Monday, September 26, 2005

First days

My day began at 2 am, when I woke up with the funny feeling that I had a cat on my head. And indeed, there was a cat, attempting to take a nap on my face. I am trying to be liberal with the cat, but this was unacceptable. I attempted to dislodge the cat, who promptly turned into a vampire and refused to allow herself to be removed from my bed, no less my room. Finally, I lured her out with an enticing piece of yarn, and attempted to close the bedroom door, but the cat would have none of that either, and shot several paws at once under the crack of the door to inform me that she intended to hold out until I stopped physically barricading her. And, conveniently, none of the doors in my apartment actually stay closed, so the cat got her way. After I wrestled her out a second time and put a book in front of the door to keep her out, I found that now I had insomnia. Awesome. Thanks, cat.

Then, in Western Civ, Alex and I learned firsthand about the "Socratic method" by being randomly called on to answer a STUPID STUPID question to which neither of us had an answer. Actually, Alex got called on first, and while she was mumbling some crap, I was giggling at her misfortune. Of course, it's always funny until someone loses an eye, and the next thing I knew, I got a "Ms. K--, what do you think about the meaning of the divisions in the syllabus?" I had no thoughts on the said divisions, and could only mumble stupidity. On the whole, it was pretty unpleasant. Yet another reason to dislike Socrates. But ok, I am Miss Self-Important. I have been dying to take this class for two years. I can handle this. Maybe. Besides, the professor wrongly slighted the University of Illinois by claiming that they study Western Civ through secondary sources, but Anus totally called me last night for help on her paper comparing Thucydides and Socrates. Secondary what?

This was followed by Greek, which once again is full of my least favorite people on the planet--grad students. They make me nervous with their "I'm a fourth-year PhD candidate and I'm taking Greek because, pshaw, I've been studying Koine for the last thirty years and I've read everything about everything, so I'd like to, you know, brush up on my grammar a bit." Whereas my response is, "Um...I like Thucydides, but now I realize I will never know enough Greek to actually read him, so I have NO REASON FOR BEING IN THIS CLASS, plus I totally suck at it." However, I have been wavering about auditing it as a fifth class all summer, but I think I need to stop whining and just study already because I only have two more years at this school, and it's probably time to get serious if I intend to ever learn to read any language besides English. And it's not like you can take Greek courses after college at, like, the local Ancient Greek Cultural Center. Besides, as Roommate Carolyn, who is dropping Greek 201 in favor of having a life says, "But you are academic. All you do is study. I do other things. Fun things. Like being an RA." So I went and bought the book after class, and that's that. I will study Greek. I will not, however, buy the assigned translation of the Republic , since that would make it my third version of the Republic, and I am just not that out of my mind yet.

Classes were then interrupted by lunch at Bartlett, which was predictably awesome.

Then I went to Econ. (Note to my father: See, your dutiful daughter is considering taking economics, finally. No more nagging.) It seemed good. If I can get in, the Darwin class will probably go the way of the Dodo, as Anus and I used to say.

Now I am at work. And I am tired. And I have so much reading to do. School. Woo?

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Welcome freshmen

Roommate Becky and I went to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off with the first-years on the quad last night and get served popcorn and soda (see, I am not saying "pop") by the upperclassman slaves O-Aides. We spread out my blanket left behind by and subsequently taken from ho-bag roommate of summer housing arrangement fame, and proceeded to enjoy the film when a group of first-years briefly parked themselves in front of us, furtively hiding their alcohol in classy paper bags.
Desperate First Year #1: Is this a good place?
Desperate First Year #2: No! The O-Aides are here! They'll see us!
Desperate First Year #1: Oh! You're right; let's go to the other side.
That's right. They'll see you and tell Dean Art that you were being bad and then she will eat you. Whole. How will you ever get into honors calc now?

