The Five Stages of Being a Kidult

 

Less than a year ago, I turned 18.

It was strange. At 11:59 pm I was watching Disney’s Princess Protection Program and banging pots and pans together. Exactly one minute later, I had the legal right to vote for my nation’s leaders, to drive motor vehicles and to stay up past my bedtime.

It’s hard to believe that within a few moments I had escaped the pimply angst of adolescence and stumbled into the glamorous world of adulthood. Eagerly, I turned to the mirror to see if I’d been physically transformed in any way. Nope, I still looked the same – like a remarkably short 13-year old with a small, inconspicuous bald patch. I’d had that patch for so long I’d even given it a name. Harold.

To be honest, I even felt the same. I felt like a child. I wanted to go back to my pots and pans. I wanted to lick the icing off cupcakes and the cream off Oreos. I wanted to watch PG-13 movies with adult supervision.

But I was not a kid. And I was not an adult either. Somehow, I had found myself in that blurry no-man’s land in-between the two spheres. I had become a kidult.

And exactly three months later, they packed me off to university.

I found it all terribly unfair. For 18 years straight, I had been told to “Go to your room!”, “Eat your vegetables, young lady” and “Go to bed, now!” And all of a sudden, one fine day, I was being asked to live in a different country, to provide nourishment and sustenance for myself and Harold, and to go to bed whenever I felt like it.  I was horrified. How dare they give me the freedom to do whatever I wanted? Didn’t they know how young and dumb I was?

In the months I have been here, however, I have gradually had to come to terms with my hybrid identity as a Kidult. The process was by no means easy, and it happened in five distinct phases:

Phase 1: Denial

In the beginning, adulthood was a mere technicality. Technically, I was 18 years old, and therefore legally an adult. But this was merely an inconsequential detail. In my first month here, I pretended like nothing had changed. I’d constantly text my mother to ask her things like “It’s 11 pm. I should go to bed now, right?” Sometimes, I’d supply her with mundane details of my life, such as “I just poured some water into a glass and then drank it” and “I am going to floss.” For about two weeks, she pretended to be enthusiastic: “Yes! Stay hydrated, I’m proud of you!” or “Dental hygiene will serve you well later in life!” But as time passed, her attitude changed. First she started to respond with “K”. Then she started to seen-zone me. It felt like a bad break-up. Clearly, if I wanted Santa to bring me any presents this year, I had to grow up.

 Phase 2: Anger

Now that I’d made up my mind to be an adult, I had to act like one. What do Well-Adjusted Adults do? For one, they’re independent. They don’t rely on their parents; they take charge of their own lives. Clearly, I was not very good at this – not only did I text my mother so much that she started to consider a restraining order, I also Skyped my parents every single day. If I wanted to be a real adult, I’d have to wean myself off this destructive habit.

But I couldn’t. I kept trying to find excuses to Skype them.

“I should call; today is Dad’s half-birthday” or “A dormant volcano on the Lesser Sunda islands became active today; I should call to find out if my parents are okay”. Clearly, I was addicted – but good old Skype saved me. Somehow, it realized that I was slipping, so it compensated by freezing every 30 seconds. This meant that instead of talking to my parents, I spent most of my time making Adele proud by screaming “HELLO? HELLO?” at my laptop screen.  Skype made me so angry that I almost threw my laptop out of the window once, but luckily, I couldn’t open it. I took this as a sign: the problem was not Skype. It was me. Much like the Wi-Fi signal in my room, I was weak.

Phase 3: Bargaining

Another thing that independent adults seem to do well is money. But financial responsibility wasn’t really my thing. It took me a while to even register the fact that money has value – it is not a just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. During our initial week on campus, they’d suggested that we download an app called “You Need a Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.”

It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realized that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses.

Having realized this, I began to overcompensate. One of the toughest financial decisions I had to make was “Meal swipe or campus dirhams?” [Meal swipe: 30-unit swipes used to purchase campus meals; campus dirhams: university-specific currency, like Monopoly money, but real]. I needed to have enough campus dirhams to spend on toilet paper, but on the other hand, I also needed meal swipes, because I’m a compulsive hoarder and I liked knowing that I had 200 swipes left on my card at any point in time.

