What the Ghoti?!

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The way sadness works is one of the strange riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.

- Lemony Snicket, The Grim Grotto (via thecountercurseisunjellify)

It’s like everything I poured into a glass came out the bottom and I just kept on pouring. Like the thing had a hole in it, you know. Things that make me right for this job, maybe they’re the same things that make me wrong for everything else.

- The Wire — Det. Jimmy McNulty (via jazz-life)

(Source: 00841)

What do you mean you haven’t read it?

I read a bit. I’ve read quite a bit, fairly widely too, I think. I don’t ‘devour’ books, the way some people do, and many more claim to, largely because I read quite slowly, and tend to get distracted. I read, and I enjoy it. Still, with the advent of digital books, and the apparent resulting resurgence in reading, the main forms of reader’s snobbery annoy me more every day. And what does Faheem do when things annoy him? Blog about them, of course.

Text is an incredibly effective means of communicating information. Actually, that’s not true. It is credible. We’ve come to terms with it. It is a fantastic way of conveying ideas, imagery and style, and is certainly capable of delivering large volumes of information extremely efficiently. It’s not necessarily the best way in all circumstances. It’s certainly not the only way.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a historical tendency for people who don’t enjoy reading to be less educated, less informed, and what some may call ‘less cultured’. I accept that. But this is changing. In fact, it has changed. Some of the most interesting people I know don’t read, and the opposite, we all know, is certainly true.

Secondly, there is a lot of drivel that gets published, and read by many people, but so what? They enjoy it, so let them enjoy it. Not everything everyone reads needs to cause some sort of self-improvement.

And while we’re on the topic of books that can result in self-growth, I’d like to acknowledge the many people who read these books for the sake of having read them, just to casually mention at a later stage.

"Oh did you see the news last night?"

"Yes! Oh, sorry, I thought you said ’Did Ulysses’. I’ve just finished reading it and I like the way Joyce contrasts the…" etc etc.

Just so you know, very few people care. Stop it. You’ll still find love. Somewhere. I think.

Last is an issue that’s bugged me longer than the rest. It’s an issue that is prevalent amongst the type of blogs and films against which I normally direct my blogging odium, but predates that pretentious drivel to an idea pertinaciously fed to me during my upbringing, which I’ve refused to accept. You see, I don’t believe in ‘The Classics’.

I refuse to believe some books are extraordinary purely because I’ve been told so, as parents, teachers and some friends have expected me to. While I haven’t read them all, there are certain books amongst the oft-cited canon of ‘The Classics’ that I found to be very much just fine (and if you’re thinking about words like ‘fine’, you might be interested in another post of mine: http://whattheghoti.tumblr.com/post/60743158994/lets-all-calm-down).

I’m no literary expert, but that’s hardly relevant, and I wouldn’t trust many in any case. I’d happily replace a book like, ’Lord of the Flies’ with ’Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ and I’d throw some Wodehouse and Waugh into the school curriculum for good measure. I found ’Animal Farm’ lacking in subtlety and depth, and I consider ’1984’ the grown-up version of ’Animal Farm’, yet still entirely unimpressive. I mention those books, not because they’re the only ones contained in lists of ‘The Classics’ which I’ve read - because they aren’t - but because they’re ones many people have read.

Conversely, there are books considered classics, such as ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (again, these mentioned because many people have read them), which I absolutely loved, for their style, content and their literary merit, and very much not because they’re listed amongst ‘The Classics’. In fact, I tried, on principle, not to enjoy them for their featuring in that list.

Books vary greatly in style, content and literary value, certainly, but that’s horribly subjective and, more importantly, not what always matters. There is no consensus, despite what the teachers and semi-informed bloggers tell you, on which are the greatest books ever. The listing of some books is irreproachable, but there are many the presence of which should be rightly contested instead of accepted mindlessly.

In any case, the snobbishness is wholly unnecessary. Don’t act aghast that someone hasn’t read some so-called classic, don’t pretend you enjoyed a book you actually didn’t, and don’t recommend one unless you think the reader will actually gain something from reading it.

I enjoy reading, as I’ve already said. I think many more people would enjoy it too, if they found the right book to get them started. Instead, one who wants to begin reading a bit is faced with a near-insurmountable wall of smugness, ’must-read books’ lists and strong opinions presented as fact, and the fault lies entirely with those who do read regularly.

