Storyteller and poet Claire Druett reflects on the great 'What If' questions that have led us to new understandings, with an excerpt from her poem 'A Question of Blasphemy'
‘We and the queen of the faerie go back a long way,
We’ve passed in dingy hall ways at parties, held each other up…’
‘….She played cards with The Rhymer, the deck was truly stacked,
How many bells need to chime to welcome rhyming back?’
‘How hammered we were those seven years!
Ouzo for Oona, Mead for Meave,
To sober up, we skinny dipped in Janet’s Foss’
‘Whose timely breeze through the apple trees bought Newton’s bright hypothesis?........
as Mathematica led to Hayley’s comet and all cheered-
all danced upon it, all raised their eyes to heaven’
‘She filtered Dirac’s window and lit the dingy room,
Kissed his pillow, stroked his head, span three times then off she fled,
No shadow in her whirligig ‘’ No matter to us’’ we said ‘’spinning is what we do best’’
Any concept has to start somewhere - whether acquired knowledge, inspiration, the eureka moment!, the prophetic dream. External yet sieved through our internal consciousness then back out, into the air, to be worked on and measured. The great 'What If.' For children this process offers much more flexibility; as adults we become more rigid in our ability to think outside the box. The What If in its pure form is much more ambiguous: it is a dream within a dream, a whisper, something under the surface.
When I wrote the poem 'A Question of Blasphemy' it was not altogether a clumsy attempt to undermine theology but rather an attempt to shake off assumption. To remind myself of the What If, that any answer given may be one of several.
When the Queen takes Thomas the Rymer she is portrayed as both powerful and fickle. She gains access to Thomas because he is open to her. If he hadn’t spent so much time loftily daydreaming, half asleep amidst the golden hums of the honey bees he would never have envisioned her. For Thomas, dreaming is dangerous. It takes him into an unknown realm, ultimately he gains heightened skills and gifts. It has to be worth it, this dreaming lark.
To escape the drunken feasting with the muses, we sober up in Janet’s Foss. It is said that the Queen lives behind the waterfall in the cave there. She appears at Midsummer and in the mornings about the wild bluebells and garlic. So again, she is both deliverer and saviour. A master of water management, water being our oldest form of purification.
It may not be coincidence that the ancient apple provided us with the the theory of gravity. The Alma-Ata, father of all apples from the first tree in Kazakhstan. Yet we still look to the external, to the comet for answer. No inspiration could come of the glaurie ground, from ourselves connected with it. Or could it?
Dirac essentially tried to work out a mathematical equation for beauty. His work and spinning theories underpin our knowledge of nature. He attempted to formalise the invisible. All of our great scientists have to start somewhere, with theory, with a What If. It is this fundamental belief that the What If can be proved - formalised into something tangible - that has resulted in the modern world we enjoy inhabiting today. The very buildings we live in and the forces of nature whirling around them all relate back to it.
If something practical and tangible can be utilised through inspiration, then our dreams are fundamentally our anchors to the unknown, to potential then progression. Do we recognise a difference in dreams? The specific feeling of being visited by something external to ourselves amidst those spaghetti dreams, hankered by cheese and chocolate after 8pm.
A dream, an aspiration, an idea, a What If holds power: arguably our greatest intrinsic worth. It means inevitably we have the opportunity to move from progressive theory into everyday practice. As long as there is this, there is hope.