Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bunny stories

I'm going to have to wash all my linen when I get over this cold/flu/whooping cough illness, and I don't have a lot of time to do laundry, so in some ways, it might be better if I didn't recover for a while, or at least if I didn't premise my neuroses on children's books. Namely, The Velveteen Rabbit. Who remembers The Velveteen Rabbit?

In the story, a boy has scarlet fever (another supposedly extinct romantic-sounding Victorian illness that is probably re-emerging on this campus) and is kept company by his stuffed bunny, which is a conscious being made of something called "velveteen," or maybe that's just an obscure Victorian way of saying "something made of velvet." I didn't really ask these questions when I was eight. Anyway, once the boy recovers, his doctor instructs his parents to burn all the things in his room so that he doesn't come into contact with the germs and get re-infected, and the rabbit gets thrown in the trash heap.

I forgot what happens next, because the main lesson I personally derived from this story was the part about washing your stuff after you recover from some contagious illness, but I guess the bunny doesn't get incinerated after all, because that would probably be sad. There is also probably a moral--not about personal hygiene--but I missed that too.

We read the book in my second grade reading class from Hell, and then we had an assignment to bring in some stuffed animal or toy that was really special to us and explain why. The point was that the toy should be old and worn, but I was not about to submit my now armless and largely furless stuffed rabbit from Russia (stuffed with, might I add, insulation sponge--how low-class!) to the scrutiny of my clearly better supplied classmates, so I brought a generic teddy bear that played "It's A Small World" when you wound up a key in its ass, a gift which I had conveniently received the previous week from my mother as comfort and compensation after a beefy girl appropriately named Beeta had pushed me on the blacktop during recess, giving me a split lip and some slightly shifted front teeth. So with my mouth swelled to the size of a grapefruit, at least I had a brand new toy to show to my class.

Except it turned out that the rest of them had taken the assignment literally and brought in their smelly, limb-less rags covered in drool and recounted exciting tales of their adventures with said rags, like the time they got lost in the mall, just them and Raggy all alone versus the big bad world, and they had to fend for themselves for 20 whole minutes before mall security found and returned them to their frazzled parents. When it was my turn, I explained that my mother had bought my musical bear for me last week at Osco because my lip was bleeding. A lot. I pointed to my massively swelled mouth for emphasis. But I failed to melt the icy heart of my teacher with my tale of woe, and I got a check-minus on the project.

Since I still have that teddy bear (making it 12 years old, which is longer than anyone in my second grade class had even lived up to that point) and its musical butt still functions, and I have this whole long story to tell about it, I guess I could get a check-plus if I re-did my presentation now. And that's some consolation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Let's take a vote on Rita's illness!

This morning in sosc, we were discussing what Tocqueville meant when he said that, since everyone is equal, Americans believe that the truth is in the opinion of the majority, and it was not going so well, which became apparent when two girls nearly killed each other over something like whether "you should listen to five guys or one." So I unhelpfully tried to make a distinction between certain kinds of opinions that we accept on the authority of individuals without requiring any kind of public consensus--like a diagnosis from a doctor--and other kinds of decisions that we feel all men are equipped to deliberate on equally well--like whether, as a society, we should allow people without formal medical training to practice medicine. As usual, I didn't make any sense and everyone ignored me.

Nonetheless, I actually am sick, and I have no time or interest to go Student Care about it, so I'll just consult the masses about my problem. This morning, I woke up all sweaty. Actually, I didn't sleep very well last night, in part because I was sweating and freezing at the same time. Then I got out of bed and nearly froze to death. After biking to campus, I was sweaty. Once I got off my bike, I was freezing. In class, I was both sweating and freezing at the same time, which was exceedingly embarassing. Plus, one side of my nose is peeling. When I cough, my head feels slightly like it is being split in half. Now I am freezing, but only after having sweated for some time. I am also really hungry. And my muscles hurt when I stop moving around, so I'm all fidgety. This is also socially awkward. What is wrong with me?

