26 November 2007

Pics: First Posting

Happy Late Turkey-Day, everybody!

I've finally posted photos to my Flickr account! You can see them here; if that doesn't work, search my username, AMPowell.

These photos are from Aqaba and Petra. I'm afraid they're not all labelled by location. If it's a building, it's Aqaba; if it's rocks, it's Petra. And if there's nothing but dirt and road and the occasional outcropping, then it's the desert in between everything else.

Hope you all enjoy.

21 November 2007

Weather and Jobs


Irbid is dry. And hot. And brown. Technically brown is not part of the weather, but after staring at enough of that same brown dirt and brown buildings and brown dust and brown sky--no wait, the sky is still china-blue--you get to start thinking of it like that. I have to use lotion just to keep my hands from cracking. The humidity has to be in the negatives, regularly, with temperatures in the 80-90 (Fahrenheit) range most days. I liked that weather. It was monotonous, but always good. Sometimes there would be decent winds, for variety.

Then winter started settling in. There is no fall here, unless you count the two weeks of blustery chill before it just goes straight to winter. That was hilarious, when John and I were perfectly fine and every Arab in this city was bundled up for the apocalypse.

Now it's mid-November and I'm sitting in a drafty netcafe unable to fully feel my feet, remembering why I hate winter, and watching the rain outside that's been pouring down almost constantly for the last three days. At three in the afternoon today, the sky looked like evening. It's five now and it's moved on to nine o'clock or even eleven. John's been watching the lightning outside, and the stormclouds are impressive--firstly because there are actually clouds in the sky, and secondly because they haven't left. They're actually pretty wimpy compared to good Pennsylvanian thunderheads.

The moral of the story is that the Middle East does get buttfucking cold, and I need to get to the suq tomorrow for a decent winter jacket.

Yesterday, on Day Two of The Rain, Jordan celebrated Election Day. And I am not kidding when I say "celebrated." There were parties in the streets, chanting and shouting and honking car horns, nine people hanging out the windows of a minivan in kuffiyyas carrying homemade banners for their candidate, people sitting on the windowledges of taxis that had been painted with slogans and candidates' names, people just stuffed into the backs of lorries with Jordanian flags and banners held up high, vehicles racing in victory laps around the college and the town even before the votes had been tabulated. The race was for the Jordanian Senate. The head of state is King Abdullah, who is the actual monarch (not a figurehead), but the Senate has governmental power as well. The people here freaking love Abdullah, too. There are pictures of him everywhere: in offices, outside shops, in people's homes, in people's cars, in cafes, on the street, absolutely everywhere. This is no authoritarian cult of personality either, like the mandatory paintings of Chairman Mao. I've seen the print shops where you can buy your picture of the king in any situation you could think of, and posting them up is (with perhaps the exception of government buildings) entirely a voluntary act of citizens who want enormous posters of their king plastered on every visible surface. You can buy Military Abdullah (in several varieties, including Abdullah Firing a Machine Gun), Family Abdullah with his wife and kids, Abdullah Playing Video Games, Abdullah Surfing the Net, Abdullah in a Kuffiyya, Abdullah in a Western Suit, Abdullah in Jeans, Abdullah Looking Ahead to the Future, Abdullah Eating Dinner, Military Abdullah Looking Approving While Small Military Son (And Heir to the Throne) Shouts Orders, Queen Rania as Dutiful Wife, Queen Rania Loves Her People, and a wide variety of The Face of Our Great King, which come in Stern, Friendly, and Bowed With the Demands of Power. People here just freaking love their freaking king. (So do I; he's got great policies and he was on Star Trek: Voyager And they freaking love voting for Senate. The parties and honking and chaos did not end until sometime in the middle of the night, after the results came out and also after the rain returned. Not exactly the kind of political frenzy that makes CNN.

This one's more of a note than anything else. I'm trying to figure out what to do after I graduate in May. I want to spend the summer on the Nyckel, but I also need to see the friends and family I'll have neglected by that time for eight months straight. And much as I hate it, I'm going to need money and the boat only has volunteer positions. By next November, I need to be employed and able to start paying off my loans, or in some kind of debt forgiveness program. I need to keep travelling, but again, I miss my peeps.

