|Praying mantis studying me through the study window|
When Alice talks with the White Queen in the famous scene from Through the Looking Glass, she clings to realism for all it's worth: "One can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
I'm always intrigued in a work of art—whether fiction, film, opera, or anything else—at the fine line between what's believable and what isn't, and the tipping point between the two. You go along through the whole work, perfectly willing to suspend disbelief, and then suddenly wham! As far as you're concerned it has "jumped the shark," and it's all downhill from there. There may have been half a dozen equally over-the-top moments along the way, but for some reason one feature among the rest swings the balance for you between "coming along for the ride" and "give me a break."
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was like that for me. I was happy to go along with logical fallacy after logical fallacy for the sake of a fast plot and cloak-and-dagger intrigue, but when it was revealed (possible spoiler alert, but not a very big one) that Debussy had been a keeper of the great secret, I threw the book down in disgust. Debussy was a jerk, a nasty piece of work; no one in his right mind would have given him a sacred trust. If Brown was fool enough to believe that Debussy was a trustworthy and noble fellow just because he composed some nice music (rather than being a creep who happened to be handy with notes), I was done with him.
Reality, of course, is sometimes even stranger than fiction. Take giraffes, for example. It's easy enough to believe in each individual feature of a giraffe, but added up they come to something a little too over the top—about 15 feet over the top, in fact, and most of it neck. (It's odd how the balance can tip back toward belief, too. The last time I was at the zoo to disbelieve in the giraffes, one came over to say hello, bent down its head, and dribbled a bunch of green plant gunk all over the enclosure railing. There's something all too real about dribbly green plant gunk, and now I believe in giraffes again.)
Or flamingos. As if their color isn't startling enough, the way they sleep on one leg with their necks turned around 180° and snaked along their backs—sorry, but that's just a little too Maurice Sendak (or Roald Dahl) for me to accept. I used to find the way their knees bend backward to be a little too strange and then discovered that those are their ankles; their knees are right under their hips and hidden by feathers, which doesn't exactly make things any better.
But even in our own backyards, there are plenty of creatures I'm not quite ready to suspend disbelief for. Spittle bugs are a case in point. The thought of an insect surrounding itself in a cloud of spit for protection ("You can't tell I'm here, Mr. Predator, because I'm hidden in my own saliva!")...Hmm.
|Redroot amaranth flowers with out of place camouflaged twig|
|"Interesting. Ve-ry interesting."|
And it has this gorgeous mask on its back (as if its front weren't scary enough). Tattoo? Gang symbol? Tribal marking? (You can click on the photo to enlarge it.) (If you're into that kind of thing.)
I've been practicing believing in them all before breakfast—before I've even finished my coffee on the patio, no less, because that's when I always see them. (I'm up to four unbelievable things now—two to go, and I tie the White Queen!) For me, they're all right on the cusp of credibility. One more oddity, one more human-common-sense defying quirk, and they'd jump the shark.
They'd better not make any silly claims about Debussy.