I saw V for Vendetta last night. It was vreat!
That's not to say it was necessarily subtle -- it wasn't -- but it was exciting, sad, scary, and strangely sweet. I mean, vexciting, vad, vcary, and vtrangely vweet. The people who were mostly good got back at the people who were mostly bad, and even though at one point I desperately wanted Evey to bash V's smarmy manipulative head in, I was glad despite myself that she didn't.
I was thinking two main thoughts as I walked out of the theater. The first one was about what would happen if you made this movie set in the US instead of England. Mind you, as is, it's basically "set in England" with the US seeping from every pore. But if you were just a little blunter about it? I'm imagining the entire Bush administration too shocked to believe its collective eyes or figure out what the hell to do. Wait-- did they really-- blow up the-- call us-- but-- they can't do that!
The second, and related, thought was about the Joe Loves Crappy Movies review of V for Vendetta. It's quite possibly the most appropriate review comic that could have been written. Note, if you care to do so, the change in subsequent comics.
According to Jacob and Wikipedia, that is essentially the reason that the author of the graphic novel had his name taken off the movie: it looks a whole lot like it's about the US and the current administration. Here's the excerpt from the Wikipedia article: "After reading the script, Moore remarked that his comic had been 'turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country.... [This film] is a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives â which is not what [the comic] 'V for Vendetta' was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about [England].'" I can see his point. If he was writing not about a government but about any government, the movie didn't do him much good.
Still, I don't think I would have enjoyed being beaten about the head and shoulders with anarchy for two hours. But I enjoyed the hell out of being beaten about the head and shoulders with revolution.
My two most ironically maladaptive phobias are heights and public speaking. I say ironically maladaptive because heights make my head swim and public speaking makes me incoherent with anxiety, thus increasing the chances that I will do precisely the things I'm afraid of: fall off of tall places and make a bumbling ass of myself. Still, they both seem to be in some sort of process of remission at the moment.
In the case of heights, it's perhaps a very small remission. The Berkeley campus is very crowded, and I don't have time to come home for lunch on weekdays. So I'm forever wandering around campus with lunch in hand looking for someplace where I can eat peacefully without hearing too many cell phone conversations. Folks: I am here to tell you that such places are extremely rare. If the weather is nice, every bench is sprouting a person with a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. If the weather is not nice, they (people, not benches) flock to indoor lounges, overhangs and even building corridors. The only escape route I've found is upwards, to one of the outside balconies on the upper floors of the library. They're generally lacking in benches, but they do have concrete railings on which a person can slouch comfortably. With the odd architecture of Doe Library, I'd say it's about a 14-foot elevation on one side and maybe 20 feet on the other. Those aren't heights to inspire fear in most people, but particularly when sitting on (rather than behind) the balcony walls, I find them scary enough. Yet I've been eating my lunches there about twice a week for most of this semester. It's strangely nice. Everybody stays at an unintrusive distance just by being at ground level, and on the north side at least the view is pleasant. Mind you, I always cling desperately to the concrete railing with my knees and can't look up or down too abruptly, but I choose to find it more important that I'm sitting there at all. If I keep it up, maybe one day I'll be able to climb a ladder!
Public speaking is in rather more significant remission, for the reason that it's under the control of considerably less sympathetic people than I. Classes require public speaking, I'm now recalling. There are projects. Presentations. Stand up and talk for twenty minutes to a room full of staring eyes, that kind of thing. I've had three of them so far this semester, split among two classes, and it's been to my utter shock that none of them has killed me. Today I presented an archaeology research project on the Ertebølle culture of Mesolithic Denmark, which in a fit of cockiness I'd signed up to give as a bare-bones blackboard talk instead of a shiny Powerpoint show. Between 11:00 last night and 7:00 this morning I divided my time between rehearsing, sleeping, and worrying (the latter of which, for the record, accomplishes neither of the first two ends), and finally threw my hands in the air, went to class, and talked about boat burials and transverse arrowheads. It worked. I distinctly remember all of my essential information leaving my mouth, my instructor nodding, and my classmates asking questions that indicated I'd been more or less coherent. I ran into a classmate later in the afternoon at the library and she said thoughtfully, "You know, you really seemed to know what you were talking about." I've realized: I live for words like that. To be the person who knows shit and can explain it and impart it to others, I will spend just about any number of hours researching and summarizing and distilling and practicing and quietly panicking. One of these days I'm going to get myself in real trouble with this attitude -- I'll wake up one morning and realize that I got drunk on pedagogy and signed up to teach a class or something -- but I have to say that I really appreciate what it's doing for my grades.