At the moment I'm looking at a few options. I need a job that will send/take me to new places (preferably warm ones) in order to do good, meaningful work to disseminate knowledge or aid to some portion of the world, and pay me for it.

I could try to use my (admittedly small) expertise at sailing the Nyckel--which will be greater after a summer living aboard--to find work as a deckhand on a boat that sails during winter. That seems to mean moving to the West Coast, Caribbean, or some other warm-water area. I don't know how possible that is with less than a year's time shipboard, although I might be able to swing something.

There are also NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations).* I need to save the world, and this is a good way to start. Hopefully, they'd want to send me abroad to cool places to help people do cool things.

I'm also thinking about just picking up and moving to another country with flexible immigration standards and finding random work once I get there. I've wanted for awhile to work my way around the world.

The problem is that my internet access, as you may have noticed, is sporadic at best. I need to be able to research my options more fully, and I can't exactly just walk over to their offices and drop off a resume when I have some free time. I'm having a lot of trouble chasing down leads in my designated weekly netcafe time (ie. whenever I can get to it). So if you know of any cool or interesting opportunities, please tell me about them. I'd love to pursue them.

*I always thought this was a stupid label. Most organizations are non-governmental, and most of them are not NGOs. Be more specific, abbreviation-maker people.

18 November 2007

Food Porn

Now that I have a surplus of time to blog today, there's nothing new to say. Living abroad in the Middle East may seem dangerous and exotic, but the reality is mostly boring. I eat, sleep, go to class, do homework, read...with the exception of John and his PS2, it's mostly like any other semester. It's just in another language and the grades don't transfer.

So I'll talk about food, because of late it's been on my mind. I eat Arabic food every day, enough that I'm getting sick of hummos. What I wouldn't give for some General Tso's chicken and a pint of Chunky Monkey. And a Blue Moon; beer is prohibitively expensive here. I'm craving variety, any variety, in my food. I want some Thai peanut noodles, some seitan fajitas, some chile rellenos, some fucking bacon.

Some of this lack is my own damn fault. In a perfect world, John would be eating American fast food every meal, every day, and I would be cooking fresh vegetable and meat dishes from produce bought down the suq. But in reality we both eat together, I don't like cooking enough to do it for every meal, and you still can't get half the stuff I'm craving from the suq. I don't even know how to make General Tso's, and I'm pretty sure I'd be arrested if I asked around for seitan.* I could feasibly be eating better, but it's faster, easier, and not expensive to get falafel and shawarma takeaway. And they're good. We've found arguably the best falafel and shawarma in this town. They know us and make jokes with us. It's nice to be a regular.

But damn, would I like a fucking waffle.

*Pronounced "Satan." Satanists are well and truly arrested here, and if you dress too goth or punk you could be mistaken for one, too. There is no counterculture in this country.

12 November 2007


Still alive. I still only get to the netcafe (Rabiah Cafe; if you're ever in Irbid, look it up) about once a week. So I've really only missed updating about half a dozen times, in terms of cafe visits. I'm otherwise doing quite well and travelling a bunch. I owe you guys the tales of weekends in Israel (Tel Aviv, twenty minutes in the Old City of Jerusalem, the beauty of actual diversity and being out with John as a couple), Aqaba (Jordan's port city, lovely, carries duty-free booze and allegedly also hot Arab girls in bikinis which I was apparently on the wrong beach to find), Petra (amazing, actually not just the one famous gate carved into the cliff face, but in fact a whole ancient Nabatean city of cliff-carved buildings), and various exploits in Amman (capitol of Jordan, fairly lame, includes a totally soulless shopping hell called Mecca Mall).

I've also got plenty of social commentary to make. I just had a conversation with Andrew (one of our Fulbrights, from Virginia) about how young people here are not expected to be self-sufficient until they're about 25 and graduated from college. Everyone at Yarmouk commutes from home, even if home is in Amman, an hour-and-a-half bus ride away. The only students living in the dorms are foreign students (like us) and children of professors. You live with your parents, that's just what you do.