Also, my high school now has a Wikipedia entry. It was obviously written by a student, and an angry and slightly illiterate one at that. "In 1996, the Niles Township Federation of Teachers went on a Strike for two weeks over negotitations with administrators. During that time numerious students staged a walkout." Numerious negotitations? Wikipedia: Making truth democratic.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In which I am both brief and unpretentious

Since all the cool kids are off being O-Aides and shepharding the first-years through their first hyper days of college, I am once again left to my own devices. Earlier this morning, as I was on my way to the Sem Co-op to check which books I needed to buy for way less money on Amazon, I got a call from Alex to the effect that, "The NSIT barbeque is going on right now on Bartlett Quad. Go!"
"But I already ate breakfast."
"I don't care about you; go steal food and bring it back to the apartment."
"Ohhh...." Alex, who is also an O-Aide, has been making use of her O-privileges all week to smuggle as much food as possible--including a dozen bagels now chilling in the freezer--out of the dining halls. The weather is turning sharply autumnal, so I suppose it's natural for our squirrel instincts to kick in.

I managed to make several excursions into Bartlett Quad throughout the afternoon, and now our refrigerator is fully stocked with icky vegan brownies, among other items (I didn't taste-test the goods beforehand, unfortunately). I also checked out my autumn quarter book needs, and found that this looks like it's going to be an inordinately expensive quarter. More than $200 on books for the Darwin class alone, including one written by the professor, a self-aggrandizing tactic I despise. Moreover, only about half the books are actually written by Darwin. Maybe it's time to drop that class?

Also, Proof is out, and Pops has generously previewed it for you, completely omitting the most important aspect of all--the fact that it was filmed at the U of C during my first year. And for this, and this alone, you should go see it. You could also see it if you happen to have a soft spot for movies about the angsty lives of tweedy and tenured academics, or if you want to see yet another movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as an overly-intellectual stick.

Friday, September 16, 2005

So you're a first-year...

First-years, so cute and eager that they rival the squirrels on my list of repulsive overenthusiastic organisms. They're coming tomorrow and I have yet to find a place to hide. But, despite their off-putting summer Facebook behavior, I am still willing to give them my encouragement and advice. And also a voice of reality, which they will not hear for at least a couple weeks, until classes start and the upperclassmen charged with serving as surrogate mommies stop caring about them and return to their own lives. So, here is Rita's Official Long-Winded Advice for First-Years:

1) Your life first quarter will suck. There is just no way around this fact, unless you're one of a small handful of socially adept matriculants who can make five-minute friends, you will be lonely and lost and overwhelmed and there is nothing you can do about it except take long walks through the neighborhood and write really emo livejournal entries. You are sort of on your own, and you are responsible for yourself, and you don't have to let someone know everytime you go somewhere. This is exciting, but also a little bittersweet because your mommy will not immediately be replaced by cooler, shinier friends. You should realize that most people here are on the difficult side of the personableness scale, and that you probably are too, and that this fact stands in the way of instant and profound social bonds. So learn to keep yourself good company, and eat by yourself sometimes, and take initiative on your own without consulting 30 of your closest friends for their opinions first. Friends will eventually appear from somewhere. Even total mutants here have friends.

2) Your academic life, on the other hand, can be awesome. For those of us from mediocre public schools, you will be amazed at how good school can be and how happy good classes can make you. Even your calculus class will be good...for a calculus class, anyway. There will be no extraneous busy work, or silly group projects (except that one time we had to stage Greek dramas in Hum and it was a total disaster...But that's ok, because the class was still totally worth one day of total disaster, and out of disaster came my second-year roommate). So be grateful for that and work hard. Working hard is also a good way to keep your mind off being unhappy. Get into good classes, especially the ones you have to take for an entire year. If you think your classes are lame first week, go to other classes, like my Hum class. Behold the power of the pink slip and banish your advisor's advice from your mind. Your advisor doesn't know you, and the advice is bound to be generic and on the safe side. The safe side says to take three classes. The safe side is for pussies.

3) Grade inflation is out of control. You will not get less than a B in any class unless you die midway through the quarter. You certainly will not flunk out. But you should still be deathly afraid of flunking out because it will light a fire under your ass to keep working, and then you will get all A's and you can brag about it when you go home for winter break. Also, if you ever feel like slacking off, remember that whatever you're majoring in will lead you straight to sleeping on a park bench unless you at least do well in it. And your parents are probably getting a second mortgage on their house because of you. Feel guilty? Good, go study.

