Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making



Nonsense & Noise

Do you ever feel like life has gotten out of control?

That your mind is about to breakdown on account of information overload?

That life has gotten JUST TOO NOISY?

Well, you are not alone.

We find noise everywhere, even in information science. Claude Shannon spoke of it when he developed his theory of information in the 1940s. According to Shannon, every communication channel contains some noise that interferes with the sending of a message. Depending on how the receiver views the noise, however, it can be instructive or destructive.

Noise, in other words, can actually be informative.

It contains information, even if it is not the information we are looking for or expecting to receive.

In fact, it is the information that we are not expecting to receive that has the potential to be the most informative.

It can be the most informative because it surprises us. It has the potential to tell us something new. Its deviation from the redundant patterns governing our communications tells us something different from what we already know.

Noise, in this respect, is a lot like nonsense.

When we come across a message or situation that does not compute with the logic in our brains, we often disregard it as senseless. When something does not align with our expectations of rationality, we tend to view it as destructive interference.

But what if it’s not?

What if that noise, that seemingly senseless stream of data we are receiving through different communication channels, actually carries more information than the data we are actively seeking? The data we are expecting?

We live in a world full of noise, a world full of distractions–of nonsensical messages that constantly interfere with our ability to make sense of it all. For this reason, it is always tempting to plug our ears to it. To disregard it as meaningless, disruptive, and destructive.

And yet, there is always the potential that if we unplugged our ears just a little bit and stopped viewing that nonsense as noise, we could discover useful information in it.

We might find out that it is in the noisiness of our communications with each other that we have the most to learn. We might begin to locate the redundancies of our own thought patterns and make a new discovery about ourselves.

This is the thought I am negotiating as I navigate the “noise” in my life this week. I am hoping to learn something new from it, and I hope you will learn something new from yours as well!

Nonsense & Laughter

“Laughter has the remarkable power of making an object come up close, of drawing it into a zone of crude contact where one can finger it familiarly on all sides, turn it upside down, inside out, peer at it from above and below, break open its external shell, look into its center, doubt it, take it apart, dismember it, lay it bare and expose it, examine it freely and experiment with it. Laughter demolishes fear and piety before an object, before a world, making of it an object of familiar contact and thus clearing the ground for an absolutely free investigation of it.” ~ Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 23

Today I am going to talk about nonsense and laughter. The two, you see, often go hand in hand. In fact, one of the reasons nonsense is often viewed as trivial is because it is associated with laughter.

This means two things.

  1. People often underestimate the significance of nonsense.
  2. People often underestimate the power of laughter.

As Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin notes, laughter, like nonsense, allows us to interrogate reality. It allows us to question the “sense” that governs our worlds–to poke fun at our “reason” and to re-examine it in the process.

Laughter, in other words, is serious business.

Take the issue of fear, for instance.

There are many things in life that we are afraid of. New things. Dangerous things. Uncomfortable things. The list of fears is long, and we all take our pick.

And we are pretty good at rationalizing our fears. One of the reasons they are scary is that we have convinced ourselves that there is logic behind them. They make sense to our minds, our hearts, and our bodies, which are shaking with dread.

Given this space in our thoughts and feelings, our fears begin to grow. They grow and grow and grow to the point where they become terrifying giants, blocking our paths to progress.

How do we defeat these giants? How do we move beyond them?

Well, according to Bakhtin, laughing may be our most effective strategy.

Armed with laughter, we can take these strange giants captive, break them open, cut them down–until we see that the fears we think are so reasonable, aren’t that reasonable after all.

The more we laugh about our fears, the less control they have over us. The more familiar we are with them, the more equipped we will be to identify areas where we are particularly vulnerable to irrational thinking and behaviour.

Laughing through fear, we can freely investigate our ideas and emotions. We can question the realities we take for granted, the rules we follow and the power they hold over us.

Life has its share of difficulties. It has its share of uncertainties–of nonsensical situations that frighten us into fearing the future.

