’t try nearly hard or often enough to seek them out. So:
RESOLUTION #1 of 2011: REMEMBER THE TOOTHY DOLPHIN MONSTERS.
Go to the zoo. Go to the aquarium. Go to the touch tank at the aquarium and touch something, even though you don’t believe that stingrays won’t hurt you and are convinced that they will somehow evolve superquickly to have gaping scary mouths that they will then use to chew your hand off, stunning scientists the world over. Travel somewhere new, do something you’ve never tried, go to a museum you’ve never heard of, walk down a street you’ve never seen. Whatever it is just try to find that moment where you can feel your brain make room for an entirely new category. Here, I’ll even get you started, with this video of an octopus – I guarantee you’ll feel the brain tickle.
Feel it? Get used to it, 2011. There’s many more where that came from.