Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Misadventures of Chameleon

I seem to have, over the years, developed an ability to blend. Just like that awesome little self-camouflaging lizard.

People have asked me for a while now why I have an American accent. Now I've been to America three times in my life over the past 9 years and most recently in the January just gone, but I'm not from there, no family from there, and I don't really have any close friends with American accents. Plus I've never really been there for much longer than five weeks at a time. 

My theory, though, is where my chameleon charm comes in - I pick up accents when I hear them for long enough. 

This is mostly the case with European accents like various English ones, French and occasionally Irish - but very rarely Scottish (those ones are hard for me to drop into unintentionally). The American comes, jokingly pointed out to me by the parentals, by simply watching too much television. Now, as hilarious and kind of sad that is - it's probably true. I'd wager 95% of all the television shows I watch come from either Canada, America or the UK and so when that's what I hear I pick it up unintentionally. 

I'm a pretty social person - I spend a lot of time with friends and family, but since I'm a second generation immigrant anyway I don't have a cornucopia of 'Australian' accents at home. I'm lucky I didn't pick up an Anglo-Indian twang instead. And its not as if where I'm from casts a huge source of 'Australian' accents - though when I'm overseas the people I meet seem to pick up that I'm from the Red Earth Island. 

But a heavy influence of television isn't the only thing that impacts my malleable speech pathology; music, film and travelling does too. Usually accents don't transfer so much through song, but if you listen closely (especially in show tunes which I listen to a hell of a lot) you can hear the difference in the way that certain words like 'can't' are pronounced. In some cases it even changes the way the lyrics rhyme or not, and making an effort to sing them in the 'proper' (read: British/Australian way) isn't always easy. It's like learning by ear, and was one skill that helped me loads during high school French. Plus it still does when I'm travelling because it helps me to speak to the locals both in and out of English.

It is a bit of a burden sometimes, on the flip side, because I don't always know that I'm doing it.

One time when I was in high school, I met a friend who'd moved over from London - she and I became pretty close, but one day she mentioned that she didn't understand why I continued to imitate the way she spoke since it either made her angry or made her homesick. I had had no clue I was doing it at all. Similarly, the same will happen with the American accent because people will ask me where it comes from, however innocently, or accuse me of trying to be cool or 'americanised'. It's pretty embarrassing and sometimes hurts my feelings, which is why I'll always brush it off with the 'too much tv' line like it's no big deal that I was 'doing that thing again' and somebody caught me out. 

There are good sides and bad sides to being the pseudo-linguistic chameleon that I am, not the least of which is making  me blend in abroad all that much easier. 

Unless, of course, I'm in India or Egypt. But that's a whole other story for another time. 

Stay tuned for more misadventures of: Chameleon. Super powers not included.

Sam xox

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Meaning of Life

I don't subscribe to the theory that we are supposed to sacrifice and abstain in life in order to live ever after in the Elysian Fields, or rather Heaven.

I'm not religious, with all due respect to those who are, and I think that the afterlife is so uncertain and unclear that life is too short to waste time putting things off for after you die. If you don't know for sure that you're going to live in Nirvana when all is said and done, why not just enjoy things now? At the risk of running into a religious debate let me just say that I'm not attempting to question anyone's faith, or what the afterlife is really like, but I'm just of the mind myself to enjoy the opportunities that my family has worked to give me when I don't know what will happen later. Carpe Diem and all that.

Of course, but also to work hard so that the opportunities later transfer to my future dynasty aswell. 

I'm an archaeologist, whether you decide that makes me a scientist or not, and so from the evidence of evolution I believe that organised religion is a human construct. Now, don't burn me at the stake just yet, let me explain: humanity has always, at least as far back as we can trace (including some interpretations of palaeolithic - Stone Age - cave and mobile art), needed to believe in something other. You know, something either intangible, impossible or unlikely. Don't ask me why, this is only the beginning of an investigation so I'm not yet privy to the answer. 

