In my family we have a saying that describes anyone with impressive spatial-organization or visualization skills: the Army Corps of Engineers wants them. It comes from the fact that my mother, who was always the genius drawer-and-closet-organizer of the house, started college as a civil engineering major and was the subject of some recruiting efforts by the aforementioned agency. But it's far removed from the facts at this point. When I manage to fit a few more dishes in an overfull dishwasher, I grin cheesily and announce that the Army Corps of Engineers wants me! Figure out the right combination of buses to take to get someplace? Find an efficient way to organize your time? The Army Corps of Engineers wants you!
I leave for the East Coast in a week and a half. I need to bring clothes and supplies for outdoor work in all possible environmental conditions, general living supplies for six weeks, and a couple of hefty textbooks on field methods and the Iroquois nation. I need to pack it all up such that I can carry it on BART to the airport by myself, haul it out of the airport in Pittsburgh, and drag it by bus to the University of Pittsburgh campus to load it into a van. Later, I'll need to pack it all up again and drag it on another bus to New York City, where I'll at least have help in hauling it to Zach's apartment. And last of all, I'll need to pack it all up yet again and haul it via subway to JFK, get on a plane with it, hopefully not have to haul it around again in Phoenix during my layover, and emerge bedraggled and sore of arm at SFO to get on BART and come home. With the damn luggage.
Now, I'm as valuable as anyone else to a certain military entity which I'll just call the A.C.ofE. But even the A.C.ofE. is gonna have trouble with this one.
First I went to see X3 armed with only one small (though tasty) glass of hard cider. It was, for the record, not enough to make it look like a good movie.
Now I'm contemplating taking a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, leaving at 10:30 pm and arriving at 6:15 am, so that I can get in a car at 9:00 am and spend the day driving to Ithaca.
Jacob and I were recently speculating on the interaction that will occur when I meet my East-Coast-based fellow students. I'll show up with my shaggy hair and tattoos and rainbow flags and say chirpily, "I'm from Berkeley, and I'm vegan!" And no one will be the slightest bit surprised. But with this plan, I'll show up looking confused and disoriented, with my eyes red from lack of sleep, and everyone will surreptitiously try to see if I smell like pot.
I predict that it's not going to help that I'll be alternating between dozing off and looking for something to eat.
Because it's Friday, I'd like to offer you a third-hand link to something truly stunning. Via Super Special Questions, we have Beware of the Blog commenting upon what has got to be the most hilarious gameshow ever devised, Silent Library. Thank you, Japan.
Watch about ten minutes of it on YouTube here. It is worth your time.
I'm getting nowhere with this religion post. The point I'm trying to make is about my reaction to the ubiquitous argument that I should or shouldn't do X, Y, or Z because God made me. God didn't fucking make me; that's somebody else's belief and while they're entitled to it where their own origins are concerned, they still have no business trying to dictate my behavior (or my belief) based on it. But in my experience many people do just that anyway, based perhaps on a belief that as an atheist I am a blank slate; if I can just be given the information that I'm missing, surely everything will be set right.
We're fine and coherent so far, I think. But Jacob threw me for a loop last night by pointing out that to the people trying to give me this information, it isn't opinion or belief, it's fact. It's no different than me telling them that gravity pulls downward and therefore they shouldn't walk off the edge of a cliff unless they want to fall over it. And here is where I'm having trouble, because I know it fucking well is different but my bloody see-everything-from-all-sides anthropology background is making it impossible for me to formulate a single argument without immediately seeing a counterargument and needing to break off and start addressing that. That's why I say I'm getting nowhere with the post.
So this is what you get.
Another cheating post. Sorry, Erik.
I have to choose between a) getting to Pittsburgh on a Sunday evening and taking an arranged ride to Ithaca on Monday, or b) going straight to Ithaca on Monday. What do I do?
My feeling is that Ithaca is way the hell out in the middle of nowhere (and thank you, Katie, for suggesting that I not spend ten years getting there, and now that you mention it if I get there and somebody's courting my wife I'm going to be furious). Right. Where was I going with that nerdy digression? My feeling is that Ithaca is way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, possibly some kind of train ride from the nearest major airport (which would be what, Syracuse, or something in NYC?). That inclines me to pick Pittsburgh. But is there something I don't know of that makes Ithaca more convenient and/or cheaper?
