Monthly Archives: September 2012

100 Things, 1000 Days: An update

When I started this project almost 2 years ago, I was still in university and feeling like I would never leave. I lived in Ottawa, not Toronto. I had never been to Italy, Thailand, or Barbados. My grandfather was still alive. It wasn’t really that long ago, but a lot has changed, and as my project nears its completion date, there are some Things on this List that are simply not feasible anymore. So with that in mind, I am adjusting 6 or 7 items that are no longer possible (or desired), by replacing them with items from my “OTHER Awesome Things I’ve Done” list. I’ve tried to make the goals somewhat similar, so it doesn’t feel quite so much like cheating.

1. Get my stupid degree
1. Get my stupid degree
When I first made this list, “Get my stupid degree” meant complete my Combined Honours Bachelor of Journalism and Psychology with Minors in Biology and Classical Civilization. Due to a whole host of personal issues, I have since become fed up with this degree, and split it in two. I have completed my Bachelor of Journalism with a Minor in Classical Civilization, and will graduate Summa Cum Laude in November. The Psyc degree I have switched to a B.Sc. with a minor in Bio. I have about a year and a half’s worth of courses left, but I have put them off, for the time being. I can’t handle another year of school at the moment, but I also can’t have an unfinished degree hanging over my head for the rest of my life, so I am confident Part Two will be completed soonish.

7. Get a journalism type article published (for money)
7. Sustaining Memories program at Ryerson University
I do still want to do the original. Being published and getting money are always nice things. But right now, I am working on a huge project that is much nearer and dearer to my heart, and I’m more than happily doing it for free. I am participating in the Sustaining Memories program, a joint project coordinated by Ryerson and the Azrieli Foundation, where I currently work. A volunteer is paired with a Holocaust survivor who wants to share their story in the form of a memoir, but, for whatever reason, requires some help of prompting to actually get the story on paper. More about this in a later post.

22. Go to grad school
22. Watch all of Farscape (an 11th TV show for #65)
See 1. The grad programs I am interested in all involve psychology, genetics, or neuroscience (although there is one in publishing that looks interesting, and teaching could be useful…), so this is no longer part of my plan for the next few years. Instead, I will fill my mind with happy, goofy, emotionally wrenching sci-fi lunacy, which is also a type of advanced education. Somehow.

28. Volunteer at CHEO
28. Stop biting my nails
Ok, this looks terrible. Screw sick kids, I paint my nails now! My reasoning, I hope, makes me sound less like a cartoon Mean Girl: I don’t live in Ottawa anymore, so volunteering at CHEO isn’t really a viable option. I have other volunteer work on my list (see next item for an example), so I feel pretty comfortable replacing this with another long-time goal of mine.

29. Volunteer at the Ottawa Crisis Centre
29. Volunteer at a Toronto Distress Centre
Again, I live in Toronto now, not Ottawa, so I’ve just shifted this one a few cities over.

30/31. Get TEFL/Teach English overseas
30/31. Played paintball (followed by a dinner for winners at Denny’s)
Unfortunately, this conflicts with my “begin world travel” plans 😛 I plan on doing SWAP in 2013, before teaching English the year after, so while I might get my TEFL or equivalent before my 1000 days runs out, I definitely will not be teaching English overseas. Yet. So instead, let me tell you in an upcoming post about that time I went to South Carolina and made a Community reference. (Although really, if you need to click the link to know what I’m talking about, I am not sure why you’re here.)

Oh yeah, and my friend lives in Washington, not Minnesota now. So I’m visiting her there.

100 things to do in 1000 days IN PROGRESS; #5: Get my driver’s license.

The first time I tried to get my driver’s license I was 19. A high school friend had decided it was about time she got hers, and she convinced me to go with. My parents and friends had been nagging me for years to get my act together, but see, this was my thought process:

I hate driving. Hate it. I hate all the places you’re supposed to be looking at once, all the things you could hit, and that there are thousands of other stupid people on the road with you, having to do this same place-watching and thing-avoiding (and according to the nightly news, not doing it all that well). I hate that I’m not in the middle of the car, so I have no idea how much space is on the car’s right. I hate having this much power and money in my control when it could all go so terribly wrong. I hate having horrible life-or-death responsibility. There is a Very Very Good Reason why I didn’t become a doctor (actually, there are several, but let us not speak of the germaphobia, OCD, and general squeamishness).

