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Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making

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!

Instead…

Go bananas!

It’s way more fun.

Mashing your troubles,

One

by

One.

Nonsense & Doo-Wop

“Life could be a dream, sweetheart
Hello, hello again, sh-boom and hopin’ we’ll meet again Bom ba,
Hey nonny ding dong, alang alang alanga
Oh oh oh oh dip, a dibby dobby dip…”

Lyrics from “Sh-Boom” by The Overtones

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Doo-Wop concert at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Yes, you read it right. A Doo-Wop concert.

Not exactly the kind of music you picture when you think of the symphony.

At least, it’s not the kind of music I usually picture when I think of the symphony.

But let me tell you, it was MAGICAL.

Listening to a group of broadway singers croon the nonsensical notes of familiar fifties and sixties songs, I was transported to a time that I’ve only ever been able to visit in my imagination (Hey, I may have an old soul, but I am still a Millenial!).

That’s the magic of music.

Now let me tell you about the magic of Doo-Wop.

Well, for starters, it doesn’t have to make sense.

As the “Sh-Boom” lyrics above demonstrate, words don’t have to have meaning.

But they do have to have feeling.

And one of the feelings created by Doo-Wop music, is happiness.

At least, that’s what I feel when I listen to it.

Singing the ridiculous phrases to the cheerful tunes and upbeat tempos, I can’t help but feel lighter.

Even the sad songs sound kind of happy. No matter how blue you are feeling, they can brighten your day.

I think some of that brightness comes from the realization that there is a strong element of nonsense in the genre. Doo-Wop music is playful. It is full of teenage angst. In some ways, listening to it is like visiting a musical amusement park. It might be a little too sweet for some people’s taste, or a little too cheesy, but for me, it is that source of fun and hope that I sometimes miss when focusing on adult responsibilities.

And the reason it makes sense, is because our feelings often don’t. If music is meant to imitate life, then the nonsensical lyrics of Doo-Wop capture the ecstasy and the devastation of our happiest and saddest moments.

It was not surprising for me to learn that Doo-Wop has had a great influence on other genres of music. Just listening to that concert made me want to dance–it made me want to create–to generate my own nonsensical lyrics and choreographed moves for the world to see.

Luckily, for everyone, I have been able to limit these urges to singing in the car and dancing around my house.

But I still would love to share the magic of Doo-Wop with people. So, if you are needing an extra ray of sunshine to brighten your day, check out the following link to learn more about the Doo-Wop project.

You may feel a little goofy, but that’s the point. Take a ride on the ridiculous side! You don’t have to be old to appreciate older music. Whatever your age, Doo-Wop is a joyful ride.

Nonsense & Grace

Today I want to talk about grace.

Yes, grace.

Why?

Because it’s something that we all crave, but struggle to understand.

Grace, after all, is undeserved favour. In a world where justice demands that people get what they deserve, grace just doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

I’ll admit that I am extremely humbled by the grace I receive on a daily basis. I make so many mistakes. I say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. I forget important stuff, miss out on certain moments, drop the ball on different responsibilities, and ultimately fail to measure up to the standard I set for myself.

I’m sure you can relate.

Somewhere in the midst of navigating this huge ocean we call life, the flawed nature of our humanity begins to weigh on us. When it does, it is easy to feel ourselves sinking beneath the waves of disappointments we face with ourselves and with each other.

Swimming in the sea of social expectations, our personal standards become like the elusive horizon, disappearing further and further from view until the sun ultimately sets on our lives. Perfection, we realize, is a marker that we will never reach.

That’s where grace comes in.

Just when we feel like we can’t tread water anymore, grace extends relief to us like a life ring.

Grabbing onto grace, we escape the fate of drowning. We still feel the waves and currents of life jostling us up and down, but they no longer are compromising our ability to breathe. We know that we are safe. We know that we are forgiven. We know that we are accepted. We know that we are loved.

And it is once we’ve caught our breath, that the questions truly start.

Who saved us?

Why did they save us?

The answers to these questions vary depending on who you ask and the situation you are in. Grace, after all, is a perplexing phenomenon.

If you look up definitions of it, you’ll find that it is often associated with the divine.

In Christianity, for instance, Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate example of God’s grace towards humanity. God loved people so much that He sent His own son to die in their place. Grace, as told through the events of Easter, is a miraculous story of unconditional love.

Something that I find truly miraculous about grace, is that it can take so many different forms. We find examples of grace in the people who kindly let us merge in front of them in traffic, in the family member or friend who overlooks our bad attitudes and lends us their car anyway, or that co-worker who recognizes that we need some extra assistance and encouragement.

We find grace in conversations where people choose to love each other despite their differences. We experience grace when healing words fill the hurt places of our hearts, when people choose to respond peacefully to hostile situations, instead of acting in violence.

And regardless of our different values and beliefs, we can agree that grace feels good. Undeserved favour is life-giving, and often, lifesaving.

Perhaps that is why grace does make sense in today’s world.

Perhaps that is why there is a desperate need for grace in our conversations and actions. If the logic of grace is illogical to us, then maybe that is just further evidence that our own faculties of reason are in need of adjustment.

So, if you are having a day where the waves of life are crashing down a bit harder than usual, please take heart. There is more to you than this moment. You are not defined by your mistakes. Grace, as irrational as it may seem, is here to grab onto. We can extend it to others, but every once in a while we also need to extend it to ourselves!

 

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!

 

 

Stories & Nonsense

“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?

Coherence. 

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!

References:

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!

 

 

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!

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