Ironically enough, my desire for financial optimization came at a cost. I’d spend so much time in the queue trying to bargain with myself that my food would often get cold. This made me sad.

Phase 4: Depression

All my efforts to become an independent adult fell through quickly the day I fell ill. It was just a mild cold, but to me, it felt like the plague. I lay in bed sniffling and patting my own head, because that’s what my mommy did when I was ill. I also tried to give myself a back massage, so in addition to suffering from the plague, I ended up mildly spraining my shoulder.

For the next three days, I was a sorry sight. I wanted hot chocolate without having to get out of bed, so I sat on a chocolate bar for a day. I wanted warmth, but the air conditioning in my room was stuck on minus 55 degrees Celsius. I wanted to sneeze, but there was no one to say “Bless you”, so I had to hold it in. And I wanted to be babied, but I was a grown-up.

Phase 5: Acceptance

Clearly, I had no choice. I had to accept the undeniable fact that I was a kidult. In an ultimate attempt to endorse this new identity, I decided to go wild and do the one thing that defines Adulthood: grocery-shopping. I am proud to announce that a few days ago, I went to the Convenience Store, and I bought my first vegetable. Then I called up my mother to inform her of my purchase. “What did you buy?” she asked me. I had no idea. I described it to her, and she scanned her Mother Portal for answers. As it turns out, I’d bought a rambutan. This was, apparently, a fruit. Darn it. My first vegetable was actually my first fruit. Never mind. It was a symbolic victory. I’d conquered my phobia of health, and I’d made a wise investment in my future.

But you know what the best part was?

When I looked into the mirror that day, I realized that I’d finally begun aging into Harold.

Originally published on The Gazelle.

 

Is It Too Late Now To Say Sorry?

“Bill looked at Dave. He seemed so happy stringing his pebbles together. “Hey Dave,” Bill whispered, “I’m sorry I hit your mom over the head with my club. I really did think that she was a woolly mammoth.” “Are you kidding, Bill?” Dave exclaimed. He looked up from his beads. “Don’t apologize. I’ve done that myself once” he paused. “…or twice.””

– Excerpt from Life of Dave, Caveman Extraordinaire

Life is complicated, and the material world is ephemeral. Sometimes, you don’t update your blog for five long months. Sometimes, you accidentally listen to a catchy Justin Bieber song, and it haunts you for weeks. Sometimes, you hit a friend’s mother with a wooden club. Things happen.

If there’s one constant, however, it would be this: apologies.

Apologies have been around forever. They are, quite literally, the oldest trick in the book. According to Psychology Today’s interpretation (psychoanalysis?) of the Talmud – the holy book of Rabbinic Judaism – God created repentance before He created the universe. This tells us two significant things:

  1. We probably shouldn’t let Psychology Today near any more holy books.
  2. We were born sorry.

And it’s not just Rabbinic Judaism. Several major faiths are founded on the idea of the apology. Forgiveness. Absolution. Sitting in a small dark room, confessing all your sins to someone you can’t see (which also happens surprisingly often on Friday nights in college dorms). And if you’re an atheist, there’s something in here for you too – guilty consciences are thought to have evolved from social instincts. Just think about it: what sort of world would we be living in if no one ever said the word “sorry”?

A world full of meanies.

What also matters is how you say it. Today, as I struggle to word my perfect apology, I shake my fist and curse my favorite cavemen, Dave and Bill. Damn you, Dave and Bill. You had it so easy. In my world, if you want to get your apology noticed, you have to write it in giant letters across the sky. Or you have to be an annoying Canadian child with floppy hair and write a Number 1 Hit with a music video featuring twerking women. Or you have to buy, like, a present or something. As if global warming isn’t stressful enough.

It was easier when I was kid. I’ve always been a very apologetic person, aided by the fact that I probably did a lot of things that required copious amounts of apologizing. Exhibit A:

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But now that I am a raucous youth freed from the protective helmet of childhood, I am not permitted to be mainstream. A poetically simple “Sorry, dude”, as it turns out, is *scoffs* formulaic. And unlike most things, I’m not even making this up. According to linguist AJ Meier, “The most frequently occurring apology strategy has generally been found to be a formulaic expression of apology (i.e., an expression containing apologize, sorry, forgive, excuse, pardon).” Well, I’m no expert, but this may be because it’s hard to say sorry without actually, well, saying sorry.

