Saturday, 12 January 2019

Comedy and creativity (Knock, knock...)

What's your favourite joke? Please share in the comments.

A friend recently shared this article from The Atlantic on kids and jokes.

It reminded me that jokes are an important part of the human experience. But what a lot of people don't realise about jokes is that they can also be a measure of mental health, and they are markers of creativity in people.

I'm gonna talk about the relationship between jokes and creativity.

I spent much of my theatre life as a comedienne, and I served my senior internship in a comedy theatre. Also, as a Film Studies major, I studied a lot of 20th Century comedy. Jokes are a staple of human comedy. There are people who make a living from telling jokes. (I don't know if I want to be one of them; comedy is hard work.)

A joke relies on a creative play on words or a juxtaposition of two things (situations, etc) that aren't necessarily the first logical step.  To understand (but not necessarily appreciate or even like) a joke involves thinking outside the square.

This requires a degree of creativity.

I refer to creativity as the human method of creating new meaning out of existing material. I'm not just talking about someone painting a picture or writing a song. Human creativity is problem-solving. It's the taking of elements (like music chords) or clues (why are there only six cookies left in the cookie jar, and why isn't my normally voracious six-year-old not eating his dinner?) and working something out. Creativity is me at work figuring out how to reduce our paper usage by over half.

What have you made that wasn't there before? Creativity is the process you used to create it. How you strung your thoughts together to come up with a solution, whether it was a painting or a print server, this process of stringing thoughts together is creativity.

Jokes rely completely on this. Jokes enable us to see things in different lights. Jokes get us thinking.

Take the joke: "How do you get down off an elephant?" The first logical step is that this sentence implies how do you, sitting on top of an elephant, debark to the ground?

The punchline, "You don't. You get down off a goose," requires further thought. What does a goose have to do with debarking from an elephant?  Nothing.  The word "down" isn't used as an adverb, but a noun. Goosedown is a form of feathers. Elephants, lacking feathers, do not have down. You cannot get down from an elephant. You can, however, harvest down from a goose. You can get down off a goose.

To explore this cleverness in wordplay (an adjective vs a noun interpretation of the word 'down') requires creativity.  (You don't have to like a joke to be able to appreciate its logic. Liking or disliking a joke is purely a matter of taste.)

Creativity is a key skill in problem-solving. It allows you to look at what's present, and extrapolate what's not there (but could be).

If you're the sort of person who often says, "I don't get it," when you hear a joke, you may wish to explore your creative process. Ask people to tell you jokes. If you don't understand, fear not to ask them to explain it. The more jokes you hear, the better you'll get at getting them. Start here.

Don't be surprised if you one day discover you're better at solving problems, all because you listen to jokes.

Her Grace asks, "What's brown and sticky?"  A brown stick.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

It's Boxing Day

Americans don't celebrate Boxing Day, but Australians do.  Might have something to do with the clement weather.

Okay, "clement" really means bloody hot.  So, what do our mates do? Gather to a mate's house to open The Box*, and proceed to spend a lazy afternoon of cocktails and Doing Not Much.

One of the really cool things about Australia is that if you don't drink alcohol (I'm a teetotaler through-and-through) is that they're really hakuna matata about those that don't drink. They're accepting of your ways. You can go to a bar and order an LL&B, and they'll give you one, no questions asked. Order any of the mocktails on the menu, and that's cool. Nobody will suspect you're Mormon, pregnant or the Designated Driver if you go non-alcoholic. (Americans aren't so kind.) 

Australian mocktails are pretty cool. Anywhere that serves alcohol will also have a dozen or so mocktails on offer. There's usually something minty, something strawberry, and a few other things that might not naturally occur in nature. Everything varies from place to place, and nobody is ever found wanting. (Australians don't do Shirley Temples, alas.)

LL&Bs, or Lemon-Lime & Bitters, are everywhere in Australia. I have never found a licensed place that didn't offer them. It's what you drink when you're not drinking.

Here's how to make your own at home.

Lemon-Lime and Bitters

3-4 drops Angostura Bitters
1 Tbsp (or to taste) Lime Cordial (aka a lime-flavoured sugar syrup)
300ml of soda water, or 'lemonade' (aka carbonated lemon-flavoured soft drink, like Sprite)

Coat the inside of the glass with the drops of Angostura Bitters. Pour the lime cordial in the bottom of the glass. Fill with soda water/lemonade. Soda water gives you a drier drink, whereas the lemonade adds lots more sweetness.  Drink cold on a veranda on a hot Australian Boxing Day.

*The Box is a box of various liquors and other alcoholic paraphernalia left over from their University days. Yes, The Box has been around for decades. This makes sense, when you realise The Box only gets opened once or twice a year. It is a stunningly impressive collection of various alcohols, including a bottle of genuine wormwood absinthe that I believe nobody is game enough to try.

Monday, 24 December 2018

It's Christmas Eve...

