Thursday, January 29, 2009

I think you picked the wrong person to be angry with.

I may have made a mistake the other night when, in the middle of a discussion of sustenance patterns (how people get most of their food and what you can extrapolate about their society from that), I admitted to occasionally dumpster diving and scavenging at the side of the road. It's nothing I connect with shame or being the lowest of the low. It's just another way to get food, sometimes clothing, and a few other items that make life a lot easier than having to buy them, especially when you have very little cash in your pocket, have a morbid fear of debt, and are saving all of your pay for the rent on an apartment.

Yeah, I'm that much of a tightwad. I'm not ashamed of it. There are worse things I could be, or could be called.

There was a second class after this that most of the same students shared. While a few of us were sitting in the next room, waiting for class to start, one of my classmates from ethnology (the first class) walked in and declared that dumpster divers, freegans, and other people in the same vein were stupid for "playing poor" and trying to save the world by what they did. I didn't want to start a fight, but neither did I want that remark going unchallenged, so I just told her as calmly as I could that I never pretended to be poor or meant to save the world.

That started a conversation - more of a monologue, really - about her views on the situation.

Now, everyone has issues, but she had several volumes worth, and rightly so. She grew up in an extremely poor area in one of the major cities here in the Midwest. She excelled in her class just because the bar was set so damn low that showing up and doing all your homework meant you were an overachiever. From the sound of it and some of her remarks, either she was orphaned or kicked out, and she spent quite a bit of time as a homeless high school student. She's done well for herself, I admit - how many college students can say they own their own house, work at least twenty hours a week, and still go to class full time? Hell, I'm jealous of her for owning her house.

And she tore me open from stem to stern for daring to buy clothes from thrift stores or taking sealed cans of soup out of a trash can if I see them there. She told me I was stealing from people who needed cheap clothes or free food for prying a frozen bedsheet off the ground in the middle of winter.

To me, it sounded almost as though she was trying to one-up me for not having had as hard a life as she did. Then again, the wiring in my brain isn't completely straight, so I could have very well misinterpreted what she said. And it sounded like she really needed to rant and get some of that poison out of her system. I just happened to be a convenient rich kid to take it out on. I had no problem with that, once I heard part of her story. It wasn't me personally she was ripping apart.

But I'm really tired of people seeing me at Big State University and thinking of me as a spoiled brat who's never known what it's like to be anything but a spoiled brat. Even white noise can drive you nuts if you have to listen to it for long enough.

I don't know what it's like to be you. I'm not you. I'll listen and try to understand. That's what I'm learning to do. I'm an anthropologist. It's my job to listen to people talk about their lives. I'm still learning and don't have it down perfectly yet, but I'm trying.

Would it be too much to ask that you offer the same?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

At least it's not a life-or-death matter.

As one of my many oddball attempts at frugality, I turn in those soda cap points online and exchange them for stuff I can use myself, give as gifts, and in a pinch sell on eBay (assuming someone is kind enough to teach me how to use the site(s) necessary for this option.)

I did the usual turn-in of points today, and then started looking through the prizes to see if there was anything I might need in the future.

Tall veggie steamer? Nope.

Rice cooker? Not unless it does more than that.

Pans? Got plenty of those.

Magazines? I only renewed the subscription on one that I like to read.

$1,000 to pay the bills? N- Whoa, hold it! Back up, take a better look. I had to have seen a decimal point in the wrong place there.

As it turns out, no. They really did have a $1000 gift card under the sweepstakes. Oy vey. That's a sign of some sort - but whether it's "the best time to make money is when people are panicking" or "we know people are really going to need this money" is up for debate.

And yes, I did toss in an entry just for the hell of it. Two months' rent or a year of groceries - hey, I can dream.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Two weeks down, and no screams.

No screams from particularly fundamental students, at least, or anyone who might be offended by the idea of all modern humans originating in Africa, or that our very distant ancestors were glorified squirrels, or by any of those fun factoids that poke holes in the idea of our species being terribly special. I'm not going to do my victory dance yet, though. I still have fourteen more, and then there's the possibility of my proctoring one final in addition to all of my own.

I don't think I'm doing too badly as a TA, but nobody's come to me for help beyond finding out where the Powerpoints for the previous lectures were and how to get onto Blackboard for the class. They have the contact info for Prof S and the graduate student TA, so I'm not too surprised. An undergrad is at the bottom of the pecking order in any academic hierarchy. I'm not going to complain as long as the pay keeps coming.

Keep your fingers crossed. Next week, we tackle intelligent design, creationism, and "teaching the controversy."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief...

...and hang on to your hat. These next few months, and probably the next few years, are going to be rough.

I'll withhold my opinion of how he's doing until after the major shocks have passed. But for now, congratulations, President Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What happens when you ASS-U-ME

To all financial advisors, economists, and chronological adults who base their predictions of my behavior on my educational status:

There is nothing to be gained by telling me to use the university's meal plan instead of eating out. Where do you think most of my nutrition is coming from?