Also, per the recommendation of Drew, I have been reading these columns in the Chronicle about grad school. As a result, I am now fairly well convinced that there are many things I would rather do with my post-college life that would be more fulfilling and make me happier than grad school. Like, for example, chewing sand. Begging on a street corner. Making a nest of human hair. Things of this nature.

So it looks like Niles West High School social studies department, here I come!

Monday, April 25, 2005

So you're telling me that studying all day and dreaming about studying all night is not normal?

The New York Times did some kind of billion-page special on life at the University of Arizona as a sort of indicator of the average undergrad experience in America. So, what, you may ask, can we UChicagoans take away from this piece? Well, several things. The first is that at least we are sometimes more articulate than this:

"I like to get drunk, not blackout drunk, but I like to get drunk," Mr. Bhalla says. "You're able to talk to girls a lot more. And I like girls."

The story continues. Later that evening, our introverted hero is found "'fubar,' which politely translates as "fouled up beyond all recognition," and is asked to leave the bar. He spots a student who he is sure insulted him earlier that evening and rushes him, intent on fighting. His friends pull him away, and Mr. Bhalla reels around the parking lot, cursing."

And what good will come of such a lifestyle, we ask our fubar protagonist? Well, as he explains, all this is actually done with an eye to the future:

"I've made so many connections I never would have been able to make without it, and these are all my friends and people that I know from the bars and from classes and, you know, people that I've hung out with that later in life I'm going to be able to call on and be like: 'I know you have a job with this company. Do you know if they're hiring, or can you get me an application? Can I use you as a reference?' "

Right, so that guy who nearly got the shit kicked out of him by you earlier can expect a phone call in ten years asking for a reference. Good plan, Mr. Bhalla.

The rest of the article continues in this vein, featuring interviews with several more people who did absolutely nothing productive in college but drink and fuck, and who are still on the Dean's List or whatever substandard and meaningless measurement of achievement they have at Arizona. Of some consolation is the fact that most of them don't graduate in four years or at all. Then they cry that this is because there was no one to hold their hands and make sure they learned themselves their letters and numbers, and because they got taught by grad students who lacked "credible" degrees and publications, as if they were actually about to read those publications if they did have any.

On the other hand, the last girl actually did something substantial with her time and got into grad school at the U of C.

So I think the main lesson to be learned here is that given the choice, one should go to a crappy state school, drink oneself into a stupor, get into bar altercations, do no more than one hour of homework a night, plan to graduate in more than five and possibly more than seven years, but then occasionally also engage in bizarre behavior like actually attending class, and one will get into a solid grad school and be set (for now).

Mommy, why did you send me to the University of Chicago? Look how easy I could have had it if I'd gone to Illinois State.

Also, today I fed the squirrels. I know that this is against my policy of total war against the species, but I figured that the Cobb Coffee Shop food is so disgusting that it might actually kill them as well as any of their friends and family who might come into contact with their corpses, thereby carrying out my larger goal of rodent extermination. So I think the gesture can be justified on the principle of biological magnification. And, you know, squirrel genocide.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Blogger's block?

So except for the fact that I am still officially homeless for next year, and that some bizarre developments at work might soon threaten my sanity, and I totally haven't done any of my work for tomorrow, everything in my life is actually going wonderfully, and there is nothing to blog about. Machiavelli and Tocqueville and Plato are taking up my extra brain space, so you unfortunately do not get a share this week.

However, I give you this short study in uncanniness instead:

While the gift of time [as a result of medical advances that increase life expectancies] must surely be marked as a great blessing, the perception of time, as stretching out endlessly before us, is somewhat threatening. Many of us function best under deadlines, and tend to procrastinate when time limits are not set.... Thus, this unquestioned boon, the extension of life, and the removal of the threat of premature death, carries with it an unexpected anxiety: the anxiety of an unlimited future.

In the young, the sense of limitless time has apparently imparted not a feeling of limitless opportunity, but increased stress and anxiety which results from other modern freedoms: personal mobility, a wide range of occupational choice, and independence from the limitations of class and familial patterns of work.... A certain aimlessness (often ringed around with great social consciousness) characterizes discussions about their own aspirations. The future is endless, and their inner demands seem minimal. Although it may appear uncharitable to say so, they seem to be acting in a way best described as "childish"--particularly in their lack of a time sense. They behave as though there were no tomorrow, or as though time limits imposed by the biological facts of life had become so vague for them as to be nonexistent.