4) Go home sometimes if you can. You'll want to very badly, and your roommates will try to guilt you out of it by saying that only the weak go home. But that is only because it costs them $200 to buy an airline ticket to New York, and they are TOTALLY JEALOUS that you can just hop on public transportation. You will miss your home and your family and you will not be permanently damaged by spending a couple of weekends regaining your sanity with them. After a while, you'll stop wanting to anyway. Also, when you see your high school friends again over Thanksgiving break, all you will talk about will be the golden days of high school like they happened 50 years ago and not six months ago, but you will never have been happier to see them in your life.

5) Get to know and love the library. It is your friend, and also your second housing arrangement. Each floor is different and unique. The A-Level, for example, reeks of BO at night and is full of frat boys and econ majors, who are often the same people. The B-Level is a dungeon. No one studies on the first floor. The second floor is nice but for the smelly French grad students WHO NEVER LEAVE. The third floor has a big hole in the middle. I don't like that. The fourth floor is kind of intense, and has a Classics Reading Room for the extra intense. The fifth floor has a bed in the bathroom. That is too intense even for me. There are also certain people who you will see every day in the library. The black guy in the colorful polyester suits. The man/woman with the Indian headdress and the ravioli dinners. The aforementioned French people. The fat man in the Hawaiian shirts--he actually works there. And so on. They will all become a weird, unacknowledged part of your life.

6) Get to know the coffee shops on campus. They are nice places to study sometimes. I particularly like Uncle Joe's and the C-Shop, but you should explore.

7) Take your classes seriously. Also, take the books you read at least a little bit seriously. They're a lot more interesting that way. Besides, what if they're right, and you're just a brainwashed bourgeouis cog in an oppressive economic system out to destroy you? Ok, so maybe they're not all right. On a related point, start thinking about your papers at least a week in advance. No 3 AM paper writing. High school bad. High school over. You should use papers to try and have an actual thought instead of just to fulfill the assignment.

8) Run to the Point before it gets cold. It's really pretty.

9) Go to office hours. You won't want to because you'll be all uncomfortable and not sure what you're supposed to do at these "office hours," but you'll probably be required to go for Hum, and you'll be all like, "Noooo, just let me lie in bed and sulk...I don't wannnnna talk to youuuuu..." But then what if your TA is really smart? And really nice? And you talk for two hours about Herodotus? (To be accurate, YOU talk, while the TA sits there thinking you are insane.) It could make school a lot more interesting for you. You never know until you try. Same goes for your professors, except they probably won't require you to talk to them and some of them might be crazy. You should try at least once for each class anyway, even if you have nothing extremely pressing to discuss. Just go and ask them questions, preferably not personal ones, but maybe if you're really hard-up... Except, like, Core bio or physci. You can basically ignore your enrollment in these classes.

10) Get to know Hyde Park, especially if you think it is a big, bad ghetto. First of all, it's not. Second of all, if you insist on thinking that it is, knowing your way around will help you escape the big, bad muggers waiting for you around every corner. I especially recommend looking at the mansions between 51st and 49th streets, including Louis Farrakhan's house, and the abandoned churches.

11) Eat lots of food. You have all those meal points, and Bartlett is an awesome dining hall. But if you can't use them all, feel free to share with the less fortunate, like me. Feed me. Also, sleep well. Max P has the most comfortable beds in the world. Don't let them go to waste.

12) Try new things, with caution. Don't try frat parties; they suck. Don't try crack in your neighbor's dorm room-turned-opium den. Don't try rebelling against this school shit, man. Don't try donating to the people who ask you save the children on every corner of 57th and University. Don't try campaigning for Lyndon LaRouche. Only try the Polar Bear Run if you really think it's a good idea. I will be watching. Don't try to make up for all the popularity and friends you never had in high school. You were better off that way. Do try bubble tea, chai lattes, white hot chocolates, learning a really useless dead language, taking irrelevant classes, taking notoriously difficult classes, going on house trips, getting involved on campus, going uptown (downtown is actually totally boring), smoking hookah, talking to people in your classes, and doing ALL of the assigned reading. Also, try mixing the marinara and alfredo sauces together in the pasta line at Bartlett. It's a well-kept culinary secret.

13) Buy a digital camera and use it.

14) O-Week is totally lame. Everyone just has random sex with each other and gets trashed. Unless you partake of this, you will be bored. Don't partake of this, just pray for it to end faster.