But isn’t it great that we have laughter to help us make sense of it all?

I think so.

Fear may be contagious, but laughter is too. Child movie star Shirley Temple helped lighten the loads of millions of viewers as they struggled through the Great Depression. Her laughter lifted people’s spirits.

And yours can too.

The next time you feel a seemingly rational fear stomp its way into your head, don’t forget to test it with some laughter. You might just find that it isn’t so rational after all.

Wishing you some serious laughter this week!

References: Bakhtin, M., & Holoquist, M. (Ed.). (2014). The dialogic imagination (M. Holoquist & C. Emerson, Trans.) Austin,TX: University of Texas Press. (Translation first published in 1981).




A [Meme]ingful Life

Chances are, you probably have seen memes before. These digital texts, known as image macros, circulate widely on the Internet these days, blown about by the attention-grabbing winds of likes, shares, re-tweets, and…the occasional blog post.

In fact, when the winds of attention get to be really high, these images get their own storm warning–they become their own “meme.” Whether political or non-political, public or personal, funny, disturbing, or a combination of both, memestorms have overtaken the Internet.

The squally nature of these digital artifacts is unsurprising, given their controversial history.

Coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 to explain the process of cultural evolution, the term “meme” was causing upsets in academia long before it hit the pages of the Internet.

Analogous to the biological concept of a gene, Dawkins (1976/2016) created the “meme” to describe basic units of culture (e.g., tunes, ideas, catchphrases, fashions, etc.) that are transmitted from person to person via means of imitation.

His concept, which was intended as a metaphor, was taken literally by some scholars who developed the science of memetics. Needless to say, the status of this science remains controversial. At the centre of the controversy lies the question:

If culture is the product of self-replicating ideas and behaviours that often propagate at an unconscious level, do humans have any agency at all when it comes to their own thoughts and actions?

While the “Internet meme” is an appropriation of Dawkins’s original concept, it too, leads us to question the role of human agency in the creation, dissemination, and reception of digital texts.

On the one hand, Internet memes are presented as a liberating form of active communication that facilitates human agency through self-expression and social dialogue. Memes can be modified to share funny insights and highlight new opinions and perspectives on various issues.

On the other hand, there is the realization that Internet memes are spread through means of imitation, which can lead to a passive sharing of the original message and a failure to interrogate it on a deep level. The circulation of ideas can become stale when they take the form of ideological propaganda. More importantly, they can have extremely harmful effects.

Balancing these facts in each of our hands, we are left with the questions: How do we responsibly handle the messages being spread online? How do we embrace free speech while watching out for one-sided dialogues?

Well, we can begin by questioning the ideas, attitudes, and behaviours we are imitating and sharing with the world.

Instead of reading a meme from a “me-me” point of view, we can consider other perspectives outside of our own.

Media scholar Limor Shifman (2014) defines Internet memes as “(a) a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, or stance, which (b) were created with awareness of each other, and (c) were circulated, imitated, and transformed via the Internet by many users” (p. 41).

The cultural forecast seems to be that memes are here to stay. When the next storm hits, remember that “awareness” is crucial to navigating the winds of words, sounds, and images that blow ideas your way. Knowing this can make the difference between a [meme]ingful and a [meme]ingless life.

My research on nonsense literature has led me to study Internet memes as digital texts that are representative of the sense-making processes of Internet users. Like nonsense literature, the humorous, playful aspects of Internet memes often lead people to dismiss them as trivial. But what exactly are we trivializing? That is a question I intend to keep thinking about and I encourage you to think about it as well.


Dawkins, R. (2016). The selfish gene (40th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1976)

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in digital culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


I was sleeping on the ferry ride to Victoria the other day, when these words popped into my head. They refused to leave me alone, so I thought I would write them down and share them with you. Poems are like that sometimes. Like most epiphanies, they pop-up unexpectedly.


A Poem by Bonnie Tulloch

Growing up,

Growing down,

And somewhere in between.

