The Child Mind & Narrative Weirdness

Aristotle believed that eels come from earthworms and earthworms emerge from mud. 

My youngest child insists this makes sense—since rain creates earthworms by wetting dirt, and then the earthworms, once born, crave their mother, the water, and a couple set out to find her. This is how earthworms discovered the ocean, which they could not resist after crawling inside it. The earthworms forgot about dirt and started a new life–their bodies grew bigger to suit the environment. 

“Call them eels or ocean-worms,” my daughter says, “but they are sisters to the earthworms no matter what you name them.”

This relationship between naming, associating, and invoking lies at the heart of my favorite writing. And I suspect kids are better at hearing it—kids have fewer stakes in saying the correct or accurate thing. The child’s mind takes what exists and builds from the unlikely into the marvelous. The gonads of a male eel are a looped, frilly organ located inside the animal. This is easier for a child to imagine because a child doesn’t have a theory about where gonads should be located. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “God himself does not speak prose, but communicates with us as by hints, inferences, and dark resemblances in objects lying all around us.” The child-mind allows these resemblances to speak. The child-mind embraces narrative weirdness. 

As a child, I didn’t understand why blasphemy was a sin. I understood blasphemy privately, as a form of betrayal, the perfidy one commits when sharing the name of an invisible friend with others. To make that name public is to make it available to critique, to the chuckles of adults and the cruel derision of peers. It is to make the friend vulnerable to disbelief. 

The social crime of blasphemy—the sin of it—did not make sense to the child, to the I who took blasphemy personally as a betrayal of the sacred by exposing a secret. Telling others about the invisible friend will kill it. 

Adults should not be trusted because they engage in euphemism, which I took to be a sort of language-based profanation that could not commit to exposure, that refused to do the murderous deed, and yet wanted to gesture towards it. To gesture towards a deed one won’t commit is a form of cowardice. To speak is to risk the death of what you love most. To be eleven is to know this better than the adults.