October 31, 2006

At the quarter-century mark we feel the need to turn back the clock.

Most of you have probably heard my favorite Halloween story. I'm going to tell it to you again. See, when I was four, I decided that it was time to start creating my own Halloween costumes. The year before, I'd worn a witch costume that my mom made me (for most of the year, but that's another story). I have no recollection of any years before that, but I knew the basic formula: you got an idea, you got some clothes, you got some face paint. So I put on my stripey pink sweatsuit and my fuzzy slippers. I took my sister's face paints and painted myself white with bold black accents. I confidently presented my ensemble to my parents, who, to their infinite credit, proudly took me out trick-or-treating. It went like this: I'd knock at a door, a parent would open it, and they'd carefully praise my originality while tactfully asking what the hell I was supposed to be.

I would answer happily, "I'm a different kind of watering can!"

I've heard it said that children are basically naturally high until about age ten, and I tend to feel that my behavior during the 1980s supports that hypothesis quite well. I still have no fucking clue what kind of watering can I was, or how such a can could be represented by a girl in a sweatsuit and face paint. I do, however, remember being utterly sincere and unquestioningly confident in my costume. This story is now old enough to vote and drink, and it still never fails to delight me.

The way in which my costume for this year recalls those fond days of watering canhood is not in the confidence or the incomprehensibility. It's in the assembly of a costume from one's own wardrobe and random articles nabbed from one's cohabitants. I'll borrow my housemate's camera later today and post pictures, but for now you'll have to take my word for it that I am rockin' it today as the All Free-Pile Giraffe. I've sponge-painted squarish brown spots on my khaki pants and beige shirt. I found a furry beige hood in the Kingman freepile and more beige faux fur at Stebbins, and made a giraffe head with ears and horns. The sash for the tail came from Northside, and the shirt whose sleeves became hooves for my hands came from Casa Zimbabwe. The style, baby, is all me.

I'm a bit overenergetic today from the combination of Halloween candy and taekwondo class this morning, so I've been quickstepping around the stacks practicing my kicks. The way I figure it, you could probably think of something funnier than a giraffe doing martial arts in a library, but I just don't see the need. I'm also planning to go to my Prehistoric Art class this afternoon and plaster myself against the wall as a South African rock painting. Look, Ma, I'm a therianthrope!

Posted by dianna at 02:11 PM

October 27, 2006

The proverbial clam.

My housemate Aaron is a classics major. This semester he's studying ancient Mesopotamia, the history of architecture, and the Greek language. I am, as you all know, essentially an archaeology major. I've studied the history of architecture. I've studied ancient Mesopotamia. I've attempted to teach myself an ancient language, albeit with limited success. It's already been established that when Aaron and I start talking about anything older than a thousand years it's a geekfest of truly epic proportions.

I'm not even sure what started us off last night, but by the time the rest of the house finished dinner and started to drift out of the dining room we were talking animatedly about empire consolidation in the Ur III period and the Qin dynasty. We hit cylinder seals, divinized rulers, propaganda, and systems of military control, and when we got to the material resources of the cradle of civilization my roommate tried to join the conversation but could only give up in the face of its intense arcanity.

By 8:00 the dining room had pretty well emptied out. There were two people studying on the dining room couch, one person cleaning up the remains of dinner, and Aaron and me now clustered around the public computer arguing about whether Stonehenge is sexy. We were trying to cast a joint vote in the New 7 Wonders election, but got tied up in debating whether the candidates should be iconic, mysterious, historically significant, politically significant, fairly representative, notably old, in good repair, aesthetically appealing and/or simply personally exciting. We threw out the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House without discussion. I argued passionately for Angkor Wat and against the Great Wall of China. He would stand for no doubt about the Colosseum but balked at Chichen Itza. Our collective soul-searching about the Alhambra required the consultation not only of the website's fact sheet but also of Google and Aaron's architectural history textbook.

We finally cast our vote and called it a day around 9:00 with his Greek unstudied, my archaeology unread, and our housemates' tempers fraying from listening to us. I returned to my long-abandoned reader and announced in somewhat strong language that spending evenings this way makes me extraordinarily happy. My housemate Christina, who had been patiently studying at the dining room table throughout this, gave me a look usually reserved for small fuzzy baby animals and started writing something in the margins of her anthropology book. I looked over her shoulder.

As happy as the proverbial clam -- she had written -- Dianna, on geeking it up about the wonders of the world.

Yours truly,
the exuberant shellfish.

Posted by dianna at 03:56 PM

October 25, 2006


Last Thursday, you'll recall, I was trying to finish up some reading and a reading response for my two-unit class on Discworld. I had a fairly busy evening before getting to that, though, involving midterms, household chores, archaeology research, and helping my housemate, um, generate some empty beer bottles in which to put her homebrew ale. In short, when I wrote my reading response it was already past midnight and I was tired and punchy and slightly drunk.

The reading response which I turned in, for the first half of Guards! Guards!, is replicated here verbatim for your enjoyment:

A press release from the Patrician's office:

Though some bits of the city've been roast,
And that sword-waver should have been toast,
The dragon is beat
(Or at least off the street).
You may all now return to your posts.