To dissect this further, I conducted my own extensive research, and I have discovered that a successful apology consists of three parts:

  1. “You were right”: Acknowledgement of the object’s superiority and the subject’s current state of vulnerability.
  2. “I was dumb”: Acknowledgement of the fact that what the subject did was inexcusable and cannot be justified.
  3. “Sorry”: The operative; conclusive.

Of course, this is just a template, and although it is very scientific and well-researched and generally excellent, there are few exceptions. For example, #2 doesn’t apply to some countries in the African continent, where people apologize for all and any unfortunate things that happen to you, even if it happened through no fault of their own. For instance, if you trip over your own foot, you would hear a chorus of “I’m sorry”. Likewise, the Japanese have 20 different ways of apologizing, and probably have a much more complex system of sorries, corrected to 52 decimal places. But regardless of complexity or culture, you can’t have an apology without an apology.

Or so I thought.

There’s this guy called Plato. Funny beard, kind of annoying; maybe you’ve heard of him. Many years ago, Plato wrote a book called Apology. I found out about it some months ago, when I discovered that it was a reading for a Plato-centric course. After three months of reading things like, “I don’t think that you’re unfortunate – I know you are” and “Man is a two-legged animal without feathers”, I was thrilled to see “Plato’s Apology” at the end of the reading list. So pompous li’l Smarty McFancypants was finally going to apologize for the hell he put us through. About time, chump.

I was wrong.

  1. The word “sorry” does not appear even once in the entire text.
  2. In fact, it’s 9000 words of the worst apology ever.
  3. A quote: “Now please, men of Athens, do not make a disturbance, not even if I seem to you to be boasting somewhat.” – Plato. (read: somewhat)
  4. Another quote: “I am wise.” – Plato

I had almost convinced myself that Plato was an ancestor of Kanye West, when I realized something groundbreaking: the word “apology”, in ancient Greek, is “apologia” – which means “a speech made in defense of”. This is basically the opposite of an apology. Plato wasn’t trying to apologize. He was trying to defend himself, and his main ho Socrates.

Clearly, Plato isn’t going to be of any help to my perfect apology. Not like he’s ever of any help anyway.

It’s comforting to know, however, that apologies have evolved from an ancient Greek word that means something quite different, to become the harbingers of modern human civilization. They started out as not being apologies as we know them, and today they have found an integral place in the world’s major religions, in our daily lives and conversational vocabulary, and most importantly, in a Justin Bieber song. There’s an inspirational message in there somewhere.

And so, enkindled by the imperfection of the apology as a construct, I’m going to apologize the only way I know how.

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Will you?

Independence 101, By A Certified Freshman

When I was in the 6th grade, I studied about my country’s struggle for independence from the British. I was young and impressionable, and having heard about British atrocities (they spell “color” with a “u”!) I began to develop a hatred for tea and an obsession with attaining independence. The British were long gone – GOOD RIDDANCE TO EXTRA VOWELS – so I projected my vicarious feelings of enslavement onto my parents (who coincidentally love tea). Since I am from the land of Gandhi, I decided that the best way to achieve independence would be by a) fasting and b) initiating a salt march. The salt march didn’t last too long, because I had to literally march for three seconds to get from my room to the salt shaker. The fasting lasted for an even shorter duration of time than the salt march, because my mother baked a cake, and I was basically an eleven-year-old Augustus Gloop. It was when I was stuffing chocolate cake into my mouth and pockets and ears that I had an epiphany: this was not how I would attain independence.

The only way I could become independent was by going to university.

And now that I have achieved that, I must admit that I have unbidden bouts of colonial nostalgia, as I’m sure Gandhi did when the British left and took BBC Entertainment with them.

