Time is short. It is 06:43, and the dog snores gently on his cushion.
My mentor for today advises steadfastly that when one feels blue there is one surefire way to beat it: and that is to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
I choose an unlikely text. It concerns a little girl called Alice, and her dreamlike adventures: short episodes which fade nightmarishly from one scene to another. Nothing seems to make sense in the works of Lewis Carroll.
Alias, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: author of Alice in Wonderland and Alice in the Looking Glass. He brought us a strange kind of nonsense. Its popularity has endured since the first novel’s publication in 1865.
While nothing overtly makes sense in these strange writings, and the humour is sometimes stylised to the point of sinister, that proverb about babies and bathwater comes to mind. Dodgson was a strange soul, but his diverse abilities mean that much runs between the lines of his nonsense.
He was a fabulous mathematician and logician, and one of the first accomplished early photographers. His eye for a scene is there in Alice’s adventures: each episode a highly visual moment. Think: when you recall episodes from Alice, don’t they always occur in pictures? A strange group sitting round a table having tea, a baby turning into a pig and running away? Playing cards walking around?
And like photography, his logic lurks beneath his writing, like a pike in a lake.
His exchanges so often take the evidence of the moment – however unlikely – and use it to solve a problem.
Like six impossible things before breakfast.
Alice is feeling lonely in this strange Wonderland, and tears begin to run down her face. This distresses the White Queen and she rushes to solve the problem: “Consider what a great girl you are,” she implores her, “Consider what a long way you’ve come. Consider what o’clock it is. Consider anything – only, don’t cry!”
Alice laughs despite herself. Can considering keep you from crying?
The queen gives her something to consider. She claims to be ancient: 101 years, five months and a day.
Alice is laughing by now. That’s impossible, she says.I can’t believe that!
And the Queen says the strangest thing. “Try again. Draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
It sounds like a yoga lesson. As if we have an impossibility muscle which needs to be stretched. And to compound the lesson the queen advises Alice that she practiced believing impossible things for half an hour a day as a child. “Why,” she adds, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”
Now these words still might ring as nonsense to you: but beneath I can hear a voice saying something.
Because impossible is a very subjective word, is it not?
It puts into words that shut-door feeling, the ultimate limit on our abilities. There are some things which really are impossible: human unaided flying for example; but we use that knowledge to deem whole realms of possibilities crazy.
It takes a strong person indeed to stand up and ask, why is that impossible?
But it pays dividends. Look at Isaac Newton.
Newton believed many things no one had even thought about before. He wrote the book which outlines the three laws of motion, sure,and gravity; but he believed much more: that light is composed of all the colours – who’d have thought it? – and he used it to make a reflecting telescope. He believed things cooled to the temperature of their environment, he believed that sound travelled at speed, he believed that gold was more valuable than silver. His believings sound like common sense but many of them were impossibilities once.
Of course, there are the impossibilities which even now remain only on the verge of reality now. Newton worried at alchemy – turning base metals into gold – throughout his life. He was sure a substance could be found which turned base metals into gold. He was struck by the “Diana’s Tree”: an alchemic experiment where silver nitrate and mercury in a solution were made to produce crystallised silver.
He believed, fervently, that precious metals “possessed a sort of life”.
These days nuclear physics shows messing with nuclei can change an element. Nitrogen became oxygen in an experiment by Ernest Rutherford in 1919. Platinum atoms have been turned into gold atoms. They lasted for five seconds before they broke apart. But you get the picture.
Impossible is a dodgy concept. We know there are some things which can’t be done: but it’s a dull old business, accepting impossibility at its face value.
So I am with the white queen. We know there are impossibilities: but I’ll be testing that impossibility muscle six times before breakfast, just the same.
44 thoughts on “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast.”
This is a very thought-provoking post, Kate. “There are some things which really are impossible: human unaided flying for example…”
However, man continues to stretch his “impossibility muscle” and draw ever nearer to that impossible feat: http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=http://www.youtube.com/v/WgdIE2t8QkM%3F
I’m not ready to try THAT, but I appreciate your reminder to stretch and believe a bit more!
