The kids and I often walk by these giant doors on our way here and there in the city. I have always admired them. Because they are so very enormous. Why are they so enormous? And what is behind them? I don't know. Perhaps one day I will knock, and maybe they will open.
A while back I thought we should stop and at least pay our respects to their size and mysterious purpose by taking a photo in front of them. We were admiring the doors and about to move on our way, when we saw Something Unexpected. Can you see it, there on the ground?
No? Look closely. Now do you see it?
Why, it's the Dead Plaster Bird of Nothingness, of course.
They were concerned that it was dead. And that it's name was 'nothingness'. 'What does it mean?' they asked.
How do you explain nothingness? especially when it's stamped on a dead plaster bird's side? I am supposed to know, because I wrote my dissertation on nothing--yes! I did! (And yes! It was knee-slappingly funny to respond in best party-banter voice to the question, 'And what are you researching?' with 'Nothing!' the first 5000 times. But after that, it got a little old.)
I have been on full-time Home Duties for the last 9 years and I am often asked how I make use of my doctorate. When people ask me this I sometimes feel like I am in my doctoral defense again and having to Explain Myself. Shudder. My palms are sweating even as I type.
I'd like to say I use my doctorate everyday, regularly writing Shakespeare Guides for kids, making Renaissance drama props out of cardboard and tinfoil, child-sized Globe theatres out of papier maché, occasionally staging the odd tragedy in the spare 'oom. (Hey, who says 4-year-olds can't play Hamlet?)
But, the truth is that it doesn't work like that. I think I should write another post on how it does work. It's not that my doctorate isn't put to use, it's just that it's expression is different to what I was expecting a decade ago.
Until the other day! When we found Dead Plaster Bird of Nothingness! And I had to explain it! To my children! The gears in my mind started to whirl and spin, creakily at first. Old mental paths of explication revealed themselves. I was ready! I could do this! Here was my chance, in the Service of Motherhood, While on the Frontlines of Home Duties, to put all my knowledge of nothing to good use, and, like an augur of old, study the entrails of this plaster bird on York Street.
But, just as I was about to launch into another dissertation on nothing, Socrates whispered something in my ear. I smiled and winked back at him. Yes, his method would be perfect. 'So you think it means something?'
They nodded 'yes'.
'Then what do you think it means?'
My oldest said, 'It's nothing. And it's dead."
I couldn't have said it better myself. I looked in the faces of these Young Ones entrusted to my care. And what was this dead plaster bird in comparison to an Adventure with them? Nothing.
I remembered just what all my doctoral studies had taught me when it all came down to it: how to pick out the Something from all the Nothing. These people were Something. And while, in previous years, I could have spent hours talking and writing about this dumb bird (which, in a way, I've just done), to do so now would be kind of letting three birds in the hand go, for the sake of one dead plaster bird on the sidewalk.
'Yep. It's nothing. Let's walk', I said. It was true, it said so on its side. I left the fun of sifting through the entrails of the dead plaster bird of nothingness to some other wandering augur, and we left the bird in front of the Great Doors of Mystery, and walked on, into the day.