Don’t ask me. I’m done with all this existing.

I’m doing a philosophy class.

You may have the imagination of J.K. Rowling and Lewis Carroll combined, but honestly, you cannot even begin to imagine the horror. My brother’s hasn’t stopped laughing since I told him. It’s getting a bit scary now.

Anyway, the reason for this is that I am probably what you’d call the least philosophical person on earth. The closest I’ve ever come to philosophy is asking rhetorical questions.
I’m not even sure about how to pronounce ‘philosophical’ (‘phil-O-sophical’ or ‘philo-SOPH-ical’?).

Now that I’ve stated the premise, you’re probably expecting a ‘but’ here:
BUT it turns out I wasn’t that bad after all or
BUT I was so exceptional at philosophy that I could give Socrates a run for his money or
BUT everyone takes rhetorical questions seriously in Philosophy class, so I wasn’t as hopeless as everyone expected.

Nope, that’s not happening.

I’m even worse than I thought I would be, if that’s possible.

It’s fine in the beginning, when everyone’s talking about ordinary things like reasoning and logic and other things I mostly understand. But two minutes later I’m sitting in some sort of ‘Inception’ meets ‘The Matrix’ wonderland, and there’s a little bit of drool gathering at the corner of my lips.

I don’t even know what’s hit me (Okay, I do know – it’s usually a friend smacking my wrist and asking me to stop drooling). But seriously, I have no idea how the conversation goes from a discussion about logic to a discussion about…erm, things. I can’t even tell you what ‘things’, because the ‘things’ are so abstract, it’s like, I don’t know – concepts and stuff. And then there’s all of these principle type thingy-s.

Yes, um, I don’t think this is making for a very effective post.

In my defence though, it’s hard. Really hard. I know that quantifying philosophy as ‘hard’ is inherently against all the principles of philosophy, but then again, I’m not very good at it, remember? I’m trying to make myself feel better by telling myself that people are either philosophical or they’re not, and if I’m the latter, there’s nothing I can do about it. But philosophy itself says that ‘everything is possible’, so being my usual pedantic self, I have to technically be able to do something about it. And I can’t. Which drives me crazy. Well, okay, crazier.

The problem is that I just don’t get the questions. ‘Why do we exist? What purpose do we serve as human beings? What is ‘real’? Is ‘reality’ all just an illusion?’ If it were up to me, the answers to all these questions would be, ‘It’s just…you know, like…so yeah’. You can imagine what happens when the teacher calls on me:
“What do I mean by ‘existentialism’?”
“It’s just like…existing, you know. Something that’s there.” (Pointing vigorously at the ground to fully clarify the meaning of the word ‘there’).
“Yes, but what is ‘existentialism’ in philosophy?”
“Oh, everything. Everything is existentialism. Because you know, philosophy exists.”
“What’s the matter with you?!”
“Um…is that question counted for my grade?”

My verbal answers are terrible and written assignments are much, much worse. I think I’m slowly driving my teacher to the brink of early retirement. When I begin each sentence in a philosophy written assignment, I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to end. I just fumble my way through a dark metaphorical forest of words, picking up random, vaguely philosoph-ish sounding words and adding a few prepositions at strategic intervals. In the end I’m left with some garbled nonsense suspiciously similar to ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves; Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.’ Following is a 100% real excerpt from my first written assignment (tell me if you can figure out what it was about. I haven’t a clue, but I’m guessing – and hoping – that it’s something related to the existence of God):

“Is knowledge connected to belief? Some people believe in the existence of God while many do not. So which of these two groups have true knowledge about God? Moreover, can everything we know be considered the truth? For example, nobody knows the truth behind the concept of God. However, people who do believe in God consider their belief to be the truth and vice versa. So each group knows things differently, but can both groups be correct? No. This means that one group must be wrong.”

Notice how I begin with asking the reader questions that I never end up answering, and then proceed to carefully scrutinize the statement that ‘both groups cannot be correct’, thus arriving at the prudent, nuanced conclusion of “this means that one group must be wrong”.

For the sake of my philosophy grade (and my philosophy teacher’s sanity) I seriously hope that there is a god.

So, I’ll end with some advice for all my fellow non-philosophers out there who cannot distinguish between a philosophy and a rhetorical question:

If anyone asks, you don’t exist.

All I wanted was to be rich and famous.

What is the toughest question you’ve ever been asked?

For me, “Fries – large or medium?” and “Are you out of your mind?” are top contenders. But they aren’t the toughest questions I’ve ever been asked – not by a long shot.

No, the undoubted winner is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I like to call this question the ‘How It All Began’ question. I’ll explain.