I hoped that, in a time when books are more accessible, more people would be able to read more widely, and I think it is still possible. Readers simply need to decide if they’d like to share the pleasures of reading instead of enjoying belonging to a patronising, smug and, frankly, terribly annoying ‘elite’. And if you choose the latter, piss off.

wtf-fun-factss:

Can money make people happy? - WTF fun facts

wtf-fun-factss:

Can money make people happy? - WTF fun facts

My new sounds:

Nov 8

Let’s All Calm Down

"That book was amazing!", "That was the worst movie I’ve seen in my entire life!" and "It’s absolutely freezing outside!" What do those statements (or rather, exclamations) have in common (apart from exclamation marks)? Well, if you hear one of them, it’s quite likely to be a lie.

Have we simply let ourselves be berated, by pushy English teachers, into disposing of perfectly suitable words like ‘good’ and ‘nice’, or have we transitioned into a society that can’t do without extremes? I hark back to a time when some food was ‘not nice’, when I could say things like ‘I don’t like her very much’, and when not everything good was ‘brilliant’ and ‘awesome’.

"Why," you must be thinking, "is this grumpy misanthrope whingeing about something this inconsequential? Surely being more expressive is a good thing." Well it’s not and I’ll tell you why. At length.

Firstly, and most simply, because it’s all a lie. Sometimes experiences, tastes, smells and people are just ‘pleasant’ and all sorts of similar words now thought of as boring and inexpressive. They’re inexpressive, however, because they aren’t meant to express very much. They’re meant to express exactly what they imply. Something good, yes, but life-changing, no. And that’s acceptable.

Secondly, is a point far closer to my heart. With the resulting overuse of these very expressive words, they are slowly losing their ability to express what they should, leading to the development of a whole new vernacular: moron. There should be no need for ‘words’ like ‘fantabulous’ and ‘awesometude’. There isn’t.

So, I beseech you. Not everything needs to be at one end of a spectrum or another. You can use words like ‘good’, ‘nice’ and ‘ok’. You can even sometimes L instead of LOL. And that’s perfectly fine.

Nov 8

Traveling. You’re doing it wrong.

I’ve travelled a fair bit. I might even take the liberty of saying that, for my age, I’m fairly well-travelled, and I’m extremely grateful for (almost) every opportunity I’ve had to travel.

Traveling can give one great perspective, it can educate one about diversity, and culture, and can facilitate once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It CAN.

I can’t go a week, however, without someone posting an excerpt by some fool who’s convinced themselves that travel is THE definer of living, that it’s the ultimate aspiration for anyone with any sense. It’s absolute codswallop. They go further by insisting that one should be a traveller, not a holidayer.

I’m not under the impression that it’s the best way, because travel style is entirely subjective, but there are certain aspects about which I’m particular. I like to see buildings and structures, and taste food and find activities. I also like to stay in nice places. Some like to visit museums, libraries and universities. Some insist on immersing themselves in the place (which is fine, except they should only insist to themselves). My point is, there is no ‘right way’ to travel.

That’s not the main issue, however. The main issue is this myth that travel is the absolute definer of living. It isn’t. It isn’t the only way to expand one’s perspective, it isn’t the only way to learn about diversity, it isn’t the only way to experience life. It is A way, not THE way.

Furthermore, it doesn’t need to achieve any of those things. You don’t have to learn things, or grow inwardly or anything else of the sort. You don’t need achieve anything (except maybe the achievement of not losing your mind dealing with the logistics involved).

Many have been caught up in this mindset, and I know the Malcolm Gladwell types are also going to take exception to what I’ve said, but it’s true.

If you travel, travel because you enjoy it. Travel the way you want to travel. Go where you want to go, not where you’ve been told to go. If you want to throw darts at a map and go to some faraway shithole, do so, by all means. If you don’t want to, don’t. Don’t give in to these people.

In fact, I get the overwhelming impression that most of the pretentious imbeciles who write these blogs and make these pictures are not that well travelled, and, if they are, I’m willing to bet that their enjoyment of the trips was minimal, outweighed by their insistence on traveling a certain way, and taking notes to blog about condescendingly.

Don’t be those twats.

Nov 8

Say Cheese.

I don’t hate Instagram. I feel that this needs to be said from the start. I love that it stimulates a form of creativity, that it allows for appreciation of things we see, and that it has further popularised photography. Hell, I’ll even admit that those overused filters make most shitty pictures look much better, and make your mediocre sister look like a 7.

I’m also not one of those tossers who complain that society has become superficial. I don’t mind that we make an effort to look nice, and you won’t hear me talking about “the capitalist agenda” either.

