September 2004

Psycho-Kitty? Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Lu-Tze is coming. He's not yet ready to leave his home. Early November is his ETA at the HouseOfVirge.

We visited him today. He wasn't completely pleased at first.


When we visited we found that Lu-Tze's mother had finished her breeding days and was looking for a place to retire. Guess what.

Adventures of a Prosopagnosic Scientist

You never know where a limerick will turn up. My limerick on agnosia appeared in the journal of a prosopagnosic scientist. No, she isn't a scientist who researches prosopagnosia for a living; she's a scientist/engineer who copes with the condition.

You see things -- just what, you can't place.
That's an object agnosia case.
But with prosopagnosia
A person who knows ya
Won't recognize you by your face.


"Whenever a poet or preacher, chief or wizard spouts gibberish, the human race spends centuries deciphering the message." - Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum.

You want to be remembered long after you're dead? Write nonsense. Make sure it sounds tantalizingly like there's a hidden meaning. Do inexplicable things. Write reams of poetry about things so banal that readers of the future will be convinced it's an intricately coded message. Make bold claims, then deny them, vehemently. Talk often with strange people. Make donations to obscure cults. Maintain an unsanitary habit... in public. Be enigmatically different.

Why did this principle work? How did it work?

We have no way to experience a continuous and complete lack of consciousness (by definition). Death is ineffable. Fear of the finality of death forces most of us to search for ways to deny it. The supernatural provides an unprovable and irrefutable arena for exercising our wishful imaginations. The real world with its statistically unlikely coincidences provides fuel for apophenia and reinforces our certainty that the truth is out there. If there is a greater truth in the supernatural, then it's fair to assume that someone on earth knew something about it. Whoever was gifted with this gnosis would surely have tried to: (a) share it with an ignorant world; (b) use that knowledge to achieve some end; or (c) hide it in code because it was too dangerous for everyone to wot of.

Take any piece of gibberish that was written at least a couple of centuries ago. It will fit one or more of the following:

  • (a) If nobody today really understands it, then the writer must have known more than we do about something. The text is meant for instruction, but we are too limited in our understanding.
  • (b) If the writer is known at all today, then that fame must have arisen from something special about the writer. The existence and availability of the text confirms that the writer was using some power to achieve an end.
  • (c) It only appears to be gibberish because it contains so much encrypted information. If the writer went to so much trouble to encrypt it, the knowledge must be extremely valuable.

Of course there only has to be one or two examples of intentionally hidden information in historic documents to make one suspect more. The default explanation -- that the writer was expressing contemporary ignorance or possibly just making it up because it was fun to do so -- is unsatisfying compared with a potential epiphany.

Now I'll let you in on a secret. Those who wrote gibberish that has perplexed readers over the centuries have either cunningly or unwittingly ensured an extension of their earthly influences. They've achieved the best approximation of immortality that nature is prepared to offer -- to be remembered.

About at this point I'd better revise my first statement. Too many people have access to publication. Too many people write gibberish. It's not enough to be eccentric.

You want to be remembered long after you're dead? Either do something of lasting value, or become famous and then write gibberish.

Honorable Mention

I made it to the extra page of honorable mentions in the Washington Post Style Invitational with these limericks:

Our beautiful anthem arose
From our nation's great culture. It goes:
"We shall cherish our peace
And our joy will increase
As we dance in the blood of our foes."

An aoudad; yeah, that's wot I am
And I've been one since I wuz a lamb.
I'm a big-horny dude;
All the ewes wot I've wooed
Call me baa baa baa Barbary ram.

Old Aussies

I was reading an interview with Nick Cave in a Sunday supplement of The Age. Sometimes a quote resonates. This one reverberated and keeps on ringing:

"I feel Australian to the core. You feel it in your bones, because you're at odds with everybody else, in the sense that people always seem to be behaving strangely." - Nick Cave

I'm past the stage of looking at people and wondering "Can't they see that <insert rational, logical, self-evident, irrefutable, bite-sized chunk of truth>?" I know the answer. And I know that there are perceptive, intelligent people who observe my actions and wonder why I behave so strangely. No matter where you are in this universe, the stars appear to be moving away from you. It's very tempting to think you're at the centre.

I guess the best you can hope for is to find people who share your own strangeness. I've found a few and I'm sticking with them.

Twanging the Strings of Memory

Last night I was an accompanist. DaughterOfVirge had to perform for a school assessment. It was a small soirée in a back room of the school hall. The audience comprised fellow music students, several parents, a senior music teacher and a video camera. DaughterOfVirge will have the dubious pleasure of analysing our performance on video.

She was one of 5 students to present a repertoire last night. It was one of the other students who twanged the strings of my memory by playing a toccata by Khachaturian. All of a sudden, images from a quarter of a century ago started popping into my head. I don't think I'd heard that toccata at all in the intervening years.

I was back in the lounge room of my music teacher. (I remember she had two enormous rough-haired Chow Chows, one of which would always howl whenever my sister played Greig. We could never work out if the dog was complaining or singing along.) It was during a music lesson. I was performing with gusto. I think the section I was up to was marked fortississississimo, or some such excess, when 'bang'.

Those familiar with pianos would realise that a grand piano is not meant to go 'bang'.

TeacherOfVirge was none too happy. She was probably not expecting to include broken string replacement in her budget. I shrugged it off. It meant little to me at the time.

I was sitting in a performance assessment again, wondering what I'd be doing now had I decided to pursue a career in music performance instead of engineering. I'd probably be numbing my brain as a private piano teacher to keep some sort of regular income stream while trying to make performance pay.

No regrets.

Father's Day Limericks

I looked at the cards on display for Father's Day and found myself frustrated. There were stiff-upper-lip formal cards with compasses and yachts and mature blokey images. There were ever-faithful dog cards and from-your-silly-little-kid cards. There were rows and rows of how-many-times-can-we-frame-the-same-joke card.

I gave up. I had Saturday evening to spare, so I was sure I'd come up with something if I forced myself to create a card with a personal message. Here it is.

When that noise they play can't be a song
'Cause it sounds like it's sung by King Kong,
When the shows that they watch
Seem to dwell on the crotch --
Makes you wonder just when things went wrong.

When you've led them to where they belong
Yet your child (whom you thought would stay strong)
In apostasy, strays
Into prodigal ways --
Makes you think, "Did I do something wrong?"

When your grandchildren join the goth throng,
Or play role-playing games all day long
And you see them begin
To stick studs through their skin --
Makes you wonder, "Where did I go wrong?"

When your family grows healthy and bright,
When they're stable, mature and polite,
When they earn peer respect
Then it's fair to expect...

...Someone else gets the praise for that, right?

Happy Father's Day