My roommate, in conversation with another housemate whom I will identify as the Wine Scion:
Roommate: If I lived by myself my kitchen would be so much cleaner than this.
Wine Scion: For sure.
Roommate: It's so easy. You just clean up as you go and then you don't have all this shit lying around.
Wine Scion: We should have a class, bro. Kitchen Awareness.
Me, walking through the room in the course of making myself breakfast: Not Kitchen Awareness. If you say awareness people will ignore you. You have to kick them in the ass.
Roommate: No, but, see, we're going to have a class and teach them.
Me: That's what I'm saying. You have to teach them forcefully. None of this mindfulness shit. Tell them to fucking clean up after their damn selves.
Roommate, looking nonplussed: I mean, I guess, if you want to put up a sign or something.
Me: No, look, I'm talking about your class. Have your class but you have to be meaner about it.
Roommate, still nonplussed: Uh...
Me: Oh, forget it. We're talking different languages.
(Exeunt Dianna to the next room)
Roommate, to Wine Scion: You know, we shouldn't call it awareness. If we say awareness they'll just ignore us.
As of right now, 1:30 pm on Tuesday, December 19th, 2006, I have finished my last assignment of the semester and I am a college graduate.
I'm also wearing pajamas with little robots on them, I'm unshowered, smelly and generally scruffy, and my fingers are covered in purple gluestick gunk.
Sure I'm an adult. Why do you ask?
So, I have this watch, right. It's old, and confuses people, and is corny as only a digital watch from 1994 that's slathered with unnecessary stars and moons can be. I've worn it almost constantly since 1994 and can't really remember how to interface with any other kind of timepiece. At one point the band started giving me a rash and I turned it into a pocket watch so that I wouldn't have to part with it. But it's getting strange on me in its old age.
Specifically, since I got back from LA it's become unusually dependent for a battery-powered timepiece. If I put it on my wrist and wear it around, it keeps perfect time. But as soon as I take it off, it stops dead. I woke up this morning and found that it was still 1:52 from late last night. Once I set it and put it on again, it starts running and keeps normal time until I take it back off.
It's not that the battery's dead; the display's not fading and it's not slowing down. It's just either keeping time perfectly, or not at all. I don't know how to explain this except that it needs to be in contact with me to feel that there's any point to doing anything.
I'm not really sure how to deal with this. Clinginess in people is one thing, but clinginess in timepieces might be more than I can handle. What next? My alarm clock spends a week drunk and depressed because I don't pay attention to it? My cellphone lies to me so I'll think I have enough time to spend with it? I have to draw the line somewhere; I can't be having dysfunctional relationships with basic household appliances. If the fridge can't keep its cool without me around to hold its handle, I'm out.
I just read this article about the Kalahari San (a.k.a. Bushmen, a.k.a. !Kung, a.k.a. about a million other things over the course of several centuries of inquisitive ethnography) winning a court battle over the right to live in their traditional territory in the Kalahari Game Reserve. As is becoming increasingly common when I read anything that has anything whatsoever to do with intergroup relations, I'm lost in an endless sequence of recursive caveats and second thoughts and can't, ultimately, really support either side.
Politically speaking, the court case was about the eviction of San people (it's not clear from the article which ones, as there are dozens or hundreds of San groups in the Kalahari) from the land they have occupied for the recorded past, to be resettled on other land not included in the Kalahari Game Reserve. It's like North America Redux.
Ecologically speaking, it was about the problem that you get when a parcel of land is set aside as a game reserve and people who rely on hunting for subsistence are allowed to live in it, namely, they hunt the animals which are supposedly being preserved.
Anthropologically speaking, it could be about relationships between non-indigenous majority governments and indigenous minority groups. But it could also be about deciding whether the San are basically monkeys, whose presence in the game reserve is all part of the glorious circle of life and should be included in it, or humans, whose presence is necessarily a threat to the animals being protected by the game reserve and who should be obliged therefore to stop hunting them.