StudioSarah Lou knows how to party on Christmas in Australia. CC 2.0

Checklist for Christmas Eve in Australia:

1. Ensure the kids get LOTS of exercise during the afternoon so they're worn out and will actually go to sleep tonight. Know that it is only a few days after the Summer Solstice, and the sun doesn't actually set in Australia until about 8pm.
2. Dress kids in the Jammies from Grammy's, as that's a family tradition. Tell youngest that yes, it's okay to sleep with just the top on, as it is too hot for bottoms.
3. Set out cookies for Santa, and convince kids that yes, Santa does want a cold glass of Passiona and not a glass of milk, because Santa is lactose-intolerant. Besides, this is Australia and the middle of summer. If you leave a glass of milk out, guaranteed it will be yoghurt by the time Santa arrives.
4. Read my loverly blog entry about Christmas in Australia on the Long and Short Reviews Blogfest and comment for a chance to win a prize. This is what you do while you wait for the kids to fall asleep.
5. Tell the kids you'll play lots of Christmas music that night for them as long as they stay in bed.
6. After checking on kids for the tenth time and finding out that yes, they're finally asleep, "Santa" lays out all the gifts, eats half the cookies, drinks all the tepid Passiona, and finally goes to bed. After all, the kids are gonna be up at 4:30am (along with that Australian Summer sun) to see what Santa brought them.
7. Lay on your bed under the air conditioning and dream of a winter Christmas because it's frickin' hot!

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


Yeah, I think I'd be okay with this,
as long as I get to choose the tree.
Imma gonna get my Goth self out of the closet (where I tend to keep her most of the time) and we're gonna  have a pleasant little chat about burial caskets.

See, death doesn't scare me. (I hope you also come to a place where it doesn't scare you either.) Because of this, I have been able to openly speak to my multitudinous offspring regarding my wishes for my funeral, et cetera.

I have only two solid wishes:

  1. Play my music at my funeral. 
  2. Do not feel you must spend much money on my funeral in order to show grief. Bury me in an old cardboard box if you want. I'm okay with that. I'd much rather you spend the money on yourself to make your lives happier. Keep things on the cheap because I'll be dead and won't care.
My daughters, with their own wry senses of humour, wholeheartedly embraced this idea. I've never been one much for adhering to others idea of "tradition". Therefore, if something slightly different comes along, I'm game to consider it.

Now, actual cardboard coffins are more expensive than the bog-standard pine box, it turns out. Seeing that price is the main factor, whatever coffin is the cheapest is good enough for me.

Then last week on Mr Money Mustache, I came across Nature's Casket.  What a cool idea!

Pine beetle infestations can be ruinous to the lumber industry. The beetles infest the wood, introduce a fungus that weakens the wood, and kill the tree. The resultant wood can't be used because its structural soundness is compromised. You can't use beetle-kill wood to build anything you wish to last more than a couple of years.

So, what can you build that only needs to last as long as the funeral and interment?  A casket of course! A casket only has to last a few days until it's buried, then it's welcome to return to nature. What an excellent use of this otherwise-useless wood?

Pine borers are a present pest in WA, so if I could get my hands on some pine borer wood, that'll do fine for building a casket here. 

Another option the daughters considered was a burial pod.  The Italian company Capsula Mundi offers burial pods, with a tree planted over the pod. They liked this idea, and I might be okay if they bent rule #2 for this option.

"What kind of tree do you want, Mum?" they asked me.

A fruit tree, definitely.  Apricot would be best, as it has a taproot, but if that is discouraged, I want a cherry tree.  Otherwise, any fruit or nut tree will do.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Dear 2020 Convention Committees: Timing sucks.

(...and don't think you're off the hook yet, High School Reunion Committee...)

A handful of years ago I wanted to go to my 25th high school reunion in Salt Lake City. As I live on the opposite side of the planet, to do such a thing would take a few years of saving and planning.  So save I did, and I worked on the planning.

Part of the planning was figuring out when the reunion would be. The year was easy enough to nail down, but the other details were more difficult in coming forth. At this time, not enough people were socially connected enough to make tracking down info easy.

I finally got a hold of the reunion committee, only to learn that there wasn't going to be a 25th HS reunion.

What? Who on earth thought that was a good idea?

Obviously, enough of the local muggles who thought that a reunion every ten years was sufficient, as they saw each other enough during the rest of the year not to bother. They all voted on it, not realising that the next reunion was supposed to be a significant one, and I'd been planning to attend for years.

REALLY?  You know I live in Australia, right? And I'm not the only overseas alumnus. (Obviously, the local yokels don't plan ahead like I do. Yes, I lay plans years in advance. What? It's a perfectly sensible thing to do.)

Feeling a bit put out at the provincial-ness of my fellow high school students, I used the money instead to go to WorldCon, which happened to be held in Australia that year.  A good time was had by all, and I did get to meet a whole lotta my peers that I previously only knew online.  Sooo wanted to attend another WorldCon, or its sisters.

