Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Salad Days, When I Was Green in Judgement, Cold in Blood

I've been going through boxes of papers, dating back all the way to high school, but mostly consisting of my graduate school work. So, I find notes from classes I took and classes for which I was a teaching assistant. I find the papers from some of my students, which I kept because they were excellent. I find my own papers. And here, on the other side, as a doctoral program drop-out, those papers are an emblem of a life that I can no longer live, a career path I can no longer follow.

I should throw them all away, each and every paper. But instead, I am working to consolidate four boxes into one. And what I am keeping are my students' papers, some notes about topics that still particularly interest me, and my own writing.

In my first year of graduate school, I had a mental breakdown. It was the second quarter, January through March, and my mind was just not quite my own. Yet still, as with my other breakdowns, I managed my schoolwork even as my emotional life flailed.

I was in a very engaging class called "Passing," in which we read and analyzed texts such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, M. Butterfly, and Passing. Animals passing as humans, men passing as women, blacks passing as whites.

I got interested especially in Dr. Moreau, and from that became interested in anti-vivisectionist movements in the nineteenth century. I gave a presentation on my research, and opened by saying "Before I begin, I want you all to know that it is a miracle of modern medicine that I can be with you here today." Then I passed around my bottle of anti-depressants.

It seemed like a good thing to do at the time. And the professors (there were two) liked it, probably because it was less boring than the usual introduction of a graduate student presentation.

Anyway, in going through my papers, I found a paper I wrote for that class, which is titled "sex, lies, and vivisection, or Fuck Black Beauty."

As I said, I was having some "issues."

I also found my handout for my presentation. I reproduce it here for your consideration.

This was during the first Gulf War, and so here are close-ups of some bits:

And here is my "Fun Words" list:

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Heat Death of the Universe

Fig. 1: Photo © ewan.osullivan

Today (which will live in infamy blah blah blah) I will call The Great California OMG WTF :( :( 2009. Or, alternately, The Great Pwnage.

Some person or persons as yet unknown cut some fiberoptic cables in two separate locations in Silicon Valley, plunging a bunch of people into cellphone, internet, and credit card swipe machine darkness.

One would have thought it was the end of Time and Life as We Know It.

I got up. My computer wouldn't connect to the web. I listened to the radio briefly and heard there was a general service problem. Then I went to work. My boss is smart, and keeps paper credit card carbons on hand, which is an excellent idea around here. There are an astonishing number of short and long power outages in this two-bit podunk gin-joint, and who can actually afford to lose a day's business just because the power goes out? His mom took the machine that one uses with carbons, but my boss just rubs with the side of a pen, like a rabid genealogist creating a memento mori with charcoal and a tombstone.

People were ASTOUNDED that they could use credit cards in our store, because I guess no one else has carbons. Which I find weird, cf. frequent power outages.

All day the rumors were flying: it was terrorists; it was a disgruntled union member; it was construction. I liked my boss's explanation: Giant Gopher. Or my coworker's: space aliens. Or mine: the enormous radioactive ants from Them! At one point, my boss and I were discussing the whole reductio ad terrorum phenomenon, and I said we should apply Occam's Razor, which would result in us deciding that the problem had been caused by, as my boss put it, "Joe on his tractor." I mean, how many times has terrorism caused something bad to happen in the United States? I count three. And how many times has Joe on his tractor fucked something up? Pretty much constantly.

As it turned out, it was a Giant Gopher, or vandals, or--according to some sources--saboteurs, which I disagree with, since there were no wooden shoes involved. As far as I know. These vandals hoisted manhole covers at two different locations, went underground, and cut the cables. Once the online came back online, I read several different accounts, which all seemed to emphasize that the vandals had to use "special tools" both to lift the manhole cover and to cut the cables. You mean "special" like the crowbar from my car trunk and a pair of bolt cutters from the hardware store? (See Fig. 2). It's like rocket surgery!

I think the news should have just alerted us to the fact that the vandals have hands, and are tool-users, and that the public should be on the lookout for a band of rogue bonobos. Possibly unionized. Wearing black. With anarchist patches sewn on.

Fig. 2: Special Tool. Watch out!

My boss started pantomiming the event, first pretending he was using a crowbar to jimmy up the manhole cover and bolt cutters to cut the cables. Next pretending he was just grappling the cover out of the way and then gnawing the cable. Much like a Giant Gopher.

So, what with the customers having various kinds of cows about the whole thing, and us making fun of both the event and the customers' cows, it was a full day. The weirdest (okay, not weirdest; most aggravating) repeated comment ran along the lines of "Oh, I'm kind of enjoying the break of not having my cellphone."

I find this attitude mysterious and idiotic. This is what my mind heard: "Oh, one day a mean mean man came to my house and put a gun to my head and gave me a mobile phone and told me that he would torture and kill me and all my loved ones if I didn't carry the phone with me at all times and always leave it on and answer it even during the quiet parts of classical music concerts and yoga class and even when I should be talking to the Real Live Person who is right in front of me tapping a foot in frustration and today is Such a Relief because I actually can't follow his orders. Free at last! Free at last!"

These people fall in a certain clear camp in the whole free will vs. predestination debate, don't you think?

Jasmine Nguyen, spokesperson for St. Louise hospital in Gilroy, said it most ineptly: "We literally feel like we're on an island right now. It's bringing us back to the Stone Age."

Because literal is the new figurative, and the internet and cellphone communication arose directly after the Pleistocene-Holocene extinction of the North American megafauna. Actually (in case you didn't know) the internet was platformed on some proprietary software trademarked by Giant Sloths Eaten by Sabre-Toothed Tigers, L.L.C. (See Fig 3.)

Fig. 3: 1337 hax0r of yore, pictured with favorite plushie.