Smiles, laughs, et cetera. Balloons!
You know how it's said that if you know someone who's suicidal, and you see him or her one day looking happy and calm, you should take it as a really bad sign? Don't worry, this is not that kind of post. But it's just occurred to me that if you have a student who's fighting you tooth and nail about an inappropriately personal paper assignment on which you won't budge, and then you see her one day looking perfectly cheerful and innocent, you should take it as a sign that she's going to turn in an excellent paper that's nothing but lies and then go and have a really long talk with your department.
Current music: Alkaline Trio - I Lied My Face Off. In fact, I just started up iTunes expressly so that I could listen to that song expressly so that I could say I was listening to that song. De de dum de dum de de dum.
I got a call from my mom this afternoon, telling me that my dad had been in a car accident. He flipped his Miata over with the top down on a canyon stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, and was taken to UCLA Medical Center. The second call an hour later clarified: he's alive, awake, and without evident brain or spinal cord injuries. That's great; he's phenomenally lucky.
Lucky, that is, that all that happened was being dragged along the pavement on his face and fracturing his eye socket. Apparently he's going to need surgery today just to put some skin back on his face and then he'll be looking at further plastic surgery later on. From the sound of my mom's voice on the phone I think she had one panic attack when she heard he'd been in a car accident and then another when she got a first look at him. Being a speech & hearing pathologist who's worked with head injury patients for years, of course, she's mostly concerned about his eyesight, hearing, and, you know, brain. Those things are okay. I reiterate, that's great.
I am looking very pointedly at certain friends of mine who consider themselves sport drivers and connoisseurs of canyon roads. My dad is fifty years old (turning 51 next Sunday, in fact). He's been driving for more than thirty years and since I've been alive I haven't known him to get into a single accident until today. When I hung up the phone and started listing all the injuries that he managed to avoid in the course of this accident, Jacob said, "So it sounds like this was basically a wakeup call?" Yeah, pretty much, but not the kind that you wake up and walk away from. It's the kind where they have to jack up your mangled car just to get you out from under it and into an ambulance, and you wake up in the hospital glad to be mostly in one piece. Do you see my point here, guys?
If you're the next person I care about to get into a horrific car accident, you'd better either have incontrovertible proof that your driving was flawlessly safe or post a bodyguard at the hospital, because otherwise I'll come and beat you up some more. Slow down and drive like you know you're a 150-pound monkey operating a 2,000-pound explosive device. If you can't do that, stay off the damn road.
Goddamn him because, half an hour ago, as I was checking my email in preparation for going to bed, I found a breezy message from him to the general class list. It said, here is the assignment for the final paper (which thus far has existed only as an unelaborated note on the syllabus saying "final paper will be due sometime around this week"). It is vague, wordy, and internally contradictory. Bring a good draft to class on Tuesday. The final version will be due on Thursday.
"This paper is very short (3-4 pages) but it should also be very very sharp and dispense with all the customary courtesies and vaguenesses - zero in on what counts and cut anything that is extraneous ... what i'd like you to do is to map [your] body, not so much its socio-cultural location (though that may be necessary to situate it) as its felt experience of sexed-gendered-sexualized embodiment within contexts ... use the texts in the second reader (incl. Max's visit and videos), that is, use 3 or more quotes that you feel help you explain your own embodiment ... Remember, don't write autobiography and don't give away private secrets - rather, do auto-ethnography, be your own interviewer and informant: scrutinize how you experience your sexed-gendered-sexualized embodiment in terms of our theoretical and ethnographic data, always situating that body (as if it were someone else's but then not since you're following TS models in exploring gender feelings on a par with gender facts) in socio-cultural contexts where necessary and explore how you can make plausible the complexity and limits and imaginary oddnesses (or not) of your living status quo to a radical outsider who does not share your habitus and its habits."
That's a shortened version of the prompt -- it's three long, rambling paragraphs, and so much for cutting out anything extraneous -- but I guarantee you that the long version is no more helpful. What I really want to do is print out very large letters on a page saying, What in the goddamned hell are you talking about? and turn that in as my draft. Fucker.
