Lisa Eldridge and Kristi Conley

Kristi Conley


Inspiration piece

The Thing About Turtles
Lisa Eldridge


I once heard this really old fable about turtles, but it was kind of lame. Lots of old fables aren’t that good. I mean, face it, in the olden days, in the winter or just at night when it was cold and dark, people had to sit around a lot or crouch in caves hiding from saber-toothed tigers or dinosaurs or whatever, and they had a lot of time to kill. So they tended to make shit up. You can’t really judge ancient folk wisdom for lacking entertainment value. Telling stories, even boring dull ones about turtles, probably made the olden times people feel less confused about why mysterious stuff happened, like tides and birds. Or why some people got struck by lightning or fell off cliffs. Making up stories way back then probably made life seem less terrifying and random. Like what religion does now, only back when people lived in caves they had an excuse for believing in fables because science hadn’t been invented yet.

The thing today is, we understand why stuff happens like it happens, or if we’re confused we can just go on the Internet, so we really don’t need to tell each other stories to overcome our existential terror about the unfathomable universe. I mean, people still like to make up stories about monsters and the Bible and space aliens, but mostly that’s for fun or to keep the poor people from asking too many questions.

I don’t have anything against turtles, personally. I kind of like them, actually. They live for a long time, and some of them are really good at math. If there were a turtle in Monopoly and I couldn’t be the top hat, I would totally want to be the turtle. But this particular old fable about turtles, the one that I heard that one time, was just dull and really, really obvious. It talked about how even though turtles are slow, they are loyal and steadfast and they keep their promises and always show up in the end, like duh, everybody already knows that. It’s not very profound. It seems like maybe a better fable could be about psychic whales or an army of zombie Jesuses, and then the moral could be applicable to our times, like: go for it, or later is now, or never let them see you sweat. Something meaningful for today’s sophisticated humans.

I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but maybe what bugged me the most about that olden-time fable is that it used turtles to illustrate issues that turtles wouldn’t really have cared about. It’s like the turtles were stand-ins for humans. That whole thing seems pretty dishonest to me. If you have something to tell me, say it to my face. Don’t make me try to relate to the day-to-day concerns of a turtle. It adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. Like, say I wanted to write a modern fable illustrating the different ways people deal with getting older, I could write it about two elderly sister turtles who are both in the Red Hat Society. But that would not make any sense, because, in the first place, why would turtles wear hats? Also, turtles wouldn’t obsess about getting older, because they already live a lot longer than people, like 2,000 years or something, so they wouldn’t sit around crying because they’re having hot flashes, plus age discrimination, etc.

Maybe it could be a bunch of turtles at their college reunion, arguing about why they are able to swim but not fly. After all, they have those big flapper legs and it seems like if they hurled themselves off a high cliff they should at least be able to glide on their way down to the sea. But none of the turtles would want to be the one to test the theory, so they would just sit around and argue and try to volunteer each other and get more and more irritated and finally just stalk away from each other very, very slowly. I mean, they’re turtles. Maybe they wish they could fly, but deep down, they already know they can’t. Where’s the moral in that?

Now that I’m thinking about it, it might be cool to be a turtle sometimes. If I didn’t want to deal with something, I could just pull my head into my shell and ignore whatever was pissing me off. Nobody could bug me about why I haven’t found a husband yet, and I bet the number of telemarketing calls would go way down. Maybe it might be lonely inside my shell, but I would be where I was supposed to be, you know?

But oh my God, I wouldn’t write a stupid fable about it.

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