It's more of this postmodern postprocessual poststructuralist postwhateverthefuck oversensitive second-guessing apologism. I can't wholeheartedly support the San in their successful attempt to get their damn land back even though they've been quite clear that they want it and will work to make it happen, because I'm concerned that by doing this they've managed to cast themselves, not as conscious and effective agents staking their claim on what is theirs, but The Children Of Nature who ought to be left in their blissful isolation from modernity. Note the heavy tone of sarcasm there; they are not the children of nature unless you're a damn hippie and believe that all humans are children of nature, and the San have never been in blissful isolation from modernity even before they became the darlings of nostalgic ethnography, they've lived in contact with herders and farmers on the edges of their territory as long as those groups have existed. Obviously that's no good reason why they shouldn't stay in their purportedly blissful lack of isolation precisely where they've chosen to be. But I can't help but get a feeling that they've just fought a court case over whether to be kept in dependent marginality on the territory to which they were moved or to be museum exhibits living in an artificially frozen* bubble of Look Kids This Is What Nature Looks Like, Observe How The Apeman Stalks The Eland. I don't much like either plan, in fact.
*Ask me about the movement of habitats during periods of climate change sometime. Southern Africa becomes warmer, forest turns into grassland, grassland turns into near-desert and near-desert turns into full desert. In a couple of hundred years the climate of the game reserve will be entirely different, the game they're trying to preserve will be going extinct from changes in vegetation, but the borders of the reserve are set and won't move just because of something as unreasonable as being unable to sustain the fauna it was set up to sustain, and then the San will either have fought to stay in an untenable subsistence situation and starve or they'll be living in an artificially conserved zoo because nostalgic guilt won't allow those responsible for the game reserve to stand back and let the bubble of preservation get wiped out because development on all sides gives the habitat no place to shift into. How the fuck is that for a sentence? My point is that the game reserve will ultimately change due to large-scale climate change, and so on a long enough scale it's counterproductive for the San to fight to remain in it: it won't always be there for them, and now unlike the rest of history there's noplace left to move into when it's gone. But to try to make sure that it will still be there would be a) more or less impossible as it's fighting against the trends of the entire global environment and b) very much like keeping the San in a zoo along with all of the giraffes and elephants and weird little antelope things.
In short, it's a pretty Pyrrhic victory and its cultural implications creep me out. But on the other hand, if your society is pretty much screwed anyway, I applaud the decision to get screwed in an active, politically involved way instead of a passive one.
I'm a pretty big killjoy, aren't I?
And their music!
No one will probably be surprised if I say the following: my roommate's music drives me up the wall.
Some people might be slightly surprised if I say: goddamn Beethoven all the time.
See, the roommate likes classical music. Wait, no, he's obsessed with classical music. Bombastic, blaring, ostentatious classical music at high volume. I actually don't know how much of it is Beethoven. Some is. Some is what I vaguely recall Zach describing as the Russian (loud) nationalistic (strident) tradition. Some is just infuriatingly unsubtle and makes me sigh and stare at the clock and wonder how long the composer could possibly have thought a blasting crescendo of trumpets could productively go on. And then eventually I wrest control of the room's music away from my roommate and put on some Modest Mouse to calm my nerves, which is an unreasonable sentence even to 75% of my brain.
A few days ago a housemate of mine put a CD of The Great Rock'N'Roll Instrumentals on the kitchen stereo. Most of them were songs I'd heard hundreds of times in junior high and high school when my dad got really into surf music, and they brought back incredibly strange memories. Everyone remembers being in high school and fighting with their parents over that damn music all the time, can't you shut it off so we can all hear ourselves think? But I think for most people it's their music blaring constantly and the parents being offended, rather than the other way around. Actually it's not nearly as cool as it sounds.
So: kids these days, et cetera et cetera, and their newfangled obnoxious music. What the hell is happening to me?
It wouldn't make any sense to post any of the things that I've written this weekend separately. I can only think to post them together and let you sort them out.
