Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making

Stop, Drop, &…Reach Out

Do you ever feel like you are constantly putting out fires? I know I do.

Lately, it seems like whenever I get one area of my life under control, another quickly catches some spark of trouble and I am left scrambling to put it out.

Work. Family. Friends. Personal Wellness. That’s a lot of ground to cover when you think of it.

And it’s all connected.

While I might try to tell myself otherwise, these different areas of my life overlap in significant ways.

Which means that trouble in one area can affect all of the others. When a fire takes up a lot of my emotional, psychological, and physical resources, it inevitably spreads to everything that I do. It affects my ability to concentrate. It affects my ability to make good decisions. It affects my ability to get things done.

In short, it compromises my ability to function.

Because, when life feels like it is in a state of emergency, prioritizing responsibilities can be very difficult.

That’s why we can’t fight fires alone.

If there is one thing I have learned from living in B.C., it is that firefighting is a team effort.

When we feel the heat of life getting to us, we need to stop before we drop and roll right over to the people who are waiting to extend us relief.

Once we do, the haze begins to clear. Breathing becomes easier. The flames start to shrink. The fight becomes manageable.

We regroup. We re-evaluate. We rest.

We remember that, while life’s fires may burn us out at times, they also show us how blessed we are to have the support of incredible people.

Perhaps even more importantly, they remind us that we have the opportunity to be incredible people.

The more experience we gain through fighting fires, the more compassion, understanding and relief we can extend to those going through similar times of distress.

When we see signs of trouble, we can stop, drop some of the items on our to-do lists, and reach out.

I am truly grateful to live in a world where so many heroes do this on a daily basis.

And it is my hope that I will be brave enough to be one of them.

Thought & Words

“A thought may be compared to a cloud shedding a shower of words. Precisely because thought does not have its automatic counterpart in words, the transition from thought to word leads through meaning. In our speech, there is always the hidden thought, the subtext. Because a direct transition from thought to word is impossible, there have always been laments about the inexpressibility of thought…”

~Vygotsky, Thought and Language, p. 251


The inexpressibility of thought. It is something that all of us are forced to think about at various times in our lives. Or, if you are like me, at various times in the day.

You see, there are so many moments when I want to express the ideas running through my head, but just can’t seem to find the words.

Can you relate?

I suspect so.

Because, as the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky observes, this dilemma appears to be part of the human condition.

The clouds of our thoughts precipitate words, but, in doing so, inevitably lose part of their original composition. There is always a hidden subtext to the language we use, one that can only be read by uncovering the motivation behind the words being communicated.

Vygotsky notes that “[t]hought is not begotten by thought; it is engendered by motivation, i.e., by our desires and needs, our interests and emotions” (Thought and Language, p. 252).

How often do we fail to attend to the desires, needs, interests and emotions that shape the words of those we come into contact with?

How often do we feel misunderstood because people have failed to recognize the motivation behind what we are trying to say?

The answer, I am fairly certain, is often.

In fact, I think the frequency of our misunderstandings is increased by our tendency to project our own motivational subtexts onto the words of others. When we encounter a statement, we interpret it through the lens of our own desires, needs, interests and emotions.

As a result, we fail to see the thought behind the words.

I think this is where empathy comes in.

The ability to put oneself in another’s place. To make space in our minds for the thoughts of someone else. To feel the meaning of what they are trying to convey to us.

It’s an ambitious task, to be sure.

But I am convinced it is a worthwhile one.

Because, if we are able to empathetically engage with the thoughts of the people we meet, light will shine through the clouds. And what happens when light and rain meet?


A beautiful spectrum of understanding that can only be achieved through different forecasts of human experience.

So if you are having a cloudy day, take heart. The inexpressibility of your thought just might manifest as a lovely rainbow in somebody else’s life.

Kindred Spirits

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I love this quote from the iconic Anne Shirley. Montgomery’s redheaded heroine is an icon of Canadian culture and a constant reminder that our differences are the gateway to discovering what we have in common.

Anne, in her journey of maturation, realizes that kindred spirits are found in the unlikeliest of places–in the unlikeliest of people.

Matthew, Miss Josephine Barry, and even Mrs. Rachel Lynde are all very different from Anne, and yet, their differences provide the foundation for transformative dialogues that extend the scope of Anne’s life, as well as their own.

You see, when we use our imaginations to bridge the gap between our experiences and those of others–when we actively seek to empathize with their situations–we find ourselves navigating the exciting adventure of personal growth.