Imagine this: You’re three years old and your parents have guests over. You’re busy playing with your ‘Barney-the-dinosaur’ soft toy. All of a sudden, there’s a lull in the conversation. Nobody knows what to say, so all eyes slowly turn towards you. You’re too young and innocent to know that you are the next victim. “Aww, what a sweet child,” one lady croons. She looks straight at you and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re taken aback. Grow up? That’s the first time you’re hearing about this. What does it mean – to grow up? And you have to be something? But why? You start squirming. You look at your parents hopefully. But they’re no help – they’re just beaming down at you, as is a whole group of adults. Suddenly one of them comes to a rescue. “Isn’t that a dinosaur you’re playing with? So, are we looking at an aspiring palaeontologist, then?” The adults laugh. ‘Laughing is good,’ you think, so you nod along. You’re only three, and you already want to be something that you cannot pronounce. Thus the scene is set for disappointment, self-realization and a life reconciled to procrastination.    

Just saying.

I really don’t understand why adults would ask unsuspecting little children this question. According to me, it’s one of three reasons:
1. They are genuinely interested. This seems unlikely.
2. They have suppressed memories of adults asking them the same question when they were little, so they are trying to heal themselves by re-enacting the trauma.
3. They want to point and laugh at little children’s dreams because their own childhood dreams were hopelessly crushed and they ended up being accountants. “Oh, so you want to become a ballerina, do you? (snorting) Good luck with that!”  

After lengthy observation (not really), I’ve noticed that there are six phases of childhood and each one boasts of a different answer to this question.

Phase 1 (ages 3-5 years): ‘My own little bubble’
You want to become one of the things in the pictures on the walls of your kindergarten class. A doctor. A painter. Dora the explorer.

Me, I went one step further in this phase. I told everyone that I wanted to be the President of the United States of America. That’s slightly strange, because I’m not even American.

Phase 2 (ages 6-7 years):  ‘Disillusioned: The bubble pops’
By now, you’re completely disillusioned with life. Your mother’s just told you that you can’t get a monkey, so you can’t be Dora the Explorer. And she scolded you for using up all the Band-Aids in your preparation to be a doctor. That’s when you think, ‘To heck with it! I don’t want to be an explorer, a doctor, or a painter.’
So you decide to be a bird.
Or an anteater, in my case. 

Phase 3 (ages 8-10 years): ‘I like the sound of that’
You’ve found that ants don’t taste very good. And you had to get six stiches on your knee when you tried to fly.
But now that you’re eight years old, you’ve heard about a whole range of occupations – and some of them sound really cool. Maybe you decide to be a scientist. Or a fire-fighter. Or a professional football player. Or a feminist. Or an ice-cream man. Sorry… an ice-cream person.

Phase 4 (ages 11-12 years): ‘It’s all about the money, money, money’
You know, scientist, fire-fighter and ice-cream man all seem like really hard jobs. You’d much rather just be rich and famous. No stress, no fuss. Just money. And a big house. Like Paris Hilton. Or Iron Man.

Phase 5 (ages 13-14 years): ‘Can I have a degree with that?’
Okay, your parents are saying that you need to get a degree. You’ve checked and there’s no such thing as a ‘rich-and-famous’ degree. You’re going to have to do something. But it has to be something fun, and interesting. Something you really love. A performing arts degree, maybe. Or a creative writing degree.

Phase 6 (age 15 years): ‘All roads lead to a professional degree’
Yup, it’s settled. Accountancy it is.

So that’s it. You started out with Dora and ended up as a character from Dilbert. Something went wrong along the way, and I think that it’s all because of this pesky question. It just sets the bar too high.

So I’ve devised an ingenious solution. I would be grateful if you could pass my message to as many three-years olds as you possibly can:

Three-years olds of the world: You know when adults ask you “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You should say, “An adult”.
It can only get better from there.

We are family; I’ve got all my bloggers with me.

I am now officially part of the WordPress family – yup, I have a badge and everything.

I’ll start by thanking the people who have so graciously invited me to become part of this family: Charlotte at It Does Not Do To Dwell On Dreams And Forget To Live and Joe at Confessions of a Technophile. I’ll give you ten minutes to go read their (awesome) blogs. Your time starts now.

Done? Okay, let’s move on.

Continuing the family analogy, I was just wondering about what member of the family I would be if this were a real family. An annoying younger sibling? An oppressive older sibling? A forgetful grandparent? A wailing baby?

Maybe, but I like to think of myself more as a playful, slightly dull pet dog.

(I bet Charlotte and Joe are regretting this already)

I would also like to take a moment to say how appreciative I am of my WordPress family. It truly does feel as if they are a real family. Like a family, they are brutally honest, often correcting my grammatical inaccuracies and questioning my inadequate knowledge when I pretend to be an expert on things I know absolutely nothing about. They make for good critics as well, lauding my relatively better posts and raising a scholarly, experienced eyebrow at the more…um, unintelligible ones. In fact, they’re probably doing the latter right now.

But now that they’re “officially” family, there’s nothing they can do about it. They will simply have to put up with me, because that’s what families do – put up with one another. And love one another of course, but first let’s just see how far we can get with the ‘putting-up’ bit.

Okay, so now I shall proceed to nominate the following bloggers to become part of this family. (If you feel that becoming a member of a family that I’m part of is more of a punishment than an award, feel free to ignore this. No pressure.)

