Goldfish Go Figure

Zara’s mind was off the lesson about as often as it was on it. The teacher’s voice faded in and out of intelligibility. That didn’t make for a very effective understanding of the topic being taught. Somewhere in the midst of staring out the window and wondering if there were unicorns in Australia, she decided that perhaps paying attention would be a good idea if she wanted to get a decent grade in subsequent quizzes.

Human Behaviour. What a subject to teach in school. It had only been part of the curriculum for a complete academic year; this was its second. It had been a response to issues about the ineffectiveness of the school curriculum, since the complaints were that children were not learning enough things that were relevant to humans themselves. The syllabus had been designed by professional, practicing psychologists, whom, it had been rumoured, had been hard-pressed to find topics to put in it, as they believed that everything known about human behaviour was entirely relevant to teach to high school students.

Today’s particular Human Behaviour lesson was on attention spans.

“And, as of 2013,” the teacher, Mr Bright, was saying, “The attention span of the average human dropped from twelve seconds to eight seconds, which is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.”

“Pardon me?” Zara asked without thinking. Occasionally, things like this happened. Her brain and mouth lost connection, and the former decided to act without permission. Well, at least this time, her brain had intervened in the last minute, preventing her from blurting out “What?” instead.

“Did you not hear what I said?” asked Mr Bright.

“I mean, I heard, but I just…” began Zara, trying to defend herself.

“No excuses! You simply weren’t paying enough attention.”

There was silence in the classroom. Then there was an uncertain giggle. That broke the silence and the mutters began. Nevertheless, it seemed Mr Bright was still a bit dim to the whole situation.

“Quiet!” he barked at the students. “Why are you all whispering?” he asked paradoxically. (How, for instance, were they supposed to audibly answer the question, if they were meant to be being quiet at the same time?)

“You…you just said I wasn’t paying enough attention,” Zara offered tentatively.

“Yes…and so?” Mr Bright, in the minds of many of his students that day lost the right to his name.

“Well, according to the lesson, I am not very capable of paying attention to the lesson; it’s been scientifically proven, as your notes say.”

The poor teacher was dumbfounded. For a few seconds, he couldn’t offer anything intelligible, and his mind whirred to find something to sway that would save his gradually depreciating face.

“Yes, but you need to understand the rest: our attention spans are only so low because of the emergence of social media. It’s your fault, really – all your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You kids can’t be seen without your iPads, iPods and iPhones for ten minutes.”

The sound of an object vibrating against wood was heard. Most eyes followed the direction of the source of the sound. On the teacher’s table, Mr Bright’s iPhone, which had been put on vibrate, lit up. He had a Whatsapp message. Only about two seconds later, another message lit up the screen – and then another, and then another.

One student cheekily dared to ask, “Does Whatsapp count as social media?” And when warning eyes turned on him, he shrank back and defended himself: “It was just a question!”

Zara’s mind, however, in the midst of all this, was still working. “Wait,” she said. “Then how long was the attention span of a human before social media?”

Mr Bright was looking greatly irritated, shamed and exasperated. “You people are not understanding this lesson at all! What I referred to is called transient attention.”

“And how long was it before?”

“I already mentioned it! It was about twelve seconds. However, the prolonged kind, which is called selective sustained attention, is about twenty minutes at maximum.”

Now, he was saving his face, looking proud of himself for finally being able to competently answer a question.

Zara wasn’t going to let him go off scott-free, though. She glanced at her watch. “This lesson has been going on for thirty minutes now.”

“Your point is?”

“Well…given that we are having an eighty-minute lesson to teach us about how we are not very capable of paying attention for more than twenty of them at a go, I think someone has to re-evaluate the whole education system in here. Otherwise, the contradiction lies in the fact that the system is teaching us exactly why the system isn’t very smart.”

Author’s note: I merely thought it would be fun to write about this topic in prosaic form. I also thought it would be way more fun to end it here and see how the reader’s mind continues it. If you’d like to share the product of your imagination, I’d be happy to see how you think the story would continue in the comments. 😉 Also, this is my way of measuring the amount of trouble I get into. LOL



A Letter to the Younger Self of my Best Friend


It is 2050, and I am 32. I am writing you this letter while sitting underneath a mango tree in the Volta Region. There isn’t really anything particularly spectacular about what I am doing, but in 2014, I never would have envisioned myself doing it. I never would have envisioned any event in 2030 in the first place, seeing as how I expected to die at age 27. Well, that’s a twisted version of the truth; I’d expected to have killed myself by any means possible by this time, actually.