A few weeks ago, we in Johannesburg had our first Spring rain. Of course, I made a snarky picture in preparation for the deluge (haha, because rain is water lol get it?) of posts about the rain, which also prompted a very brief discussion with someone sensible about people taking photos of things.

It wasn’t just about people taking photos of things, of course, because that would’ve been an even shorter discussion. “People take photos of things”, I’d have said, to which she’d have replied, succinctly, “Yes. They do” or something to that effect.

This discussion was more about their motivation for doing so. It seems to me that a large segment of society is replacing experiencing things with photographing what should be experiences of things to show others that they experienced said things. This genuinely concerns me.

There isn’t much to be argued here, because, quite frankly, it’s stupid. Have we spawned a new, more annoying generation of those old people who used to do slide shows of their holidays? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go ask a very old person you know. The slide show people used to have individual slides made.

It’s one thing to take photos for the purpose of reminiscing, or even for the fun of taking a particular photo (Leaning Tower of Pisa type pictures come to mind) and an entirely different issue when the sole activity is photographing everything to convince someone else you had a good time. You might convince them, but you’d quite likely be lying, because you’d have been too preoccupied with taking photos.

If you enjoy taking photos, do so. If that’s what you want, do it. Just don’t let all your experiences be dominated by a need to show something to someone else. Allow your experience to be an experience, an event to be an event, not just a picture, and don’t just smile for the camera, smile because you want to.

*PS: I am also extremely concerned by the immense narcissism required to take as many selfies and make as many profile picture changes as some of these people seem to.

PPS {02/01/2014}: Here’s some other motivation against too much photography, sort of: http://cir.ca/news/photo-taking-may-impair-memory-1
Nov 8

Small Talk

My friends say I’m ‘direct’, some friendly acquaintances say I’m ‘blunt’ and some others say I’m ’forward’. I can be. The reason people get those ideas of me is because I am all of those things on occasion, and those are the bits that make the strongest impression. As usual, though, I’m not actually writing about myself, luckily for you. I’d much rather write about small talk.

Recently, I’ve read more than two articles (three, to be precise) that have gone about bashing small talk, and I’ve seen statements all over the show doing the same thing. It’s not necessarily a growing issue, the small-talk-bashing (which mostly happens to end up in advice-type pieces, particularly on sites like that one I occasionally mention for which my disdain grows continuously). It’s more likely they were all written by the same three people who discussed it at their last cinema club meeting while eating organic artisanal flaxseed popcorn or whatever.

The thing is, the impression one gets of these authors, which then gives us their motivation for writing these things, is that they’re quite bad at small talk. I know I’m not very good at small talk. I find it incredibly difficult, in fact, which is why I occasionally end up being direct, which sometimes works for me, and sometimes very effectively I might add. The difference is, I still try. My being bad at it doesn’t make it pointless. That’s an attitude for the feeble.

As I’ve said before, what sets us humans apart is our intellectual capacity, and one of the many results of it, over centuries of refinement, is the ability to make small talk. The term ‘small talk’ is loaded with negative connotations, and I don’t disagree that the actual conversational content is ‘small’, but that’s not particularly important.

Firstly, small talk is a start. It’s a foundation. It allows people to get a feel for each other. It allows people to note each other’s mannerisms, body language and personalities. Our interactions are based on far more than just what we say, and there is more to learn about people than the facts we try to glean by talking and listening. Small talk is a foundation not just for learning about each other, but for building some comfort and trust (which then gives you the right to know the bigger things).

Second comes the most obvious concept. If you get along with someone, what they have to say about seemingly mundane topics can feel like the most profound information ever. A few weeks ago, I’m glad to say, I was part of a rather entertaining conversation which probably lasted a total of about half an hour. This conversation was about oats. I’ve also had excellent conversations that started with talking about the traffic, and which continued to be about the traffic, a strictly small talk topic.

Lastly, small talk isn’t always even about getting an impression, or having an enjoyable conversation with people you gel with. Sometimes it’s not at all about the words, it’s just about the connection. It’s a medium for people to bond, without uncomfortable silences, even over the phone. Even if neither person cares what the topic of conversation is, or what is being said, it assists in connecting (this is all meant in the most factual, least mushy way possible, of course).

So please stop denigrating small talk, this bastion of civilisation, this vehicle of mutual appreciation and this channel of bonding. You need to get to know others without probing. You don’t need to talk about ‘big things’ to get along, and you need to earn the right to talk about more. And sometimes, you just need to talk to your grandmother about the weather.