His pending graduation from college hung like Mackerel clouds on the horizon. “Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails.” Apropos because these rippled cirrocumulus clouds are harbingers of change.
While many of his friends worried about where they would work or go on to study after graduation, that was not what he was concerned with. He had already been accepted to a Master’s program at a prestigious university. His impeccable GPA during his four years at his current institution and his dual degrees in Clinical Psychology and Evolutionary Biology making him an ideal candidate to continue his education almost anywhere he chose to.
So what was worrying him?
Who exactly would be attending graduate school?
He had been Charles all his life. He wasn’t a Charlie, Chaz or Chuck and he’d never been in danger of acquiring a nickname. He was a Charles.
Or so he thought until recently. Now he wondered if he was Charles-worthy. He wondered if he’d been living a lie.
This was not an inconsequential wondering. If you knew the things about the brain that he did, you’d understand.
For example, something that stuck in his head as a child that probably didn’t stick with anyone else who’d heard Young MC’s song Bust a Move. In particular the lyric “They’re lyin’ on a beach perpetrating a tan. So a brother with the money can be their man.” The word ‘perpetrating’ echoed in his head. Perpetrating a tan. The evolutionary implications of it in context to the tan and eventually finding a mate.
While he never developed the capability for ‘busting moves’, from that point on words took on greater importance.
Last month, after attending a lecture on Charles Darwin, he heard the song again out of nowhere as he was leaving the hall. It resonated with him. He suddenly realized that no word meant more to a person than their name. He was no Charlie. No Chaz and certainly no Chuck.
But was he a Charles?
In a few short weeks he would be packing up and moving across the country. All new friends and associates. All new relationships. How was he planning on introducing himself?
Who was he planning on being?
There was only one thing he could think to do to solve his problem, and luckily there was a local zoo that had on display just the types of reptiles he required.
Most people are unaware that in addition to Darwin’s achievements as a naturalist, he wrote numerous books about coral reefs, earthworms and carnivorous plants, he was also fascinated by the body’s reaction to perceived threats (called the F3 response); either running away, trying to fight, or freezing to see if the imminent danger passes.
In 1872, Charles Darwin attempted a self-study to eliminate humanity’s innate fear of snakes. He went to the zoo regularly and stared at a poisonous puff adder. He vowed to himself he would not move or flinch when the snake tried to strike. But every time Darwin found himself recoiling as the snake lunged at the glass, even though in his conscious mind he knew the snake could not harm him. Darwin noted, “As soon as the blow was struck, my resolution went for nothing, and I jumped a yard or two backwards with astonishing rapidity.”
For the next two weeks Charles tried the same experiment. He figured if he could conquer something that Darwin had been unable to overcome than he would certainly deserve the name of Charles. And for two weeks he failed.
Out of this failure came an unexpected consequence though. Day after day he would press his face against the glass, muttering to himself, and time and again without fail he would flinch and fall back when the snake struck. Failures without fail. Sometimes he would end up sprawled flat on the floor. Which, unbeknownst to him at the time, was endearing him to a girl who volunteered at the zoo. She would watch him surreptitiously from around the corner and laugh and wonder what he was up to.
Eventually this came to a head as she walked up and introduced herself after one of his particularly robust flinches. “Hi. I’m Lacy. I work here at the herpetarium.”
Charles looked up her and realized that the only thing that scared him more than a striking puff adder was the girl standing in front of him. He rifled through the classic F3 responses, even though his conscious mind he knew the girl did not intend to harm him, and selected playing dead.
After the hand she extended to help him up was not met with a reciprocating gesture on his part she tried again. “What’s your name?”
He looked up at her and said “I don’t know yet.”