Do you remember that discussion? It was a comment I passed on a somewhat random day, either before or between classes, at a time when I was particularly depressed for no particular reason. Of course you don’t remember – it hasn’t happened to you yet. What I said was, and I quote:

“I don’t want to live a life that I don’t want to live.”

It seems unnecessarily paradoxical now, but I assure you that you understood (or will understand) perfectly. So, if there was any hint, in my future, that I was to live the rest of my life in misery, I would not live the rest of my life.

But here I am, now, writing this letter in the shade of a mango tree. You happen to be a greatly significant factor to my present condition, aside from the fact that you are the planter of this mango tree.

As I write, I am addressing the ten-year-old version of yourself. There is no particular reason for this. I just think it would feel weird to address it to your present self, since you are just a little way off, reading a storybook to Artemis. You don’t know me yet, and neither will your ten-year-old self ever read this, but kudos to you if your future self ever manages to get a hold of this.

My dear, you are a weirdo and an outcast, and I mean this in the hardest, most un-sugar-coated way possible. And I say it this way only that it may strike you hard: you will never fit in.

Perhaps ‘outcast’ was a little far from the truth. You’re merely more comfortable being ostracized by the beings you ostracize by making them think they are ostracizing you.

Do not, for one second, regard this as a bad thing. After all, you can’t be depressed – not by my standards, at least. That is, perhaps, the one thing in which I have ever managed to outstrip you. You never have, and never will meet anybody more depressed and/or depressing than I have been. I probably went as far as a suicidal person could ever get to madness without actually performing the action of suicide. The point I am trying to make is that you are not depressed; you are just supremely weird, and that will always be the foundation of my love for you.

Natural weirdness, as both of us know now, is not enough, and is significantly more insignificant without wisdom to accompany it. The first step to wisdom, unfortunately, is realizing that people are very stupid – including yourself. However, when you have finally come to terms with this fact, you will be that much wiser than the rest of them. The next time you notice the stupidity of people, you will be well on your way to Solomon-ness.

Your wisdom, which you will inevitably acquire – I know this because you were wise when I met you – will reveal to you that this is a world of evil and drudgery, and the only path it is taking is straight down. There is, according to prophecy, nothing we can do to prevent that. But do not give up; despair is entirely my job. Yours is to provide the satirical humour that makes me laugh with grave amusement.

In spite of the hopelessness of the universe, we managed to brighten up our own solar systems, and you are the Sun of mine. When you are older, you will begin to become my tangible reassurance that the world is not – at least not completely – beyond saving.

One day, you will tell me that you are the person you are because I made you that way. I will maintain that this is inaccurate, and the reciprocal might be more veritable. You, I believe, were born awesome, and without your influence, I would, as I have mentioned earlier, have killed myself already.

In case you’re curious about what you will be, let me tell you now: you smile often. Your stomach is still flat. Your children love you, but they only laugh at your jokes because they are horrible and absurd, not because they’re funny. And finally, whenever I ask you, “Are you happy?” your response is a smile and a “Yes.”

The last thing I want to tell you is that you are in the prime of your youth, and you will stay there for a very long time, regardless of your age. In fact, you are immortal, with your existence remaining physical as well as stored in ink, and also in bytes, somewhere in cyber-space. You are immortalized in almost everything I write, in some form or the other.

I’ve heard it being said,

“If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die.”

I am a writer.

Make the deduction.




I Remember Her Then

I’ve been watching. I’ve been watching for a long while now, so I remember. I remember the light in her eyes when she was a kid – when everything fascinated her and she asked questions whose explanations were things her young, underdeveloped brain would take years more to learn to understand. And even so, she would try hard to grasp these concepts; her frown of concentration was the cutest expression I had ever seen on a young kid. A mind this curious, searching and capable, I believed she could be a scientist.