Speak now and have my eternal gratitude -- really! I have a very long memory where assuaged anxiety is concerned. If you don't believe me, ask me about the teacher's aide who helped me with a math assignment in second grade. I'd vouch for her to any higher power that asked.
I've just listened to Sleater-Kinney's latest album, The Woods, and all I have to say is this:
Corin. Carrie. Janet. What the hell are you doing? This is not the kind of genius I've come to expect from you! Haven't you ever heard of the Good Things test? Take any song you're considering releasing and listen to it immediately after "Good Things". If you sneer and turn it off within thirty seconds, you need to work on it some more. If you feel that it's pretty good, then it must be a tour de force. There are no such tours here.
Whoever suggested that you bury Carrie Brownstein's voice under a soup of overproduction so that it can't be heard should be fired. Whoever suggested that good guitar playing consists of too many layers and too much distortion, and particularly too many self-indulgent noise solos, should be not only fired but also kept far away from the person who made the first suggestion. And whoever said that it didn't matter if the songs were compelling enough and polished enough -- and polished is not the same as produced -- should be blacklisted from the recording industry entirely. I'm going to choose to believe that these people were poor choices of producers and advisers and not any of the three of you, because at least based on the evidence of Call the Doctor and All Hands on the Bad One you've got much more sense than that. Please try to get it back.
For some reason my boss, a huge Sleater-Kinney fan, told me that the new album was fantastic. All I can think is that there must be a really hot picture of Janet in the liner notes, because as far as I know that's about what it takes to make Willyce take leave of her senses. Good for sales, I suppose, but still cheating.
(And yes, I'm apparently ignoring my own rule about staying off of the computer. That means I owe the internet a post about atheism and proselytizing, which I'll get to. Honest.)
The last couple of days have been my blissful period of finals-are-over-I-don't-have-to-leave-my-house, and, accordingly, I've spent them basking in the glow of the internet with occasional breaks to play video games. In so doing, I have discovered exactly how many hours of staring at a luminescent screen it takes to give me a raging headache, bloodshot eyes, and persistent and unpleasant dizziness. It's about 48.
So if anyone wants to know, I'm forbidding myself to sup from the goblet of the internet until I can walk a straight line again. But as soon as that happens, I've got me an irritating religious commenter to address. Watch this space for exciting updates.
I've been aware for some time that buying pants for myself is a rather involved process. This is a convenient excuse for my habit of having only one pair of active pants at a time and wearing them every day until the crotch wears out. It's true, though; I have a tiny waist and a big ghetto booty, and I'm tall to boot. And picky. But my comfy black pants have gone translucent in places, so I have to either find some new pants or start attracting more attention than I know how to handle.
On Tuesday I gritted my teeth, went to Mars (I told you it was an involved process), and started trying on pants. For some reason that place has a dazzling selection of jeans, polyester men's dress pants (I am convinced that they are for polyester men), and pinstriped bellbottoms, and not much else. I haven't owned jeans in at least four years, but I can't quite commit to putting anything with orange and purple stripes on my legs on a regular basis, so I grabbed a pile of jeans and started trying them on. Horrible, horrible, pretty nice actually, horrible. Thinking that was far easier than I deserved, I bought the pretty nice ones and brought them home.
What I have here now is a pants enigma. I modeled them for Jacob, and his comment was, "Those are very boy pants." He had a point; they're not your curvy hourglassy girly jeans. But no pants designed for a guy have ever fit me, so I figured they must be women's jeans with some kind of stylish psuedomasculine cut. Negative. I looked up the style number -- they're Levi's 517s, slim-fit, straight-leg men's pants, two sizes larger than my waist size. It's a breakthrough; for years I've been trying on correctly-sized women's pants that don't fit well, when all I had to do was look for men's pants in the wrong size. Why did I never think of that?
Spotter's Guide: the Northwestern Dianna. Distinguishable in spring by its indigo color, having recently shed its darker winter plumage. Easily mistaken for its more aggressive relative the Northwestern Katie, which has similar features but a brightly-colored spiky crest. May engage in mimicry of the Katie by posing with peanut butter and spoons, but will hide the peanut butter behind its back with a guilty expression if startled.
