Alone in the Universe

My youngest daughter was in her middle school play recently. She was a “bird girl” in the supporting cast of Seussical the Musical, and (if I may say so) she knocked it out of the park. You would have REALLY thought she was a dancing fowl. The New York Times raved “Never before has a bird in a tutu been so enchanting!” and I completely agree.

In all seriousness, the kids were terrific. I did middle school drama and we sucked. These kids were great singers, the sets were wonderful, and there was a ton of choreography that was complicated and challenging and they all did really well. I’m telling you this because I do not want the next part of this post to confuse you: The kids were genuinely good. The musical itself was a dumpster fire of confusing and morally reprehensible plot lines. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick peek at the cast of lead characters: 

            Gertrude McFuzz: a vainglorious, pill-popping narcissist who wants a bigger tail.

            Mayzie LaBird: A promiscuous dancer who, after a brief fling in Fort Worth, ends up alone with an egg whom she promptly abandons to go on vacation.

Mr. Mayor: An elected official who finds original thought deleterious to society.

            Horton: An elephant who first hears voices and is then lulled into sitting on Mayzie’s egg when she leaves for (and I wish I were making this up) Palm Beach.

The plot is so convoluted I won’t try to recreate it but as Stefon the Club Kid from SNL would say, this musical has everything: body enhancing doctors, child abandonment, accusations of psychosis, proposed genocide.  And this is a play for children.

The reason I’m going into this expansive detail about Suessical is that there is a song in the play called “Alone in the Universe.” It is sung by Horton and JoJo, the son of Who-ville Mayor and Mrs. Mayor (someone wasn’t reading their Betty Friedan when they wrote this, amiright?). Together, an elephant and an invisible child lament their separate solitudes in a ballad which includes the line: “There is no one who believes a thing I say.”

And don’t we all feel like Horton (or JoJo) sometimes?

Another source for our collective anger stems from the feeling that we are alone in our despair, isolated from understanding, forlorn because no one believes what we are upset about.

If feeling ignored is frustrating, so too is the idea that we are alone in our anxieties. The convenience of the modern media is a blessing because we can get news and updates immediately, but it is a curse in that most of the time we are alone when we receive information. This means that when our phone buzzes or beeps or pings and we reach for the push alert, our reaction discharges in a vacuum. And since the media make their money by inflaming our passions, our gasps of “you have GOT to be KIDDING me!” are sent out into the wind without reply. This can feel very lonesome.

We can also feel that we are alone in our opinions and choices. The modern media offer too many options, and while this can be a good thing for people with keen and specific interests, it also deprives us of a larger shared experience. My smart friend Lonce told me that when he referenced Game of Thrones in class, very few students had seen it. This seemed almost impossible for a show that has a regular audience of 10 million people, but in a country with 315 million (give or take), only 3% watch GoT. I am not one of those people, because I prefer more sophisticated fare, like The Bachelor. But his point is well taken: our shared experiences are dwindling in number. When it comes to politics, this phenomenae expands because there are endless cable shows, radio shows, tipsheets, blogs (ahem), and opinion sites to consume. It gets even worse because so much of our political discussion is done online now, where most people operate like Dick Cheney did in the early aughts: from an undisclosed and remote location.

Because we communicate in shorter bursts of zeal, our social media call-and-response tactics do not serve to connect us in any kind of substantial way. We may Tweet something snarky & clever and a stranger may like it, but that does not bring us the kind of connection that assuages the loneliness. In addition, as my paltry Twitter-abilities (Twitterbilities?) can demonstrate, simply posting something without any response is not communicating at all and the feeling of being alone is exacerbated. The upshot of all of this isolation is the feeling that we are unheard and vulnerable and this feeds our anger as well. The only thing that can actually help is to connect in real life, because those connections can temper our worst impulses and heighten our better ones. That said, connecting with other people is not always the best answer.

The penultimate scene of Seussical finds the entire cast on stage in a tribunal where poor, daft Horton is on trial for criminal insanity. When Judge Yertle the Turtle finds him guilty, the bloodthirsty townspeople have to determine what to do with the clover upon which the entire planet of Who-ville is resting. Follow this logic with me: Horton is declared legally insane and is thus not believed when he says a species of people reside in the clover. If he is nutters, shouldn’t they just chuck the clover into the 100 square-mile field where Gertrude McFuzz spent seven weeks looking for it in an attempt to woo the completely oblivious elephant? No. No, Horton’s malevolent peers decide that they should BOIL THE CLOVER, which would, of course, destroy the entire genus of microscopically tiny people.

The day is saved, blah blah blah, and the cast harmonizes about a person being a person, no matter how small. Close curtain. But from this dreck of a stage production come two very solid essential lessons: The first is that even when we feel isolated with our fears we are not really alone. In fact, there are people right around us who can give us a smile just to remind us of this fact. The best part of this lesson is that we don’t even have to agree with the people nearby to feel connected. We could be as different as a vulnerable elephant is to a conceited bird, but we still can hook up to raise a baby as it hatches from the egg.  

The second point is no less important: Connecting with people is vital, but so too is simply making sense. I wasn’t expecting Hamilton, but come on! This play just killed me. The baby that hatches from Mayzie LaBird’s egg, the egg that Horton sat on for almost a year, emerges as half bird, half elephant; which goes against science, the laws of nature, and common #$%@! sense. It was a cute ending, but an illogical one, and so the lesson is to remain mindful in all things, connected to others, a nudge to remember that none of us are alone in the universe. Take it from Horton, who wisely stated: “Honesty may be the best policy, but insanity is the best defense.“ Just kidding. He never said that.