October 8, 2013

Stop. Ponder. Carry on.

'Ink-n-head' has always been a space that has been very personal and has always carried content that has been purely exclusive. The following post has not been written by me but every element in this commencement address makes me want to share it with every person I know and/or can manage to reach through my blog.

Tim Minchin’s commencement address,
University of Western Australia, Perth
upon receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters
September 17, 2013

In darker days, I did a corporate gig for a big company who made and sold accounting software.  In a bid I presume to inspire their sales people to greater heights, they forked out twelve grand for an inspirational speaker who was this “extreme sports” guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain.  It was weird!  Software sales people, I think, need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic mountaineer.  Some poor guy who had arrived in the morning hoping to learn more about sales techniques ended up going home worried more about the blood flow to his extremities.  It’s not inspirational, it’s confusing.  And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he?  Because he didn’t do an Arts degree, did he?  [laughter]  He should have — Arts degrees are awesome, and they help you find meaning where there is none.  And let me assure you, there is none.  [laughter]  Don’t go looking for it!  Looking for meaning is like looking for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook — you won’t find it, and it’ll bugger up your soufflé.  If you didn’t like that metaphor, you won’t like the rest of it.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker, I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise, and I’m not here to give career advice, because I’ve never had what most consider “a job”.  However, I have had large groups of people listen to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance.  So I will now, at the ripe old age of 37.9, bestow upon you nine life lessons, to echo of course the nine lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service, which is also pretty obscure.  You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you’ll definitely find some of it boring, and you’ll definitely forget all of it within a week.  And be warned, there’ll be lots of hokey similes and obscure aphorisms that start well and end up making no sense.  So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.  [turns around]  Looking for my old poetry teacher…

Here we go!  Ready?

One: you don’t have to have a dream.    Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams.  Fine — if you have something you’ve always wanted to do, [funny voice] dreamed of, like in your heart, go for it.  After all, it’s something to do with your time — chasing a dream — and if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of our life to achieve, so by the time you get to it, and are staring into the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead, so it won’t matter.  I never really had one of these dreams, and so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals.  Be micro-ambitious – put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.  You never know where you might end up.  Just be aware, the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams — if you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.

All right? Good!  Advice, metaphor — look at me go!

Two: don’t seek happiness.  Happiness is like an orgasm.  If you think about it too much, it goes away.  Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might get some as a side effect.  We didn’t evolve to be constantly content.  Contented homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

Three: remember, it’s all luck.  We are lucky to be here.  You are incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helps you to get educated and encourage you to go to uni.  Or, if you’re born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy, but you’re still lucky — lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed in a horrible childhood environment would make decisions that meant you eventually ended up graduating uni.  Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces, but you were lucky — you didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up, they’re not even your shoelaces.  I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved, but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at U.W.A.  Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate.  Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.

Four: exercise!  I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob wind their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence.  You are wrong, and they are right.  Well, you’re half right — you think, therefore you are, but also you jog, therefore you sleep, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst.  You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.  Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but take care of your body — you’re going to need it.  Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you are going to achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of.  And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed.  But don’t despair!  There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise.  Do it!  Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run!

Five: be hard on your opinions.  A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like assholes, in that everyone has one.  There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.  [laughter]  I used to take exams in here!  It’s revenge.  We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others.  Be hard on your beliefs — take them out on the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat.  Be intellectually rigorous.  Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges.  Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance.  We tend to generate false dichotomies, then argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully-executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.  By the way, while I have science and arts graduates in front of me, please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another.   That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea.  You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to make beautiful things.  If you need proof: Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens, for a start.  You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet, you don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet, you don’t have to claim a soul to have compassion.  Science is not a body of knowledge, nor a belief system — it is just a term that describes humankind’s incremental understanding through observation.  Science is awesome.  The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated.  The idea that many Australians, including our new P.M. and my distant cousin Nick Minchin believe, that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indication of the extent of our failure to communicate.  The fact that thirty percent of the people in this room just bristled is further evidence still.  The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

Six: be a teacher.  Please, please be a teacher!  Teachers are the most admirable people in the world.  You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher.  Just through your twenties, be a teacher.  Be a primary school teacher, especially if you’re a bloke — we need male primary school teachers.  Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.  Share your ideas, don’t take for granted your education, rejoice in what you learned, and spray it.

Seven: define yourself by what you love.   I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me, or if someone asks me what food I like I say I think truffle oil is over-used and slightly obnoxious.  And I see it all the time on-line — people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.  We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff — as a comedian, I make my living out of it.  But try to express also your passion for things you love.  Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire.  Send thank-you card and give standing ovations — be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

Eight: respect people with less power than you.  I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — big decisions, based largely on how they treat the wait-staff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in.  I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you based on how you treat the least powerful.  So there.

