Is it a fish or an elephant?

My Dear Jennio,

I am operating the lamest fake travel agency ever.  You've been standing at the end of your driveway in the dead of winter, bags packed, waiting for instructions about your trip for weeks now.  I'm so sorry for my slowness.  But finally, here's your itinerary.

Because you value and are generous with time, and you don't really like to be away from home where your loved ones and books reside, I'm sending you back in time so you get more of it, this thing you both value and are free with.  (I know.  It always comes back to time travel with me.)

But here's the thing, Jennio.  I woke up this morning, thinking about the constellations and the more I thought about it, the more choked up I became.

That's Pisces.  Do you see it?  A pair of fish? Me neither!  Let's get some help.

Do you see it now?

I know.  What if we have it wrong, and those stars have been pigeon-holed as a pair of fish, and really, its a sea monkey or an elephant?  What if the inner elephant has been waiting to get out, and that little piece of sky has been misjudged, misunderstood, misrepresented for millennia?  
Same stars, different interpretation.  Do you see anything now?  Me neither!

 What if one of us had been there and drawn it differently?  Would we behave differently?

Or maybe there's a nobler reason for the sketchy constellations.  Do you think so?

For your trip, Jennio, you'll be going back to ancient times to hang out with the original dot-connectors.  3,000 years ago, when Greece was on the tail end of flourishing.  You'll see what they saw, know what they knew, and hopefully, bring something good back to us.  Maybe its an act of generosity to see the fish.  Maybe that was the point.  They planted a gigantic message up in the sky, a reminder for us all to be forgiving, squint as hard we can in order to a see beautiful pair of leaping fish connected by a silken ribbon.  We practice on the dark indifferent sky, but carry that home with us like 3D glasses so that we can see the tender beauty and magnificence in our own imperfect mortals too, because it's there.  We've believed in the sketchiest lines between stars and called it Pisces forever; can we do that for each other?

You can see why I'm sending you on this journey, Jennio.  It's more than a vacation; it's a critical mission.  Because sometimes, I can only see the elephant, although I believe in the fish. I don't think I'm the only one with this problem.  Maybe that's why it's so dark in all ways at this time of year:  to strengthen our fish-seeing muscles.  [Oh, dear readers, don't get all up in arms (or trunks, as it were).  I do love elephants too.  In fact, I'd like to see Babar with his clothes off.  Oops, that quickly took a creepy turn.]

Before you go back to Greece as it was 3,000 years ago, you should refresh your memory on a few things.  Let's not think too hard about how women were treated.  Same ole stuff: oppression and sacrificing virgins; you'll be able to figure that out pretty quickly.  But do study the paradoxes of time travel!  This is essential to protect not just your well-being, but the fate of the universe.

  1. You can't change history.  They tried that in the Time Traveler's Wife, and sheesh, look how it worked out.  Don't try to kill Hitler or fix the hanging chad problem. 
  2.  Don't try to bring information from the present back with you.  Leave your iPhone at home.  But I don't think there's harm in bringing things we used to know forward again, do you?
  3. Of course, I'm sure you'd never do this, but don't kill any of your ancient direct relatives, or poof, there goes Jennio.  (Is that a normal travel agent thing to say? "Don't kill anyone on your trip!"  I'm not sure; I'm new at this.)
  4. If your journey happens to be like a bus ride through history, absolutely don't get off before your stop.  You need to minimize the risk of colliding with a prior version of yourself, because that will muck things up forever.
Travelling Mercies, Jennio.  Maybe Sisyphus was laughing.  Let us know.


PS:  If you need a fake travel agent, feel free to write.


  1. You are the BEST fake travel agent ever.
    So. If you want to tackle my travel wishes (and they involve only time travel), I would either like to visit this house where I live when it was newish. Approximately one hundred and fifty years ago. I would like to satisfy some of my speculations and curiosities about it. Also, I love it and it would be wonderful to see it new and smelling of the heart pine it's built of.
    OR, as another alternative, I would love to visit Cozumel. Let's say back in the sixties. Before Jacque Cousteau "discovered" the reefs there. Back about the time that Jackie Kennedy visited and there was like one hotel. Or maybe back when Hunter Thompson visited and hung out on the beach and drank rum. Yes! I would love to meet Hunter on Cozumel before the cruise ships went there and it was a small island with a small population of the beautiful Mayans who do still live there. Also, if you send me there, could you make me speak Spanish?
    Love...Ms. Moon

    1. Why thank you. And you, Ms. Moon, have thought of some excellent imaginary trips too. Enjoy! And of course you can speak Spanish. (No fear and loathing though, right? That's not the kind of travellers we are!)

  2. I love stories of time travel. And I love your ideas about forgiveness and believing in each other. This is a beautiful essay, Betsy, and I'm thrilled with my trip - thank you!

    I really wish I could actually take this trip; do you think they'd have Greek yogurt there? Because that's something I need, NEED, I tell you, every day. And it's Greece. Come on, they've gotta have Greek yogurt, right?

    1. Oh, I do hope you enjoy your trip! I don't fully understand what the deal is about Greek yogurt, but of course you'll have it. Where you're going is like the mesopotamia for Greek yogurt.

  3. No killing seems like good advice. Don't want to muck up the present any worse than it is.

  4. I think you might be an astrophysicist? Or a preacher? Or somewhere in between? This is a lovely, lovely essay.


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