I’m always in the middle,

If you know what I mean.


Growing out,

Growing in,

Neither here nor there.

Me, myself, and I,

Sure make a real odd pair.


Growing, growing, growing,

That’s ALL I seem to do.

Only staying still,

For a second, maybe two.


Fast and slow,

Smart and dumb,

Young and kind of old.

The story tosses to and fro,

Whenever it is told.


And just when I begin to ask,

If I will ever fit,

My mind, it grows a little more,

And I’m okay with it.


Wishing you a wonderful day, week, month, year, and life of growing!

The License to Learn

Do you remember those learner signs you used to stick to your parents’ vehicle as a new driver?

Well, sometimes I wish I could stick one of those signs to my forehead.

Yes, I’d like to expand on the driving metaphor I used last week to ponder my own status as a learner in life.

This past summer, I have been helping my younger cousin practice her driving as she prepares to re-take the driver’s test. Reminding her of all the rules of the road, I began to realize how easy it is to break them. I became more cognizant of my own driving mistakes, as I tried to help her avoid making the same ones. At some point, I stopped talking about driving and started talking about life.

Society, you see, puts us through many tests on our individual paths to success.

Our minds put us through even more.

When we fail to meet the standards set by our culture, we feel the shame of our big Ls–we equate being a learner with being a loser.

And yet, when you think about it, the very definition of a learner is someone who stands to gain something–whether that be knowledge or experience.

So why are we so ashamed of our individual Ls?

Could it be that we feel the disdain of others?

Driving with my cousin, I am amazed at how impatient some drivers are.

I mean, don’t they see the red sign?

How could they miss that bold letter?

Don’t they remember what it was like when they were learning to drive?

After contemplating these questions, I have come to the conclusion that maybe we are too anxious to remove our Ls. Maybe, in our hurry to hide our status as learners, we forget the fact that we stand to gain something by learning–something we can only do if we remember that no one is perfect, including the drivers who are focused on what they have to lose as they follow the person with the “L” in front of them.

To be honest, I think we are ashamed of our Ls because they remind us of our limitations.

We don’t like that they remind us that we will never know everything.

But we need to remember that they also remind us that we have the capacity to know more.

Humility is a powerful thing and there is nothing more humble than a person with a Learner’s License who is willing to use it.

From now on, I am going to wear my figurative “L” proudly. I am going to proclaim to the world that I have a license to learn and will use it to take me new places, even if I travel at a slow pace and make a few mistakes along the way.

Just think of how wonderful it would be if we began to see the letter “L” as an opportunity to Learn–as an opportunity to gain something, whether that be Loving the learner in front of us or Leading by example.

To be sure, leading and loving are two of the most powerful educational tools. The next time someone tries your patience, think of how these Ls can help you pass yet another Learner’s test.

Nonsense & Hope

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.”

~Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters

If any of you have ever had the pleasure of reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, you know the significance of the above quote. The Baudelaire children have weathered one storm after another, and yet, for some inexplicable reason, they still have the ability to hope.

Why is that?

How is it that we can hold onto hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances?

That is the question I want to explore today.

Because, chances are, we have all experienced a series of unfortunate events in our lives at some point or another. They might not be as desperate as that of the Baudelaire children, but they register as unfortunate just the same.

The loss of a loved one. The loss of a job. The loss of a dream.  An upsetting diagnosis. A natural disaster. A bad break-up…the list goes on.

And yet, in the midst of all that bad news, we somehow find ourselves waiting for the good to arrive. Are we trained to look for happy endings? Or, are we subconsciously aware that hope is never really lost, but merely misplaced?

Hope, you see, doesn’t always make sense.

When you find it in your mailbox, you might think it was addressed to the wrong person.

You might even be tempted to write on the envelope: wrong address.

But most likely, curiosity will get the better of you.

You open the letter and find these words:

 Things will get better.

There is no mention of how they will get better. There is no mention of when or why they will get better. In fact, there is no explanation to be found at all.