I know this isn’t a terribly reasonable or logical fear. When other people are driving it’s not so bad. I just pretend I don’t know how hard it is, how easily you can be distracted, how many things could go wrong – they’re confident, they’re probably doing fine. Plus, more reading time for me. It’s a self-confident thing, and an aversion to high-stakes responsibility. This is why despite all of my ridiculous childhood ambitions, I am currently a 25-year-old slacker living at home.

So I let my G1 expire.

But I’m not quite so nervous anymore. There are places I need to be at times that can’t be negotiated, and the right side of the car doesn’t feel so frightening anymore. I guess I just feel ready. Besides, I’m tired of having to be chaperoned everywhere by my younger brother.

So on August 23rd,  I went to the DMV again, this time with another licenseless friend who had finally decided enough was enough.

I will not let it expire this time. Now, there’s no way I can complete this Thing To Do by the end of the 1000 days, but I thought I’d include my progress here, and put “get G” on my next List.

It’s not a bad idea to let the entire internet see your number one form of personal identification, right?

100 things to do in 1000 days; #97: Get my ear cartilage pierced once and for all.

When I first decided I wanted a cartilage piercing, I thought to myself: look, you might change your mind in a year or two. It’s $60 (which was a big deal at the time). Let’s see if you still want it next year. I did. And the year after that. And the year after that. When I went to university and starting earning reasonable amounts of my own money, I thought: better not do it during school, or you won’t be able to concentrate, and your awful sleeping habits will stop you from keeping it properly clean. And then the summer came, and I thought: perfect! Except wait, you’re not allowed in a pool for two months after the piercing in case of infection? But I’m going to the UK! Cuba! Barbados! Thailand! Italy! A pool! Etc! I might want to swim there!

Frankly, I think I was just afraid of the pain.

So when I was downtown today, having just gotten paid on Friday, and I walked past New Tribe on Queen Street West, I just walked in and did it.* So yay. Next up is a third hole in my left ear, and then I think I’m done. I definitely don’t want two on both sides – too sickeningly symmetrical.

For the record, the place was great. Reasonably priced, perfectly friendly at the desk, and Daryl (who did my piercing) was patient, reassuring, and shared a love of Community. So 5 stars for them. And *I had done research beforehand.

The Pun Also Rises – Review – ****

How do you feel about The Pun? Do you love the irreverence it stands for? Loathe the feeble predictability of the thing? Read this book and possibly change your perspective, or at least wrestle with your ambiguous feelings toward the little nuisance while gaining some interesting insights into history, language, culture, and the mind.

Like so many male parental units, my dad is an avid and persistent punster – the automatic groaner that is a “dad joke” often takes the form of a pun, and my dad rarely dabbles in any other kind. I have spent my life groaning and eye-rolling at what I considered terrible puns, and as revenge, or perhaps merely a counter-argument, my parents brought this book home, smirking as they placed it on the table in front of me.

The Pun Also Rises is a short and light read, full of fun facts about language and punnery that are not widely known (well, to me, anyway; for instance, did you know that the first documented pun was a visual pun – a  drawing of a woman that not all that surprisingly, when turned sideways, also looked like an erect penis). The author, John Pollack, has a fun and engaging writing style, and I always enjoy reading about different aspects of language – it helps remind me to appreciate the complex history, simplified (relatively) grammar, ridiculous evolution, inclusiveness, and infinite possibilities of my mother tongue. Pollack ends with an interesting and uplifting discussion on the nature of humour and creativity, and some fascinating insights into the evolutionary point of humour.

The book is divided into five chapters, loosely organised around the pun as viewed through different disciplines (such as linguistics, neuroscience, and history), and subdivided somewhat arbitrarily by punning headers. But despite this, Pollack digresses a lot, changing topics and following various trains of thought a bit randomly. In addition, even after acknowledging the lack of agreement over the definition of a pun, he neglected to actually define what he was considering a pun for the purposes of this book, giving the narrative a somewhat unfinished feeling.

This is definitely not a work of journalistic impartiality, either (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing). The Pun Also Rises has a lot of facts in it, but it’s also a 200+ page defence of the pun and its place in our lives. It definitely pulls you out of the reading flow when you are told in no uncertain terms that here is an example of a Good Pun which you find dull and predictable. As in all forms of humour, you can’t tell me that this or that pun is objectively funny or good. At one point, Pollack asks the reader:

Do people typically groan at all the puns that pepper reruns of The FlinstonesGilligan’s Island, James Bond movies or the 1980 slapstick classic Airplane? Surely not.