It's over! It's all over! My first semester back in school is over! No more classes, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks! My final today was grievously stressful -- I spent the first fifteen minutes of a 90-minute exam staring at a blank page and trying to remember how to write an essay -- but I'm still alive and I think I did fine. This is the other problem with essay finals, that the grading is so subjective that until you see your semester grades all you have to go on is a feeling that you did well enough or didn't. I did what was asked of me and I can't think of much I'd do differently besides "have three more hours to organize my thoughts", so I'm calling it a success.
Still, I have a dilemna for next semester. I'm signed up for the two archaeology classes that I need and can fill in the rest with anything I like. It'll probably be random upper-division anthropology; the department's offering a ton of classes that look interesting. One of them is taught by the same professor who taught this class, Stanley Brandes, one of my favorite instructors I've had at Berkeley. It's on the anthropology of food, which is something he digresses into in his other classes absolutely as much as he can get away with. Clearly it's something he's interested in, and that makes a huge difference in a class. But can I really subject myself to another of his final exams when his essay questions look like this?
Some scholars believe that there is little difference between pilgrimage and heritage tourism. Relying on course readings, lectures, and film, analyze the similarities and differences between these two phenomena. Begin your essay with your understanding of what pilgrimage and heritage tourism are.
Drawing on a sample of films and slide lectures viewed in this course, discuss the role and effect of visual representation in ethnography. What kinds of information do visual sources convey best or least well? How do ethnographic films modify or confirm information from course readings? In answering this question, be sure to discuss visual images from three different countries in Mediterranean Europe.
Using ethnographic examples from both readings and lectures, show how consumption patterns of food and drink contribute to the formation of group identity. Be sure to specify the kind of group (e.g., gender, class, ethnic, religious) your answer is directed towards. Provide as many ethnographic details as time allows in support of your essay.
These are 30-minute closed-book essays, by the way. Or 25-minute essays once I stopped twitching and picked up my pen. Questions like these always makes me think of Fermat; "I have discovered a truly elegant answer to this essay question which this bluebook is too small to contain."
I've got two finals down -- one in a flurry of post-it tabs and the other anticlimactically by email -- and one to go. Tomorrow morning is Mediterranean Anthropology, which, of everything I took this semester, was the most typical upper-division anthropology course: lecture and essay, essay and lecture. The final is the classic social science final in which the unlucky student brings a bluebook and a half-gallon of nervous sweat into an unfamiliar room and writes essays until his or her writing hand is too cramped to form legible characters.
Jacob and I had a conversation yesterday in which I mentioned that this kind of final is always nerve-wracking afterwards because of all the things that I realize later I should have included. He stared at me uncomprehendingly; apparently if you're a biology major your finals merely ask questions to which you simply know or don't know the answers. This is a model I've hardly seen in my college career -- my architecture classes always preferred to test my response to crushing criticism after sleepless nights of work, and my anthropology classes have insisted on testing my ability to summon supporting examples under extreme time pressure. A test in which knowledge of the correct answer is sufficient to earn a good grade sounds like the kind of simple, brilliant idea that leaves a shaken world scratching its head. My god -- how could we have failed to think of this?
I understand that it's not a model that works for social science; you can't very well turn questions like what is the honor/shame complex, how is it manifest in the Mediterranean region, and what are the problems with its representation in anthropological literature? into true-false questions or even short answers. Any answer that could be given briefly is probably an oversimplification, and any answer without supporting evidence is unjustifiable. Pithy answers and flimsy evidence are the biggest problems in the history of anthropology, and they're what you have to teach students to avoid if they're going to be worth anything as scholars.
But does it have to be such a damned ordeal? I'm thinking of bringing a pair of pliers with me to the test, since I already know I'm going to be pulling teeth.
If you recently talked to your sister on the phone, and she told you how she's been listening to the Alkaline Trio song "Sadie" and it just hit her that it's about Susan Atkins (that's the murder Atkins, not the diet Atkins) and she went and read a bunch of stuff about Atkins and Charles Manson and now she's all creeped out and afraid to go to bed... you probably shouldn't go and read that same stuff while your boyfriend's going to bed and your house is getting progressively quieter and scarier and you're too full of chocolate chips to be sleepy. You should, I repeat, not do this. You should instead work on your LGBT Studies final even if half of it seems kind of like bullshit, and that way when you eventually go to sleep you'll be thinking about why heterosexuality is a conundrum instead of how terrifyingly insane people can be, and in your very own home metropolis at that.