Friday, December 8th, 2006, 11:00 pm.
The only good thing about trying to write a paper at 11:00 at night after four hours of sleep and a half day of airport delays followed by a half-day of crying at the pre-funeral viewing for a beloved relative... is that there's no danger of falling asleep while writing because your eyes hurt too much to close.
Saturday, December 9th, 2006, 6:00 pm.
I'm a one-man (woman) catastrophe right now. It's 6:00 and I'm sitting in the terminal at Burbank Airport waiting for my flight home. I didn't sleep well last night â I doubt you'd believe me if I said there was road resurfacing going on in front of my parents' house at 4:00 this morning. But I'm saying it anyway. This morning was the church service for my grandfather. I'd always kind of liked Catholic services until this weekend; I think the obscurity and the constant affirmation of who is in and who is out makes the whole thing a mystery that I long to be part of. But when the purported reason for a service is to have a collective remembrance of a loved one and to reassure the people who loved him, being there and being out is much worse than not being there at all. We can all take comfort in each other's presence... so let's recite in unison the prayers that we all know because we're all Catholic. We should not let our sorrow at Lyle's death overwhelm us... because we all believe that he is in heaven now and our faith will let us join him. It was probably the most profoundly alienating experience of my life. It was followed by one of the strangest, creepiest experiences of my life, the cemetery service. Newsflash: cemeteries aren't the beautiful, flawless verdant paradises they're made out to be. They have dead grass and barbed wire and guys hanging out in their bulldozers waiting for the charade to be over so they can actually put the coffin in the ground, which is theoretically what the cemetery service is all about. Why not actually bury the person you've come to bury? Isn't it far creepier to drive him there in a hearse, hand the weirdly blank coffin to his sons and sons-in-law so they can carry it all of ten feet for a weird little symbolic show and then put it down on a couple of two-by-fours suspended over a cement box that may or may not actually be in a hole in the ground and may or may not, who knows really, be part of the burial apparatus, it's all kind of obscure and hard to understand, and cry and put some roses on the casket and say wonderful words about laying him gently in the earth to his peaceful rest and then walk off and leave him to be stuck in the ground by a couple of strangers with hernia belts and earthmoving equipment who never met him? Than to fucking get your own hands dirty by picking up the casket for real and shuffling it into a real hole in the real ground yourself, and understanding that if you tip the casket and jostle it around or even drop the damn thing it doesn't matter, he's dead, he's not going to get up and tell you you did it wrong, because he's a cold body in a wooden box in the ground and it's going to be that way forever? I have to be in the minority here, I have to, because if everyone else felt that it was disrespectful and undignified and emotionally distant to walk away from your beloved relatives before they've actually been put to rest, then the whole mortuary industry with its little green fake grass mats around little white boxes around little shiny wood boxes and tastefully bland brass markers that lay flat and discreetly don't tell you anything about the people under them and anyway aren't even there yet to tell you their discreet nothing while you're playing out your charade with your roses and your white gloves wouldn't fucking exist.
A couple of months ago I read an article for an anthropology class about mortuary rites in some group of people somewhere where the dead are held and touched and cuddled and cried on and handed around from mourner to mourner, because they're the bodies of our loved ones and we know them almost as well as our own and still find comfort in touching them, and then they're taken away and cut up and cooked and eaten, because they're dead and gone and we need to understand that they've been transformed into something we can't hang on to. And I have to tell you that doesn't seem nearly as creepy to me as the service for my grandfather today.