Once in a while my supervisors at the library let me get up from the computer and shelve some books. It's the paper-writing time of the semester right now, so anyone caught looking familiar with the workings of the stacks can expect to get stopped about once an hour and asked for help finding a book. Maybe surprisingly given my general surliness, I kind of like that; there's the whole warm-fuzzy-helping-people thing, but also I love to know things and explain them. There's a separate post probably forthcoming about how that's responsible for my becoming less phobic about public speaking.
A couple of weeks ago I was peacefully shelving books when a boy came up to me and asked me apologetically if I could help him for a second. I said of course I could, and he showed me a call number that he'd written down and couldn't find. It was a few yards away from where we were standing, so I walked him over to the right shelf. People react differently at this point in the process; some glance at the range-finder cards on the shelves and can figure out where to go from there, so they say thanks and start moving the rolling shelves to the right spot. This boy still looked lost, so I rolled the other shelves out of the way, found the book he was looking for, and handed it to him. He looked simultaneously grateful and amazed. "You must find your books for your classes so easily," he said wistfully. I didn't want to sound like a dick by saying it was easy when he'd obviously been having some trouble, so I just told him that it helps to work in the library because they teach you the call number system really thoroughly. He nodded and wandered off in search of other books.
Ten minutes later he came back, looking even more apologetic than before, to ask if I could help him with one more thing. I got the feeling he'd come back to ask me instead of someone else because I hadn't bitten his head off the first time around. The book he was looking for this time was on another floor, so I gave him directions. He looked around apprehensively. I figured that I wasn't getting much shelving done anyway, so I parked my truck of books and led him up the stairs to show him where the shelf was. On the way, in a flurry of thanks and more apologizing, he told me how glad he was that he'd be graduating in a month. I was startled; he seemed so unfamiliar with the library that I had assumed he was a freshman or sophomore. "I'll just be happy to be out of school," he said, "It's so stressful, you know?" I didn't really know what to say to that, being mostly glad to be in school myself.
I found myself mulling this over later. This boy was a senior, and totally terrified and lost in the main campus library. Now, mind you, UC Berkeley libraries are not necessarily paragons of user-friendliness. In the anthropology library you have to circle around behind the circulation desk to get to the stairs that take you to the archaeology books. In the East Asian studies library there are bookshelves in a closet in the building attic. But the Main Stacks is a different bird. It's large, yes, but each floor has posted maps showing which call numbers are on which side of which floor. Every range of shelves has a big card announcing the call letters of the books in that range, and each shelf has a smaller card with the entire call numbers of the starting and ending books. I've never had much trouble using it myself. I've found it disappointingly comprehensible, actually, since my fetishized ideal library is like something out of The Name of the Rose (is this a reason to become a librarian, or a reason not to?). This boy, to get back to the boy for a second, was writing a paper on George Orwell. Do the English or Comp Lit departments at Berkeley even have subject libraries? I'm not sure, and if they did, the size of the literature collections in Main would probably make them redundant. It's probably safe to assume that the Main Stacks have been a major research destination for this boy for four years, and for what's probably his last paper at Berkeley he's totally unable to find what he's looking for in the library without help.
This is not a post about "omg he's so dumb". You don't get into nor graduate from Berkeley without being reasonably intelligent. But there's evidently some sort of talent or skill that's required for navigating libraries, which it's possible for a reasonably intelligent person to lack. Can you just imagine, you various students, ex-students and, um, other studenty things, how much harder your life would be if the library were arranged according to some convoluted, cryptic scheme which you simply couldn't understand? It's mind-boggling. I'd be glad to finish school too; in fact, if I couldn't figure out how the library worked, I don't think I would finish school. I hope the poor bastard finds a job that doesn't involve a lot of research.
I eat very differently when I'm alone for dinner than when Jacob's home. I never really noticed that my eating habits changed when I moved in with him, but now I notice when I go back to my default. See, Jacob thinks in terms of meals. What should we have for dinner? Lasagna, a stir-fry, veggie burgers, chili and salad. It's always very civilized and integrated. When he's at lab late, though, he comes home and asks me what I had for dinner, and I answer something like, "Well, I had some toast. And some carrots. And then an unchicken patty. And then some yogurt." You should see the looks he gives me.
