Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I came up with a brilliant pun the other day that went wholly unappreciated by the general populace.  I told it a couple more times to make sure everyone had a) heard, and b) understood, but it seemed that comprehension was not the issue.  
I refuse to acknowledge that it might not be funny.  It’s clever.  Clever things in the context of jokes are funny.  And funny things should be rewarded with laughter.  

So here we go, one last try:

The pun in question:
My friend is telling us how her husband has a tooth missing.  One of his incisors.
I interject with: “Uh oh, has he been dabbling in some incisor trading?”
Silence descends on the room.
I repeat the joke.
More silence.
I explain the concept of ‘insider trading’ and how this relates to the conversation at hand.  
My efforts are greeted with resentful looks.
I retreat back into my head where I am a) more appreciated, and b) greeted with raucous laughter.  

Some time later, still bewildered, I seek out the experts for their advice on what to do when the audience is so mean.  
What I find shocks me:

Don't repeat
"Sometimes you’re so sure, so absolutely positive that a joke is good, that when the audience doesn’t laugh, you assume it has to be a technical problem with the microphone.  But everyone heard you just fine. That bit just sucked. So don’t repeat it...The only thing worse than telling an anecdote that no one laughs at is doing it twice.”

Don’t explain
"After blaming the audience for a bomb, a comedian’s second instinct is often to try to explain the premise behind the joke, as if that will somehow make it retroactively funny.  Explaining will only exacerbate the situation."  

Do move on
"If the joke flounders, hustle on to old, reliable, material, so the crowd never even remembers the bomb. Everyone should have a go-to story they can turn to in any situation.”  
[thanks a lot, "experts"]

Hmm, back to the 'old jokes' eh..?  Thankfully I do have one up my sleeve... 

(Next time, laugh at my joke). 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A weekend away with the girls

What is it with this Western cultural obsession with 'doing'?  Why is everyone always asking me what I'm going to do this weekend, or what I did yesterday?  Why is my status as a human defined by all these actions?  I'm a human being, not a human doing!  What if I don't want to "just do it"? 

It gets to me.

And naturally, when I told people I was going away for a weekend with the girls, the first thing they all asked was, "What are you going to do?"

Do?  I would have thought the exact purpose of 'going away for the weekend' was to not do.  

Do, do, do, that's all we ever do.

But okay, since you's what we did:


Those are all verbs, right?  A verb is 'a doing word'.  Thus, we 'did' stuff the whole time. 

Which means that now I can go to work Monday morning, happy in the knowledge that I got out and 'did stuff' in the weekend, thus validating my existence as a human.  Lovely.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'm a cyclist. Reh!

A little while ago my friend Eli acquired a bicycle.  
Neither of our lives have been the same since.

For her part, things couldn't be better.  Her life was revolutionised by her bike.  She could get across town for free, without getting stuck in traffic, and without waiting around for a bus that was possibly late, or possibly had left a minute before she got to the bus stop.  
Eli told me all this.  She told me all the reasons why bicycles are good and every other form of transport, including walking, is bad.  
She told me.  
A lot.  

In the past, when I looked enviously upon those cool cyclist chicks that zoomed around Wellington, managing to look simultaneously stylish, sporty, and environmentally-conscious, my only consolation was that at least Eli wasn't one of them too.  That would really be too much.

And that's why, on my part, life got a little bit worse once the bicycle came into her life.  Eli took every opportunity to rub it in my face that she was a cyclist and I wasn't (by which she really meant that she was a good person and I was spawn of the devil). 


Oh yes, and she also developed the habit of saying "Reh!" after every anecdote that proved how much better her bicycle-filled life was than my bicycle-less life could ever be. 

It was annoyingly effective.  

So I found myself with two choices.  Endure her gloating noises until one of us died, or get a bicycle myself, and become one of those annoyingly perfect Wellington women that makes everyone in cars and buses feel bad about themselves.  It was a tough choice.

I chose the bicycle.  If only to save a life. 

And last night, I rode home for the first time... 

I have never felt so alive!  It was way faster than the bus!  And it didn't cost me a thing!  And I didn't leave a carbon footprint!  And I felt amazing!  Why the heck didn't I do this before?  How did I even live before?  How do others live without one now?  I must rush out and find someone who doesn't ride a bicycle, and tell them what they are missing...(Reh!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No questions asked

If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s people that never ask questions.  It’s an irritating trait, particularly when you’ve only asked them a question in order to answer it yourself.  

