The Butterfly Monologues

Sylvia Shawcross

There are four types of people in the world. Well, in this world anyway.

Now, the first type of person looks at the world and asks “Why?” They gnash their teeth and glare glumly at the sidewalk as they mournfully make their way to work, convinced of their own impotence to change the world. By the time they get to work their takeout coffee is lukewarm.

The second type of person looks at the world and asks “Why Not?” They plan and dream and flutter-rush about working and volunteering, painfully convinced that with just enough dedication and determination and fire-eyed devotion the world can be a better place. They never have enough time to drink coffee.

Then there is the third type of person. They don’t even bother to ask why or why not. They have already figured out that they cannot change the world and if anything, the world changes them. They’ve figured out the whole crux of the matter through years of struggle and have become indifferent through adaptation. They don’t bother to ask for coffee and drink what’s put in front of them.

But the fourth type… Oh the fourth type… They are the soul of humanity, dancing in the light of a new day with an evangelical bling shimmering in their eyes like a summer rain on a sky puddle. They have figured out the world is not worth the effort because there are wars and murders and environmental catastrophes and stubbed toes, and corruption around every blessed corner. So they have gone off to create their own worlds. And they are lovely worlds. Such lovely places!

There they are on the computer sitting omnipotently at keyboards like gods on Mount Olympus constructing alternative realities to live in. Anything they ever dreamed. Anything they ever wanted. Where nothing bad ever happens unless they so decree—picking and choosing casts of characters and plots and conversations and sunshine and background colour and music.

And in their world they can roller blade down mountains and ice skate across vast sleepy deserts. And fly! Yes, fly! With gossamer wings as butterflies across candy fields of flowers and wet wide oceans hush sweet at daybreak.

But one day they look up from the screen and see a cold cup of coffee sitting on a desk and their long, ragged fingernails on pale hands limply hanging on a keyboard. And in this other world cobwebs decorate the corners and dust lies in still grey gauze on furniture, and so they look around and say, “Am I a butterfly pretending I was a person, or am I a person pretending I was a butterfly?”

And then they rush back to the screen world where they can spread iridescent wings in screen light swift soft on a pink grey cloud, and they see a butterfly looking back at them in a baleful indifference, and a sense of dread and horror cuts like a winter wind.

“Why is the butterfly looking at me? I could have sworn I was the butterfly who is now looking at me. So it must be I’m a person running a computer program pretending to be a butterfly. Or maybe this is all a world made by another computer program inside another computer program in another world. Maybe I don’t exist as a person or a butterfly! Maybe I don’t exist at all! Maybe there are no worlds! Maybe nothing is real! Maybe there is no coffee! My God! My God!”

So of the four types of people in their respective worlds, not one of them drank a nice cup of hot coffee. This, of course, is what is wrong with the world that you and I are in. But never mind all that. “What’s a butterfly gotta do to get a cup of coffee in this place, anyway?”

Syl Shawcross lives in Quebec, Canada and is author of “The Get-Over-Yourself Self-Help Book and other essays,” (available somewhere apparently) which contains this particular piece written approximately in 2007.


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