PS I’m still seeing an occasional comment re your Mom in the hospital. Hope she’s continuing to do well.
Thanks. We’re all holding it together, though we’d rather have her safe and well at home.
A really breathtakingly beautiful film, Karen, thank you! He really is stretching it to the limit, isn’t he?
Achieving the impossible is just around the corner for so many things. Our techie gadgets being a fine example. One new discovery or invention can begat dozens more new toys. It’s an amazing time we live in and so much more yet unimagined is still in store for us.
These are exciting times, Lou. Never before has so much been possible!
or even without the jets! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ATikkZPHck&feature=related – they just ride the thermals – floating (well if it can be called floating at 100 miles an hour – nothing is impossible if humanity is around long enough:) wonderful footage of the grand caynon.
Alice in Wonderland – theres a book for all – when I read it as a child I had very little knowledge of the subilties of life good/bad – I wonder if children today would get the adult subtexts – the same with Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and Toad of Toad Hall – you have children, do they get it all? – I know I enjoyed them on an entirely different level after I had grown up.
Six impossible things before breakfast – must try that but so many impossible things have happened in my lifetime i am running out:)
Great post as always.
Thanks Alberta. I have to apologise for posting late twice and overshooting your morning coffee by some hours! It is amazing what these times render possible. A lesson to us never to take ‘impossible’ for granted.
Curiouser and curiouser, Kate, and off I go as this day starts for me, thinking of the possibilities in the impossibles. What a wonderful post!
Thanks Penny 🙂 Hope some impossibilities become possible for your today. Speaking of which, it has been torrential grey rain all day and I have just looked outside and – in the face of all the evidence- the sun is shining. Maybe we will get a walk with Macaulay in the forest today after all!
A new muscle to exercise, imagine the impossible becoming possible,
I think people like you and I have inadvertently been exercising it for years, Sidey 🙂
I think so, so many things were impossible a few years ago and now are an everyday thing
Ah, dear Kate – I know that image so well. I grew up with it as a child. The Alchemist, by Wright of Derby. I have done a post on Wright which I shall be showing soon.
Oooh, I look forward to that, Rosemary 🙂 I love the really familiar images with which we spend out childhoods. There’s something magical about this one…
You’re welcome, Cameron 🙂
And then there’s magical thinking. 🙂
The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t. (Richard Bach, Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah).
Is anything impossible? I’m not at all sure it is. Thought-provoking post, Kate.
Thanks, Ruth. The same question went through my mind as I was writing this. Thoughts for the coming days…
Now that I have slept on a plane, I believe anything is possible. The imagination does make anything possible.
😀 So glad you got to sleep, Andra! I’m amazed, but delighted. I wonder what mind-tricks you had to play on yourself to wing your way to Bangkok asleep….
Kate, I’m awestruck with the depth of this post. There is so much both said and unsaid! I can imagine that mixed in with your concern right now for your mom and family-life in general comes great fatigue…and at times I’m sure you do feel “what’s down is up and up is down…”. My biggest coping mechanism is that I eventually get around to believing six impossible things if not before breakfast…in a week! 🙂 You do have friends all over the world who care about you and your family! Count me one! Debra
Thank you so much Debra: what lovely words. Tiredness is right! In every area of life right now I am trying to solve almost insurmountable problems but taking no for an answer is not an option. Thanks again 🙂
If there’s any truth in this little piece, Carroll certainly was limited by the bounds of possibility:No. He just had a crazy sense of humour. This was manifested from an early age, he was writing humorous stories and poems when he was a young boy, when it was very unlikely he would have been on drugs. These are the rules he invented for a railway game when he ws a child:
“Station master must mind his station, and supply refreshments: he can put anyone who beaves badly to prison . . .All passengers when upset are requested to lie still until picked up – as it is requisite that at least 3 trains should go over them, to entitle them to the attention of the doctor and assistants.”