15) Be assertive. If you don't get a class you want, email the professor and show up until you get let in. If you have a question, ask it even if you think it's dumb (it probably is, but then you will be doing a public service by providing humor for everyone else). If you want to get involved in something, go. Or start something yourself. Apply for positions you don't think you're qualified for but want anyway. Read difficult books on your own, even if you don't get them. (Just don't pretend like you did if that's the case.) Welcome to total anonymity: no one cares what you do with your time, and no one will even notice if you spending four years laying in bed staring at your ceiling. Either you do it yourself, or it will never happen.

16) It's ok to talk in class. If you say one sort of insightful thing for every five totally retarded things you say, that's not a bad track record. Talking is a good way to keep yourself from falling asleep as well. However, DO NOT interpret "talking in class" to mean, "trying to connect every book you read in Hum to something Nietzsche wrote just so you can advertise the fact that you have read Nietzsche." That is not being helpful, that is being an asshole. For those who happen to be on the receiving end of this problem, don't think that everyone who has read more books than you is smarter than you. Remember all those books you read and never understood in high school just so you could say you'd read them? These people most likely did the same thing, except more effectively. Don't get too intimidated. But don't get too pompous either.

17) On the bright side, the fact that you go to school with total freaks has its perks. People all around you will do CRAZY SHIT like lock their boyfriends in the closet for five hours so that no one will see whom they're dating, and you'll get to make fun of them. If you have trouble finding an appropriate conversation topic with a stranger, try making fun of someone else who has done crazy shit. If you don't have any mutual insane acquaintances, make fun of your professors. You might go to Hell for this, but at least you'll break the ice with some people and maybe make friends.

18) Contrary to popular belief, college is NOT about finding yourself. It is about making yourself better. The you that is already there. If you do not know where you are, you have bigger problems than college can solve. So, do not major in retarded things like drama or "tutorial studies" or waste your time wearing all black, smoking outside Cobb, and writing deep, soul-searching poetry. If you are ever unsure whether an activity is worth it, think about how much your education costs. Then think, "Is Soul and Body Cleansing Through Yoga and Acupuncture" worth that much money? If not, go study instead.

19) If you're ever bored or miserable or not sure what to do with yourself, you should probably be studying. Additionally, you do not have to go out every weekend to be normal. It is expensive and time-consuming, and sometimes dinner at the Snail followed by watching DVDs with your roommates is a lot more enjoyable. Either that, or you can study.

20) Cheer up, it will get better by spring quarter and then you'll toss out the transfer applications you were hiding in your desk and take Ben Folds off repeat.

This list is open-ended. Others should feel free to contribute their suggestions to our two (known) rising first-year readers.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

And now, for something different

This blog has been getting much too serious of late, so the time has come to return to the original purpose of this whole blogging project, which is to chronicle the life of the wonder that is me. And so, a story.

In junior high and high school, I had the good fortune of being largely passed over by adolescence. I mean, all the little biological gears began turning on schedule and all, but the puberty apparatus seemed to run quite independently of any kind of conscious oversight. Adolescence served mainly as an excuse out of swimming in gym class for a week out of the month we were supposed to be in the pool, and for that, I could appreciate it, but it had few other tangible effects on my life. It never made me moody on a monthly basis, or at least not noticeably so, because I was spiteful and mean on a more or less permanent basis anyway. It did make me fat and give me acne, but I thought too highly of myself to take either of these blows particularly to heart. They just proved the essential point that everyone else sucked. And, most conveniently, adolescence failed to ignite in me any interest in the opposite sex until very late in the game, thereby making high school just that much less complicated. Thanks, sluggish hormones!

However, social expectations make no exceptions for the romantically disinclined, and so the fact that I was not particularly interested in boys did not impede the efforts of my friends to find one for me. It was a lot like going fishing on behalf of a vegetarian, if you're into really bad metaphors. Beckus, for example, who actually possessed some semblance of social grace, was well-connected with many seemingly wise but actually just very stoned upperclassmen whom I greatly admired when we were freshmen. And, unlike many socially adept people in high school, Beckus was generous with her skills. She saw me floundering along like a much less witty version of Daria, and took pity. So, one day, she took me to the local Baker's Square and introduced me to a very floppy-looking server whom we shall call Jimmy, because that was his name. Beckus knew Jimmy because he had been recycled several times among her friends. This was a good sign?