--Eric Cassell, as quoted in Toward a More Natural Science by Leon Kass
Compared to this story from today's Maroon, and especially this quote:
Dravis admitted that she did not suddenly discover her career path on last summer's trip, but that it convinced her that she has time. "What it really cemented for me is that at 22 years old, I have all the time in the world," she said.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Transcript Math 101 and my ongoing academic neuroses

I counted last night, and when I subtract the courses set aside for Athens (4), my remaining Core requirements (1), and my remaining history major requirements (7), I will have 12 courses left open to me for the rest of college. Twelve electives. That's a lot of non-catalogued time that will not be in any way resume-enhancing or attractive to employers, not to mention any future audited courses that will not even make it onto the transcript, no less the resume. (Of course, this does not prevent me from auditing them. In the battle between extra but invisible Machiavelli and all other visible things like History for Pansy Girls, invisible Machiavelli wins with his invisible sword of totally inscrutable political theory that chops History for Pansy Girls into small pieces which then cry because their feelings are hurt.)

Anyway, I could do a lot of interesting things with 12 electives. I could start taking German again, take the intro econ classes, and take all the Fundamentals classes I want without having to actually major in their little Social Thought-in-diapers conspiracy.

The other thing I could do with 12 courses is pick up another major.

I know, I know. I am a stuck-up, pretentious overachiever. But don't worry; there is very little possibility that I'll actually do this, since in my world, the liberal arts consist of history and everything else. The everything else is a stew of mostly unsavory ingredients from which a spoonful of edible things may be drawn here and there, but one certainly would not want to plunge bodily into the mess. Of the best options I can think of--sociology, geography, or political science--almost all involve "methods" courses--the really tedious, usually number-crunching, God I Wish My Major Didn't Suck So Much Ass classes that you really, really don't want to have to take but can get over if you really want the major. Obviously, I really do not want these majors, because the prospect of ever doing GIS-mapping again makes me want to upchuck. The other thing I can do is turn my classics minor into a major by taking 200-level Greek next year and submitting myself to the pain of another BA paper. This prospect also makes me want to do something detrimental to my own health.

So, this is a dilemma.

Contributing to this problem is my constant impression that I am not doing enough here. This impression generally begins when I find out that other people are doing more--usually things I had not even heard of before--and this leads to my birthing and nurturing a strong jealousy that other people are better than me, those bitches. Double majoring is one of the most prevalent of these overachievements which I feel compelled to take part in.

Another was course auditing. I didn't know about it until I noticed that people's Facebook profiles listed them as taking five, six, occasionally even seven courses, and I was like, "Bitch, what? The limit is four classes. That's what they told us during O-Week, right before they gave us rape whistles and explained where to get flavored condoms." The limit turned out not to be four classes exactly. All it takes is an email to the professor, and suddenly, you can have five! Two emails, and you could have six! Glory! However, by seven courses, you're just fucking lying.

Now that I have accomplished course auditing, I have discovered yet another thing I could be doing but am not. This is taking grad classes. Why am I not taking grad classes? Because they told me, around the same time as rape whistle distribution and flavored condom location explanation, that 200-level is upper-level here, and you need to do all kinds of fancypants things to get into anything higher, like maybe perform a synchronized swimming routine. But, alas, I know several undergrad asshats who are taking grad classes. As a result, I must pursue this further.

I think the most tenable solution to this ongoing problem is to DECIDE WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE. Because if I did that, I could stop running around like a headless chicken trying to do everything possible just in case it might come in handy for whatever nebulous post-college thing I end up falling into. So, if I'm going to grad school, it will behoove to me decide now and stick with it before I actually do attempt to take seven classes--all grad level--while triple-majoring, conducting independent research into the mating patterns of Canadian geese, interning for an NGO in Cambodia, and starting an RSO on the side. Basically, I need to be saved from myself and my overweening and totally directionless ambition.