We find ourselves looking beyond the social and cultural barriers that divide us as we search for genuine connections with other human beings.

In the process, we form beautiful relationships that remind us of all the good there is to be found in the world. We are reminded that when we view each other through eyes of compassion, understanding and respect we see possibilities for friendship with those who are different from ourselves.

I love that.

It’s reassuring to know that when we have the imagination to see the world for its possibilities we have the grace to accept our flaws and those of the people we meet. We can recognize mistakes as opportunities for change–as new beginnings–the chance to be brave, whether that bravery comes in the form of delivering an apology or accepting it.

To me, Anne is brave because she has the courage to imagine those possibilities in the people she meets. She doesn’t get it right all of the time. She openly messes up at various moments. Still, throughout her story she becomes better and better at admitting when she is wrong and embracing the opportunity to do what is right.

I think that’s why Montgomery’s novel continues to speak to so many people.

At least, that’s one of the reasons why it continues to speak to me.

As Anne shows us, the path of progress is an adventurous one, full of victories and setbacks. The journey, however, is enjoyable when we realize how blessed we are to share it with such amazing people.

I hope that we all have the pleasure of discovering a kindred spirit in an unlikely person today. More than that, I hope that we each have the opportunity to be one for someone else!



Nonsense & Lemons…

Every once in a while I get a playful urge to write a poem for no apparent reason. This poem was the result of one of those urges. It might very well be a lemon, so feel free to think of it what you will!

When Life Hands You Lemons

A Poem by Bonnie Tulloch

When life hands you lemons,

Don’t make lemonade.

Throw them up in the air

And start a parade!

Wiggle and jiggle,

Stomp, skip, and hop!

Slide and glide,

Twirl, twist, and bop!

Sing and dance

Your worries away.

They cost you too much,

They’re not worth a day.

No, they’re not worth a day,

A minute,

Or hour.

So let’s not give them that kind of power!


Go bananas!

It’s way more fun.

Mashing your troubles,




Nonsense & Fear

“‘Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.’”

~ Neil Gaman, Coraline

Have you ever experienced an irrational fear?

A fear that violates the logic running through your brain, but still has the ability to terrorize your heart?

A fear that paralyzes your ability to pursue something of importance?

I suspect we all have. I know I have.

And I think it has to do with the powerful fictions fear creates in our minds. The fear we feel presents us with a vision of a future that we do not want to occupy. Fear tells us the story of our failures yet to come–failures to achieve, failures to fulfill, failures to escape, failures to protect, failures to survive.

These are powerful fantasies, because they are narrated by the force of our emotions. They are told by the sadness, regret, humiliation, horror, and despair that we would feel if those fictions were to become our realities. They bias us to expect certain outcomes.

Our fears, in other words, often masquerade as non-fictions. Drawing on our insecurities for inspiration, they play out like Hollywood films that are loosely “based on true stories.”  They highlight our negative experiences and exclude the positive ones.

Fascinated by these compelling adaptations of our realities, we become convinced of their truth.

This is unfortunate,  because when we let our fears author the decisions of our lives we limit our imaginations to one vision of the future. We fail to see alternative possibilities. We miss out on the stories written by other emotions–like courage.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that horror stories often double as “courage” stories.

When confronted with something scary, we can choose to run, hide, and avoid it, or we can stare it down as we steadily pursue the course we have set for ourselves.

At the time, it might not feel like the most sensible thing to do. However, it is not until we violate the logic of fear that we are free from its constraints.

Sometimes, what feels like the most nonsensical thing is actually the most sensible thing.

At least, that is what I tell myself when my mind is tempted to read the latest fiction concocted by my fears.

Because, deep down, I know that my imagination can write better than that.

Happy writing everyone!

Nonsense & Stories

“A story reflects life but also redeems it: assembled on the page, even unpredictable events can be plotted, their random scatter made part of a meaningful design.”

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland (p. 9).

I came across this quote recently in a book about the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In this specific passage, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reflects on the fact that Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, might have deliberately identified with the fictional Alice when trying to make sense of her life. As Liddell grew older and her memories of childhood became more distant, it is quite possible that Carroll’s narrative provided structure to her recollections, organizing them into a meaningful design.

A meaningful design.

A Wonderland of interesting, exhilarating, and upsetting moments.

A series of adventures.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m navigating the randomness of everyday life, it is often easy for me to lose sight of the larger story being written by my day, week, month, or year.

Days become like post-it notes on a pad, sticking to my memory for 24 hours before falling quietly away to some unknown place in my mind.