Objectively, I suppose, Jimmy was cute in a pre-pubescent puppy dog way. But, objectively, I also could've cared less. Besides, there were other issues more pressing than his appearance, like the fact that he had been kicked out of high school and put into alternative school, more widely known as "pot school" in honor of the extracurricular pursuits of its student body.

"Wait, so he got kicked out of school?" I asked on the drive home after Jimmy and I had exchanged screen names (phones having become, like, so last century).

"Yeah, but he's really smart," Beckus assured me.

"Too smart for school?"

"Ok, so he smoked a lot of pot. But he got a 30 on his ACT. He's kind of intellectual."


"And his dad is a drug dealer. But he's never been caught."


Our AIM conversations were a little stilted. I was interested in school, and he was interested in, well, pot. It was hard to find common ground in this situation, especially when the thought of geometry homework actually thrilled me more than the thought of talking to Jimmy. Avoiding AIM only worked partially, since I had to be on long enough to maintain what existed of my other social life, the one that didn't involve boys whose parents were drug dealers.

One day, in what appeared to be an effort to engage my academic interests, Jimmy informed me that he was working on a novel. A novel? That was impressive. He offered to email what he had so far written to me. I agreed.

"Beckus, he's writing a novel," I announced at lunch the next day.

"Oh, yeah." Beckus did not seem excited.

"Have you read it?"

"Uh huh."

"Is it good?"

"'s about a vampire..." So this was why Jimmy had been recycled through all the girls Beckus knew...

"A vampire?"

"You should just make out with him, Rita. He's good for that."

The next day, I received "the novel." It was indeed about a vampire. The point was that this particular vampire was very angsty and melodramatic and often had his heart broken by girl vampires. I was no student of Freud, but I was fairly sure it was an example of what is called "projecting." On the other hand, the vampire was not high in any of the scenes, so maybe I was mistaken in my analysis. In any case, the story was total crap. I responded to the email encouragingly, lest I end up incarnated as a vampire in some subsequent chapter: "This is interesting. I like the character. He is interesting."

Then I boycotted AIM for a while until he became as uninterested in the whole endeavor as I was, and poor Beckus had to find other ways to make me less of a hermit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This is what is called a non-sequitur

Have you ever wondered whether all the weird things that happen to you are actually not a coincidence, but part of a larger plan? I don't mean like God's plan or anything grand and fluffy like that, I mean like an intricate plan arranged by all the people you know in order to totally humiliate you. So every time something out of the ordinary happens to you and you go along with it, you silently wonder whether someone you know is setting you up. Sometimes, I worry about this. Then I worry that I'm worrying about ridiculous things, which is a sign of paranoia. Then I worry about the implications of paranoia. Then I think, I'm obviously bored and need to find better ways to spend my time than worrying about worrying about paranoia.

One way would be going to the lake. Right now is the best time of the season to swim in Lake Michigan because the water temperature is actually above freezing. But no, everyone I know comes from some oceanfront locale and looks down on our grand glacial wonder as a dirty little pond unfit to place their dainty toes in. Ok, so you can't surf in it or catch lobsters or anything, and you have to go out for about a mile before it even gets shoulder-deep, and there is the occasional raw sewage backwash that closes down the beaches. I'll admit these things. But it is also a lovely place to swim at night and early in the mornings, when swimming is illegal. I swam in the lake all my life, and I haven't grown a third head yet. (The second head hasn't been much of a problem anyway, fyi.)

Monday, September 05, 2005

In which Herodotus makes a guest appearance and you fall asleep

This is a very boring post. Today would be a good day for regular readers to take a break from my blog of otherwise nonstop excitement and hilarity. Sorry kids, the last two days have been spent at my parents' house. This is what happens when you play Spider Solitaire and sulk all day.