For the most part, independence is certainly what it’s cut out to be. I ate M&Ms at 12 am yesterday, after I brushed my teeth. I haven’t clipped my toenails for a week so I am well on my way to becoming a moustachioed holy man. I ate breakfast at 11:30 am today, and I didn’t even call the meal “brunch”. I’m such a rebel that Gandhi would see me and go “YO DUDE WAZZUP” and try to high-five me, but I would totally leave him hanging.

At other times, however, I have an acute desire to renounce my independence. My need to be dependent is most acute when it comes to three things: a) Personal hygiene b) Food and c) Money.

When someone’s not telling you to “GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM”, “GO SCRUB YOUR FEET”, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT SOCK OFF YOUR HEAD”, personal hygiene is hard. Before coming here, I had never used a washing machine in my life. I thought that trash just vanished from the mystical black-hole voodoo thingy called a trashcan. Back home, when my friends would ask me what I was wearing to a dinner party, “crumpled” and “mild odour” would not have been my adjectives of choice. I’ve always been a big believer in magic (especially black magic, but that’s a story for another day). I liked to think that my clothes ironed themselves without setting the house on fire, that my fairy godmother cleaned the bathrooms, and that Santa Claus took my trash to the nearest recycling station on his reindeer sleigh (I had a weird childhood, okay?). Becoming independent made life a whole lot less magical.

Another thing that has become less magical is food. There was something about not knowing what was for dinner, about sitting at the table and trying to guess from the aromas emanating from the kitchen, about closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, having dinner put before you, and then realising that it was exactly what you ate for lunch. It’s certainly more fun than having to “balance your diet”. Food is present in abundance here, and that’s a problem. There’s no one to stop me from eating breakfast for dinner and lunch for a midnight snack and Oreos with every meal. There’s no one to remind me to drink water when I’m thirsty and eat food only when I’m hungry. It’s difficult to maintain one’s health as a Juvenile Independent. My mother has to Skype me to remind me to not to eat Lays (Salt and Vinegar) for breakfast, and I still “forget”.

Another thing that I tend to forget as an Independent Adult it that money has value. It is not just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. One of the first things they suggested to us here at university is that we download an app called “You Need A Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.” It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realised that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses. I get a stipend here, and for a long time I thought that “stipend” meant a lifetime’s worth of free things, like it is on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “YOU GET A STIPEND! AND YOU GET A STIPEND! EVERYBODY GETS A STIPEND!”

It wasn’t like that.

I needed a budget.

So I’ve made one, and I’ve done all the other Independent Things that I so looked forward to doing when I was eleven. I have officially been here for a month now, and I feel like I am slowly steering my wayward independence back within my locus of control. I wish, sometimes, that I could switch to being dependent for a while, especially when I’m doing my laundry, or ironing, or trying to fend off Freshman 15. But I’m finding comfort in routines. And the possibility that my garbage man might be Santa Claus.


P.S. If you liked this post – and I’m hoping you did, because you managed to get through 900 words of Mushroom Sup’s drivel – I’d love if you could check out my new blog, SalAD. It’s about my life at university, with dressing. And camels. Lots of camels.

The Meticulous Art of Stupidity feat. My Pigeon

Relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate.” – The Dunning-Kruger Effect

“Dumb people is 2 dumb 2 know dat they is dumb. Yolo swag lol.” – Mushroom Sup

The very minute I stumbled upon the Dunning-Kruger effect – precisely 4:32 pm on a Monday afternoon – it became my Philosophy of Life. Nothing had ever made more sense to me (the concept of putting pineapple on pizza included). I’d always wondered why the guy at Subway insisted on making my sandwiches like he was a Neanderthal eliminated in the early – but not nearly early enough – rounds of MasterChef USA. Why people constantly curse George R.R. Martin for Game of Thrones character deaths even though they know that he is the spawn of Satan. How Kim and Kanye thought it was a good idea to produce progeny.

Stupid people are too stupid to realise how stupid they are.

This is why the most overconfident people are idiots. Not all overconfident people are idiots, of course, but all idiots are overconfident. Scott Adams, in The Dilbert Principle, goes one step further to say, “People are idiots.”

But not all idiots are people.