Tragically, you will not do this at all. You will also not get any work done on your final, because now you've got the song in your head and you keep obsessively checking to see if the windows are shut and jumping out of your chair every time one of the cats walks in the room. Great plan, there.
I like circles. That is, I like going in them. My hobbies are cyclical; when I get tired of something I just throw it in the back of my closet because I know I'll pull it out and start up again eventually. My appearance is cyclical; I go from short-haired femme to long-haired femme to short-haired androgyne and back to short-haired femme and start over. My moods are cyclical -- I'm ecstatic in spring, irritable in summer, despairing in winter but always ecstatic again by my birthday. I never stick with anything for more than a year or leave it behind for more than five years.
At the moment I'm engrossed in one of my periodic rediscoveries of the music I listened to in high school. I wasn't one of you teenage hipsters all knowing what's new and exciting; most of my listening material was appallingly corporate and jaw-droppingly unoriginal. But it was also good. It doesn't matter how many times I listen to my solitary, eponymous Elastica album, I don't get tired of it. The last ten years of new developments in angsty music have failed to convince me that A Boy Named Goo is not a masterpiece for the ages. And there's not a single R.E.M. album up to and including New Adventures in Hi-Fi that doesn't seem to me to be, by itself, sufficient justification for the invention of audio recording technology.
If something's so mainstream that nobody even thinks about it, and I'm going around praising it, does that make me one of those music snobs who'll only talk about music that nobody else is talking about?
No matter. At the moment what I can't stop listening to is Monster. I've had this CD for 9 years and every time I remember to put it back in my CD player it's better than it was the last time. The last song, You, is particularly knocking me off my feet. I once covered the walls of my bedroom in R.E.M. lyrics, but somehow I never thought to include this one even though it contains one of the most intriguing lines I've ever heard in what I think might sort of be a love song:
All my childhood toys with chew marks/
in your smile
Either you're simple, familiar, and brightly colored, or you're something I want to drag around everywhere, mutilate, and grow out of. It's either really sweet or really creepy and I honestly can't decide which.
I have a final today at 12:30 for Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology. This is the class in which, on the last day of lecture, the instructor apologetically announced that the next time he teaches this class he's going to cut the reading load down drastically. There's just a ton of material for the semester: a huge reader plus a bunch of articles from e-reserves which had to be printed out, article summaries presented in class, final presentations, and of course my notes. It's an open-book test. How the hell do you deal with an open-book test when you have 90 minutes to sift through 700 pages of material?
You index the everloving fuck out of it, that's how. My plan is to be able to find any article, author, or general theme within 15 seconds.
Is Dianna in such a good mood because it's her 25th birthday, it's a beautiful sunny day, her semester is over except for two finals which should be quite manageable and a third which is a full week away, she appears to have come out victorious against the labyrinthine beauracracy of the financial aid office for the second semester in a row, and her plans for summer are looking very good indeed?
Or is it because she bought a tiny coffee maker yesterday and had a nice cup of delicious coffee with her pancakes this morning, after about five years of severely reduced caffeine consumption?
Or does it even really matter, since, one way or another, she's in higher spirits than a hilltop distillery?
My semester is now essentially over barring finals; classes continue until Tuesday, but my final papers and projects are all in and I have nothing left to do but study. I got back my last Mediterranean Anthropology paper today, so the only grades I haven't yet seen are on a paper and reading responses for LGBT Studies. Still, assuming that my grades on those are in keeping with my grades for that class so far....
As of right now, I have an A in every class I'm taking.
Oh my god. Can I say that again? I have an A in every class I'm taking. That's something I've never been able to say past the second week of any semester since I started high school. Maybe even before that, actually; I remember getting at least one C in junior high. And now my papers are coming back saying "excellent", "well-conceived and well-written", and "nice work".
Ironically, I'm so excited that I'm becoming incoherent.
I love dirt, and dirt loves me!
I heard back from one of the field schools I applied to, this one in upstate New York. I'm in! I'll be living in a co-op in Ithaca for six weeks and excavating a 16th century Cayuga Iroquois site. HOT. And probably muggy. And full of archaeological goodness!
So if you're looking for me between June 12 and July 21, you will have to turn your eyes eastward. Just look for a grubby person waving a trowel and leaping around making "woo woo woo" noises.
The 10-day weather forecast from weather.com presently predicts that on my birthday, May 7, the high temperature in Berkeley will be 69.
I believe that I am living in a time of omens! To resist is unthinkable!