This is not your typical start-of-semester personal crisis. I don't hate my classes. I don't wish I were done with school. I don't want my summer back. I'm not having any trouble getting into the classes I want and I don't have any odious breadth requirements to fill.
In fact, I don't have any requirements at all. The only reason I didn't graduate last semester is that I hadn't taken a methods course -- but I took one over the summer. So all I need to do this semester is take 13 units of electives and not flunk out before December, and then I'll be a Berkeley graduate.
So what the fuck is the problem?
I'm signed up for 4 classes, and because I'm an incompetent student but know my limitations, I need to drop one so I don't fall hopelessly behind in all of them. Dropping is a very easy process once one has picked a class to drop.
1. The Stone Age of Africa
2. Zooarchaeology (anatomy and identification lab)
3. Prehistoric Art
4. The Anthropology of Food
And I, someone whose interest in anthropology orbits around the conjunction of ancient prehistory, ritual and social relationships, and old creepy bones, am supposed to pick one of these to drop.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Zooarchaeology and Stone Age of Africa are taught by the same instructor, who's friendly and informative and generally awesome, but also extremely demanding. I know I can't handle four classes if two of them are hers. I don't even know if I can handle three classes if two of them are hers. But of the four, hers are the two that I'm most sure I want to keep -- most especially Zooarchaeology, which looks like it may very well be the most difficult class I've ever taken at Berkeley. If I keep it, I need to start busting ass for it yesterday; if I'm dropping it, I need the time I'm currently spending reading for it to read for Stone Age of Africa.
I've already got a fantastic fact from yesterday's lecture on teeth: human beings do not have carnivore incisors. We don't even have omnivore incisors. We have frugivore and foliovore incisors, wide, flat spatulate teeth for tearing leaves and fruit. My monkey ancestors ate plants and so do I!
The following exchange between two of my housemates illustrates precisely what it is that distinguishes the co-op dweller from other urban Homo sapiens with which you may be familiar. It's the hippie-slacker patina laid over a core of intense dorkiness.
Josh: Hey, we should play Go.
Kye: Yeah! Can we get stoned first?
In these parts, yes is a good bet.
You may have noticed that I haven't posted this week. Or, given the general dearth of comments on my last few entries, perhaps you haven't noticed. Regardless. How could our logoquacious (which is a new and useful word that the English language has needed since the invention of the internet) friend Dianna move into an all-new house with all-new people and not have a single thing to say to the internet about it?
Evidently I'm expending my energy in other ways. No, not those ways. I've been engaging in a shocking amount of social activity since I moved in on Thursday. It just sort of happens when you live in a co-op; you take a book and sit in the living room reading, but three people wander in and you strike up a conversation. You hover in the kitchen making banana bread, but when you venture out to look for walnuts someone hands you a carrot and you have to stop and find out why. You could theoretically stay in your room all the time, but why? The house's common spaces are bigger and better-decorated. The kitchen stereo is connected to a computer that can access your iTunes library remotely, so anything you could listen to in your room you can listen to there on better speakers. If you do your letter-writing on the couch in the dining room you can have the house cat (who is as a matter of record a furry lizard and not any sort of warm-blooded domestic animal) sleep companiably on your feet. The sensible co-op resident takes advantage of these opportunities and hardly has the solitary time necessary for the composition of brilliant blog material.
Not to mention that I'm waiting on a proper chair for my desk, so I'm writing to you from a perch atop a stack of book boxes which is neither comfortable nor ergonomic.
Until such time as I get burned out on the company of my housemates, then (and because that could be a little while), I give you a brief list of reasons why I do, in fact, heart my co-op just as the pin on my bookbag asserts.
It's a woefully incomplete list, but a better one will have to wait until a time when I'm not in a hurry to go play my guitar on the roof deck. Ho-hum. American Dream of suburban nuclear-family living, eat your heart out.
I'm moving on Thursday, and I still haven't posted about the house into which I'm moving. This is because I've just realized that I'm moving on Thursday. So far I have ten boxes packed, which contain all of my books that aren't either cookbooks or hiding in obscure corners of the house. Right now the people with the most pained expressions reading this are the ones who know me the best and have seen my house lately.