Empirical evidence for the Dunning-Kruger effect comes directly from my exhaustive background in zoological research. I know a pigeon. I know him (it’s definitely a he) well enough to use the possessive pronoun: my pigeon. He lives outside my window. It appears that he wants to change that – he wants to start living inside my window instead. Rather than ask politely, he prefers to sit on the ledge and bangs his head against the glass, repeatedly, every single day. I open the window partially, because I can sense his desperation. He cocks his head at me quizzically, spreads his wings in one glorious flourish, and flies into the upper half of the glass, full force.

My pigeon is dumb.

This was a harsh reality to face, but it does make sense. Pigeons lack self-awareness. In other words, they have no conception of self. If they looked in a mirror, they’d probably just bang their heads against it. Which is also what I do, but more out of frustration than lack of recognition.

Pigeons are stupid. Pigeons don’t know that they are pigeons, because self-awareness constitutes higher-order thinking, and the highest-order thinking my pigeon can manage involves attempting to hatch my clothes pegs. Ergo, pigeons do not know that they are stupid.

Another animal – one that I don’t particularly like to study, but oh, the sacrifices I make for well-informed blog posts – is the Elevator Guy.

Everyone has an Elevator Guy. The Guy who holds the unshakeable belief that pressing the button 276.42 times per minute will actually make the elevator arrive faster. The Guy who thinks that the elevator is powered by pressing the “open doors” button non-stop when it is in transit. The Guy who assaults the “close doors” button when the doors actually open, almost killing your pet dog in the process.

One might say that he has higher order reasoning skills, since he is arguably human, but I disagree. Human is a state of mind.

A more scientific explanation comes from the smart-people definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect: “Illusory superiority”. His actions are obviously an attempt to present himself as being in a hurry to get somewhere – to a meeting, perhaps – thereby presenting himself as being superior to the rest of us, who press the button in a sane, rational manner; we are obviously less important. He creates an illusion of superiority for himself, and this illusion gives him confidence enough to pick his nose between floors.

This raises the most important question that arises from the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

How does one answer the question, “Are you stupid?”

You can’t say, “Yes” because that sort of information can be used against you. But saying “No” might mean that you are just too stupid to know that you’re stupid.

For this, my friends, I present the Mushroom Sup’s Pigeon Paradox. You’ve heard about Schrödinger’s Cat – we don’t know if the poor thing is alive or dead until Schrödinger opens the box. (Which he won’t, because he’s dead, so I guess we’ll never know).

Mushroom Sup’s Pigeon Paradox is just like that. The only difference is that, unlike Erwin, I’m thinking outside of the box. Literally. If the pigeon is outside and can’t make it into the room, even when you open a window, he’s stupid. If the pigeon makes it into the room through a partially opened window, he’s probably still stupid, because, I mean, he’s a pigeon. But he is relatively smarter than the Elevator Guy. I call that Mushroom Sup’s Theory of Relativity.

So next time someone asks you “Are you stupid?” (which, interestingly, happens to me more often than you might think) just say, “You won’t know until you open the window.”

That’ll clear it up.

“Overbooked!” My German Railway Journey: A Stand(ing) Up Comedy

“Push, push!” My mother yelled.

I pushed obediently, as she pulled.

Many European subway networks that we had encountered in the past had deemed our suitcases “children”, meriting a legitimate child’s metro ticket (Traveller’s Tip #1: illegitimate suitcases are offered no concessions). The German rail network was not one of them, and our suitcases had not taken kindly to this. Determined to utilize their commendable method-acting skills to prove that age is just a number, they had internalized the qualities of any ordinary child. They were annoying and stubborn and fell over a lot.

“PUSH!”

With an unintelligent thud, the suitcases fell face first into the Bahn – the Deutsche Bahn if one wanted to make it abundantly clear that the impending four-hour train journey from Berlin to Prague was a munificent return gift from the Fatherland. Two more unintelligent thuds graced our own elegant ascent into the train, face first. Those genes are potent.

Standing up, I gingerly hauled up my suitcase and looked around. As fate would have it, the restaurant car was right next to ours, nice! The washrooms looked spacious too, in case I decided to faint there. I admired the perspicacity and foresight of German coach building for a few minutes until I was politely ushered along by some nice people shouting at me in German, and my mother, shouting at me in English.