And then to cap off an ever-increasingly unlovely day we retired to my grandmother's house for food and awkward social mingling, and for all the talk about the value of having the family all there and how much it meant for me to have come for this nobody thought to get their hands on something that wasn't meat or cheese for me to eat. So I had a roll and a few strawberries instead of lunch and by the time I got dropped off at the airport, exhausted, tired of being herded by my mother's coping mechanism of micromanaging everyone around her, and far too early for my flight because of just that mechanism, I was already a blood-sugar disaster. I wandered up and down this ridiculously tiny airport looking for something I could eat for dinner, and by the time I'd done a lap of the terminal I'd discovered it wasn't possible. The veggie sandwich was discontinued. The pizza place could make me something with cheesy pesto sauce. I got a cup of tea and a couple of granola bars and sat down at my gate to have a long talk with myself and try to remember that this isn't the church or the chapel or the cemetery and the habits of the last 30 hours don't make it acceptable to sit down here and start bawling.
It didn't work. And that is how you came to be presented with these four paragraphs of anger and frustration and alienation and physical and emotional exhaustion and depression. This is not one of my more charming blog entries. This is not one of my more charming days. But I'm frustrated and tired and last night at the end of the viewing my youngest uncle came up to my sister and me, crying, to tell us that his 2-year-old son never had a chance to know his grandfather. I can't be charming to that.
Saturday, December 9th, 2006, 7:30 pm.
Between the gate and the airplane just now it was cold, and wet, and it smelled like rain on concrete. It was too dark to see the clouds that had been covering more of the sky every hour since noon, but I saw a few of them drift past in dark wisps as we took off. I hope it pours. I can't see any reason for it to hold off. Let it come down.
That's how they go, my entries. One aggravated, one giddy, one depressed, one ecstatic, one despairing, one inspired, and so on to the end of my blogging days. Whenever that is.
Today my house is driving me insane. Five times in the last week I've come downstairs to the smell of delicious fresh chocolate chip cookies, cast one hopeful glance at them, and been told by the baker, "They're not vegan. Sorry." In fact, the central heating system currently appears to be blowing cookie smell from the kitchen into the study where I'm currently sitting so that there is no way to escape it (the other common rooms are closer to the kitchen, my room is the closest bedroom in the house to it, and even the roofdeck gets air blowing out of the kitchen exhaust fan). There's no way to be in Kingman Hall right now without the maddening smell of unattainable cookies.
It's one small part of the two colossal difficulties I have with being vegan: living with nonvegan food and making it through the holiday baking season. It wasn't so frustrating to eschew dairy when Jacob and I were living together and I only had to resist the occasional sprinkling of cheese. Now my house is full of Nutella, (nonsoy) ice cream, (nonsoy) yogurt, eggs, and the whole range of purloined and mysteriously acquired pastries that my cohabitants accumulate and bring home with incredible and increasing frequency. Then add to that the fall and winter gamut of Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, egg nog, pies, gingerbread, you name it -- almost all of which can quite easily be made vegan, but around here it just isn't. It's far worse to live with people making delicious things and forgetting* to make them vegan than to live alone and never have any delicious things except what you can find the time and energy to make yourself. Here I'm reminded constantly that we're a community and I can rely on my housemates to share the fruits of their labors with me, except that I can't.
If I'd been thinking clearly a few weeks ago when spring contracts were being arranged, I probably would have put in for a transfer to Loth, the vegetarian house with considerably more vegan-friendly cooking habits. I think I still would if I weren't so attached to my "let's all put eggs in fucking everything" housemates here. Stupid eggs. Stupid cookies. Yesterday I almost stabbed my Oklahoman housemate with a spoon because he told me point-blank and with absolute confidence, "You can't eat chocolate. It's not vegan." Gah! How am I supposed to teach people about vegan chocolate chip cookies when they don't even think you can have vegan chocolate chips? What's next? Kidney beans have kidneys in them? Flour isn't vegan because it's ground up with giant wheels made of puppies? Broccoli isn't vegan because it has heads? Sigh.
*I'm being generous here. Most people simply don't care because there are only 3 vegans in the house, and a few have told me bluntly that vegan food just tastes worse, categorically and unredeemably, by virtue of being vegan. I didn't punch them anywhere, thank you very much. Really.