Nine: finally, don’t rush.  You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.  I’m not saying, sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic.  Most people I know who were sure of their career path at twenty are having mid-life crises now.  I said at the beginning of this ramble, which is already three and a half minutes long, that life is meaningless.  It was not a flippant assertion.  I think it’s absurd, the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist out of thirteen point eight billion years worth of unguided events.  Leave it to humans to think that the universe has a purpose for them.  However, I am no nihilist, I am not even a cynic — I am actually rather romantic.  And here’s my idea of romance: you’ll soon be dead.  Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and God, it’s tiring, and you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old, and then you’ll be dead.  There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is, fill it.  Not “fillet”, fill it.  And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic.  And then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already.  It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours!  Good luck!  And thank you for indulging me.

September 14, 2013

Por el amor de café

Let no one tell you how to drink your coffee.

Even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all.
-          David Lynch

It is a shame if you never realized that you know how to make the best cup of coffee on this planet. Maybe even in this universe, but I would not like to say that, since I’m not well versed with the ways of the universe. And there is a great possibility that out there is some all encompassing power that controls how we make coffee. So, for now, let’s just stick to this planet and plane where we assume to have complete control over our affairs.

How you love your coffee is completely your business and nobody else’s. If you know how to live your life like a pro, then you can very well make yourself a good cup of coffee. You can brew it, boil it or even burn it! Maybe even sleep with a bag of coffee beans. You are your own sensei for coffee.

Don’t tell me you don’t like coffee. ‘Coz you do! You just didn’t give it enough time to fall in love. You never gave it enough permission to infuse its strength onto your taste-buds. Maybe you were too stubborn to let it overpower your senses. Just let go.

There’s the regular espresso and the latte. Take it with a pinch of chilli or infuse it with a cinnamon stick. Lap it up with some whipped cream or brew it with a little ginger. It’s happier than vanilla and potent with flexible magic. Just give it some love and pour yourself a cup. You don’t have to move mountains to deserve it.

Just do your part and let it serve you. 

Rise again

Drop 1
Osira stood at the edge of a cliff with her toes eager to take off. She could feel the wind sustaining her intention on her back. No shivers. No fears. Afterall, the wind could not be wrong. Her long black tresses curtained her face like a head covered before an execution. Whispers in the wind sang out to her and called her names for being a coward... in good humour of course. The dark curtain on her face hid a smile that screamed of dares and adventure. She was about to listen to her friend – the wind.

She nosedived. Neck cracked.


Drop 2
The wind was still calling her names while she stood delicately this time. The face was still curtained behind her wildly flowing locks. No smile.

The toes were curled and firmly gripping the edge. ‘Osira, you nitwit! Don’t you believe in anything I say?’ howled the wind. She slapped her back strongly against the wind. A broken neck was her recent trophy. With clenched fists and rehearsed dynamics she jumped.

Got swept away and hit a rock. Broke her legs.

Bloodied vision.

Drop 3
The wind felt somewhat stronger now. Not that it was. ‘There has to be a better way’, thought Osira. She leered over with her head hung low - trying to map her way down. Blood trickled down her hair. She loved watching the drops fall and disappear after a while.

The wind cackled and gave her little nudges this time. It was delightful to watch.

She had to figure it out right away. Flung herself over.


Drop 4
This needs a strategy. There’s definitely a better way to do this. Osira is sitting with her legs dangling from the edge of the cliff. Stooping and wondering. There has to be a better way.

The wind’s name-calling is mere noise now. She is swaying with it. It soothes her muscles and numbs her pain.

She is observing the blood trickle down and disappear.

There is a better way’, thinks Osira while she is waiting to heal.


May 21, 2013


All I could think about was how to survive the week while I lugged my tired body back from work. Scrunched between two burly ladies with my face nearly shoved into the belly of another jelly being, I could not have been the cheerful self that I’m famous for. There was no way any happy thought could have managed to pursue its way through those sandwiched bodies inside the tiny metro compartment. The noises were loud. The smells were musty. Happy thoughts do not venture in such regions. They avoid and disappear. Poof! Did someone just fart near me or was that the last bit of happy thought leaving my aura?

I sat on my seat and waited to reach somewhere; talked to myself and almost started an argument. My head hung low and my conscience tried to focus on the music that was playing in my earphones. It would have taken more than a ‘nuclear fusion gone wrong’ for me to lift my head and look anywhere other than the train floor. Not that the train floor had the best view at that moment. There was a dried orange peel, a toffee wrapper and some ugly feet that kept me occupied for a while. But something managed to pull my attention and made me look up. I took a last look at the hundreds of faces that occupied the metro compartment. Each face had a story to tell, but I was hardly interested in listening. Breezing across the countless faces, my eyes stopped at one.

I must have imagined a huge Buddhist gong go ‘Bong!’ in my head at that very moment. Time stopped. Smells disappeared. The music in my ears faded into a vacuum. There stood in all her glory a woman so attractive that she hardly felt human. Short hair, bony face, round deeply set doe-like eyes and the perfect lips. There was no smile on this face but it promised happiness. Those high cheekbones were capable of carrying a winsome smile to those twinkly black eyes. I had never seen her smile before and yet I could feel my heart skip a beat when I pictured her breaking into one.