A crazy sense of humour ran in his family. This is an extract from a letter written by his father to Lewis when he ws away, he had evidently promised to bring Lewis back some things:
“I will not forget your commission. As soon as I get to Leeds I shall scream out in the middle of the street Ironmongers . .. Ironmongers .. .I will have a file & a screwdriver & a ring, & if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole town of Leeds, & i shall only leave that because I shall not have time to kill it. Then what a bawling & tearing of hair there will be! Pigs and babies, camels & butterflies, rolling in the gutter together – old women rushing up chimneys & cows after them – ducks hiding themselves in coffee cups, & fat geese tyring to squeeze themselves into pencil cases – at last the Mayor of Leeds will be found in a soup plate covered with custard & stuck full of almonds to make him look like a sponge cake that he may escape the dreadful destruction of the Town .. .”
Lewis Carroll didn’t need to take drugs, a crazy sense of humour and fantasy was in his blood.
The oxford companion to children’s Literature
He did indeed have a Pythonesque sense of humour, Roger, and fantasy was in his blood. I love these passages you have found – brilliant illustrations of the culture in which he grew up and his own place in it. And the humour becomes the means by which everything is said. It’s a laugh a minute: those lovely passages you quote remind me of Phil talking to the kids. Yet the meaning still sits behind. Just like Monty Python. Look at Life Of Brian: side splittingly funny and holding its lessons all the same
(Brian:”You’re all individual! you’re all different!
One man in crowd:”I’m not…”
Rest of crowd, to man: “Shhhh!”)
The very best stuff comes dressed up in nonsense.
With his daddy’s sense of the absurd to guide him, how could he not have succeeded?
I loved Alice’s adventures as a child, and I still do. I aspire to write nonsense verse as brilliant as Jabberwocky (without any real hope, of course) and I justify my fantasy style by quoting the success of the Dodgson books. According to all the advice modern writing schools have to offer, those novels would never have got into print, and if by some accident they had, they would never have been read by anyone. Thus I am quite happy, for example, to let my characters wander off occasionally into fun episodes which have absolutely nothing to do with driving the plot.
It is actually quite hard to come up with ideas impossible enough to find difficulty in believing them.
He is quite a beacon, Dodgson, for those who aspire to word-play, isn’t he? I should have known he would be one of your favourites 🙂
I adore Alice and her adventures! And do believe that much of the impossible is, indeed, possible . . . with the right attitude, of course.
Conceive it . . . Believe it . . . Achieve it!
Or, for Shel Silverstein fans:
Listen to the mustn’ts child. Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’t haves, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen child. Anything can be.
~ Shel Silverstein
😀 brilliant, Nancy. Thank you.
Seems like sensible and responsible government is one impossibility world wide.
You have a point there, Carl…
I can fly – it’s just that it doesn’t last long and I end up on the ground with a big thud 🙂
😀 You remind me of Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: he says flying is aiming at the ground….and missing.
Isaac Newton by way of Alice in Wonderland – I thought it impossible for you to get even more disparate than you already do: I was wrong. Nicely done 😀
I loved Lewis Carroll’s stories, rhymes and riddles as a child, and still do. He certainly copped more than his fair share of vitriol for his weird and wonderful imagination, but as you have illustrated here with Newton, many inventions and discoveries are the product of such crazy imaginations. Leonardo’s imaginings are another case in point.
Thanks bluebee for bringing me here! A wonderful post. I love going to museums especially modern art museums and seeing things you’d otherwise never think of. I always feel a bit like Alice. Your perspective keeps changing and helps you imagine the impossible.
You’re welcome, Jenny – there is much on museums to on Kate’s blog 😀
Hi LazyWednesdays! Thanks so much for coming over, and apologies for this late reply. I’m all behind 🙂 MOdern Art does that, doesn’t it? Makes you think. My favourite: the Tate Modern opposite the Millennium Bridge. Vast mind-fodder.
Only six?! But I prefer to prioritise my cornflakes. I think science sometimes seems much more like magic and when it comes to physics, much harder to believe. But then I’m just a bear of very little brain. 😉
It’s strange that Alice said being 101 was impossible. It isn’t at all. The oldest a confirmed life-span for a woman is 122 years.
Even in the Victorian era, there must have been some much-publicized cases of people living to be over 100?