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Qualifications of a Lion King

Do you know The Lion King came out in 1994? Yeah. 23 years old and still an enduring favourite among Disney fans (according to a totally unscientific straw poll of my friends). I watched it again recently and – quelle suprise – I have some questions and comments. So, let’s dive right in, shall we?

The life lesson we learn from this beloved classic is broadly, “Look inside yourself, find out who you are and you’ll find your place.” Which, fine, but here’s how that lesson is taught via this beastly parable:

We’ve got Simba, who is the son of Mufasa, who is king of the Pridelands presumably by dint of being the Lion voted most likely to be voiced by James Earl Jones at Lion Community College. Simba is his heir, presumably because Mufasa likes Serabi the most out of his COUNTLESS lioness courtesans. So, when Mufasa dies and his scheming (and inexplicably English-accented) bro, Scar convinces Simba it’s his fault, Simba runs away and Pride Rock is left without its true-born heir.

So, Simba slopes off to live the good life, existing on denial and a slimy-yet-satisfying, totally-paleo bug diet, until shit gets so bad at Pride Rock that his childhood playmate Nala has to come and find him (spoiler alert: she got hot), followed closely by wise-baboon-in-chief Rafiki (sidenote: why does Rafiki have a Caribbean accent? We in Africa, bro!) They’re both like, “Yo Simba! You’re the rightful king, so, like, get your shit together, come and be king, and fix this shit. Cuz… you should be king”, despite Simba’s having never ever had any practice or diplomatic training or shown any actual aptitude for kinging. In fact, the only insight we get into his plans for his reign goes like this: “free to run around all day, free to do it all my way”.

Simba looks smug

A smug, entitled brat does not a king make.

No one cares about his hitherto flagrant disregard for the democratic process, though. Basically, it’s: you’ll be good at this because you were born to do it.

Which is confusing, DISNEY. I thought the deal was, “if you work hard enough, you can be anything you want”. See: Mulan – she had to prove her worth, and Aladdin too – he gets to marry Jasmine and be a prince in the end only because, thanks to his ingenuity and street smarts, he saves the day. Usually, in the “it’s what’s inside that counts” narrative, the protagonists discover their inner qualities or actually learn some skills (imagine!). But Simba just gets a free pass because he is the heir and because one time, Mufasa gave him a very rudimentary lesson about grass and shit, and then one other time appeared in a cloud and told him to “get it the fuck together, man”.

Basically, this movie is way more about the divine right of kings than it is about the circle of life. That’s all. Soz not soz for the rant. Which of your childhood faves shall I spoil next?

This is not the first side-eyeing I’ve given Disney. To read my thoughts on which of the princess’ stories are NOT corrosive for the young soul (hint: not many!), click here. As always, do weigh in. 

Three little words

I am, I must admit, acrimonious about most acronyms, but one in particular inspires my disdain: LOL. To explain my contempt for LOL in a measured manner, I have conducted a little research and gathered the uses (and misuses) to which I have seen it being put, for your digestion:

LOL: as a response to show you acknowledge that what I said was funny.

Fine, as a congratulatory nod that says, “good one!” I can abide it and its fellows, LMAO, LMFAO and ROFL. Even better to make a joke in return, but sometimes it’s nice just to show some appreciation. The thing is, I’m a bit concerned it’s losing its power. Given it’s supposed to be shorthand for “I am laughing out loud right now. Oh my goodness, that was so hilarious that I’m so overcome with mirth that I can only muster three letters,” I often find it to be a somewhat disproportionate response, especially since it’s so often used in reaction to something that was not even or wasn’t intended to be funny.

LOL: To communicate that what YOU are saying is a joke.

In this case, it could be argued that people should work harder at expressing themselves and telling jokes more artfully. Having said that, some forms of humour aren’t as effective when written and, even more crucially, some people just don’t share the same sense of humour and there are times you have to point out that you’re saying something funny. I recently resorted to actually using “LOL” in real life (or IRL, if you prefer – I do not) with a friend who, though dear and kind and intelligent and generous, is quite earnest and often fails to remember that 99% of what I say is nonsense and meant to be taken lightly. So I’ll be all, “Right, all I need is a pet pig and I’m good to go!” and he’ll be like, “But don’t you live in a studio flat? Do they let you have pets in your building?” So I have to say “No, no! LOL, Fred – LOL! It was a joke.” And he’ll look at me like, “Well, it wasn’t funny.” And I’ll be ashamed and remember that sarcasm is no substitute for wit. So, y’know, everyone wins. Once again, let’s all remind ourselves that this acronym stands for “laughing out loud”. So when you write something and want to add a little levity – ask yourself this, is it really worthy of a vociferous cackle?

