I was just a kid when Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” marked me. Similar to the experience of many other unsuspecting children, it gave me the creeps.
Wonderland was supposed to be Alice’s dream, wasn’t it? Then why did everything seem to be going wrong?
Alice seemed creeped out, too. All she’d wanted was to follow her white rabbit, a quest that turned into more of a terrifying pipe dream than anything else. She met many inhabitants of Wonderland, but each seem preoccupied with their own motives, viewing Alice as a source of entertainment rather than a friend.
Eventually, she gives up on the white rabbit and gets lost in the dark Tulgey Wood, tearfully wishing for home. She wishes she hadn’t been curious. She wishes she’d been patient.
“I should have known there would be a price to pay,” she sings in “Very Good Advice.” She begins to cry, wishing she’d never dreamed at all. At the song’s end, she sits alone.
Was that the moral, never to dream?
This crying Alice clung to me as I stepped into college. My first year of college was, after all, starting to feel an awful lot like a very expensive rabbit hole. Nothing truly prepared me for life away from home, and I tumbled into it all with Alice’s sense of confusion and wonderment.
When Alice entered what she’d thought was her own personal Wonderland, she’d expected a lot of things, and I’d expected a lot of things from college, too.
College has always been drenched in this expectation. Not only is it meant to be a time for new experiences, but it’s supposed to be a journey to adulthood, the path to employment and somehow the most carefree time of your life as well. It’s a contradictory recipe for disappointment soup. Because college, like Wonderland, and like so many other things, is much more complicated than that.
I tumbled through my first autumn, pursuing my white rabbit of a double journalism and English major. Work at the college’s newspaper and classes began to stack up. I felt like I was in a constant state of gasping. Where was there time to be carefree?
I met other students who’d I originally thought would be like myself. However, the more I tried to reach out to them, the more they seemed to respond in elusively Cheshire Cat-ish ways. Once I began to feel like I was getting to know somebody, the next quarter would roll around and they moved on to different teachers. Walking by them on campus felt like walking by ghosts. I knew how Alice felt when the Cheshire Cat vanished before her eyes.
Just like you’d think Alice couldn’t get lost in her own Wonderland, I hadn’t thought I’d feel lost in college, but I did. I was so lost. I wanted home.
But Alice cried in the Tulgey Wood, not because she was simply lost, but because she was truly alone. Everyone in Wonderland knew what they were doing and where to go, except for Alice herself.
That was the scary part. It didn’t matter that the inhabitants of Wonderland were crazy or that nothing made sense. What scared me as a kid was the thought of being the lonely Alice in a mad world, too.
But Wonderland is not our world. The more I looked around my campus, the more I knew this. Walking to my dorm from a late night of studying, I saw at least a couple other people trudging along as well. When I ate alone in the dining hall, I would look across the tables and see another student hiding behind an iPhone and headphones, too. Other Alices, others who felt lost, were everywhere. I only had to look around and notice them.
I guess Alice in Wonderland scared me because it’s easy for me to think that the real world can be like that. Sometimes, it definitely feels that way. But even when I hadn’t yet found my niche in freshman year, acknowledging that there were others in their own Tulgey Woods made me feel hopeful.
So that’s my Very Good Advice, if anything: There will always be other Alices. Even if the land I live in isn’t always wonderful, looking around, I know we’re all walking through the dark woods together.
Manola Secaira of Tacoma is a journalism and English major studying at Seattle Pacific University. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.