It's not so much that I'm incapable of feeding myself properly (though that's also true sometimes), it's just that my approach is to seize upon particular food items as they seem to fit my eating needs. This is the paradox which prevents me from enjoying cooking much: if I'm thinking about eating, it's usually because I've used up my last meal and have no energy for making the next one. But a handful of something right now will perk me right up, and while I'm eating it I'll think of this other thing which I feel I could use some of, and I'll graze my way around the house until I'm sufficiently fed. I'm often not that picky about the form my dinner ingredients take; I can speak with perfect sincerity about appreciating the interesting flavor of raw tomatoes or plain tofu, so it seems perfectly fine to me to just eat them as they are. And if I'm thinking to myself that I haven't had enough vitamin C lately, or enough protein, hadn't I just better stick some in my mouth right now before something terrible happens?
It's an approach that would give most diet specialists heart palpitations; when I'm left to my own devices there are no measured portions and no nutritional checklists possible. There's no gauge of appropriate consumption except my instinctive feeling of what I should have, but hell, I like that gauge. Besides, it makes my life vastly easier by obviating the need for planning my grocery shopping coherently; I can eat whatever strange or boring things I happened to buy as long as I don't have to figure out how to use them in a meal. At one point when I wasn't feeling too creative in my purchasing, I conducted a weeks-long experiment in how to use green peppers and onions. This led to pepper and onion sandwiches, pasta with peppers and onions, pepper-and-onion seitan, peppers and onions wrapped in pie crust, and eventually the invention of the Apricot Jelly Marinade for peppers and onions (about which I don't remember much except that it was delicious).
All of this is a very elaborate way to justify the fact that my dinner tonight has thus far consisted of a large portion of hummus and pita, and a basket of tasty cherry tomatoes. The veggie sausages in the fridge are probably a good place to go next, but let's not sell frozen corn short here. In another ten minutes I'll probably decide to combine the two, and then look out world.
It's been said that I have a problem with webcomics. No, that wasn't quite it... what was it again? Oh yes. I have a webcomics problem. I haven't subscribed to a daily newspaper with a comics page in years, and just when I thought my comics-reading habit had atrophied into nothingness I suddenly discovered that the internet is full of clever, visually appealing, free comics and they all have links on each others' pages. It's death to my ability to do anything else. Even if I only bookmark one comic I can still read six others just by clicking links, and I find new ones by precisely that method every time I have work to avoid doing. I sit down to write a paper and before I know it I'm reading the last three years of strips I'd never heard of before today. Jacob gets this look in his eye every time he sees me click a link with the word "archive".
My strangest class of the semester continues to be my strangest class of the semester. Yesterday in LGBT Studies we had a guest speaker, Max Wolf Valerio, an author who's just come out with a brand-new book on his FTM transition. My instructor was introducing Max by listing some of the various things he's had published and filmed.
Instructor: ...he's also been included in a book called Male Lust, which is something that Dianna should probably check out...
Me, startled: What?
Instructor: You know, for your shelf of anthropology books.
Me: Oh. Uh, right.
Last weekend I returned to the class website and posted a sort of informational note about some books I'd found in my possession which related to a class unit on masculinity. By way of apologetic introduction, I mentioned that I'm in the habit of picking up cheap used anthropology books whenever I come by them, and that's how I'd gotten these. Nobody responded to my post -- and thank goodness, given what happened last time -- so I pretty much forgot about it until yesterday.
Mind you, I'm not complaining about getting personally-tailored book suggestions from an instructor. I can imagine that teaching a class is much more interesting when you can occasionally direct remarks at particular students to whom you know they'll be relevant. But couldn't I get a comment now and then that doesn't sound so loaded? I thought I was being called out for my porn collection in the middle of class. Sheesh.
On the other hand, I received back today a bundle of reading responses (for this same class) which I had written with the help of a stiff drink and, as several hours of translating my notes wore on, an increasingly belligerent attitude. Among other things, I'd accused Judith Butler of bullshitting and called the instructor's editing of the film clips shown in class exploitative. I got 10.5 points out of 10 for the bundle and a note saying "excellent work".
What does this say about me as a student? I'm male, lusty, drunk, belligerent, and excellent.
So says the wise, and attractive, John Nolan of Straylight Run. I'm about to prove his point by ruthlessly picking apart another song lyric that just caught my attention. It's Iron & Wine, from a song called "Fever Dream".
"I want your flowers like babies want God's love."
