“If you’re behind the times, they won’t notice you. If you’re right in tune with them, you’re no better than they are, so they won’t care much for you. Be just a little ahead of them.”
~ Shel Silverstein
I want to let you in on a little secret. Contrary to popular belief, nonsense writers are not behind the times. Those who are curious enough to pursue the White Rabbit through Wonderland are not actually late. As a matter of fact, they are early.
Shel Silverstein knew this. He knew that the next big thought lay beyond the sidewalk of safe ideas. Silverstein was not afraid to be controversial. He was not afraid to speak his mind. He was not afraid to tick to the sound of his own clock.
In this respect, he was like many nonsense writers and thinkers.
He knew that a lot of “nonsense” was actually sense in disguise.
He also knew that a lot of “sense” was nonsense in disguise.
And he was not afraid to let the world know it.
The author wrote several volumes of poetry for children, including: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A Light in the Attic (1981), and Falling Up (1996). It is no surprise that his collections often made appearances on the list of banned books. Silverstein was willing to play outside the safe spaces of children’s literature. He delighted in peering over the edge of propriety, whether that involved drawing brazieres on camels, or addressing such issues as child suicide and cannibalism. His humour winked at the weird and giggled at the grotesque.
He was controversial. He was different.
But he also knew that it was only by being controversial and different that he remained interesting.
Whether one found his poetry delightful or disgusting, they found it worth discussing.
Because it is only when we are pushed outside of our comfort zones that we are truly forced to question them. It is not until we are made uncomfortable that we are actually able to re-evaluate the validity of our assumptions.
Silverstein’s poetry pushes people into Wonderland. It forces us to think. It forces us to debate.
The fact remains that most of the characters in Carroll’s nonsensical world do not agree with each other. Arguments are served at tea parties, croquet matches, and judicial hearings. Wonderland is about the wacky world of communication. It is the realization that we are all a little weird. We are all a little behind, ahead, and on-top of the times in which we have lived, currently live, and will live.
Silverstein recognized this.
He realized that it was only by questioning the times that he had a shot at being timeless.
So whether you feel like you’re behind or ahead of the present hour, take heart: in Wonderland, to be late is to be early. The cuckoo clock is cuckoo for a reason. Time, like sense, is what you make of it.