Jordanians also don't start co-ed education until college. All grade schooling is gender-segregated, and you can see the effects of this system in people's behavior. You know how fourteen-year-old boys treat girls? With a combination of derision, terror, awe, and total incomprehension? That's how twenty-something Jordanian men treat women their age. And when I told a small group of women (non-Jordanians, even: a Syrian, a Moroccan, a Sudanese chick, and a Frenchwoman) that I had a boyfriend, they were impressed, as if I had done some kind of big-kid thing that they weren't allowed to yet, like biking without training wheels. A friend of mine and John's* is throwing a party this coming Saturday in which he plans to have games and prizes and very organized emceeing. The games include dancing and limbo competitions, karaoke, and charades. I kept flashing back to middle school, when such games were somewhat acceptable for a (gasp!) Boy/Girl Party. I kept waiting for the drinking and making out and getting high to come into anyone's heads...and it never did.

Yet somehow, the rate of people buying condoms is apparently comparable to the States. I'm mystefied. This country is bizarre. And I crave General Tso's.

*This is Ash, from Dubai in the UAE, probably the most Westernized, liberal city in the most Westernized, liberal country in the Middle East. He's cool. When he played a song about fucking for us at work, he apologized constantly for its obscenity (cursing and explicitness), and it took ten minutes of convincing for him to tell even one remarkably clean dirty joke in front of me. Madness.

16 October 2007

Dating in Jordan, Part 2: The Stunning Conclusion

Two posts ago, I started talking about how dating in Jordan is a lot like being in a closeted gay relationship in southern Kentucky. Here's the rest of what I intended to post that day.

Here's a situation you don't find yourself in very often Stateside: someone introduces himself to you, as happens a lot to John and I. We're easy to spot; there are only four white students at Yarmouk after all. You and your SO return introductions, and the guy asks if you're siblings. "La, nakhnu sadiqiyoon," you reply. "No, we're friends." And in your head you're thinking to yourself, yeah, right, because that's how I show affection for all my friends: with tongue. But there isn't even a standard word in the Arabic language for "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." You can use "friend" or "loved one" or something, but nothing translates directly. There was a guy who decided he was really into me (because I was "innocent", by which he seemed to mean "not a criminal") whom I had to let down by telling him I had a boyfriend already. It took ten minutes to describe American dating to him, and he was still asking me at the end whether I was engaged. The concept does not translate.

And then you start planning travel throughout the Middle East and you find yourself in the suq in Amman pricing cheap wedding rings in order to pass for a real couple.*

Then there are the jagoffs who yell things, or just stare at us. Sometimes they stare because we're weird and foeign and pale. And sometimes they can't tear their eyes away from my breasts, as if this is normal, polite interpersonal interaction between peers. It pisses me off and makes me very uncomfortable. I just dyed my hair again, partly on the Kass Headgear Principle: if you intentionally look funny, you know exactly what people are staring at. That hasn't stopped John or I from working on a good Arabic translation for "I will tear out your rib cage and wear it as a hat," however. For his part, John hates that I have to deal with this shit and acts as my wingman as much as possible. At the same time, he's in the unusual position of dating apparently the most desirable woman in Jordan.

In our flats or with Andrew and Tony, our fellow American students, it's a normal American straight relationhip.** We try not to PDA, but I can ruffle John's hair or whatever and it's no big deal. But when we go out, it's as if we're not dating at all. We walk together, but we don't touch. I am a very touchy-feely person when I've got someone to touch and feel, and this drives me insane. The smallest physical contact gains layers of meaning: brushing hands while walking, touching elbows during class, etc. I used to scoff at Victorian novels for their obsession with relatively uninteresting pieces of anatomy, like ankles and wrists and elbows. Damn, I thought, get a life. Now I find myself fully understanding the plight of all those Heathcliffs and Catherines. When you can't touch your boyfriend, all touch is significant.

