A very Zen kind of Fame


Zen tree corridor in Newlands forest

Since Greg started his new IT and financial services training company, Celerated, he’s been obsessing about LinkedIn. I’d always thought LinkedIn was a bit of a joke – the hipsters flocked to twitter, the Mums to Facebook, the nerds congregated on LinkedIn – but apparently this ‘is just not true!’ LinkedIn is ‘imperative for networking’.

No wonder I’ve never taken to it then. I don’t think I’ve ever networked with a single person ever, anywhere, or at least with any measure of success. I have, however, sidled up to people at cocktail parties but mostly because their snacks looked better than mine, or at least they displayed greater dexterity at managing to hold drinks, serviettes, toothpicks with blocks of cheese and gherkins – and this surely hinted at broader skills.

But if Greg were on LinkedIn, then I, too, was going to do it, because I’m competitive as fuck supportive and helpful. I dusted off my old LinkedIn profile only to find that a whole lot of people had endorsed my skills. Me?!! Skills??! I read through them appreciatively. It seems I’m good at:

  • negotiating (I have conducted some psychological experiments on my family that have involved negotiation)
  • strategic planning (sure, why not) – whatever that is
  • Microsoft Office (that’s like endorsing someone for eating lunch)

This was all very flattering, until I looked at who had endorsed me. That’s when the penny dropped. I’d never heard of most of them, which meant that they couldn’t possibly know me. This made sense when I considered that there was no photograph of me on LinkedIn. Nobody knew who the hell I was! Clearly that was why they had endorsed me. They were probably confusing me with other Lisa Lazaruses. (There’s a whole pack of us out there. Be warned!) I wondered if this insight could be taken much further. Would I be much more popular on FB, Twitter if I just wasn’t me?

I feel I’ve discovered something crucial here: about how much better it is not to be really known. I’m told that fans of Justin Bieber are called Beliebers. Presumably they appreciate the presence, now and then, of the Bieber himself. But things might be different for fans of me. Maybe the Belisas are kept at the right pitch of excitement when they never encounter their star at all. Certainly works for me.

A New Use For Zoo Biscuits (Or: More Dodgy Psychological Experiments)


If you want to understand a person’s mind, why mess around with ink blots when you can use animals? The Rorschach test is over-rated in my opinion. As a friend of mine said, ‘Who wants to look at a bunch of vaginas anyway? Not me. A total waste of my time. Why do they feel the need to make all the inkblots look like privates?’

But everybody loves an animal, and the great thing is it’s not always the same kind. You get cat people versus dog people – though who, for example, is a cockroach person rather than a grasshopper person? They’re out there. And what about those who prefer millipedes to centipedes – is the millipede the Donald Trump of insects (‘the most…the longest…’)? An ex-boyfriend of mine’s favourite animal was the stick insect.

If you want to do a projective test, a type of psychological test where the individual


An axoloti having a good time

responds to ambiguous scenes, words or images, just ask somebody what animal they would like to be. For example, I want to be an axoloti, or Mexican walking fish. Tellingly, axolotis don’t develop adult characteristics but retain their gills, fins and other larval characteristics throughout their life. Their name is derived from the word ‘xoloti’ meaning monster. Make of that what you will.

When I asked my spouse, he said he wanted to be a mountain gorilla, but then he changed his mind and said, ‘No, a more patriotic choice: a Cape baboon’. Fitting. The kids were keen on dinosaurs naturally. If you’re powerless and vulnerable, what better choice than a big and vicious T-Rex? Of course nobody in the family chose a battery chicken or a pig. You don’t want to be any animal that humans have set their rampant appetites on.

And let’s not stop at projective tests – what about dating apps? You put yourself on as your favourite animal and look for something that matches you. I don’t imagine a gazelle would choose a lion – or perhaps I’m wrong and that’s exactly how it would pan out. Would venture capitalists throw their money at this app plan? Maybe not. But I think it could be an entertaining way to burn off one’s life savings in a month or two developing such an app.

So leave off the ink blot tests and go for the animals. Perhaps they could even be combined. I was at a family dinner party a while back where an elderly French lady described her experience of giant beavers in Patagonia, and how much she enjoyed watching them swim in the icy streams. ‘Do you like beavers?’ my mother kept hectoring a friend of mine, who was also at the table, until eventually he cracked and admitted to liking them rather a lot. This confession of fondness somehow triggered a new question from her. ‘Can one eat giant beavers?’ she asked him. Now she would have been a good subject for a Rorschach test.













How to conduct a psychological experiment on your family

Children are not good for many things. You don’t, for example, want to take a child on a long plane trip. Or have them with you when something disastrous happens. My oldest son has a habit of blocking his ears and closing his eyes at the approach of a bad thing. At least it’s more sophisticated than my mother, who actually has been known to duck when something untoward occurs.

‘Mum,’ I say to her, ‘I heard a strange noise outside.’ – She ducks, her hands over her ears.

‘The kettle’s broken.’ – Duck. It’s not helpful.

But children are wonderful candidates for psychological experiments. I’m not suggesting you get them, Milgram-style, to administer shocks to unsuspecting people – god, can you imagine! Nobody would emerge unharmed – but you can set up subtle changes that reveal a lot about the psyche.

Like this experiment that I devised for the five-year-old last night. I’d been given a box of Elephant chocolates as a gift and, partly as bribe (‘first eat the avocado’), partly as kind-hearted motherly deed, I sometimes give them one after supper.

The youngest one came toddling along to ask for his chocolate.

‘Okay,’ I told him. ‘You ate your avocado?’

‘It was disgusting.’

‘Very good. But listen,’ I said to him in flash of brilliance, to be modest for a moment, ‘I’ve had an idea. Tell me what you think? You can get an Elephant chocolate – ’ joshie with chocolate


‘But your brother gets two.’


‘Alright, then you both get none. Either you get one and your brother gets two, or you both get none.’

‘Okay. Fine. We both get none.’

And that’s it in a nutshell, the problem with human beings, or at least one essential problem.

Let me lastly add that if you are planning a psychological experiment with family members – and I do believe this is an area worth developing (you might wish to choose from this list of 10 famous experiments that you could never do today*)  – you have to plan for a lengthy post-experiment time. I had to endure a very voluble five-year-old for a lengthy period of time**. In fact, my only response was to put my hands over my ears and duck.


*I’m rather taken with making half the family prisoners, the other half prison guards.

** Despite rescinding my earlier offer, and giving them each one chocolate.