We are small people, and Europeans are kind, which meant that we were amongst the first in the train, and the first to find seats. We collapsed into our seats, strapped in Alejandro and Alice – that is what I shall refer to our suitcases from now on – and I was halfway through my first Oreo when it happened.

Like Moses parting the Red sea, the coach door opened.

And They walked in. The People. So many People. I have never seen more People in my life.

The train screeched into motion.

The mob fell forward, face first, with an unintelligent thud. I had to hold Alejandro and Alice close to me to protect them, and to keep them from bursting into tears. All right, it was more to keep me from bursting into tears. What was happening?

“That’s my seat.” I looked up to see a young woman standing next to me. “That’s my seat,” she repeated.

I was confused, so I did what any sane, well-adjusted person would do – I said “Huhhh…?” and a little bit of drool pooled around the corner of my lips.

She looked at my mother and said, “I’m very sorry, but this is my seat. I have a ticket right here, and it says that this seat is reserved. By me.” My mother was confused too, but she is better than me in crisis situations, so she looked over the ticket and realized that the woman was right. “But they told us it was free seating!” she exclaimed.

Traveller’s Tip #2: There is no such thing as a free seat.

Up and down the aisle, people like us, all victims of the free seating scam, were relinquishing their seats. Rosa Parks would be disappointed. I was shoved into the two-foot wide aisle, Alejandro and Alice in my arms, with about twenty others, all clutching terrified suitcases. The lucky ones had managed to find fold out seats – another example of the foresight of German coach building – and were clinging to them for their dear life. Literally.

Because that’s when The People started to move.

As it turns out, some people with reserved seats had ended up on the wrong end of the aisle and now had to push their way through us, the free seating scapegoats with suitcases, to get to their seats. And get to their seats they would, even if killed them. Which it probably would.

I have romantic notions of myself being a misanthrope, like Dr. House, making the occasional sarcastic comment about mortals and mortality from the confines of my bedroom. But honestly, you’ve never truly hated people until you’ve been smashed up against a window with your face in their posterior region and their carbon dioxide in your oxygen.

After plenty of pushing, shoving and some cries of “Schwein!” (all from me), it seemed like everybody had found their place. We were still packed in the aisle, but at least no one was moving. My mother even found a fold out seat for herself, while I – and it pains me to admit this – sat on Alejandro.

Then Jesus arrived.

A two hundred pound American with tattoos and a bandana and a Jesus beard, the type who looks like he carries a surfboard to the grocery store (the American, not Jesus) had somehow found himself on the wrong side of the train. He appeared to take immense pride in this achievement. Hauling his backpack over his head, he recited joyfully “Two hundred pound American coming through!” “Make way for the two hundred pound American!”

And then he pulled the emergency brake.

To quote the astute Australian backpacker next to me, “He did not just do that [mate].”

The train screeched to a halt.

The aisle groaned. The American grinned. “It was my backpack,” he informed us proudly.

Overhead, the speakers began crackling and a German announcer began rapping in either Klingon or Sub-Saharan click language – it was hard to tell, because the sound system kept breaking down. I was a little worried that the sound would disturb the man in the foldout seat next to me, a thirty-year-old German who had survived the countless posteriors, the turmoil of the previous hour and the resurrection of Christ by taking refuge in a seemingly exhilarating Mickey Mouse comic book. But my fears were unfounded; he remained completely unfazed, burying himself deeper into the turbulent romance of Donald and Daisy.

The inspectors arrived. They were exactly how I’d imagined them – rotund, big moustaches, and thoroughly confused. They walked across the coach seeking out signs of any potential crisis situation. They stopped at my thirty-year-old German for a moment, and I thought they might be contemplating whether he was the one who pulled the brake. But then they saw that he was reading Mickey Mouse, which is a perfectly normal thing for a middle-aged man to do, and moved on.

Nobody tattled on Mr. Two-Hundred-Pound-American-Coming-Through, who was standing in the aisle sheepishly, having realized that accidentally pulling the emergency brake on the Deutsche Bahn wasn’t exactly something he could put on his resume. I would have told them, but my reasonably average math skills told me that that two hundred pounds of American means at least twenty pounds of posterior.