Atheism is a newer construct, believing in nothing is only acceptable in recent years although has probably been around for a lot longer - clearly kept secret on pain of death. Unfortunately, like homosexuality. Every major religion considers itself to be the 'right' or 'true' way and when you throw these all together they cover the globe, particularly in the Middle Ages there was no way you'd get by without joining one. Sometimes by force. Atheism is therefore a much more recent response to this, and now it's not only ok to denounce faith but in some cases people think it's cool. 

I'm not religious, nor am I an Athiest; I'm agnostic, so that means I do believe - just not in an organised religion. I'm not going to hash out all my ideas and beliefs here, but rest assured that I've had a life time (so far) to search myself and the world to answer my own questions. There's only like 200 bazillion left to go.

Anyway, the point wasn't about my ideas, only that everyone ascribes different meanings to life and that historically people generally need to believe in something. Belief and religion are not necessarily the same thing. Belief can cover both a spirituality (i.e afterlife, gods etc) and expectation (I.e morality). By saying everyone needs to believe somehow can be anything from believing the world is on the back of a giant turtle to believing a smile will make you someone's day. You see where I'm going with this? 

Swinging back to the afterlife, the majority of people these days believe in whatever shape or form that there probably is one, and for the ones that don't are much more likely to pursue the things they want more readily. For example, when you don't believe anything happens to you after you die then what's to stop you from trying everything that would be considered 'sinful' or 'immoral' in certain circles. And I'm not talking beastiality or murder, rather chocolate, pre-marital sex and skipping church on Sundays. Life is short, whether you believe we live on or not, and when you consider that hundreds of millions of people worldwide are probably worse off than you, why shouldn't you enjoy the opportunities and freedom that our parents and grandparents have worked so hard to give us? What's the point in always putting dreams, adventure or goals off far into the future when you never know how long you have left?

My parents and grandparents, as I've said before, did not come from wealth. They worked hard for years to give my brother, cousins and I the opportunities and freedom that we now have (let alone all the human rights, women's rights and international relations along with it), but I've worked hard too; I went to university, earned my degree and worked for a few years. Unforeseen circumstances caused me to leave before I was ready, but the bright side means I have the opportunity to now go travelling for an extended period like I've always wanted - I'm an avid adventurer, so sue me. This is an opportunity I'm grateful for and since I think that life is too short I'm taking it because I did genuinely work for it. 

I don't know if I believe I'm going to paradise when, whenever it may be, I die, but I do know that when my time is up I won't have squandered it - at least not all of it. Life is short, and even if I make it into grey hair and false teeth I don't want to look back on the opportunities I inexplicably didn't take. I'm a lot of things, but abstinence queen is not one of them. 

So if you didn't get where that waffle was going, here's the rub: for me, the meaning of life is to enjoy it and the opportunities that you and your for-bearers worked hard to give you. Missing out in favour of waiting, not taking risks or because you're saving it for the afterlife seems sad and may only leave you in disappointment if you're not lucky. By all means continue to work hard - your children with thank you some day - but don't let it be a choice between what you want and what is expected of you all the time. 

Remember: not every one gets the opportunities that we do. Don't waste them, you'll only have yourself to blame. 

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 

Sam xox 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Salem the Cat

If you're old like me (23 feels old) and you grew up as a child of the 1990's, then you're probably familiar with the television sitcom series Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

The show stars Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina, who lives with her two aunts, Hilda and Zelda, in Massachusetts, and their black cat, Salem. On her 16th birthday she finds out she's a legit witch with magical powers, the ability to travel between realms and everything that comes with it, all the while whilst dealing with general highschool drama, her adorable crush, Harvey, and keeping her secret.

As a little girl watching the series, Sabrina was a total role model; looking back I can totally see why: she's sassy, smart, fun, pretty, but she always makes mistakes and learns from them - often saving herself from whatever trouble she's gotten into. Plus she has the ability to magically zap things (like clothes), manifest things, travel through time, and generally wreak havoc in one form or another - what little girl wouldn't want that lifestyle? Well, I did at least. But Sabrina's powers are far from limitless and much of the trouble she gets stuck in is a result of banned behaviour as put form by the witches council - like the ban the Witches Council has over love spells. Kind of like the Genie in Aladdin, the Witches council upholds strict codes of conduct when it comes to messing with the mortal world and mortals themselves; they even step in to sometimes turn back time when an event needs to be covered up like the time Europe was ruled by rabbit. Don't remember that one? Exactly.