Uh, yes. Yes we do. We groan because we’ve heard it one billion times before and it’s not. funny.

And John, let me tell you this: children not groaning at puns is n0t necessarily a point in your favour. Children also like listening to One Direction and eating poo. There is a reason the word “juvenile” isn’t synonymous with “good taste.”

I also take umbrage at the suggestion that the only reason my inadequate brain doesn’t grasp the splendor of the pun is due to my lack of creativity and genius.

Inevitably, some people will never like punning because it fogs up the lens of clarity through which they view the world and impose order, or at least the illusion of order. But if puns seem, at times, to confuse, they actually enlighten us through both laughter and insight.

Excuse me, my friend, but my frustration with puns has sweet NOTHING to do with craving order in language. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about clarity in language and the place of jargon* but I will not have it until we have cleared some things up.

I would call myself a pun skeptic, but not an absolutist. A pun agnostic, if you will. I’m still laughing at the racing horse named Marscaponi. But I know exactly where and when I lost my patience for puns, and it was the second time I looked at a newspaper.

The punning headline is, in my opinion, the hackiest, easiest, and most predictable way out of having to actually think of a catchy title. During my time studying journalism and Carleton University (a program I thoroughly enjoyed and am thrilled I’ve completed), one of the things that annoyed me most was the way we were instructed to write a lede (the first sentence in a news article). Insert Who, insert What, insert When, insert Where. What Pollack calls the “art” of “trying to pack as much meaning as possible into just a few words,” I call the quick and cheap placeholder so you don’t have to bother thinking up anything new or interesting. I’m not saying all headline puns are bad. I’m just saying so, so many of them are terrible.

The 24 hour news cycle and the stories that populate it are filled with the same paint-by-numbers journalism, where you might as well plug the plain facts into a computer program and have it spit out a script for all the originality and variation you get from so many journalists. I find this headline puns the equivalent of listening to The Doors – despite having never heard the song or read the article before, I know exactly what’s coming next because the first rhyme or pun that you came up with is also the first one that I did, so put a little bit more effort in, guys, COME ON.

In the section describing the pun’s “comeback,” Pollack actually highlights what bugs me most about the pun.

Meanwhile, if one needs a haircut, a pedicure or even just a soothing oatmeal bath, there are now nearly two thousand salons in the United States named A Cut Above, Shear Magic or Mane Event to meet that need.

Exactly. There are thousands of stores called the exact same thing because PEOPLE ARE LAZY. And personally, I think that is where the pun’s bad reputation comes from – even the legitimately good ones are tarnished by the sheer number of awful, trite, common, and horrendously overused ones.

But all my vitriol towards certain manifestations of the pun pales in comparison to that of some famous and influential pun critics throughout history, and Pollack doesn’t shy away from these hilariously vicious detractors. Samuel Johnson, the creator of the first English dictionary no less, describes puns as “the last refuge of the witless.” Joseph Addison wrote of his preferred method of humour infliction that he “would rather [suffer] from the paw of the lion than from the hoof of an ass” (the paw of the lion being the “manly strokes” of wit and satire, the hoof of an ass being, of course, the pun). Of course, in critiquing the pun, Addison himself made a pun out of the double meaning of “ass,” where presumably none was intended or even wanted, thus underscoring the joyful flexibility of language and the unexpected serendipity of it all working out anyway.

Well, what started off as a book review may have turned into a discussion on the merits of puns, and then morphed into a long-simmering rant about the current state of journalism. So back on topic: The Pun Also Rises is not perfect, but it is worth a read, especially if you’re looking for something light, but not unsubstantial.

Cannonball Read III: 30/52

(Cannonball Read IV: 2/21)

* The book itself even touches on this in the section on the rise and fall of the pun throughout history, bringing up excellent thought-nuggets such as the scientist’s desire to simplify language into one word = one meaning during the age of rationality and the stabilizing of spelling and grammar with the creation of the printing press, and alternatively, the unique thought processes that allow symbols and sounds to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

Just another interesting conversation starter…

I tend to groan for three main reasons:

1. because I reluctantly found it vaguely amusing (or, as Pollack describes it, “grudging admiration”)

2. frustration that the punner couldn’t resist going there

3. to attempt to discourage the waste of time

Do you groan at puns? If so, why?