But somehow, the message makes sense. Somehow, those four simple words fill your mind with other words–aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, aim, ambition, dream, optimism, expectation, confidence, faith, belief, conviction, assurance.

You see, as strange as it may seem, a little bit of hope can go a long way.

Indeed, the more we think about it, the less strange it is that hope arrives at the most unlikely times.

Because, when it comes down to it, unfortunate events lead us to dream of something better.

They lead us to imagine better circumstances. They lead us to pursue better futures. They lead us to create solutions to the problems that plague us.

When presented with bad news we are always presented with a choice. Do we choose to believe the worst? Or, do we choose to believe the best, like the Baudelaire children?

It may be that their decision is not so strange after all. It may be that hoping for the best makes the most sense. It might even be the most liberating option available.

What would happen if we exchanged the “happily ever after” mentality for the “hopeful ever after” mentality? Would we realize that it is possible to find happiness even in seemingly hopeless situations?

If we did, we might find that hope arrived with the bad news, but we never took the time to read it. We might find that the series of unfortunate events we are experiencing might actually be a series of encounters with hope.

Whatever kind of day, week, month, or year you are having, I want to encourage you that things will get better. I don’t know what kind of events you find yourself in the midst of, but it is my wish that this message of hope may find its way into your mailbox.

Keep looking for the best, and you just might find it.






Once Upon A Word

Once upon a sentence, in a paragraph far, far away, there lived a word. This word was odd compared to other words. Though it lived between the capital and the period, it did not fit. Try as it might, it didn’t get along with its neighbours. It didn’t abide by the rules. It upset the whole sense of the sentence it occupied.

News of the misfit word soon spread throughout the paragraph. Every other word was affected and offended by the rebellious sign that refused to point in the right direction.

“It’s spelling is weird,” said one word.

“It’s too many syllables,” said another.

“It’s pronunciation is too difficult,” added a cranky conjunction.

The word was all the other words could talk about. It attracted so much attention, that the rest of the paragraph was unreadable. The word refused to obey the logic of the topic sentence. It refused to transition. It made no sense.

But it did make a story.

The word that overthrew its sentence and toppled its paragraph created a text. The meaning of the text, like the meaning of the word, is a mystery.

It could mean nothing or it could mean everything. Our eyes can trip over it and our minds can fall through it, but each time they do they will emerge with a different question.

The question of sense.

The question of communication.

The question of the distance between words and the realities they represent.

Once upon that word we begin to shake free of literal interpretation. We loosen the grip of our logic and slide down into the spaces between the lines. We become adventurers in the liminal land of sense-making.

Lost in that world, we spend the rest of our lives chasing weird words that all look oddly alike. One sentence may give way to another, the paragraphs may pass, but the pursuit of language and its meaning will never cease.

The ridiculous, nonsensical word lives on, happily, ever…potatoes.

(I told you it didn’t play by the rules!)

When It Rains It POURS

“From where we stand the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it.”

~Tony Hillerman

Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly caught in the rain?

Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly caught in the rain TWO days in a row?

There’s an old saying that goes: fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice…

Well, the weather just fooled me twice in the last 48 hours. However, I must confess that I don’t feel shame as much as I feel wet. Some days you just can’t anticipate what is going to happen. Some days you just look outside, make a judgement call, and take a chance.

That’s what I did. I mean, what were the odds that I would get caught in another thunderstorm?

I bet if I had actually bothered to check the weather report, I’d have found out that they were rather good.

But the fact is, I didn’t bother. When the lightning struck, it wasn’t the metaphoric kind. It was the real kind.

In what seemed like an instant, the world transformed from a warm, sunny day into a dark, damp night. Like a grumpy, tempestuous giant, it growled and spat, hot and cold, up and down, belching bursts of light.

And I, who had so confidently informed my mother that I did not need to bring a rain jacket (or an umbrella for that matter) to Florida, found myself once again defenceless against its rage.

