Flying Dogs

I can't sleep with my feet under the covers. This is because when I was very young, I believed that if my feet were covered up for too long (by anything -- socks, blankets, sleeping bags, sleeping cats, etc.), the bones inside my feet would melt.

No one ever told me that my bones were in danger of melting. It was something I intuited to be true; something I believed from the moment I could have coherent thoughts, which seemed simultaneously unutterable and universally-understood. Just as we were not supposed to talk about how babies were born (it obviously was gross and had to do with the belly button), I felt deep inside that we were also not supposed to talk about how everyone's feet came to inevitably melt from the inside.

Now, I get that this logic is broken. For one thing, while I have met literally hundreds of babies, I have not met a single person who has suffered from melted bones. But it didn't matter. My brain gave me this version of truth, and I believed it well into adulthood.

Here are other things I thought were true:

I believed that when you put the dishes in the dishwasher, they swirled around in there just like clothes in the washing machine, and somehow knew how to get just where they had been placed by the end of the wash. That was how cups occasionally broke in there: they were swirling about too recklessly, and they clanked against another cup or a plate or something. Then they were terribly embarrassed, so they'd just return to their starting position, hoping no one would notice that they'd been cracked.

I believed that my mother got married because it was the legally mandated time for her to do so. Here is how I assumed this worked: Three men had signed up to marry my mom. There were probably way more than three who WANTED to sign up, but each woman could only have three men. Then the men sat down in thrones in a jewel-encrusted pyramid, and my mom showed up at her court-appointed pyramid time, probably wearing cool sunglasses and carrying a handbag. Then she interviewed the three men for a while, and at the end, she wrote down the name of her favorite, and that was her husband.

I believed that when you cut off a lizard's tail, it turned into another lizard.

I believed that whales slept stacked on top of each other like Tetris blocks at the bottom of the ocean.

I believed that all the red emergency buttons on elevators in the world were connected to the same central location, where a man in a red suit dealt with every single elevator emergency.

I know now that none of those things are true, but I don't have any memory of when I figured any of that out. It's like for years I'd been coloring grass in orange, and then quietly, while my back was turned, Life came in and erased the orange and replaced it with green. 

I think a lot about what it would be like if suddenly all dogs could fly. Just one day, you wake up, and dogs are flying this way and that. A dog you were walking pulls you off the ground so he can get a squirrel on a power line. A dog in the kitchen flies to the top of the fridge and just sits there and barks idly until you feel her something interesting for a change.

We'd all freak out if dogs started to fly. Because dogs can't fly. Dogs are mammals, and mammals don't fly. If your dog started to fly, you would scream, and call the ASPCA. And maybe also a doctor for yourself.

But babies wouldn't freak out if dogs started to fly. A baby would just go, "Oh, OK. I guess dogs fly. I'll file that away in the cabinet of things I know to be true, alongside birds flying and ostriches not flying, and stoves being very hot sometimes and other times not being so hot." For a baby, dogs in flight is on par with literally everything else that happens. It's all a surprise, but also, paradoxically, not.

When you really think about it, just about the greatest miracle we know is the capacity our brain has to solve the puzzles it invents for itself. When I spend time with children, I feel almost jealous of their curiosity. The curiosity we experience when we are young -- the questions we ask that lead us to unwind these mysterious and magical explanations, far away from "science" and "logic" -- ought to be celebrated and enjoyed. Children, it turns out, are very open-minded. They would not be so surprised if a dog could fly.

We need more of that, because the truth is that dog-flight is not completely far-fetched ("fetched" pun intended). I mean, it is, but also, it isn't. For example, did you know that lightning can be produced in a volcanic plume? (Scientists call it a dirty thunderstorm.) Or that there is a microorganism called a phytoplankton that causes the water in Maldives to glow bright  fluorescent blue, like the stars are in the ocean?  Or that after floods in Pakistan, millions of spiders move into the trees there and turn them into cotton-web ghosts? Actually, this earth is more magical than adults really allow their brains to register most of the time. 

I think we all believe in some kind of magic; in something inexplicable. The cynics say that science can explain everything. But I say that's just their version of magic. 

My life now is about trying to find ways to sneak the color orange back into my pictures of grass. Just because, who knows? I still can't sleep with my feet under the covers. Maybe a part of my brain still believes that bones can melt into mush if they get too hot. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.