John is trying to arrange a semester in Russia immediately following Jordan, and if that works out then we will break up because neither of us wants a long-distance relationship. However, if we end up back in the States together and are still dating, do not be surprised if our relationship seems to be one long PDA.

*This is a surreal place to be in a relationship, let me tell you. I think we're married at the local pharmacy, too, because I wasn't willing to say that John was my relative. We've been dating for a month tomorrow, for the gods' sakes.

**Well, as close to that as we can get, it being us. There's a lot more talk of gender theory and foreign policy, a lot more lighting things on fire, and more blanket forts than most straight American relationships can probably boast of. We're both sort of like sixteen-year-old boys.

11 October 2007

Ramadan and Aiyd al-Fitr

It was announced today on the evening news: today is the last day of Ramadan! Tomorrow is Aiyd al-Fitr, the start of about a week of crazy feasting and visiting relatives and giving gifts. Tonight is basically Black Friday; John and I tried to get to the suq, but we couldn't get a taxi that would take us because they cannot physically travel into that entire section of town due to pedestrian congestion.

Ramadan has been nuts. Even as a non-Muslim, I ended up accidentally fasting much of the day because I have to eat in the privacy of the flats. Even buying food at supermarkets during the day feels weird. And even more than the food is the water; John tried to keep the Ramadan fast for a day and nearly passed out from dehydration. I don't understand how anyone can keep this up for a month. Everyone who actually manages that deserves praise and the biggest slab of post-sunset kanaafa imaginable.*

I've lost weight. My belt, which I cut a new, well-fitting hole in just before leaving the country, is now about four inches too loose. I wish there were a better (ie. less painful) way to have lost that weight. I am not going into what unintentional pseudo-fasting does to one's eliminary system.

Even more than the obvious fasting going on, there's Angry Time. People who don't eat all day get pissy around 4pm. To avoid having to deal with that, everything on Sha'ar al-Jamaiya shuts down at 3pm. The suq is still open, but then the suq would probably stay open through a tornado.

John and I are planning to do some kind of traveling for the next couple of days. We have no class till Tuesday (four-day weekend!), although we have to be back Sunday night because we're going to a wedding. Very exciting. It's the cousin of Khalid in the Expatriate Students' Department. Pretty cool.

All right, it's 1:30 am and I have to get back and sleep. More on dating in Jordan later; believe me, it's worth the wait. That shit is crazy.

Miss you all. Be well.

*I have found God, and it is called kanaafa. This stuff is a sweet cheesy orgasm dripping with syrup and pistachios. It's amazing. It's wonderful. It's bright effing orange. If only it kept for more than half an hour, I would do nothing but eat kanaafa for the rest of my happy life. Last night we ate falafel and kanaafa in the olive orchard in the middle of campus; what could be better than that?

08 October 2007

Dating in Jordan

On Facebook, John and I are listed as "It's complicated," even though our relationship is fairly well-defined. That's because any and all dating in Jordan is complicated.

Imagine that the only people commonly seen holding hands on the streets are good frineds of the same sex. Imagine men and women walk in largely segregated circles--not completely so, of course, because that would be nearly impossible, but they don't hang out together as friends very often. Now, imagine you're spending the majority of your time in the company of someone of the opposite gender. In fact, imagine you're in a closeted gay relationship in southern Kentucky.

And then imagine the Net cafe is closing sooner than you thought. Shit. More later. Sorry.

30 September 2007

End of September Round-up

Sorry as always for sporadic, sparse updating. Here are the highlights of what's happened since last I posted:

1. The sky-rats are nearly full grown. One has already left, and the other should be gone in the next couple of days. Then I'm going to scoop out the birdshit, put up plastic bottle fortress, and open my effing window for once.

2. Everything in this country is made of concrete. No, really. Every building is cast in concrete. I passed an old, old stone building the other day and gawked. American wooden housing does not exist.