My philosophy for this move appears to be that if I can just get all of my books boxed up, all of the other requirements of survival will take care of themselves. Clothes? I'll just throw them in a bag or something. Important personal documents? There's probably someplace I can tuck them. Camping gear and my guitar and my sewing machine and my toolbox and my drawing supplies and the general detritus of my sixteen other periodic hobbies? Those might all fit in one box, right? CDs, now, those are probably pretty important.
I promised a reference to ointment, and it's coming. Occasionally I'll find that my reading material reflects my current situation without my conscious direction. It's true that I haven't had much to do with werewolves lately, so re-reading The Fifth Elephant probably isn't terribly topical. But I've been living somewhat precariously on dwindling finances for the last month while waiting for my financial aid refund, which is apparently too large and heavy to move quickly, to make its way into my bank account. Is it coincidence, therefore, that during this period I've found myself reading first Down and Out in Paris and London and then Angela's Ashes? Actually, I think it is. I was reminded of the former by reading a blog post about it, and reclaimed my copy of the latter from my sister's house over the weekend. They're both very snappy, cleverly written books, difficult to glance at without reading in full. And now as the balance of my checking account dips toward zero, I find myself grumbling under my breath about my seventeen-hour shifts washing dishes and cursing the River Shannon for giving everyone the consumption. It all seems entirely logical until someone reminds me that I work in a library and it's only a mildly gloomy Bay Area summer.
See, I said topical. Get it? Topical?
I was told by one of my co-workers today that my earlobes (in which I'm presently wearing large steel s-hooks threaded through my half-inch tunnels) were "hella tight".
I refrained from pointing out that actually, what's remarkable about my earlobes is that they are hella loose.
That's all I've got for today.
1. David Bowie is on drugs, and apparently so am I.
I was listening to the song âLittle China Girlâ the other day and wondering if it was a bit patronizing. Then I realized that it was about heroin. Then I realized I'd heard it 20 times before figuring that out.
2. Sonic Youth was right.
See, Jupiter in downtown Berkeley sells alcoholic beverages, which are unlikely to make people more intelligent. Boys who go there and consume such beverages will probably wind up somewhat stupider. And Mars up on Telegraph sells trendy vintage clothing, and as we all know, girls in trendy vintage clothing at least look like rock stars.
3. You know how they say listening to Mozart makes kids smarter?
In the last few years I've managed to dredge up some very early memories involving music. The first song I can remember hearing, at the tender age of I think six, is "Beds Are Burning" by Midnight Oil. The second is "Career Opportunities" by the Clash. I've decided that I can safely blame the latter for any problems with authority which I may exhibit as an adult. The former is more difficult, but I've decided that in all probability it's the cause of my inability to dance -- after all, the world is turning even as we speak.
Either that or it's simply why I always pay my rent (or at least my share). Fair's fair, that's what I always say.
Does your home ever seem insufficiently fuzzy?
Do you long to be lovingly chewed on by tiny fangs?
Do you have allergies and a masochistic streak?
Do you worry that the dust bunnies under your bed don't get pounced on often enough?
In short, are you suffering from a shortage of cat?
This is, depending on how you see it, either an offer or a request. I'm moving in a week and a half, into a co-op in which I officially cannot keep my cat Peanut (more on the move later). Unofficially is another matter, and once I've gotten to know my housemates a little bit I hope to wheedle them into letting her stay. But for the meantime and in case my wheedling doesn't work, I need to find her a temporary home. The period is anywhere from a couple of weeks (if my wheedling works very well indeed) to five months (if it doesn't work at all).
I think most of you are well familiar with Peanut. She's that round grey pillow that hangs around my living room and occasionally runs jingling through the house on comically fat fuzzy legs. She's not to be confused with Bella, who will take your hand off if you try to touch her. Peanut's most violent reaction to unwelcome contact is to stare glumly at you and try to droop her way to freedom. She's extremely sweet and takes a generally laissez-faire approach to things like doors and people, making her an easy cat to deal with. The only real inconvenience she presents is that, being quite fluffy, she's guaranteed to set off your allergies if you have any. If anyone is willing to take that risk and give her a home, I'll gladly reimburse that person for food, litter, and of course any vet bills that come up.