Probably you don’t actually listen to what their answer is, because you're too busy framing your own reply in your head while they talk, phrasing it in the best possible way to facilitate their maximum enjoyment.  

And then they don’t even do you the courtesy of asking you back!  What a waste of a well-crafted story.  

Honestly, people can be so self-absorbed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pulling teeth

Last night I had a nightmare that a giant tooth fell out of my mouth.

And then another one.  Two giant teeth.  Out.

According to the dream experts, losing a tooth in a dream may (or may not) symbolise:
- a fear of death and growing older (who me?)
- a preoccupation with mortality (never!)
- an inability to make decisions (not sure about that one...)
- a fear of change (ooh, I hope not.)

It was clearly nothing to do with me.
And so I went on my merry way without giving it another thought.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A wee problem

I was talking to my friend Tom today.  He is married to my friend Cat.  They just moved to Dunedin with their two blue-eyed, blonde-haired children, bought a beautiful house and an adorable puppy, and promptly became the family that every other family in the world wants to be like, or at least be friends with.   Sometimes it’s hard to relate to people who seemingly have it so ‘together’.  

So naturally, I was delighted when Tom said that their puppy had developed the habit of peeing whenever it got excited. 

I was so intrigued that the moment we got off the phone I conducted some extensive internet research, and discovered the fascinating canine world of " Excitement Urination".  
Which was actually slightly disappointing, as it seems to be quite a normal phase for puppies to go through, before they turn back into perfect dogs again.  
But then I read that excitement urination can be a slippery slope into "Submission Urination".   

Which is far more interesting, due to its viciously cyclical nature.  

It goes something like this: The insecure dog desperately wants to please its master and submit to its every command.   Sometimes the dog will communicate its submission by urinating in the presence of this revered figure.  The master thinks the dog is being naughty, and tries to discipline the dog back to submission.   So the dog submits to the master by peeing some more.  Punishment, pee.  More punishment, more pee.  Everyone ends up sad and dirty.

Apparently a good way to help solve this problem is to get down on all fours to make yourself appear less dominant to the dog.  Also you should give it lots of encouragement to boost its confidence.

So now, when I think of Tom and Cat in their dream house down in Dunedin, I imagine them crawling around on the floor chanting affirmations to their weak-bladdered dog.  

And for some reason, that kind of makes me feel better.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In praise of boxes

There’s nothing I like more than a good ol’ psycho-analysis.  Making sense of the world by packing people into neat little boxes makes me feel safe, happy, and warm.  I compare it the act of wrapping oneself in a big swath of cotton wool.  Possibly it dumbs your senses and/or inhibits you socially, but, safe and warm in here...

The habit of making sweeping generalisations about extremely complex subject matter (namely, human beings) can sometimes put people's noses out of joint.  And at the other extreme, making complex hypotheses about inappropriate subject matter, like inanimate objects, and fictional characters in movies, can also get a bit out of hand.   Recently I saw a cute little duck having a grand old time swimming up and down some rapids.  My first thought was, “oh, look at that cute little thrill-seeking duck, clearly of a sanguine temperament, a type 7 on the enneagram, and an ESFP on the myers-briggs”.  And then I moved on to looking at a tree or something, and over-analysing that.

Don’t those wise men say it, that so often, it is our greatest strength that becomes our greatest weakness.  That pesky little double-edged sword.  And if scientists are right in saying we only use 10% of our brain's capacity, and I’m using 90% of that meagre amount to perform unnecessary analyses on web-footed creatures, then that basically means I’m operating at 1% capacity for the rest of life.  Oh dear.  

But it isn’t my fault, because as a number 9 on the enneagram I’m primed to be constantly seeking peace and harmony in the world, and as an introverted intuitor with extraverted feeling as my secondary function, over-analysing the world is just my natural tendency.  And I’m in good company, because famous INFJs include Gandhi and Jesus.  

So there.  If you want to criticise those who put the world in little boxes, perhaps you should first remove that large plank of wood from your own eye.  Oh but wait, you weren’t criticising me, were you?  I was doing that to myself.  

Pesky little double-edged sword.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In defence of vanilla

Vanilla ice-cream is too often written off as the "plain" flavour.   Just last night some so-called 'friends' of mine tried to do it again, as they bypassed it for the more colourful varieties slowing melting between us on the table.  A ranty argument ensued.  