But, from the Watch police blotter...

Dragons don't just turn into thin air,
I'm damn certain, because I was there.
Someone's at silly buggers,
But I need some Bearhugger's
Before even beginning to care.

And now a word from local merchant Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler.

My good sir, this is no kind of trick!
For that dragon will roast you right quick.
You will soon come to harm
If you don't buy a charm
...While you're at it, a sausage, on stick?

Posted by dianna at 04:41 PM

October 19, 2006

Dianna! Why are you researching stone tools instead of reading fantasy books?

My particular class schedule has left me in an odd position today.

I had midterms in my three serious classes last Friday, yesterday, and today. Because that is completely ridiculous, I essentially put off every obligation I could conceivably put off and spent the past week doing nothing but freaking out about (respectively) early hominids, food aversions, and the shamanism hypothesis. Now that I've emerged from the last of these, I have to revisit the other things people expect me to do. I have workshifts to do, I have a game of Yinsh to play with Jacob, I have a paper proposal and bibliography due Monday, and yes, I have reading to do for my Discworld class. I'm trying to figure out if I can reconcile these things with the invitation I've been extended to join some of my housemates at a cabin somewhere far away for the weekend. It sounds like fun. It's an opportunity for a ride in Whiskey, the run-down but utterly pimped-out conversion van recently purchased for $100 cash by two house members. That alone would probably be worth rearranging my weekend and spending two more days frantically working.

That's why I was in the Anthropology library immediately after my test today, looking up articles on Acheulean stone tools from Ethiopia. Contrary to what you all think, it's a completely engrossing subject. I was there for an hour until the library closed and hardly got to look at half of what I wanted to. When the circulation personnel announced they were closing the desk, I looked at my watch and was seized with a sudden guilt. Here I was sitting in the library when I should have been at home reading Guards! Guards! It's true, though. I have a reading response on it due tomorrow at noon and what with all the midterm studying, I've barely started. I really ought to work on my slacking and procrastinating -- lithics are no substitute for the serious study of literature.

Posted by dianna at 06:33 PM

The dark underbelly of the co-op system

I may have neglected to mention one major downside of living in a co-op, one sordid secret that turns the house from a charming and happy community to a den of iniquity and rampant malice.

When one is sitting in one's bedroom a few hours before a midterm, studying prehistoric art and nursing a tepid and frankly boring cup of tea, and one's housemates start making French toast in the kitchen and filling the stairwells with delicious nutmeggy smells, and one ate breakfast at 8:30 and is hungry but trying to get some work done before lunch, it is fucking impossible to maintain any sort of concentration.

I'll just, uh... be downstairs. Um. I need to, uh, take a survey of the pantry for, uh, an anthropology project. Maybe the fridges too. And I should check to see if the ovens are working properly. Won't take a moment.

Posted by dianna at 11:46 AM

October 12, 2006

Taekwondo test haiku

Let's do some high kicks
in a nice white uniform,
on my period.

I have a midterm in Stone Age of Africa tomorrow, for which I have of course been attempting and intending to study. Let's review my success over the last week.

  • Friday: baked (not metaphorically, I mean I made fruit and nut tarts), attended house Music and Story Night, drank beer.
  • Saturday: read half of an article, blogged about australopithecines, watched Edward Scissorhands.
  • Sunday: made silkscreens, played Yinsh, made pie.
  • Monday: I have no idea, but I know I wasn't studying.
  • Tuesday: spontaneous board game party in dining room, experimental identity theft (i.e., teaching a housemate how to forge my handwriting) until 2 am.
  • Wednesday: fell asleep in library, fell asleep on housemate's beanbag chair, fell asleep in bed.
  • Today: self-diagnosed with senioritis, co-opitis, narcolepsy, and total absence of motivation. Note that this is also not equivalent to studying.

My only defense is that most of the recent readings for this class have been about carcasses. Scavenging, to be specific. There have been detailed studies of how long it takes for partially dismembered animal remains to become too putrified for consumption. It's not that it isn't interesting, but I'm starting to wonder if it's possible to claim conscientious-objector status and reduce the amount of viscera that I have to read about. At the very least I should probably consider revising my habit of snacking while reading.

Posted by dianna at 12:27 PM

October 07, 2006

An emotional attachment to robust australopithecines.

My Stone Age of Africa class this semester is devoting a great deal of lecture and reading time to the subject of hominid (or, as primatology vogue would apparently have it, hominin) evolution and the various species and genera that pop up in the fossil record after about 5 million years ago. For those of you whose interests do not encompass the critical question of whether H. rudolfensis really constitutes a separate species from H. habilis, I will give you a short and to-the-point summary which looks like this:

  • At some date which is not important to you, there were Australopithecus dudes who were kind of apey but not as apey as the dudes who came before them.
  • At some later date they split up into Homo dudes (no, really) who were less apey still, and Paranthropus dudes who had really enormous teeth and weird snubby faces.
  • At yet another date the Paranthropus dudes went extinct and the Homo dudes got bigger brains and better tools and invented partisan politics and multivariable calculus.