In the above two instances, may I posit, then, that we substitute “LOL” for something more fitting. We have so much expression at our fingertips. Consider the difference between “HA!”, “heheheeee”, “Ohohoho” and “Mwahahahaa”, just for starters. If you are indeed LOLing, tell us more. Is it a dry bark of wry mirth? A mischievous giggle? A knowing chortle that says, “Oh very droll, I see what you did there.” Or perhaps an evil cackle? Let us LOL for the occasion, I say.

The third, and perhaps most troubling use of LOL that I have seen, though, is:

LOL: to soften something.

This one is tricky. While I can perhaps see the argument for having a quick and easy device to temper tone, to show that something that might otherwise sound bitchy or nasty should be taken in a jolly way… Maaaaybe. But that gets easily exploited. See: “Yeah! Because all Asian people look the same, LOL!” “What? That’s a bit…racist.” “Nah man, I was just being ironic, lighten up, it’s just a joke – LOL.”

This strategy is implemented when the sender is unsure of how something is going to be received. See: “Whoa! What are you doing?” “Sending you a pic of my dick, LOL!” Just add a cheery LOL and no one can be offended; it’s all fun and games and #TopBants.

Nah.

My point in summary, is: let’s all try to be a bit funnier, cleverer and more sensitive. Aka: stop being lazy.

 

The Hero with 1000 Dances

I like language and I like dancing
I like spinning yarns and I like turning pirouettes
I like epic, sweeping quests and I like loud, sweaty parties
I like twists… and I like twirls

I’ve often noted how many similarities my two passions share.

Learning a foreign language is very like learning a new style of dance. You master some basic words – some moves, but for them to make sense, you need a grasp of the grammatical forms – the foundations of the dance. As you begin to root your moves in a strong foundation, you can progress more easily to stringing them into sequences – like sentences. In both language and dance, you want to enrich your vocabulary and in both cases, when you nail the accent, you show a depth of understanding. And, as we all know, to truly understand a language, it helps to learn about the culture it comes from: its ancestors, its food – the music that feeds it. Then you can start to tell stories, to express yourself fluently and fluidly, and to freestyle – to use slang, to play, to make jokes. To have a conversation.

And it was when I began learning lindy and salsa and bachata that the idea of conversation became even more poignant and applicable. At first, with partner dancing, I felt I must learn to listen better, in order to follow my partner. I became attentive, a rapt listener, following their tales with their twists and turns; and to their moods –  the highs and lows of their sombre soliloquies, playful anecdotes, sultry love notes and euphoric exclamations; and I responded to them appropriately. But no one can listen all the time and I learned that even as you follow, you contribute to the exchange. I also learned that a good partner, in both dance and conversation, allows the other the space to add to the dialogue, to insert a joke, ask a question, even sometimes to change the subject. Sometimes you dance with someone and it’s a slow, considered, life-affirming exchange of ideas in which we say, “That’s interesting, tell me more,” or ask, “What do you think about that?” Sometimes we engage in a fast paced witty repartee, snappily one-upping, knowingly teasing or taunting, and you can spend the whole dance going back and forth with whip-smart banter. That is, if you want to. Sometimes, a partner is so charismatic that you give them your hand, and with it all your senses, and plunge headlong into their story, which, like all good stories, lifts you out of yourself and spirits you away, and you simply sail along upon it.

Just now, I am buried in the grit and grind of crafting stories; how to dig into them and make them soar and crash at just the right moments. I’m entrenched in how to vary the pace and tempo, how to endow the hero with the treasures and secrets she needs at just the right moment, how to give him the tools to claw his way out of the dark night of the soul and make it home with the answers. Naturally – and as you may have guessed – my quest has led me to Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with 1000 faces”. Amongst the countless enlightenments I’ve found in his writings thus far, I was particularly struck by this:

“Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure… Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco.”