Vanilla is a flavour!

Vanilla is no different from strawberry, apart from the fact that it's a different flavour. 
A "plain" flavour of ice-cream would be "cream flavour".   
Thus, vanilla is the delicious flavour added to turn plain ice-cream into a delicious flavour.

And actually, vanilla is more of a flavour than strawberry.  Vanilla comes in different varieties, like vanilla, french vanilla, and vanilla bean.  Strawberry is just strawberry.  You don't see french strawberry now do you?  Or strawberry bean.  Huh.    

To conclusively prove my point, consider the following evidence, frequently witnessed in ice-cream parlours across the world.

The consumer walks up to the ice-cream freezer.
"What flavour would you like?" the kind ice-cream vendor asks.
"Plain flavour please" the ignorant consumer replies.
"I'm sorry, we don't have plain ice-cream" says the accurate ice-cream vendor.
"Then what's that plain coloured one?" questions the ignorant consumer.
"Why that's vanilla, you ignorant consumer" responds the vendor.
"Oh, how silly of me" acknowledges the ignorant consumer.

Silly indeed.  They won't do that again.  I implore you not to either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mandarin for Losers

I am studying Mandarin for Beginners.

When I signed up for the class, I envisioned myself strolling into the high school grounds on a balmy Wednesday evening and chatting amicably with the other students (in Chinese, naturally).
I imagined how astounded the waiters and waitresses would be with my new-found fluency the next time I ordered my prawn and chive dumplings at yum char.  Probably they'd snatch the bill out of my hands when I went up to pay, as they implored me (in Chinese, naturally) to let them pick up the bill, because it was such an honour for them to finally meet a foreigner with such a firm grasp of the tonal nuances in the Mandarin language.  The reverie ended as I smiled shyly and graciously assented to their humbling offer. 

So really, it was my imagination, my ego, and my stomach, that signed me up for an 8 week beginner's course in Mandarin Chinese.

That I hate.

I hate it.  When the teacher starts talking in Chinese I feel like I have just been flung into a sea of bewilderment, in which I flounder around, before sinking to my slow, painful death. 

To make matters worse, all the other students are upbeat, positive, and better than me.  When we go around at the end of class saying 'how we found tonight's lesson', they say annoying things like "I'm really starting to get the hang of it!" or worse, something incomprehensible in Chinese that makes all the other students chortle merrily.

There are only two possible explanations: 

One: they're all filthy liars.  They all hate it too.  They suffer through each two hour lesson (which, by the way, spans the prime hungry hours) daydreaming about food, what they're going to eat when they get home, and whether they'll bother coming back next week.

Or two: they are all robots, made in China, and sent here to bolster the dwindling Chinese-language classes, which have been bleeding students due to the impossible nature of the Mandarin tonal system.

I think it's probably the former. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The sea anemone

Today I decided to rediscover my inner child, so I went for a walk along the south coast and scrambled around looking in the rock pools.
I always loved doing that.
I used to take great delight in sticking my finger in all the sea anemones.  But today I felt too scared to do that, in case sea anemones had evolved sharp teeth or poisonous fangs since I was little.  I gave myself a stern talking to, but I still couldn't muster the nerve.  So I just kind of poked it with a shell.
It wasn't as exciting.

It made me stop and think about how many other things I did as a child that I don't do anymore.
Like, building a fort out of chairs and blankets, and sitting inside it.  And pitching a tent in the backyard and sleeping in it.  And throwing lemons onto the neighbour's roof until he comes out to see what the noise is (some things we grow out of for the better).

When I got home from the beach I told my flatmate about my experience with the sea anemone.  She told me not to be so disappointed, that it was just as well I didn't stick my finger in it.
I asked why.  She told me to imagine how the sea anemone would have felt to have the catch of a lifetime, right there in the palm of its little wavey tentacle-y hands, only to have it so cruelly snatched away again.

Well, I imagine that's the kind of thing that could really get a creature down.  

I guess that's why the Bible tells us to Love Thy Anemones.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Germans

For the past eight months I have lived with two German girls (commonly referred to as "the Germans").  They look like this:

Prior to this experience, a German to me was somebody who was always on time and never laughed at my jokes.  But now I know that Germans can be so much more than that.  For instance, Germans can be late and they can also laugh at my jokes.  