That's about it, really, save a century of people arguing about what to call them. The Australopithecus dudes, who were skinny little buggers with fragile heads, got dubbed the gracile australopithecines. The Paranthropus dudes, who as I mentioned had big clunky heads and teeth, got dubbed the robust australopithecines. Homos, I guess, are just Homos.

For reasons I can't really elaborate, the robust australopithecines hold a special fascination for me. It could be that they're a slightly pathetic evolutionary dead-end; on family trees of human ancestors they're usually drawn as three little stubs way off to one side, with some apologetic notes about disputed nomenclature, fading into nothingness by a million and a half years ago. Homo and Australopithecus turned into all sorts of exciting species, but Paranthropus didn't turn into anything but dead. It could be that they were physically weird; they had big sagittal crests (think a mohawk growing out of your skull), wide flat gorilla faces, and jaws that could chew the fuck out of you for one thing. It's been suggested that they were primarily vegetarian, and the teeth and jaws were for grinding up leaves. It's been suggested rather hysterically that they were scavengers and bone-crushers, but they didn't really have the canines for it. They walked upright. They probably used fire. They might have used tools. And there's no really pressing reason why we couldn't have been descended from them instead of from Homos, if they just hadn't gone extinct.

That's the thing that gets me, I think. If we (meaning the Homos) ate more meat and they (meaning the robust australopithecines) ate more plants, and they went extinct and we didn't, it was probably only because we lived on the plains and they lived in the forest and when the weather got colder and drier (which it did), the plains spread out and there weren't enough leaves for them to make good. If it had gotten warmer instead, the forest would have spread out and we'd have had to grow some bigger teeth or go extinct ourselves. It's sheer luck of the climatological draw, and you know I always root for the loser. I've adopted these poor bastards like they were personal friends. I scribble angry notes in the margins of articles that cast doubt on their tool-making capacity. When we look at fossils I spend longer at the table with the robust skulls than the one with the gracile skulls so that they know I like them better. I talk them up to my friends. I take them on walks -- okay, no, I don't. But I put little stars by their names on evolutionary trees so they don't look so pathetic.

Adopt a weird, extinct, not-quite-ancestral hominid species of your own today! They can't talk about you behind your back, because even if they had verbal language they're presently missing the soft tissue necessary for vocalization. You'll always be able to find them, because they're really fucking weird-looking! And they won't steal your bacon-and-egg sandwiches because they'd rather have a mouthful of grass to chew on! Best of all, you'll never have to look at pictures of their kids, because they died without having any!

Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

Posted by dianna at 11:02 PM

October 02, 2006

His Majesty's love palace

My roommate and I reached an agreement last night: our room is totally pimp.

It was fairly pimp to begin with, really. Our door faces the main stairway of the house, and the room is long and skinny, so there was nothing else to do but put both of our beds against the far wall. Mine's on a loft and Kye's is on cinderblocks, creating a sort of step pyramid of bedness. Then there's the matter of the recliner and cushy square ottoman that he liberated from an unidentified common room, and once those are logically placed next to the beds it's more of a heavily cushioned Escher painting with endless steps winding around in incredibly comfortable circuits.

Last night after dinner we went on a decorating spree. Actually, it was more like a decorating arms race. Kye's had a pair of disturbingly stereotypical conic Chinese hats hanging on his wall for weeks, so last night I finally retaliated by hanging up my pith helmet with a pair of water pistols in a triumphant and vaguely inappropriate tableau. He, unfazed, simply filled an entire wall with shelves to hold trellised vines. I brought out the beautiful maroon-and-gold sari that Michele bought for me in Singapore, and we draped it across the ceiling in sumptuous billows with one end hanging languorously over each bed. Kye borrowed my watercolor brushes and painted himself a sign to go over his bed, which, as he explained to me, says in very bad calligraphy and worse grammar that he is a big king. I intend to counter with an unreasonably ornate sign informing the viewer that this is, in fact, The Sultan's Love Palace, but until I do so I suppose I must concede that Kye has the upper hand. I won't stoop so low as to consider either the giant red and gold koi tassel hanging in the middle of the room or the artfully draped scarlet sheet serving as an unreasonably luxurious window covering -- okay, yes I will. The point here is that my room assaults the senses of the casual passerby with a confusion of red, gold, silk, and pillows, and because we're located on the line of sight of the stairway and rarely close our door, every single person in my house has to look at it.

At 1:00 this morning, with decorating still in full swing, one of the girls from the room next door stumbled blearily in the door and asked if I could please stop hammering and let her sleep. I did, in case you're wondering, do exactly that, but it was only after some fierce internal struggle. A fairly significant percentage of me dearly wanted to tell her that the Sultan was displeased and she would be receiving a visit from the Grand Vizier at his earliest convenience to discuss the error of her ways. I'm really going to have to watch this.

Posted by dianna at 04:17 PM