Sabrina is a family-friendly show and so most of the episodes contain a lesson that Sabrina learns and often (literally) works on a moral compass, but re-watching as an adult makes for a different experience of the same sort of fun; kind of like the way Disney films are when you watch them later, you pick up jokes and references that maybe went over your head if you watched as a kid. And the best character I find for this is their cat born warlock companion, Salem.

Salem Saberhagen is centuries old witch who, after attempting to actually take over the world in the 60's, was caught by the witches council, stripped off  his powers and turned into a cat for 100 years as punishment. Since this was only about 30 years ago at the time of the show, Salem's got ages to go yet and no apparent out - but that doesn't stop him from trying, and almost succeeding in the later series. But apparent from Sabrina and her antics, Salem is probably my favourite part of the show simply because of all the weird and wonderful things he gets up to. He can be like a grumpy old man in cat form, but the fact that he is a feline makes so much more for comedy - such as pretending to be a woman in a chatroom, having a crazy house party with catnip, prank calling people, and trying to trick his ex-girlfriend into thinking he's still really a warlock. He's a pretty crafty kitty.

And alongside that, he's actually a pretty loving familiar especially when you consider how fond of Sabrina he is. All through the series he watches out for her as much as he drives her crazy; from warning her not to kiss Harvey unless she wants him to turn into a frog to entering himself into a cat show so the two of them can win some money. He's probably her best friend in the series, despite what they actually may say, and its both a fun homage to the 'man's best friend' relationship with a pet and the witch and her familiar stereotype. Plus who doesn't love the idea of a talking pet? So long as it's not Major and the other pigs from Animal Farm....

Even as a child when Sabrina first aired, I'd always related to her as a young, sassy modern woman with (i wish, I had) supernatural powers that can apparently do everything except open a jar. And so when our family cat, Meisha, passed away in early 2003 and by the end of the year we were ready to share the love with a new feline, we picked a black cat and I jumped for the name Salem. And you wouldn't believe just how fitting that name actually was. For one thing, my Salem looks just like Sabrina's even though in my cat's age he's developed an eye thing that makes him look kind of like a pirate with an eye patch. But in terms of eye shape and colour, face, size, colouring and body type, our Salem is so much like his namesake in looks that I sometimes still anticipate that he will actually start talking to me in Nick Backay's voice. It's been 11 years now and that still hasn't happened, but there's still time, right?

In other aspects, my Salem is evil as all hell and I would not be even a little bit surprised if he tried for world domination just like the original. He's a terror to small mammals, likes to break mirrors on Friday the 13th (yes, really) and more than one of my friends are actually too terrified to go near him. Plus, Anubis, the greyhound, is still terrified of him and they've been living together for over two years. 

I think I named him well, if I do say so myself, and it seems like even after a full decade since we got him that I'm still waiting for him to turn around and talk to me. I love my cat - even if he's an evil creeper and loves to jump out of nowhere to scare the living crap out of me. 

Salem Saberhagen quotes:

- You're the only one who understands me, Salem. 
- Yes, but that doesn't mean I care. 

-If you ladies don't mind, I've got a lot of new territory to mark. 

-Adolescence is not sitting well with you. 

-I found the Fountain of Youth! It's the toilet!

-Would you be terribly upset if I threw up in one of your shoes?

-I urge you to accept me as your ruler. 

-I'm blonde! My IQ just dropped 20 points!

-Someone brought the catnip, I had nothing to do with it!

There are plenty more fun Salem moments that you can find either just watching the series, or in collections on YouTube but I recommend him - he's always good for a laugh. 

Not that my Salem thinks so when I try to get him to watch with me. 

Sam xox