In Herodotus, who is not himself a book and therefore cannot have anything in him except his innards, but nonetheless, in Herodotus, my favorite story is the story of Tellus the Athenian (scroll to the first mention of Solon). The reasons for this being my favorite story are even more silly than my having a favorite story in Herodotus in the first place. They involve my unwarranted grief over the fall of Athens in Thucydides, which was apparently only a surprise ending for me. This is what happens when you come to college knowing nothing. Athens? Fell? To Sparta? But everything seemed to be going so well when we left it after the Persian Wars! So when Athens fell for the first time in February, 2004 on the second floor of the Reg, I was not a little bit crushed. Fortunately, the nice thing about the Core is that everyone seems to be OK with the fact that you have basically discovered the equivalent of the fact that your head is attached to your neck, and they even pretend to share your excitement about this shocking epiphany. So when I wanted to write my final paper about how such a tragedy as the fall of Athens could've possibly happened, no one tried to discourage me by pointing out that this has been done before. Like, a million times in the past 3,000 years. By people way more insightful than I am.

The compelling part of the story of Tellus is that Solon proposes to answer simply and fully the question of the good life. That's a pretty generous offer, no? And how convenient a standard for my explanation for the fall of Athens. Except the story is so ungenerously vague! Does it mean that the good life is pure luck, since no one has much control over whether his children will outlive him or whether his country will flourish in his lifetime? Is the good life obedience to custom by seeking glory as your city prescribes? Is it courage? Honor? Well-earned prosperity? Death? Parables are such a pain, aren't they? I suppose if you wanted to get all anthropological on Herodotus, you could argue that the story is just an illustration of Greek cultural values and has no prescriptive purpose. Except if Herodotus were a social scientist of the value-free persuasion, then the Greeks would not have won the Persian Wars. Instead, they would've signed a treaty with the Mediterranean World to mutually respect and celebrate everyone's cultural differences, and give each other frequent hugs.

On the one hand, the story's context is very clearly political--the Athenian lawgiver at the court of the Lydian emperor. When it came up in class, it was treated as an illustration of the political superiority of Greek rule of law over Lydian despotism--Tellus could never have been guaranteed his honor in Lydia under the arbitrary rule of a tyrant who metes out public honor at private whim. However, this still doesn't explain the non-political aspects of Tellus' happiness--would his sons be ugly and bad and die young if he were Lydian?

And what about this issue of his death? One sad year of Greek informs me that the word "telos" means "end." (Actually, according to my trusty Mastronarde, the verb means both to accomplish and to die, which strikes me as a rather odd pairing in itself. One sad year of Greek should also tell me not to make sloppy linguistic assumptions about words that might actually have no relation, like Tellus' name and the word for end.) One of Solon's criteria for happiness seems to be that one must be dead to be considered happy so that no further ill luck can befall you, especially in light of what eventually becomes of Croesus. So, maybe this is the good death we're talking about rather than the good life. Maybe all the things that Solon lists are not necessarily components of happiness in life, but prerequisites for a good death. (Can happiness in life can bring about a bad death? A hedonistic life likely would. Or, can we consider Socrates' death a bad one?)

And, so, the unarrived at point of this extremely long and boring post is that it strikes me as kind of odd, in hindsight, that the people I was interning for this summer took the position on death that they did. It was odd there too, when I was arguing against it, but it now occurs to me that I should've asked how they arrived at it when it seems to counter every position taken by the Greeks, at least as far as I've read. The good death, which let's maybe incorrectly assume is embodied by the story of Tellus in Herodotus, or in Pericles' funeral oration, or maybe even in the Apology or the Crito (but I'm not touching Plato, because that would just be an invitation to realize how obtuse I actually am, and I'd prefer to leave that to conjecture), is always a death while you're ahead, to put it stupidly. The length of life is immaterial. Thus, death in battle is the best death. The second best death, according to Solon, is the death of Cleobis and Biton, who died in their sleep after performing some noble deed (carrying their mother to a festival, maybe?). And what could be more opposed to noble death in battle or quick, painless death after a good life than prolonged death from dementia? While I was interning, my only opposition was to the arguments against living wills because they seemed to run counter to individual rights, and I remained conveniently agnostic about the rest. But I'm still not convinced why it would be wrong to precipitate or at least hasten one's own death if it was certain that the alternative was a slow, painful, humiliating decline and loss of consciousness? On the other hand, the good death of the Greeks is completely in the hands of fortune--Tellus is lucky to die the way he does; he doesn't set it up that way. But, to go to battle in the first place does enhance one's chances somewhat...

Anyway, the main question is still how the Council got from the Greek good death to the modern position against hastening an inevitable and otherwise prolonged and debilitating death?