I don't drink coffee, much less buy Starbuck's all the time, so please don't sneer at me to cut back on the froufrou lattes when you see me glancing through my wallet to see if I have enough cash for a bulk bucket of rice. The missing twelve dollars went to buy my meds, which jumped from $10 at the last refill to what it is now. My last few paychecks went into my savings, and I'm not touching that fund until after graduation.

Don't tell me I should be loyal to the death to any company that hires me, or become a human remora when I'm interviewing for jobs. I've seen the results of that while I was growing up. I will show up on time, I will do my best work for the pay you give me, and I will be courteous. But I will not extend loyalty to an entity that expects me to kiss its feet between the punches to my face.

I don't spend my pay on mind-altering substances. I look draggy and out-of-it because I've just been to Vampires, Inc. this morning, and the sample bottle of Gatorade hasn't made it into my bloodstream to replenish the liquid portion of my blood they took. At least I didn't faint this time. I was smart enough to not run to catch the bus afterwards.

Telling me to get off my parents' dole isn't helpful. I'm applying for scholarships left and right to make sure they don't go into debt getting me through school without accumulating a backbreaking debt of my own. You'll notice I'm working, in addition to going to school full-time. Did you really think all of that money was going to frivolous stuff?

Please, don't ask again why I have a "useless" major. You're not helping. Although I'm tempted to go through with my original senior thesis idea, "Shovel Bum Versus Wild." It'd probably be a great hit on cable, and I'd have an excuse, if not a license, to do things like harvest the fruit and nuts off the trees on the quad and hunt the squirrels for meat.

And do not - repeat, do not - try to sell me credit cards. I don't like credit cards. I don't need more than the one I have. And I don't need the bait-and-switch tactics you guys love to use eating what's left of my stomach lining.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This is why I try not to play morbid games.

Mafia - or "Paranoia" as I originally learned it - is one of those games that sort of degenerates into a screaming, yelling mob no matter what you do. With any luck, the screaming and yelling comes from people accusing each other of being mafiosos or werewolves or the featured antagonist of your favorite version. The trick is apparently all in the narrator. The story makes or breaks the game, although any touches like dim lighting and almost dead silence can also help.

The choices for game night were either poker (which I literally learned to play at the table) or Mafia, and while neither really appealed to me, Mafia was at least semi-familiar. I got killed off pretty quickly in the first round as a townsperson, and then the narrator decided he'd join in and hand off to me.

Whatever else you could say about my performance, I'd say "memorable" would be among the adjectives.

It seems that the instructions "be creative and interesting" do not also include "let your have you lost your gods-be-damned-mind side out to play." Or, at least, "don't make people wonder what's going on in your head."

Hoo, boy. The backstory wasn't all that memorable - the mafiosos want to take over a suburban community and they've resorted to force with the last stubborn holdouts who won't sell their property - but I went nuts about the ways people died off. "The worst case of suicide I've ever seen", "if he wasn't already dead he'd have died of embarrassment," suspiciously loose ceramic roofing tiles, and at least one sentient computer eating its owner.

The town hall accusations were also grim, although I didn't need to do a whole lot of work. Those were chilling without any help from me.

And I literally just met some of those people about two hours before I went a little bonkers as the Mafia narrator. I got at least three yells of "oh my God", one of "you need to talk to someone" and various squeals of disgust or delight. And laughter. Lots of laughter. I'm not sure if I should have been more disturbed by what I came up with or with everyone laughing at the result.

On the other hand, a great time was had by all, and nobody seemed to walk away with the impression that they had a lunatic living down the hall to worry about. A few even wanted to know if I'd be available for future sessions of Mafia.

I'll call that a win.

*CLANG...thunk, thunk, thunk*

That rattling sound you hear would be the balls freezing off the brass monkey. Eight inches of snow and a wind chill near twenty below.

Naturally, classes were canceled in the wake of Jack Frost getting cranky. (A minor miracle in this area of the Midwest, where the usual response is to salt early and often, and to make grouchy noises about kids being wimpy these days.) This wouldn't be a problem if they met more often, but none of mine meet more than twice a week, and a day and a half of classes have been canceled.

Half a week into the semester and I'm already a week behind in linguistics. Crud.

And at least there's no frost on the inside of the windows this time, maybe because they face the south (but what I'd give to be allowed to put up insulating curtains.)

Well, at least they didn't cancel before the class I TA for could meet. Not that I could offer much insight or help for the first few classes of Human Origins, but let's face it, I need to plump up my pay somehow. But I have a sneaking suspicion that no amount of pay is going to make up for the shouting that I think we're in for if there are any non-believers of evolution in the class.