Let's consider this. How exactly do babies want God's love? It may depend on the definition of a baby. Excluding my mother, who will continue revising her definition of a baby as long as I continue aging, and the Christian Right with its conception fixation, most people would probably agree that a child between zero and three years could be reasonably called a baby. That's a fairly large span of time, development-wise. At the young end of the spectrum, infants don't seem to want much except food, clean diapers, and shiny objects. And possibly the attention of a few adults who have been identified as important and/or present. The older end of the spectrum, three years, is a point at which these babies are old enough to understand simple explanations given by adults, but as I understand it they rarely do much philosophical thinking on their own. So if one were to take a survey of babies, asking in what way exactly they want God's love, what kind of answers might one get?
So, to apply these answers to the song lyric: I want your flowers because Mom said I had to? I want your flowers brrbrrbrrgahbahmmmmv? I want your flowers like POOP?
I have to conclude that it's probably best not to try to give this man any flowers at all. There's just no telling how he'll respond.
Edit: For a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between babies and God's love, please see The Law, in its Majestic Equality.
I've developed a ridiculous obsession with the album Changesbowie lately. I'm currently listening to it for the fourth time today, in the mistaken conviction that it will help me write a project outline for Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology. It won't. It will distract me intensely because every time I get to "Suffragette City" my head will be filled with the image of a gruff prison guard trying to get the attention of a clever, but criminal, author to tell him that he's used up his telephone call for the week and needs to hang up. "Hey, man," the guard says, and the author replies, "Aw, leave me alone." But the guard insists. "Hey, man," he says again, "O. Henry, get off the phone."
During my last semester in architecture and a few early months of anthropology, I maintained a cherished fantasy that I was going to drop out of school, sell all of my possessions, and buy a one-way bus ticket to Chicago. I don't know why I picked Chicago. It's the home of Alkaline Trio, but I'm pretty sure I don't actually know anyone there. Possibly that was the point. Whatever the reason, on my 1 a.m. walks home from studio in the cold and the dark I told myself that I could leave any time I liked. I looked up Greyhound fares. I contemplated what I'd put in the single duffel bag I'd take with me, and whether my first stop in town would be to find some job listings or a place to stay. As yet, I haven't done it.
Lately I'm finding myself in what I now think of as a Chicago mood. It's that mood in which, in order to have any motivation for anything, I need to evaluate it against an immediately available alternative of not doing it. Moving to a city I've never even visited, with no plans for personal subsistence, is a terrifying prospect and tends to come out less desirable than whatever else I'm considering. Write an application essay for a summer field school, or move to Chicago? Let me just get started on that essay. Struggle through a backlog of heavy reading for my LGBT Studies class, or move to Chicago? You know, I can't read on buses because I get motion sick. I'd better read while I can. God forbid, prepare a final project in the form of a twenty-minute in-class presentation for Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology, or move to Chicago? It's a shorter walk to the Anthropology library than to the Greyhound station, so that must mean it's easier for me to do the project.
It's striking me now that there are at least two major downsides to this strategy. One is that, if you can weigh schoolwork versus moving to Chicago, you can also weigh it versus reading webcomics or listening to music. The other is that, if I ever did move to Chicago, I'd find a whole lot more of what's making me depressed here. If my brain chemistry can't handle a California winter of patchy clouds, intermittent rain and 50-degree temperatures, a real winter would land me in a psychiatric ward within a few weeks. When I look at it in the cold light of reason, my cherished Plan B isn't really a very good one. While that does guarantee that I'll always pick schoolwork and California over the terror of the unknown and snowy, it makes the whole mental exercise a little less effective.
So if I know that I'm not going to pack up and move to Chicago, what else can I consider and reject? It needs to be something exciting, appealing to my impulsivity, but unappetizingly insecure. It also needs to be realistically achievable -- a bus ticket someplace is a perfect example, since it's something I can afford and know how to get. Rides on space shuttles, for instance, do not fit that condition, to say nothing of the heights, confined spaces, open spaces, and strange g-forces involved. Similarly, plane rides to Mauritius are not a top option.
Still, if we don't get some damned sun around here sometime soon, with attendant elevation of my mood and motivation, I may be pricing flights to Mauritius anyway. It's less emotionally taxing than schoolwork, and warmer than Chicago. Quick, someone call the MTPA -- this slogan is going to take the tourist world by storm.