That's been my answer for the last two days when anyone asks me what I'm doing. Whether it actually is what I'm doing at any given point, it's what I'm thinking. It's now due on Friday before I leave for Los Angeles, which isn't nearly as panic-worthy as being due on Thursday, but is still a respectably horrific state for a 15-page research paper on incredibly detailed minutiae about 2-million-year-old stone tools. If you ever thought that far antiquity must be vague because it's so hard to find out anything about it, I am here to tell you that is not the case. The less we know, the more we talk about the position of the 56-cm block of basalt in relation to the antelope horn fragments and how many toothmarks are in the bones located 37.2 meters to the northeast.
So. Paper. For the second night in a row I'm sitting in the drafty study room of my house*, bundled up in hoodie and blanket and hobo gloves, dazedly drinking tea and flipping through a stack of books, articles, notes, and a French-English dictionary which is just what I suppose I deserve for picking a site found by a French dude. There's a picture tacked to the wall in front of me, of me as a stick figure holding a book titled âSome Fucking Thing About Old Rocksâ. I got cold a few minutes ago and pulled my hood over my head. Then I realized that my fingertips were the only part of my body really showing and colored them in with a purple marker so I could be a slightly grape-scented ninja.
When I minimize the window in which I'm writing my paper, it shows up in my taskbar with my paper title somewhat truncated. It's the Acheulean, really, but what it calls itself is âOldowan-Acheâ. The first time I saw it it was like a revelation. I do have an Oldowan Ache. It hurts me right in the sleep gland.
*This is now a lie. I'm currently getting ready for bed and obsessing to my roommate about how tiny raisin toast is more delicious than normal-sized raisin toast. I wrote this post earlier, in the study room, where I didn't bring my wireless internet card so that I wouldn't distract myself writing blog entries.
If the next eleven days don't kill me, I will feel like I've earned my college degree in sheer stress and frustration. If the next eleven days do kill me, it might be an act of mercy.
I have a 15-page research paper due Friday. When I turn that in I'll pick up a take-home final for the same class, due Monday. When I've turned that in I'll have an in-class final the next day for another class. Three days after that I'll be turning in a final project for my remaining class.
My grandfather died yesterday. I'm going to LA on Thursday for his funeral. When I talked to my mother this morning and heard the tears in her voice, suddenly the zombie-rights patches that I spent the weekend making for another class seemed unfathomably tasteless instead of clever. I got five hours of sleep last night because I was up late being argumentative and bitter about losing the election for kitchen manager, and the cold that I thought I'd fought off is coming back. And I panicked at room bids last night, so even though I could have easily gotten the basement room I wanted and waited to pick a new roommate, I wound up staying with my current roommate and his smoke and bullshit and we're in a room where I can't have my cat.
I'm going to bed for the next 40 minutes, going to class and prostrating myself for a paper extension, and then coming home and pitying myself as hard as I possibly can. Hopefully by 6:00 I'll be able to go to my evening class and talk about my patches without bursting into tears. The key here is manageable goals; dealing with the rest of the semester, or possibly even the rest of the week, is a bit out of my range at the moment.
Another house post.
I suspect that the only people reading this who know about the closure of Casa Zimbabwe are the two who live in my house (and stop lurking or I'll poke you in the ribs while you sleep, because after all I do know where you live). For the rest of you, Casa Zimbabwe, the second-largest and second-most debaucherous house in the USCA system, will be closed next semester for structural repair. It will reopen next fall, but in the meantime 124 co-opers are being turned out to find housing either in one of the other 15 co-ops or elsewhere. As it turns out, there doesn't seem to be much problem with finding space for them -- in my house of 50 people 15 are leaving at the end of this semester -- but the question of what to do with them once they've been farmed out to other houses is becoming somewhat contentious.