I'll be right back after I see if the bottle of tea I left on the windowsill has thawed yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Bambi on ice" springs to mind.

Everyone in this area of the state woke up to find a fine crack-glaze of ice on everything that had stopped moving for longer than ten seconds. What's more, it's misting on and off, with occasional snow that at least clings to the slick spots long enough to let you know where to throw the salt on your sidewalk.

This would be normal January weather for the Midwest, including the penguin walk everyone adopts on occasions like this and the intrepid soul who attempted to bicycle down one of the remaining brickwork streets we have (and got soundly dumped on his poorly padded rear), if you discounted the absolute lack of snow and the lack of traction in general.

For one, it's rather disconcerting to realize that, while crossing a dip in the sidewalk that serves as a driveway, your feet slip and slide down what might be a slope of five degrees to the point where, if not for some fast and fancy footwork, you will fall on your arse.

And it is damaging to your pride to realize that you can't get up a similar grade not five feet after you slid down its mate, even clinging to a drainpipe with your feet scrabbling and skidding on the ice until you look like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon come to life.

There were no falls on my part, and only one for the entire family. Nobody's hurt beyond some interesting bruises, but our egos didn't do so well.

Edit: Growl. I hate it when the spacing doesn't come out the way I've typed it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

That word doesn't mean what you think it means.

I personally don’t think I’ve earned the “Luddite” reputation most people outside my immediate family have bestowed on me. I just dislike using more advanced technology than I have to (the fewer the parts, the fewer things to go wrong), and I don’t feel the need to make my face, location, and latest mishap public.

This has led to…interesting events I doubt would have happened to a more connected person.

I baffled at least two roommates by not having a MySpace or Facebook page for them to investigate before we met face to face, but I didn’t actively attempt to take down either website or trash the computers they were using to (try to) look me up. This led to quite a few misidentifications and baffled people with my name wondering who the hell from Big State University was trying to look them up as a roommate when they had already graduated from University of Faraway State.

That was when I first heard the term “Luddite” applied to me. That honestly perplexed me. I don’t run around actively destroying anything more advanced than last century’s technology. I just read about it in the newspaper and then move on, reminding myself to wait for the final verdict about its use and for the gadget to hit a more reasonable price if it looks like something I'd want to have.

I’ve gotten stranger names applied to me. The most memorable was being called “Connor”, as in the hero of the Terminator series who’s living so far off the grid that the grid is just a distant blip on the horizon. So is sanity, towards the end of those movies, but I digress.

Allow me to clarify.

I’m wary of GMOs in the food chain or as potential organ donors and new health treatments that declare themselves to be the best things invented since the wheel, but can never seem to point to any studies from reputable sources that back up their claims. While these are necessary advancements, I don’t want to be included in the first mass case study where the people pushing the technology find out that “laboratory conditions” do not equal “what the real world will dish out.”

I’d rather not find out the hard way that they spliced cat genes into whatever sheep gave up its wool for my sweater, or that salmon is showing up in my potato patch when I didn’t toss a rotten fish in there myself as fertilizer. You have to prove it’s worth the trouble before I’ll bite.

Just because most of my birthday “would like, but isn’t a necessity” wishes come out of a non-electric catalog doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up running water or modern medical treatment. I’m not yelling “stop!” That’s pure idiocy. I’m just asking “Are you sure this is such a hot idea?”

Some people would think being next to immortal is the best idea humanity’s come up with, but I can’t figure out anything beneficial to do on a rainy day. Machines that enhance human performance? The possibility that one day the phrase “ghost in the machine” won’t just refer to rogue programming? I feel like a cyborg already, and all I have is two fillings, an anti-grinding device, and glasses so anything beyond arm’s reach isn’t an amorphous fuzzy blob.

And the idea of implants making you better than you were before they were buried in your skin gets under mine for reasons that are hard to put into words. I can’t help wondering what we’re leaving behind in our race to be the best of the next generation.

But I’m not going to destroy your technology just because it scares me. I want you to think about what you’re doing. I know you can’t see every consequence, but please think ahead. That’s all.

And I want you to fully understand what a word means before you use it. All right? It’s a pet peeve of mine that people use Spell Check and synonyms the computer suggests more than they use the dead-tree version of a dictionary or a thesaurus these days.

How'd I get talked into this?

A word of advice: never tell anyone you’re pondering starting a blog for writing practice if you’re not 200% certain you’re going to do it, or be enthusiastic about it. They’ll encourage you to death.

Especially if you’re somewhat renowned for being your demographic group’s version of a Luddite. Then the encouragement will run towards “About time you joined us here in the 21st century!”

(Long sigh)

Five copies of “Blogging for Utter Morons”? Check.

Bottle of antacids? Check.

A signed promise to myself that if I’m not into this after six months, I’ll give it up? Check and double check.

Cross fingers, perform routine percussive maintenance on computer, press “Publish Post,” and…