And how, once again, what is true in stories is true on the dancefloor. Because, isn’t that absolutely the case every time you step into the cypher or take the hand offered to you? Isn’t every dance a mini adventure of its own?

And in the adventure, as Joseph says, “There’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

The boy with the broken bike

Once upon a time there was a boy and he was very sad.

Why are you sad? Asked the girl.

Because my bike is broken, I cleaned it and oiled it and tuned it and then it broke down when I tried to go on a bike ride. I fixed it so many times it gave me blisters and when I took it for a ride in the countryside it broke down again. I don’t understand.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a bike here. Look, this one is all shiny and new and it has a basket and a bell. You can have it, if you like.

Are you sure? I don’t think I can take your bike. (The boy had very nice manners)

Of course! I’ve got one too, do you want to go on a bike ride?

Yes please! Where can we go?

Wherever you want!

And can we have a picnic?

Of course, that’s a lovely idea. And, if you like, we can ride up the mountain and look at the view.

So, off they went, cycling in the sunshine on the girl’s shiny bikes. The pedals whirred and the wheels whirled and the spokes clicked by so quickly that they purred. She coasted down the hill, giggling and wiggling her feet, and he stood up and pedaled hard to overtake her, ring-a-dinging his bell. He took his hands off the handlebars and waved at her, she laughed and lifted her front wheel off the path. They sang to the sound of the wind in their ears.

Do you like the bike? Called the girl.

Yes! It’s wonderful, thank you! Shouted the boy.

And they cycled to the seaside and ate ice cream. And they cycled through the valley and paddled in the stream. And they cycled up to the top of the mountain, and as they plopped down to look at the view, the boy seemed sad.

What’s wrong? Asked the girl.

The boy was looking at his shiny red bike with its basket and bell and purring wheels. He looked up at the girl and said:

I don’t want this bike, I’m not used to nice bikes. I want my old broken one. I want to try and fix it again and again.

So, although he would get blisters and break down and fall off, the boy handed the shiny bike back to the girl, turned away and walked back down the mountain to his rusty bike, never to ride like the wind or paddle in the stream or go wherever he wanted.

The girl watched him go and felt very strange. She looked down at the beautiful bike she had given him and scratched her head. Suddenly she didn’t feel like going on a bike ride anymore, or ever again. And she thought:

Maybe I shouldn’t give anyone the beautiful shiny bike.

But that made her even sadder.

I have this lovely bike and it’s such a shame not to share it. Maybe the boy didn’t need it, but maybe someone else will.

Top tips in these trying times of the storytelling takeover

You guys, have you noticed? No one is doing conversations anymore! It’s over, passé, defunct. Nowadays, all the cool kids are telling stories. Think about it: when you sit down for drinks or dinner with another human, nine times out of ten, someone goes: “Oh my goodness, so here’s what happened…” And lo, the story beginneth.

And listen, I deeply and truly love a good story. But social storytelling is an art and just as our distant ancestors had to practice and hone the art of conversation, we too have a responsibility to craft and wrangle our storytelling skills. Sadly, I have noticed that not everyone is attending to their duty properly. So, I have put together a few handy tips to help you up your game and check you’re not being a monotonous, droning bore, dominating the duet.

  1. Practise your story beforehand on a cat. They are life’s harshest judges, with particular disdain for any digression, irrelevance and self-importance. If your kitty critic shows you its bumhole, cut some of the erroneous faff and get to the point.
  2. When in full oratory flow, casually drop in a racist joke. If your audience calls you on it, you know that you are keeping their attention and also that they may not be racist. Bonus!
  3. Grab your listener by the hair and aggressively jiggle their head around to check they are not wearing a super-realistic wakey-wakey mask of themselves to cover up their actual sleeping face.
  4. Detonate a remotely activated bomb in a nearby location. When the kerfuffle settles down, if your listener turns to you with a “Sorry, you were saying?”, you know you’re story-ing like an enthralling pro. (Do your best not to maim anyone with your bomb. Storytelling is important but…)
  5. If your listener fidgets, yawns, attempts to change the subject, firmly walks away or spontaneously combusts, do not attempt to continue the tale. No one likes a story-pusher.
  6. When you have finished your story (and the applause dies down), consider thinking about contemplating letting someone else have a go before you launch into another one.

storycat

I do hope this helps. Let us all try to be better storytellers; ’tis indeed a noble aim. If, though, you aren’t quite ready to let go of the utterly incomparable experience of engaging in a beautifully balanced to and fro, a delicious and discursive, edifying and challenging conversation, come and find me.