I found out that speaking German is relatively easy too.  You just turn your v’s into w’s, and wice wersa, put on a German accent, and you’re away laughing.    
For example, Volkswagon is pronounced ‘Woltsvagon’.  It’s basically back-to-front English.
However, like any language, you have to be prepared to make mistakes.
For instance, when we first started living together (but before I had learnt how to speak German properly) I only had a few German words up my sleeve.  So as my flatmates were leaving the house one day, I called “achtung!” cheerfully after them (this means “attention!”, but if you say it in a friendly tone I like to think it also communicates something like “farewell!” or “hello!” or even, “yes please!”).  They looked a bit confused.  
“Is this Japanese?” one of them asked (I can speak Japanese too, you see).  I must say I felt indignant.  It was then I learnt that you have to put on an accent when you speak German.  

As we got to know each other, I built rapport by striking up conversations about things that Germans like.  We talked extensively about apple strudel.  And because I know that Germans respond to directness, I asked if they could make me some for my birthday.  They did.  I found out afterwards it was the first time they’d ever made apple strudel.  I was shocked!  What do they do on Sunday afternoons if not bake apple strudel in a well-insulated kitchen that smells like cinnamon?  
Germans are full of surprises.

Living with the Germans has been wunderbar (that means ‘wonderful’, don’t forget that ‘v’ sound). Every now and then I tell them how much I like Germans.  Sometimes they ask me to start calling them by their actual names, but I think that’s just a German way of brushing off a compliment.

(Achtung Annika!  Ich vermisse dich!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tomorrow will be better

Brain Sex

A little while back I did a test to find out my Brain Sex (it’s not a dodgy new-age thing, it’s about the gender of your brain).  It tested my spatial awareness, memory, ability to empathise, language ability, and a few other things.   Then it placed me on a scale, ranging from -100 (most feminine) to +100 (most masculine).  
I came out 0.  
But...I wear skirts nearly everyday, and make-up sometimes!  I cry in sad movies!  I even cried in a tv commercial once!  I’m a female!  

What does this mean, that my brain is neither masculine nor feminine?  Am I less of a female just because I can find my way around in a new place, and parallel park really well?  

Then I caught myself, just before I hurtled over the edge.  For a moment there my overly-reactive feminine emotions had clouded my rational masculine thinking.  I had momentarily forgotten that I actually had this all worked out years ago.  I was suddenly taken back to a pub in Burma, two years earlier.  On this particular evening I was giving a fellow traveller a slightly beer-fuelled lecture on neo-feminism, according to the Gospel of Anna.  An utterly unsubstantiated, intuitive account on what it means to be a feminist today (he did ask).  In a nutshell, it went like this:

Society has taken a bunch of traits, labelled some of them ‘feminine’ and some of them ‘masculine’ (even if both sexes display those behaviours at different times) and promptly designated them to separate spheres.  Since men created the workforce, the traits valued in the workplace are by and large ‘masculine’ (traits like competitiveness, ambition, and assertiveness) while the ‘feminine’ traits (empathy, compassion, gentleness etc) are considered appropriate for the home and family.  
Of course, once females entered that sacred male domain, the venerated workforce, they had to rapidly adjust to compete in this ‘masculine’ environment.  As such, the early feminists took on those ‘masculine’ traits, they tried to beat men at their own game, with their own weapons.  And while these women blazed an important trail, they never challenged the values-system society was operating under, and those ‘feminine’ traits remained firmly relegated to the home domain (plus those feminists got all manner of nasty names thrown at them, simply for exhibiting those same traits that men were being rewarded for).  

My idea of feminism is not about women imitating men, it’s about the traits that we call ‘feminine’ being equally valued by society, across those different spheres.  And not just for the females - for the males too, who have been suppressing those traits that society would say makes them less of a man.  It’s about recognising that beyond a couple of differences (mathematical ability is the main one), psychologists attribute most gender differences to the way we’re socialised as children.

So.  Coming back to the point...

My brain test results actually have nothing at all to do with my gender identity, and everything to do with describing how well I performed in a test that measured a smattering of traits that society has labelled in a spectacularly short-sighted way, thus placing me on a feminine-masculine continuum that actually means nothing whatsoever.

Whew.  There’s nothing like a good rant to make a woman feel better.  

(Now that you’ve read my disclaimer, you can do it for yourself, here).