So we stayed quiet, united in our silence, until the inspectors decided that they too would rather be reading Mickey Mouse. They gave the all-clear sign and left, the train screeched into motion for the second time, and our entire coach breathed a collective sigh of relief at having been left scot-free.

But we were not scotch-free.

The conveniently positioned restaurant car, which at one point was the highlight of my life, now turned into the bane of my existence. Just as those of us in the aisle had become reasonably comfortable and had reconciled ourselves to sitting on our children, the people in the seats became twitchy. Taking a cue from emergency brake Jesus, our seated co-travellers decided that water would have to be replaced with wine and, because it was Germany, beer.

Every time somebody on the far side of the aisle decided that they needed quenching, all of us, content on our suitcases, would have to stand up to make way – like very, very dysfunctional dominoes. And then they’d come back with their bottles, and we’d have to stand up again, and try very hard not to trip them on purpose. The people flowed up the aisle. The beer flowed down the aisle. I switched between Alejandro and Alice.

Beer on the bahn had certain consequences. It made the uninhibited even more uninhibited, and through clever eavesdropping, I was able to learn of the Australian gentleman’s failures with the opposite sex (“I don’t remember what I said to her, mate, but she ran away”). It made the magical more magical – one American backpacker attempted to perform a particularly raucous magic trick requiring playing cards. He did not actually have playing cards, but the British spectators were awestruck regardless. Worse of all, however, beer made the small-bladdered even smaller-bladdered, triggering another wave of trips down the aisle.

I don’t know how I survived the journey. It was all a blur – figuratively and literally. I think I got a glimpse of a few trees. Maybe a river? I don’t know, but apparently the scenery was nice.

Finally we arrived at Prague. The train drew slowly into the station. My mother and I looked at each other – WE HAD MADE IT! And we were in the aisle already, which meant we’d be the first to get out of Nightmare Express. Waiting for the moment that we’d be able to throw ourselves back into the clutches of civilization, we hauled up our suitcases.

Alejandro didn’t make it.

Two Years a Blogger: Lessons Learnt (Alternatively, the “I Still Have a Blog” Speech)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for blogging in the history of our nation.

Two years ago, Mushroom Sup, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, successfully clicked on the “Create A Blog” button on WordPress. This presented Problem Number One, which she had never anticipated: what to post? Banging her fist on the keyboard repeatedly for 53 minutes did not produce the results she had hoped for, so she adopted a different strategy: writing a post using only the “w” key, and the “increase brightness” key.

Lesson #1: When the closest you come to being a writer is Writer’s Block: More often than not, I’ve sat down at my laptop with no idea what to write about. The Lucky Ones have inspiration at their disposal, but me, panic is more my thing (“I can’t let this blog die. Where else will I get notifications telling me that I’m pretty awesome?”). My first go-to is to think of random words. Socks. What’s up with socks, right? Warm and smelly. What else is smelly? What are my opinions on body odor? The train of thought is slow, and it breaks down a lot (“I should go out and buy a new deodorant, I don’t want to smell like socks”) but it gets there eventually. Conversely, I think of the last good, bad, funny, horrific or mildly emotional experience that I had and blow it out of proportion. Or I look at the news (same thing). Anyway, I try to be funny by forming a strong opinion on the chosen experience/ news article and defending it till I’m blue in the face, using fabricated facts and words that I don’t know the meaning of. If you don’t want to write humor, you could do the same thing but with real facts and real words (thank me later).

It worked. Mushroom Sup conclusively proved the Infinite Monkey Theorem, and what she produced was even better than the complete works of William Shakespeare. It actually made sense. Relatively speaking. The only problem was, it was just as long as his works, too.

Lesson #2: A Blog is Not a Book: Brevity is virtue. Short Sentences. Short Posts. Long posts = bored people (apologies for generalization). DOWN WITH DEFINITE ARTICLES.