My eyes slowly trailed down to her neck. Slender and long that disappeared into a possibly beautiful collar-bone which was irritatingly hidden by the collar of her shirt. She was so lost in her book while her short hair flirted with her face. That’s when I almost smiled at her beautiful fingers that were trying to tame her hair. I also noticed the shiny silver ring she wore on her finger. That’s when I took a break from gawking at her. Took a quick glance at my own hands and played a little with my silver ring. The train floor suddenly seemed so boring.

She was so thin yet so strong. She had broad shoulders that framed her bust. There was a sense of accomplishment in that face - a confidence that could not have been acquired at birth. She had earned it. She had earned that attitude and that peace with which she stood against a pole and read a book in the middle of chaos. She was not the kind who would use the fact of being a woman as an excuse. She exploited it. She suddenly looked up and my heart skipped a beat again - this time with the fear of getting caught staring at her.

I heard the train announce my station name and something sunk inside me. The moment was about to pass. I had to leave this perfect moment and go back to my world of lesser adventure. I didn’t even get time to find out what her name was. She didn't know me. Time was running out and I forced myself to get up from my seat. The moment before this, my being didn't even care to be recognized. I never wanted to exist; I just wanted to be present. As I ruffled a few feathers around me and got up from my seat, something travelled across those million faces and brushed against that beautiful face. She looked at me. She kept looking and didn't even blink. We maintained eye contact for what seemed like a lifetime and I almost felt naked at that moment. Did she know? Was she aware the whole time? It couldn't possibly be. I started walking towards the door and took one last glance at her. The object of my admiration was still staring at me! Had the roles suddenly reversed? I may have unintentionally slipped her a smile because I almost saw her break into one. But before I could ravish myself in her smile, the crowd pushed me out of the door and I was left standing on the platform in no time. I struggled to look back through the window to catch a last glimpse of what could have been. But she disappeared within seconds as the train started to move.

I stood there on the platform trying to compose myself and prepared to walk out of the station. This time my heart was heavier than before. It was like losing a part of me that was good. A part of me that was promising. A part that screamed out happiness. A part that was gone! As I reached the exit of the metro station, my lover received me with a hug and a kiss on my cheek. I managed to give a faint smile when he said, “My my! Don’t you look pretty today! I wouldn't mind waiting a lifetime for a girl like you.” We walked away together in silence with his eyes constantly on me; adoring me the same way, like I did a few minutes back in that little compartment of pure bliss.

April 1, 2013

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Monkey is back with vengeance.

Wait! Before that, you need to learn about his recent disappearance. I don’t know how many of you are already aware of his unstable behaviour, but this time he jolted me out of the customary acceptance I had grown for him.

For new visitors, Monkey is my gnu. Not your average people pleaser and famously sucks at small talk. He seldom talks. I had gotten used to the rolling eyes and the occasional grimace that usually form his emotional fibre.

I found a job. It pays me enough to keep me alive, kicking and handle Monkey’s occasional tantrums. The only problem is that it’s a real job. Gnus are not built to slave and toil for survival and he loathes the idea of toiling for a few pennies of slavery. An idealist by nature. Therefore, he ends up being the preferred prey of the Serengeti. To add to his anxiety, the concrete jungle didn’t turn out to what he had expected it to be. There was no grass there.

He hates bothersome blabber and when a bad day at work makes one prattle, Monkey runs for the hills. That’s exactly what happened. He disappeared one day without a word. Initially, it hardly made a difference. I was much better without the cynic in a lot of ways. Not that I’m a believer myself, but the episodic rants and sighs to my issues were not supportive. We hit it off very well in the beginning because I gave him a corner in my life where he could remain in the shadows and not be bothered. Not many noticed his presence around. But the ones who did didn't quite recognize the peculiarity of his existence and that was just perfect for his sustenance in my world.

Lately, my intrusiveness had started riling the wildebeest and drove him to scurry towards peace. ‘Good riddance!’ - was my initial response, till the emptiness of the shadow started irking. The Monkey that kept my dreams real, the Monkey that kept ME real was gone. Probably...for good. Growing up with a strangely stable brute like him had made me who I am - The fighter. He left when I stopped fighting and gave in. The realization of the loss just dawned upon me and the storm was back in my eyes. Blood curdled at the thought of defeat and unrest approached me again. While I tossed and turned in my sleep, the shadows kept reminding me of the dweller.

There’s a reason why he chose to leave the wild for the corner in my life. He used to feed off the unrest and the turmoil and in return, gave me the vigour to battle. Just when the awareness approached me, Monkey marched right back into his favourite corner with a wicked smirk drawn across his face and I just unruffled myself while I waited for the war to begin.