If I’m not careful, the magic of those days starts to get lost in the mundane. I begin to privilege routine and lament any disruptions to it.

I forget that the unpredictability of life is what makes it interesting.

I forget that I have the fun and frustrating opportunity of navigating my own mad world of curiosities.

I forget, in other words, that I am living and dreaming my own version of Wonderland.

I am my own Alice.

Yes, I can easily forget all of these things when confronted with the demands of everyday life.

But then, sooner or later, I read a quote like this one and I remember.

I remember that whimsy, mystery, and magic are available to anyone who has the imagination and inclination to see them.

I remember that my life is a series of adventures.

And it is when I remember these things that I can better appreciate the nonsense I encounter.

I can value the quirky cast of characters that make my life more interesting.

I can value the bumps, hiccups, and burps that permeate the rhythm of my days.

For it is when I consciously remind myself that I am living a story that could be shared with others someday, that I become more dedicated to making that story great. I see the meaning. I see the design. I feel the purpose.

My hope is that you do too.

Who knows? We might just end up in the pages of a brilliant novel someday.

But that really doesn’t matter.

What matters is that we see the meaning of the days we have lived.

And that, in the end, we find joy in telling our stories.

I’m excited to hear yours!





Organized Mess

“Thus I have assumed that organization is always a reorganization brought about by disorganization, that change and learning are continual and continuous, characterizing the very ‘nature’ of social life.”

~Susan Stewart, Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature

Organization. It is the word that I optimistically adopt every December 31st when making my resolutions for the New Year, and it is the word that inevitably slips out of my vocabulary come New Year’s Day. Because, as much as we can strategize, plan, and arrange…life happens. And life is messy.

How do we deal with this unexpected mess that throws all of our well-intentioned plans out the window?

Well, if you are like me, you might find yourself uttering words like “overwhelmed” and “stressed.”

These words keep me seeking that “organized” destination, where the messiness of life won’t knock me for a loop.

And yet, the more I try to control the uncontrollable, the more upset I make myself. The more I stop thinking life is the mess and start thinking I am the mess.

It is at this point that alarm bells start ringing in my head.

Because, deep down, I know that this kind of thinking is definitely not productive. These thoughts drain me of my motivation, creativity, and focus. They distract me from solution-oriented thinking and send me in a downward spiral of negativity.

And negativity stinks. If there’s one thing worse than a mess, it’s a stinky mess.

And it’s when we find ourselves wallowing in the stinky mess of negative thinking that a new perspective is definitely in order.

I find one in this quote by Susan Stewart: “Thus I have assumed that organization is always a reorganization brought about by disorganization, that change and learning are continual and continuous, characterizing the very ‘nature’ of social life” (p.vii).

What would happen if we changed the way we looked at the word organization?

What if we started viewing it through the lens of disorganization?

Suddenly, the mess we are in is transformed from a limitation into a possibility.

The unexpected chaos we encounter in our lives becomes an agent of growth.

Instead of viewing organized people as people who have everything under control, we may start viewing them as people who are flexible enough to alter their plans when life gets out of control. Instead of idealizing routine and efficiency, we might recognize the lessons to be learned from disruptions and disorder.

Our lives will always be lived in response to the unexpected circumstances in which we find ourselves. The dialogues in our heads will determine whether we recognize the potential in the messiness or merely its stench.

Perhaps the best way to live an organized life is to plan for the disorganization that inevitably makes it possible. To orient our thinking so that we embrace the creative possibilities to be found in the unexpected messes that occur on the way to achieving our goals.

Imperfect progress, after all, is still progress. And the last time I checked, nobody’s perfect.

What does this insight mean for those of us who have lost our New Year resolutions in the messiness of life?

Well, it means that New Year resolutions are only lived out on a New Day, New Hour, New Minute basis. They are made with the recognition that their path to fulfillment will inevitably be a messy one, as all journeys of learning and change inevitably are. Starting over is inevitable.

But each time we do start over, it is important to recognize that we are not starting from the same place as before. Our imperfect progress is teaching us the important lesson of embracing the disorganization of life. We are becoming more flexible, and, whether we realize it or not, we are becoming more organized.

We are seeing the beauty in the mess, and, in the process, the beauty in ourselves.

So, whatever kind of day you are having today, I hope you find encouragement in knowing that all of us are organized messes, who, like yourself, are navigating the bumpy road of imperfect progress. Keep up the good work!