If you’re on board with this, you might enjoy some of my previous musings on the subject.

The Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle

Once there was and boy and a girl who liked to play. They played board games and card games and games of make-believe. They dressed as monsters and beasties and went whooping and shrieking through the woods.

They played together and they played apart. She played at tree-climbing and he would call up from the ground, looking out for handy footholds and clapping with delight when she swung from branch to branch like a monkey. She watched admiringly when he played marbles so precisely and encouraged him when he drew beautiful, complicated pictures.

Whenever they played together, no matter who won, they flopped down side by side at the end of the day and he played a song and she sang along and they fell asleep, tired and happy.

One day, the boy was working on a Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle. The girl, her feet wet from splashing in the river, sat down beside him to watch. He seemed anxious so she wriggled closer and put her hand on his shoulder to peer over at the Puzzle. He shook her off.

Just a minute, I’m trying to solve this puzzle, it’s Big and Important and Difficult.

Oh good! She said. Those are the best ones. Can I help you solve it?

The boy looked at the Puzzle.
No, I don’t think so, he said.

OK, said the girl. I’ll be over here splashing if you need me.

But the boy didn’t call for her and though she came to sit with him and watch him with the Puzzle, he didn’t look at her. Once or twice she said,

Why don’t you put that piece over there?

And he just shook his head.

It won’t work.

The girl felt sad that she couldn’t help and she missed playing and singing with the boy but she knew he would be able to solve the Puzzle so she carried on climbing trees and sitting near the boy and splashing in puddles and sitting near the boy. Until one day, the boy turned to see her sitting nearby and he said,

You can’t help me solve the Puzzle and I don’t think I can solve it while you’re here. Can you go away please?

And the girl was sad very sad. She stood up and walked away from the boy and his Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle and she hoped he would solve it one day.

All Thai’d up

Having lived in Bangkok for more than three years, it’s fair to say that my love affair with this magical, dirty, fabulous, stinky heaven of a city is going strong. But the same cannot be said of everyone. The place is full of deeply jaded expats and while I’m sure lots of things will affect my relationship with Bangkok as it changes and develops and gentrifies and so on, I desperately want to avoid losing my enthusiasm for it. Especially because it seems to me these grumps share a particular and common gripe that alarms me. And that is Thainess.

Yes,  the very things that make Thai people Thai – in Thailand – are what get the goats of those who have voluntarily chosen to live in their country. “This would never happen in[…..]!” is something you hear of Thai bureaucracy or health and safety all the time, despite the fact that we are decidedly not in whatever country we must infer is superior and therefore its practices are rendered irrelevant. Whenever talk of local business culture or the tendency towards ‘saving face’ arises here, there’s lots of condescending eye-rolling accompanied by this insidious little comment: “It’s sooooo Thai”. And everyone knows what that means.

This label, while objectively accurate, is loaded with subtext, and it’s liberally applied to humans too. When, for example, I ask a male friend about the new girl he’s seeing, it routinely goes something like this:

How did you meet? “Tinder”. What does she do? “Marketing”. Where does she live? “Thonglor”. Where is she from? “…”

At this point, if the answer is “She’s Thai”, it will ALWAYS be followed by some kind of caveat: “BUT she speaks amazing English”, or “BUT she went to international school”, or “BUT she studied in America.” It MUST be qualified. As if it’s in some way unseemly thing to live in a country and date a girl from that country unless she’s not, like, “really  western”.

Then, we have the term “Thai-time”. And listen, I agree,  a “relaxed attitude towards arrival or starting times” can be annoying. But if it’s a cultural norm where you are, rather than bitching about it, you just have to readjust to it like anything else. If you’re a naturally punctual person, just stay at home 30 minutes longer and hey presto, you’ll be right on time. And if on the odd occasion you are held up, you can relax in the knowledge that it won’t matter to anyone.

“Uh Nicky, that’s so Thai!”

Yeah,  you know what else is soooo Thai? Delicious food available at any hour of the night, slippers in the office and – my favourite – wearing a t-shirt in the gym! This is just one etiquette lesson the sweaty white men in my condo would do well to observe from our hospitable hosts.