God bless the day she finally learned to read! Her eyes never gave her brain breaks. She was absorbing information like a sponge from the minute her brain knew how to recognize a complete thought in printed form. Whenever she found out something new, she would run to her mother and explain with such vigour and enthusiasm that she was always tolerated, regardless of whether or not she was making much sense. Nobody really paid attention to that, because no one wanted to be the damper that killed the pretty light in her eyes.

I remember the initial effects of the system. I remember when she would come home tired, and the question “How was school?” would be asked more often than the more preferred “What did you learn today?” And perhaps if they had asked the right questions, they would have detected the problems before they escalated. Perhaps they would have realised that, for the sake of education, she was learning less.

At the beginning of high school, each subject was introduced with a syllabus guide. Each teacher had said some sort of variation of, “And as part of the student profile, each person is expected to develop an inquisitive mind.” She made the mistake of taking that literally. Whenever she wanted to know something, she asked about it; and more often than not, the response was “You don’t need to know that; it’s not in the syllabus.” Gradually, as the weight of the syllabus was imposed on her in increasingly heavy weights, the questions died in her throat and in her heart. As for any love she might have developed for the syllabus, it was prematurely slaughtered by its imposition.

She had never asked what the point was when no one had bidden her to learn what she had learned voluntarily. But the syllabus constantly made her question “Why?” She asked it aloud and silently, multiple times each day. The question was now the only one on her mind, constantly, where before, there used to be dozens each an hour.

Worry superseded curiosity. Negativity replaced positivity. The furrow between her eyebrows became a near permanent fixture, whereas before, the regularity had been the uplifting of her eyebrows whenever she experienced a wondrous “eureka” moment.

As I watch her now, nearing the end of the four-year journey through the four different stages of Hades, dolour seems to cover her. Her bright green aura of life has been shaded and manipulated so much that she looks as though she is surrounded by a thick, translucent sheet of dark grey. Negativity surrounds her as a result of all the responsibility she has been charged with all of a sudden. She is like an electron.

Though she functions, I cannot see the life in her, nor can I locate any sort of motivation. I don’t know where her hope lies, if she has any. I see her sober in solitude, and it is such a contrast to my memories of her – her engrossment in whichever activity she used to perform when she was alone. I wonder if she too remembers herself as she was then. I wonder if back then, she’d had goals she would have liked to have achieved by now; but if she did, I doubt she has achieved them.

Through watching her progression as a third-party observer for years, I realized how cruel life could be to the joy inside people. The beauty that comes with my memories weigh heavily on my heart, only because I wish I could see it all again now. She had so much potential then, and I wonder what kind of energy it was converted to before it was lost to the depressiveness of the environment.

Daily, I wish I could go to her and play my memories of her past to her present self, to remind her of all that she can be, with the proof being all that she has been. I wish I could wake her up from the dormant state of anhedonia and tell her that there is more to life than just this, and that the world doesn’t matter, and that systems don’t matter, and that she can conquer them without being a part of them. It breaks my heart to see her dolorous walk, but I dare not approach her; that would be an unwise decision, especially considering that she does not know me.

Despite the fact that I have watched her from birth, she does not know even so much as my name – and I doubt she has enough numbers in her head even to count my age. For all that I want to do to her, for her, I find that I am unfortunately limited, for my master gave me rules of engagement, and with certain things, I am not allowed to interfere. But I continue to watch, I continue to guard, I continue to keep the parts of her that I can safe, so that once that joyous spirit is revived – the one that has been with her always, and whose glimmer I still insist I see – it will fill her, and revert her to the glorious creature she is capable of being.

I have not yet given up hope, because I am certain that it takes more – much more – to kill the very nature of excellence woven into every pore and cell of one’s essence.


7 Random thoughts

I love this. Makes me want to write a response.


Be extraordinary.

Anticipate that life will hurt. It never hurts as much as you imagine, so you’ll always be ok when it happens.

Laugh. Something out there is funny, so laugh.

Pray to God, He actually listens.

It’s okay to change. The cool kids call it growing. Don’t feel bad.

Rain has a tendency to inspire depth in thinking. Use rainy days well.

Above all, read other people’s random thoughts. They may inspire you or just waste your afternoon. It’s a great lesson either way. :):)

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