As her devoted fan base grew wider to include spammers, in addition to her mother, she grew braver. Post by post, slowly but surely, she expanded her horizons. One year later, she had written a post using all – ALL – 26 letters of the alphabet, numbers from 1 to 7 and the “mute” key. This was a genius move. She achieved every blogger’s dream: REAL-PEOPLE-FOLLOWERS.

Lesson #3: We are Family: I am privileged to be part of this beautiful WordPress community. I want to read, like and comment on every post in my sundry Reader but I always fall short of this. I’ve made up my mind to consciously make time to read and like posts from the magnificent blogs I follow. Additionally, other blogs are a wonderful place to find that much-needed inspiration (I promise I’m not advocating plagiarism).

But even though Mushroom Sup’s name is Mushroom Sup, it wasn’t all highs. The only other thing Mushroom Sup had been able to sustain over a period of two years was bad grades in Math. Like in Math, she often considered giving up. Moments of existentialism, desperation and hunger overcame her as she thought to herself, “Why am I doing this when I could be eating a donut instead?”

Lesson #4: Keep at it: You’ll have dry spells. There’ll be days, especially in the beginning, when your ego reserve is as empty as your inbox. But never stop. Love what your write. Be in love with what you write. Nobody laughs at my own posts more than me – my mother has pointed this out many times. And one day, who knows, you’ll be Freshly Pressed, and you’ll be Meryl Streep.

And this, dear friends, countrymen and lend-me-your-ears, is what Mushroom Sup learnt in her miraculous journey from amateur (and immature) blogger to the great beacon light of hope to millions of WordPress spammers.

I am the joyous daybreak to end your long night of captivity.

Good morning.

Walking Into Walls: A Special (Navigation) Story

When I was young, I used to walk into walls a lot.

My parents would let me toddle about the house, as you would allow any normal two-year-old to do, but the minute they took an eye off me, I would invariably find a wall to walk straight into. I like to think that I was a child prodigy conducting empirical research into theoretical physics from a very young age, but my parents were convinced that something was wrong with me. Strange.

The “phase” continued until I was seven. My seemingly unfulfilled desire to collide with solid vertical surfaces, repeatedly, resulted in the loss of two front teeth, a mild concussion and for a short while, my ability to communicate in any form other than frog-like croaking. In movies and novels, when things like this happen to children, they usually become child prodigies, or ambidextrous. I was already a child prodigy, so in my case, head banging had the reverse effect. I became the opposite of a child prodigy, and amphibious.

Spatial navigation remains a problem for me. I haven’t learnt to drive yet (thank goodness for everyone else on the road) but I’ve practically been forbidden from giving anyone else directions. I’ve been living in the same city for 15 years now but I can barely get from my bedroom to the kitchen. To this day, I haven’t been able to find my Narnia wardrobe. And I’m convinced I have one; I can’t have walked through all those walls for nothing. I’m pretty sure I am the Chosen One.

Anyway, strangers have stopped me a few times and asked me for directions to the nearest railway station or Starbucks or Cold-War-themed Disney Adventure Park – you know, ordinary tourist stuff. And I’m so pleased that I bear the look of a well-travelled, knowledgeable local that I ignore the fact that I still need to ask myself (sometimes out loud) which hand I write with to tell my right hand from my left. My usual go-to is “go straight along this road and then take a left”. Sometimes I mix it up a little, and say, “take a left and then go straight along the road.” If the asker looks like he/she expects more, I add “and then take the third exit off the roundabout to your left”. Always left, never right. Right seems suspicious, somehow – anything that practically announces its own degree of correctness is probably wrong. Anyway, I’m not putting their lives in actual danger or anything, just inconveniencing them a little bit. Plus, there’s only one cliff in the area I live, and what are the chances that they’ll drive off that? My mother just doesn’t seem to understand.

Psychology has an explanation for my disability. Redistributed grey matter. People who have more grey matter in the right posterior hippocampus have better spatial navigation. ‘Right’ is my least favourite side. ‘Posterior’ is Shakespeare for buttocks. Hippos are weird. All this supports my main argument: I’m pretty sure I lost some of that grey matter walking into all those walls.

Update: I just told my mother and she says that this is a circular argument. I can’t tell; is it?