Can you really say no to this face?
Or this one?
I got the idea for this from Zach, when he mentioned that he'd like to play correspondence chess but -- lacking a proper chessboard -- would need to sketch out the moves on a piece of paper to keep track of them. Chess by mail is an embattled enough pursuit in the age of email that I couldn't help but feel it needed something to redeem its slowness and expense, something that it could provide that email could not. Something, in fact, to make it more glamorous to have a piece of paper for a chessboard. That something is the postal-service-compliant mailable chess set!
It's an 8-inch square grid and pieces made of heavy paper, with each piece stuck down by repositionable tape so moves don't get lost in the mail. Hand-drawn, of course, with all homey appeal that that implies. But just hang on a second -- when you fold the board down the middle, it becomes a machinable 4x8 document weighing in at slightly less than one ounce. That's right; you can put it in a standard legal envelope and mail it with a regular first-class stamp.
I've made two so far: one to send to Zach in New York and one to send to one of my classmates in Pittsburgh. The second is unquestionably neater, as a result of being drawn with Sharpies instead of India ink and old-fashioned pens. What it may lack in style and soul it makes up for in functionality, having each piece trimmed to fit within its square and the crease running reasonably between sides instead of across them.
If I wanted to make things really interesting, I'd wait for both games to get going and then trade boards, sending each person's game to the other to continue. Having never played with either of them before, I don't know who'd stand to benefit from that arrangement. Probably not me, seeing as -- as the observant and chess-playing among you may have noticed -- I can't even handle the stress and complication of setting up a board without misplacing pieces. It doesn't bode well for my performance in these games.
I have been operating for quite some time under the assumption that I am bad at strategy games. It's gotten so bad at points that I've started assuming I'm bad at board games in general, but usually I manage to confine my self-recrimination to the field of those games which require great skill, issue from Germany in inexplicably large numbers, and are played by intense people around tables in serious game stores. Like Settlers of Catan, the shining star among strategy board games which is adored by 3 out of every 5 geeks on the planet. I'm terrible at it.
But the strange fact that I've come to realize recently is that I'm not bad at strategy games at all. I play a respectable game of chess. I'm tied 1-1 in two games of Yinsh with Zach, an intense person who plays serious board games. I'm a goddamn Carcassonne demon.
But I am irremediably bad at Settlers of Catan.
I played it again tonight -- twice! -- at a drop-in Euro Game night at Games of Berkeley, and discovered that it's not the group. It's not the setting. It wasn't my tender age when first roped into playing. I don't know what it is, except that I can't think along the right lines to ever play decently at the damned thing. I'm not talking about losing games here and there, either. I've never won a game. I've probably played 20 times and never won a game. I've probably played 20 times and I don't think I've ever gotten more than 5 points (the game is won and ended by one player getting 10). I lose consistently to beginners. I may very well have come in dead last in every game I've played.
It's also not that I don't understand the rules. They're slightly more complicated than chess, but only just. You can learn them in five minutes and remember them after one game. Somehow, though, winning that game (and, if you count its sequels, only that game) requires a particular strategic approach that I haven't mastered and can't even identify. I'm always collecting a confused mess of resources because I can't decide what to build, putting down roads when my hopes of getting anywhere are already cut off, and accidentally handing people the cards they need to bury me. My best guess so far is that there are just too many pieces and too many players to keep track of; I have an easier time planning ahead with fewer principals than focusing on the present with four people acting.
I'm not sure whether to feel better about myself knowing that I'm not a complete strategic lost cause, or worse knowing that I have a highly specific Settlers-shaped hole in my cognitive ability. But you can take this and keep it in mind: if you ever need to make a quick buck off of me, bet me money on a game of Settlers. You can even make your trained monkey stand in for you and she'll come out the top primate of the game.