1. Rob Complains About Things
2. Confessions Of A Hopeless Introvert
3. The Great Unwashed
4. Mostlytrueramblings
5. Parenting is not my superpower
6. Adoxographia
7. Comment is free
8. SID’s Blog
9. Ginger’s Grocery
10. Mashed Potatoes Blog

So welcome to the family!

What did you just say?

French, as a language, has won many world titles – it’s the ‘most beautiful’, the ‘most stylish’, and the ‘most romantic’.

Obviously, being a champion of rights of the downtrodden and unappreciated (read: spammers), I found this absolutely unacceptable. Come on, Russian is pretty stylish too. And, you have to admit, German is quite a romantic language. Words like ‘dummkopf’ can really come in handy sometimes.

So I decided to undertake a mission aimed at systematically destroying the French language. And how would I do this?

That’s simple – by learning it.

Okay, I’ll admit, my real intention was not so dastardly. I had to choose between Spanish and French, and I chose French because I already knew a few French words. That is, if you count ‘gateau’, ‘baguette’ and ‘crème brûlée’ (Don’t laugh. They’re proper, useful French words. Look – the last one has the accents and everything).

Anyway, I chose French because of my vast, somewhat esoteric French vocabulary, and as a result I’ve discovered that I have a very special talent. I might even go so far as to call it a flair:

I can make even the most beautiful language seem absolutely hideous.

So absolutely hideous that Napoleon might just be tempted to arise from the dead and shoot me himself. I’m guessing he’s short-tempered (He’s definitely coming for me now).

One of my most fundamental mistakes is that I make ‘un’ (That’s the French word for ‘one’) sound like ‘uhh…’, and this makes me seem slightly slow-witted when my French teacher asks me a question:

Teacher (in French): How many pens do you have?
Me: Uhh…
The teacher waits for a moment.
Teacher (in French): Come on, it’s easy.
Me: Uhh…
Teacher: It’s ‘un’! One pen!
Me: I knew that!

And pronouncing French words that have an ‘r’ requires a certain combination of snorting, coughing and holding your breath while touching your toes, counting backwards from ninety-nine and hopping on one foot. Okay, maybe not the last three. But then you still have to snort, cough and hold your breath, and unless you’re French, this is impossible to master. Usually I can only manage the cough, and most of the time, I end up choking. It’s still impossible for me to say ‘français’ without having an asthma attack.

French is a sinister language.

To add to this, I usually have absolutely no idea what the teacher is saying. She says something long and convoluted, and then looks at me expectantly, so I know it’s a question. At this point, one particular French word I know very well becomes extremely useful.

“Oui!”

‘Oui’ is my French word for all situations. Anything my teacher asks me, I smile confidently, and say, “Oui, oui!” Sometimes, I accompany it with an enthusiastic thumbs up. I must admit, though, that it doesn’t exactly work in all situations. For example, if she says to me, “You’ve failed the French test,” I don’t think it would be a very good idea to say “Oui!” and grinningly flash a thumbs up. But then it works for most other situations. I’m just hoping that I don’t fail a French test anytime soon.

I don’t think my French teacher’s too impressed either. She’s very patient with me, but I can sense her exasperation. The problem is that I’m terrible at following whatever she’s saying. All I hear is a vague jumble of words interspersed with many ‘le’s and ‘la’s. This makes it especially difficult when she gives us instructions. She tells us about the homework that we have to complete for the next day, and I have no idea what she’s just said, but I think that I’ve heard the French word for ‘dog’ somewhere in the midst of that vague jumble. So I come back the next day, with a whole paragraph on dogs, when everyone else has come with a paragraph critiquing a thesis on the evolution of the French language. To top it all, my paragraph isn’t even a good paragraph. Everyone else reads out their thesis: “The evolution of the French language is a particular important aspect of linguistic studies” while I’m left saying “I like dogs. Dogs are nice.”

To appease my teacher, I gave her a nice card for teacher’s day. It had a quote in it too – a particularly thoughtful one, if you ask me. It was by P.D.Q. Bach, and it read “I don’t know what it is about the French language, it seems to be scared of coming out of the mouth so it comes out the nose instead.” She laughed – but now that I think of it, it was more of a ‘Mwahahaha…I’m going to take revenge on this student who dares to mock the French language’ laugh. Hmm. That really puts things in perspective now.

Anyway, I must say, I’m still glad I picked French. Yes, it does have its problems: it, inexplicably, has a gender for everything (a blog is masculine, apparently), and to pronounce French words correctly, you need a bout of mild influenza. But then, when I was flicking through a friend’s Spanish to English dictionary the other day, I found these sentences on a page (they had been translated from Spanish): “Do you have the money?” “He doesn’t have the money!” “Give me the gun!”

I’m not an expert in these things, but their choice of sentences seems rather stereotypical to me.

So, I’ve concluded that I do, in fact, like French. It is quite beautiful, and speaking (or rather, annihilating) it does make me feel quite stylish.

And yes, I may speak (and understand) French worse than anyone else in the world, but I do have a reason for that:

I’m a dummkopf.