Imaginative Rationality

“Metaphor is one of our most important tools for trying to comprehend partially what cannot be comprehended totally: our feelings, aesthetic experiences, moral practices, and spiritual awareness. These endeavors of the imagination are not devoid of rationality; since they use metaphor, they employ an imaginative rationality” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980/2003, p. 193).

In their book Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980/2003) observe that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical in nature. Simply put, the way we view the world is shaped (both consciously and unconsciously) by metaphor.

What does this mean?

As Lakoff and Johnson note, it means that we often understand one thing in terms of another. Popular examples include the way we discuss time (e.g., time is money) or arguments (e.g., argument is war).

Lakoff and Johnson describe how the conceptual metaphors we use both enhance our understanding of the world and limit it. When we make sense of one thing using the concept of something else, there are always elements of difference that are hidden by the comparison. Not all people view time the same way, partially because not all people have the same experiences that link time to labour and labour to money. The way we view the world is grounded in our experience of it. And our experience of it cannot be separated from the imagination that frames it.

I really like this point.

Instead of opting for an objectivist view of the world or a subjectivist view, Lakoff and Johnson propose a middle ground–what they describe as the “experientialist approach” (p. 192). The experientialist approach recognizes how our experiences of the world are neither completely objective or subjective; the conceptual metaphors that shape our thoughts and behavior are influenced by the societies we inhabit and the cultures to which we belong.

I think what I like about this approach is the way that it collapses some of the walls we build between each other. In it, scientists and artists are shown to use the same kind of reasoning to describe different facets of the same phenomena. While scientists are drawing on metaphors to interpret their empirical observations and construct models to explain what knowledge of the world is available to them, novelists are employing metaphors to reflect on the human condition–on world events, politics, and social ideologies.

Behind all the perceived differences, they share the same purpose.

What is that purpose?


Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003) observe that: “It is by means of conceptualizing our experiences in this manner that we pick out the ‘important’ aspects of an experience. And by picking out what is ‘important’ in the experience, we can categorize the experience, understand it, and remember it” (p. 83).

Right now, it seems like a lot of “cultural battles” are being “fought” using metaphors. The argument is war metaphor is running rampant, and it is shaping our thinking in ways that hide the fact that arguments are not wars, but actually conversations. To borrow another metaphor, they hide the potential “fruitfulness” of disagreements.

I wonder what would happen if we exchanged the argument is war metaphor for an argument is growth metaphor. What kind of positive entailments might arise from it? Could we imagine a world where we are nurtured by different opinions? Where turning over new soil, planting new seeds, and cross-fertilization might actually lead to a positive harvest of respect, kindness, and compassion?

I think so. In fact, I think that much of that harvest is currently hidden behind popular angry metaphors. As a result, the good is often overshadowed by the bad.

So, the next time you find yourself on any side of a debate, I encourage you to try using your imaginative reason to see beyond the argument is war metaphor. See what happens when you exchange it for the argument is growth metaphor and adopt an experientialist approach to the situation. Ask yourself what you can learn from the other person’s view, and then use that insight to better understand your own thoughts. Don’t just talk to win–talk to learn. You might still disagree, but chances are that you will have grown.

At least, that is my challenge to myself. After all, if I have the gift of imaginative rationality, I intend to use it to better my own experiences and those of the people I come in contact with.

Wishing you a wonderful week of imaginative fun!


Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (First published in 1980).

The Jellyfish & The Jaguar

I don’t know about you, but some days I find myself saying and writing the oddest things. One phrase leads to another, and soon I find myself tripping and slipping my way over, under, and around words, excited to see where they will take me. Having pleaded my case of madness, please excuse this brief foray into silliness. I have recently been reminded of the joys of language. The following poem is a word experiment conducted for my very own enjoyment. I hope that it encourages others to have their own fun!

The Jellyfish & The Jaguar

A Poem by Bonnie Tulloch

The jellyfish and the jaguar

Are an odd pair, it’s true.

But their story evens out,

When divided by me and you.

You take the “once,”

I’ll take the “time,”

And soon we’ll be “upon,”

A tale so long,

So long ago,

It spans from night to dawn.

Yes, this tale begins

Far, far away,

Farther than we can see.

Fathoms and fathoms of sense beneath

The logic of you and me.

Where once there lived a jellyfish

And a very toothy cat.

They lived until they died.

And that’s the end of that!

Like I said, absolute silliness! But oh, what a treat it is to enjoy a good spoonful of silliness every now and again. Wishing you a week of laughter, play, and good fun!



Blog at

Up ↑