Alas, life got in the way and I had to live it.

Nevertheless, I've been planning for the past ten years to attend my next high school reunion. Have already started saving.  Have started negotiating times. (I prefer early July, so I can bring my daughters during their winter school break, but they committee's considering early August. Again, the provincial thinking. They think everyone will be too busy on 4th July. Really? One... day.... and you can't plan a reunion within a two-week period?)  Have started everything I need to do, and hope I get things that aren't too far out of my way.

Then I received the news that WorldCon will be in New Zealand. In August.

At first, I thought that if the Reunion Committee didn't plan the reunion the same weekend as the con, I might be able to swing by EnZed on the way home. It's doable, and far out enough I might be able to budget for it... presuming the Reunion Committee can get something locked in before the airfares go up. (By the way, that's a six month window. I doubt they know that.)

Then, I learn that Romance Writers of Australia are holding their convention that year... in Perth.  

In August.


Okay, If the Reunion Committee can manage to get the reunion settled in July (or early-early August), maybe I can then swing by New Zealand for WorldCon on the way home, then arrive in Perth just in time for RWA.  Party hard, and network like nuts.

*deep breath*  Today I learned that World Fantasy Convention will be held in Salt Lake City.  In November.  I've always wanted to go to a WorldFant, because that's my jam. 

If I didn't have everything else going on that year, I would have booked my tickets to Salt Lake and totally have gone. As it is, I don't know if I can. That really sucks. 

So yeah. All you convention committees, who have gone out of your way to arrange your convention schedules to fit my life...  Actually, you're not too bad. I appreciate all the hard work you've done to help further my career and allow me to attend conventions at a minimal cost to me. If it had been 2019 or 2021, I would have been all over that like baby oil on a bodice-ripper.

But as for those organising my 30th high school reunion?  You've got one chance to get things right. Kindly lift your eyes beyond your own scrub oak-strewn back yard, start thinking about life outside the Valley and consider that there are those of us who really, REALLY want to come to the reunion, who are sacrificing much (oh, sooo much!!) to reconnect with you.

I would really like if the reunion was sometime during the first half of July. Otherwise, late October/Early November looks good too.

August... really not a good time for me. Especially if you plan some tepid little picnic at some park and nothing else.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Creepy or cool: planetary nebulae that look like eyes

Here are several pictures of planetary nebulae.  Many of them look like eyes staring back at you. Is this creepy or cool?  Feel free to comment below.

A planetary nebula (plural: nebulae) has nothing to do with planets. Astronomers are strange when it comes to naming things. Oftentimes, an object or phenomena gets named because of what it looks like (or what astronomers think it is), only to be waaay off base. Planetary nebulae got their name because they looked like hazy planets in gentleman scientists' early homemade telescopes. Fr'ex, the Saturn Nebula, which looks like the planet Saturn.

Really, planetary nebulae are the ionised gas clouds that got expelled at the death of a low-mass star. Towards the end of its life, a star puffs up in its red giant phase, only later to blow away all that matter, leaving the slowly cooling corpse known as a white dwarf. That matter expands through the interstellar medium, glowing brightly from the energy radiated from the white dwarf.  Planetary nebulae don't last long, often only a mere five to fifty thousand years or so.

The Hourglass Nebula is looking at you. (credit:

The Helix Nebula is also looking at you.
This one is also known as the Eye of God.
(credit: Hubble Space Telescope)

The Cat's Eye Nebula is staring at you.
Did you use a can opener? (credit: The Stars and Planets)
Nebula ESO-456-67  is giving you the Evil Eye.
(credit: Sci Tech Daily)
This hazel eye stares right back at you, don't it?
(Credit: Hubble Space Telelscope)

This eye has a cataract. (credit: European Southern Observatory)

All hail the Hypnotoad! (credit: Observatorio de Sierra Nevada)

Sunday, 28 October 2018

I don't like Snickers bars

The most popular candy bar in the world is a Snickers bar. Everybody seems to love them.

Not me. I can't stand them.

I love a good Mars bar with its soft nougat and stringy caramel.  But when you throw peanuts into the mix, I'm outta here. (Don't get me wrong. I like peanuts. Just not in a Snickers bar. A Payday bar, Butterfinger, or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, no problem. But Snickers? Ew.)

Snickers bars have a weird taste to me.  Is it the peanuts with the nougat?  Peanuts with the caramel? Some strange synergy between all three?   (I wonder if there is a difference in the nougat recipe between a Mars bar and a Snickers?)

Every once in a while (usually in a moment of desperation), I'll try a Snickers bar. Every time I remember why I don't like it.  One of these fine days I'll do a proper experiment and analyse exactly what it is I don't like about a Snickers bar.

Over to you: Do you like or loathe a Snickers bar?  Why?

Her Grace will be handing out books and Tiny Teddies for Halloween. But absolutely no Snickers bars. At. All.