3. The standard workweek/class week is Sunday through Thursday--which messes with my head. A lot. Ramadan hours are roughly 8am-3pm with often a second opening sometime in the evening, around 5pm or 7pm (before or after iftar, the sun-just-went-down-let's-all-pray-and-stuff-our-hungry-faces meal). This means that late afternoon is somewhat dead; some businesses stay open, but not all.

Damn, there is so much to post. How do you do culture shock in bullet format? I get stared at everywhere I go. There is no public touching at all, not even jostling in crowds. John and I have effectively been forced into a bizarre twisted version of Ramadan due to not being able to eat out during daylight and not wanting to be the asshole Americans going grocery shopping in the day--even though Jordanians do it all the time. There are special Ramadan street foods that have come out, like these fantastic little pancakes that taste like pretzels. I really, really miss having Net access in my room. I never realized how much of my college lifestyle depended on having Gmail, YouTube and Wikipedia at my fingertips 24/7.

And perhaps most monumentously, I have a small public service announcement to make. You all may remember my friend John, who's travelling with me. Well, as of the 17th, we've started dating. It's pretty awesome, actually. I'd forgotten how much more fun things are with a significant other, and Jordan just keeps getting better this way. For those of you who don't know him, he's an International Studies/Asian Studies/Philosophy triple major, a year under me, has a twisted sense of humor, and would fit in at a WorD meeting.

And now I have to go. It's nearly 2am here, and I still have stuff to do for class. Hope you're all doing well. I miss you. And seriously, email me. I will not reply promptly, but I will reply. I want to hear from you guys. Rock the States while I'm gone.

12 September 2007

Sky-rats!: News at eleven

Alive and well! Placement exam taken; probably in Beginner level. I know so much less Arabic than I'd rather hoped I did. Have been hanging out with John McMurray (from IUP, whom some of you know) and Andrew, who's doing further language study for his Fulbright before starting research in spring on Jordanians' actual opinions regarding American foreign policy as broadcast on major regional news stations (ie. Al-Jazeera). I'm all for that project, actually. It's something that's desperately needed studying for a very long time and yet hasn't been. I'm getting a bit more into the swing of things--just in time for Ramadan to start tomorrow and throw everything off again.

And now, let me tell you about pigeons and my new phone.


The sky-rats are everywhere.* Most particularly, they have roosted, shat upon, and nested in my window-box. There are two--TWO!--ugly baby pigeons growing in my window-box. Their names are First Pigeon (which is smaller and appeared first) and Second Pigeon (which is fat like an obese water balloon sparsely pasted with ugly yellow feathers). There are also two eggs, which promise future pigeons as well.

Both First and Second Pigeons and their Mama Pigeon(s) bed down for the night in the soft, downy layers of old pigeon shit layering my window-box, which smells bad enough that I can't keep my bedroom window open for more than ten minutes.

Apparently, you can stop pigeons from landing somewhere by lining the spot with old plastic bottles. Pigeons hate plastic. Who knew? It's like a less vicious version of those spikes you see people put on their windowsills in the States. But I do not want to be responsible for killing baby pigeons by starving them. I definitely don't want to watch them slowly die of exposure in my window. Any ideas?


Because of the craziness that is non-compatible continental cell phone networks, my American cell phone is useless in Jordan. And Jordanian phones are really, really cheap, even when you're ripped off because you look like a tourist. So I have this new little Nokia phone now.

And God, it is amazing. There are more ringtones I like on this phone than there are ringtones on my American one, full-stop. The options are organized sensibly. Prepaid phone plans are standard, and pretty cheap. My phone cost 25JD and my plan 15JD (incl. 5JD prepaid): about 56USD. Craziness!

Plus, this is an insanely cell-phone-obsessed culture. Walking down the street, you can see about a fifth of the people on phones. If you're talking to someone and your phone rings, you always answer it (unless it's your annoying cousin Ahmed who's called you four times today already, or something like that). And unlike in the States, where getting someone's number is a sign of knowing them well, in Jordan you get the numbers of everyone you know. I have the personal cell number of the guy employed by the supervisor of Yarmouk's team of repair guys, and he has mine. You just do that. It's weird, but I'm starting to get used to it.**

Still miss you all. Drop me a comment or an email, tell me how your day went.