The reason it's a problem is that co-opers accumulate seniority points for semesters spent living in one of the USCA houses. These points give you priority in bidding on bedrooms in whichever house you live in, with one important caveat: as a rule, if you switch houses, the first semester in your new house your points aren't active. You bid along with anyone else who has inactive points, after the continuing house members with active points have bid. Once you've spent a semester in your new house, you're considered a continuing member and all of your points come back. It's a reasonable rule in my estimation; for one, co-ops are theoretically about building a community, and so it makes sense to reward people for staying more than a semester in a house. For two, to move into a house and immediately bid your way into the biggest, airiest single is a good way to get off on the wrong foot with your housemates. You have to start at the bottom, and you should stick around if you want it to pay off.
But for the Czars* being turned out for next semester, it isn't exactly a normal situation. They don't have the option of sticking around in their house (and their house community is being split up). This is why, two years ago when the remodel was planned, the USCA's board of directors voted to allow them to have active points immediately if they moved into another house next semester. All well and good. But there's a glitch where Kingman's room bids are concerned. Two glitches, actually
The first glitch is that Kingman holds two sets of room bids for each semester. There's one bid at the end of the preceding semester, to allow continuing members to bid. Then there's another at the start of the semester itself, for new members and those from other houses. As I've heard it explained, this is because if someone lives in Kingman, then moves out, then comes back, their points are active when they come back because they've been a Kingmanite before. But they haven't been in the house the previous semester, so they're not included in the first round of bids. It becomes a terrace system of points: continuing active points in the first bid, then returning active points, inactive points, and no points in the second bid.
It's only been in the last week or so that the entirety of the board's decision has been communicated to the Kingman population: Czars will have active points and bid in the first round of room bids. In other words, entering Czars will have absolutely all privileges given to continuing Kingmanites. I'd like to gripe for a moment about the fact that our board representative has hardly been at any house council meetings this semester and really should have made sure we knew about this before the week of room bids. Okay, that's enough of a moment. Let's continue.
Glitch number two has been made apparent over the past few days. It concerns the fact that Czars didn't have to wait until now to move out; in fact, a number of them moved into Kingman at the start of this semester. They were planning ahead in order to be continuing members, with active points and first bid privileges, so as to get nice rooms for next semester. Since they had inactive points when they moved in, they tended to end up in fairly crappy rooms for the current semester. Their plans mostly concerned bidding into better ones, not located in the dank and chilly basement**, for spring. This would have worked if, as some of them were expecting, the entering Czars would be bidding in the second round. The new Czars would have bid priority over people entirely new to the co-ops and anyone from a non-CZ house, but the former-Czars-now-Kingmanites who planned ahead would still get to move up in the room hierarchy. As it is, their forward thinking gained them nothing except an extra, unnecessary, semester in the basement where they will find themselves staying if their former housemates have enough points to outbid them.
I just realized that one of my readers in the house is a forward-thinking refugee Czar. Fascinating. I suppose that makes this as good a forum as any to ask (both house readers and non-house readers) what you all think of this situation. If it had been put to you to figure out the fair solution before the board's full decision was made clear, what would you have done? If it were put to you now to figure out a fair way to run our next room bids, what would you do? If you were the house manager and were facing mutiny from a coalition of angry house members who want the Czars kept out of the first round (and who are, interestingly, mostly members who are settled in nice rooms and won't be bidding), how would you quell it?
Feel free to answer using the back of this page if space requires.
*Fun USCA fact: houses tend to acquire, intentionally or otherwise, nicknames for their inhabitants based in some way on the house's name. Casa Zimbabwe is generally shortened to CZ, and hence it is full of Czars. At Cloyne you become a Clone, and at Wilde a Wilde Childe. Castro residents are, unfortunately, known as Castrati. Inhabitants of Lothlorien are of course Elves. Kingman comes in as pretty appallingly boring with Kingmanites. Even Hillegass-Parker house (the remodeled, reopened and heavily sanitized Le Chateau), which is only a couple of semesters old, has been shortened to HiP and calls its residents Hipsters. Basically, we should be ashamed.
**For the record, I'm planning on bidding into the dank and chilly basement next semester. It's not because it's dank and chilly, but because it's the accepted place to have allergy-inducing animals and I miss my fuzz.