a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

be weird. don't explain or apologize

The other day I listened to the episode of The Constant about Gef, the talking mongoose.1

It's just as ridiculous as it sounds. I guess you can call it a cryptid, but unlike the Loch Ness Monster, there was never any question of its fictionality. Gef was some sort of small rodent-like mammal. Based on descriptions and "photos", it definitively was not a mongoose. It was claimed to have had human hands and feet. It inhabited the walls of the Irving family's isolated home on the Isle of Man in the early 1930s. It was a poltergeist, an "earthbound spirit", and a "ghost in the form of a mongoose".

It's a little more interesting than most cryptid stories, because in spite of how over-the-top ridiculous it sounds, there are so many unanswered questions. Why would the family make it up if not for fame or money? Why would they keep claiming the reality of Gef for the rest of their lives? Some people have gone as far as to suggest the incident is a case of shared psychosis, or induced delusional disorder, on account of how mysterious it is.

But is it mysterious? I think there's a perfectly rational explanation for Gef: A family out in the middle of nowhere got bored and made up a funny story. At first it was just for their own amusement, but once other people caught wind, it was so weird that it got out of hand. It's only mysterious if you assume that if someone else is doing something weird, it must be for a reason you can understand. If they're not doing it for fame or attention or money, why could they have been doing it?

Well, because they wanted to, and that's the only reason they need. That's the only reason anyone needs to do anything, and as long as they're not hurting anyone, they should be allowed. Why, in all their years, did they never admit they were making it up? Well, what would they stand to gain? Of course they were making it up. If I say I have a third eye that lets me see the future, and you ask to see it, and I say it's an invisible eye in the middle of my forehead, you can roll your eyes and say "okay, whatever".

In 10 years, if I admit that I made up the story about my third eye, what does that get me? Like yeah, of course I was making it up, I didn't need to tell anyone that. But if I never talk about it again, maybe people would find it memorable, wonder why I said it. Maybe it would give me a kind of mystique.

If Voirrey in her final days admitted that Gef wasn't real, all it would really accomplish is giving closure to strangers who don't care about her. But by refusing to budge, her family's utterly ridiculous story became a legend that will long outlive her.

It's a good idea to examine our own reasons for doing things, and whether it's hurting or helping us, and whether it's hurting anyone else. And it can be cathartic to talk about our weirdness, on our own terms. But if I do something weird and harmless and someone else demands an explanation, I don't see any reason to give them one. "Because I want to" is plenty reason enough. I think it's sort of crass to demand an explanation in the first place, especially if it's someone your're close to.

I think back to a time I was living with a friend, and we had a network share between our computers to easily share files with each other. All the music, TV, movies, etc. we torrented got shared, in case it was something the other wanted to grab too. I had downloaded the Grateful Dead album American Beauty. I've given no prior indication that I liked The Grateful Dead. He noticed, and asked why I downloaded it. I shrugged, and just said I wanted to listen to it. What other explanation is there, really? I don't need to justify a decision that I like something. It didn't define my character. I didn't turn into a deadhead, I didn't start wearing tie-dye T-shirts with skulls and dancing bears, and I haven't liked any of their other albums all that much, but I still think American Beauty is pretty good.

I think it does people a disservice to ask why they do something new, because it implies that a reason is necessary. For those prone to anxiety, being questioned about something may make them think they're doing something wrong. If you notice a friend who's previously shown no interest in nature has suddenly started growing plants, I think it's good to show interest in their new hobby, to encourage it, to ask how they got into it, but the question why are you doing this2 implies that there has to be a reason. If they don't have one, they might feel ashamed, like they're doing something wrong. We should all feel free to try new activities, do things that are out of character, do ridiculous things just because it's fun.

We should remember the story of Gef, and laugh at it, because yes, it is ridiculous. But to speculate that the family was experiencing some sort of psychotic break just because they did something we don't understand is disrespectful. And in my opinion, suggesting that the Irvings couldn't have made up such an elaborate story and intentionally kept it going for so long because they're "simple folk" is just good old fashioned classism. But what do I know? I'm just an extra clever little typing raccoon 🦝

  1. Josiffe, Christopher Gef the Talking Mongoose (PDF link). Fortean Times, 2010↩

  2. In raccoon societies, asking this for any reason other than genuine concern about potential danger is considered the height of rudeness. The traditional response is "why does your face look like that?"↩