At the time, my decision to leave these items behind made a lot of sense. I had factored in the variables and the logic added up. The situation seemed under control.

Leave it to the weather to remind me that I have very little control over the events in my life.

I must confess that this thought brought me little comfort as I slid through deep puddles in my new flip-flops, with cars impatiently honking at me to hurry across the street.

They were unsympathetic to the drenched tourist who hadn’t bothered to check the weather report.

To make up for their lack of sympathy, I decided to extend some to myself. I was preparing to have a small pity party, when I passed two young men wearing makeshift garbage bag jackets. They had encountered an unexpected situation and what had they done? They had improvised.

Although I didn’t have a garbage bag, and I was too soaked by then for it to have made much difference, I figured I could do the same.

Because, when randomness strikes, and it inevitably will, you can fight it or you can embrace it. You can view the event as an angry storm, or you can view it as a spontaneous adventure.

I opted for the latter. I realized that, while I have very little control over what happens in my life, I do have control over how I respond to it.

So I took out the one piece of weather appropriate equipment I had: a smile. I turned my face to the rain and I let myself enjoy the feeling of its warmth. I let myself realize how fun it was to have a real excuse to look like a mess–a wonderful, happy, contented mess. I let myself look forward to the laughter my appearance would bring to others, who could appreciate the humour in my situation. I let myself get excited about the feeling of putting on my pajamas and crawling into the freshly made bed back at the hotel.

Instead of letting my mind stand in the inconvenience of the situation, I let it stand somewhere else.

I don’t know if I saw the order in the rain, but I did see how the rain helped me order my thoughts and reevaluate my priorities.

And as I sit in this warm comfy bed and type these words, the only thing pouring through my mind is gratitude.

Sometimes we need a little bit of rain to give us the right perspective.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and, chances are, you’ll probably fool me again.

But you can bet that I’ll always pack a smile just in case.

Lost in the Woods

“I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

In the spirit of honesty, I must admit I am horrible with directions. Maps do little to alleviate the stress of getting from point A to point B when I am en route to a new destination. The reason for my stress is quite simple: I am terrified of getting lost.

I am scared of getting lost, because I like knowing where I am. I am afraid if I take a wrong step, hop on a wrong bus, or turn a wrong corner, I will stray so far from the familiar that I won’t be able to find my way back home. Just the thought of it makes my heart beat a little faster!

The same is true of decisions. After all, before you can go somewhere you have to decide where you want to go. For some of us, those destinations are not on the map yet, especially when it comes to our futures.

What are we going to do with our lives?

When will things happen for us?

How will they happen?

Having attended my cousin’s university graduation yesterday, these questions are fresh in my mind. Listening to the President’s speech, I realized for the second time that there are no set directions for us to follow. The advice of others can get us only so far, and even then, we can trace a plan step-by-step and still not end up at the place we thought we would.

If I had to guess, I’d bet that a whole lot of people are walking around lost in the woods. Like me, they are moving without a clear understanding of where their steps will take them. They might end up here, or they might end up there. Who knows? They certainly don’t.

This means that most of us have a choice to make: we can either focus on the unknown destination or we can focus on the fact that our lives have already begun. As long as we have breath in our bodies, we are reaching new destinations. The question is, are we taking the time to look up from our frustrating maps to realize it?

Watching those graduates cross the stage yesterday, I had a breakthrough. I realized that I may be lost when it comes to the future, but I am not lost when it comes to the present. When it came to sitting in that audience and cheering for my cousin as she received her diploma, I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.

From now on, whenever questions about the future pop into my mind I am going to take a page out of Winnie-the-Pooh’s book. I will take a deep breath and say: “I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

In other words, I may not know where I’m headed, but I am not a lost person. My experiences getting lost have taught me that some of the best adventures are unexpected. They have taught me that as long as I know who I am regardless of where I am, then I am heading in the right direction.

Looking forward to crossing paths with you in the woods!







Blog at

Up ↑