On a shrimp as baroness, and other imaginary necessities

The other day, L told me with great interest about a song he'd just learned, about a shrimp making its way to Sweden. His aunt, L told me, with a very serious 6 year-old face, had died, and the shrimp was on the way to the funeral.

She was a baroness, he said, and she died in a terrible accident.
How? I asked.
She fell off her horse, he said, because she didn't have a saddle. And when he saw the bemused look on my face, he started to laugh and said, her seahorse, silly.

And in his grin and laugh, I could tell that he knew it was ridiculous - a baroness shrimp on a seahorse without a saddle - and yet... why not? I could see that he could already discern the importance of knowing what's true and what's not, but also the greater importances of not just going with what's true, and loving what can't possibly be true. That having been said, he doesn't quite get that you can't just show up at the airport and get on a rocket to go to the moon. And he really wants to go to the moon.

I read this morning that where once English majors flooded universities, to the chagrin of their parents (what exactly can you do with a degree in English?), they have now been relegated to a forgotten back corner of academic life. "Studying the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience," says the article. "Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale." The exact sciences (computer, economics, etc) are now the preferred courses of study, and the article questions what that's doing to a basic kind of literacy (and, if you ask me, permission to imagine) that used to enhance our lives.

Last week, I brought my neighbour's 9 year-old son to his piano lesson. He's in his second year of playing piano, and can play better than I did after five years of the kind of joyless lessons where the focus was only on what was being done wrong (a kind of exact science in and of itself), and how poorly the piece was being played. My neighbour's son's teacher is kind, encouraging, and gives his students a lot of freedom to discover things on their own. Even so, he was genuinely surprised when my neighbour's son told him he'd written his own (astonishingly good) song, which he played for him from memory.

As I watched them, I realized how much work goes on in the minds of children given the freedom to experiment, if fact isn't held in front of them all the time. If exact science isn't the be-all and end-all. If the fantastic is allowed to exist alongside it.

My answer to L is always: I would love to go to the moon with you. And that is the truth.