*I have a lot of love for rats. But pigeons are just vile.
**If you want my Jordanian number, just ask. I'm sure someone out there must have a decent international plan.

09 September 2007

The Jordan Chronicles: Chapter 1

Hello, you wonderful people! You're awesome! I miss you! I'm safe, have housing, and I'm getting to know some people. It's nuts here. If you're reading this page, you're probably wondering what things are like here and what I'm up to. Your answer today comes in two parts: my flat and culture shock.

Part I: My Flat

I have a one-bedroom, on-campus apartment. It's crazy. The building, like nearly all the buildings here, is made of concrete. The walls are painted white, which makes for very bleak surroundings. It's three storeys, reaised off the grounds so that you can park underneath it. It's also professor housing...plus us foreign kids, that is.

The flat itself is...well, the internet lied to me. It's gigantic. The living/dining room seats eleven easily, including a counch. I have a TV with bunny ears that gets maybe five stations (two of them the same one). The windows are enormous, and the living room has this credenza thing that I've already truned into a windowseat.The kitchen has a freidge, a strange collection of Goodwill-esque silverware and dishes and cooking utensils that include full Arabic coffee-making equipment. The stove has a separate propane tank and must be lit by hand--which freaked me out the first time I did it. (Weirdly, John's talk has Enligh directions and mine has Arabic. Aand the on/off knobs turn opposite directions, which was confusing to learn while making pancakes last night.)

The bedroom is set up for two people, and apparently the previous tenants were a pair of Turkish girls.* I have no roommate, but there are plenty of pigeons. In fact, my window planter seems to be a nesting grounds fo rthem. (24/7 Animal Planet).

...more later. Internet cafe is closing. Miss you all. I'm safe and sound.

*They even left a poster on the dining room wall: "Go with the rhythm...enjoy Istanbul."

16 August 2007

RIP Harry Potter (SPOILERS!)

It's been 24 days since Deathly Hallows came out. I borrowed someone else's copy while I was on the boat and read it in snatches over the course of about a week, between (more or less) twice-daily sails and learning belay points. I hated some bits, like the epilogue, and I loved others, like Narcissa Malfoy. I loathe Snape's pointless death; I am angry at the pointlessness of ALL the deaths, from Hedwig straight through to Harry himself. I still held out hope that Harry would pull out a Glock and shoot Voldie between the eyes. There was not enough laughter.

And now it's over. Well, technically it was over 24 days ago. I used to plan meeting up with friends knowing that, at the very least, nearly every summer we'd have a book release and days of discussion afterward, no matter what. I started reading these books in the sixth grade, and now I'm a senior in college. Somehow, without any Potter book ever reaching my personal all-time favorite books list, I remained obsessed with the series for years. I was in fandom for about seven years. (That time spans four school campuses, three rodents, and the course of a relationship.)

And now we're done. I hardly ever get fic cravings anymore; I've been falling out of fandom for a couple years now. The canon is complete. Not only is there no speculation to be had about future books, but that window of opportunity between books--when the new canon is still new and must be played with from every angle, followed to every possible conclusion whether logical or illogical, because no one knows what JKR might make obsolete when the next book is released--that feeling is dead. There's no more series coming. I loved that mad dash to carve fanon in granite before the next book killed it. It was a whirlwind of energy that spun the tubes of the Interblag like a cybercarousel. It fueled fandom.

That doesn't mean fandom is dead. It'll be around for awhile; there's still a lot of momentum in a series that held this whole planet spellbound for over a decade. I give it at least six months before it becomes but a ghost of its former glory. It's probably too much to hope that the ratio of good writing to bad will improve in that time.

I'm not sure what to do now with the time I used to spend thinking about Potter stuff. I have a list of theme songs for most of the major characters, which I could post here. I'd always intended to find a small hourglass and some wire and make myself a Time-Turner. I suppose I should just dig into my intended reading list, which is mostly YA fantasy anyway. (OT: The top fourteen YA books, by best-selling and best-reviewed, on Fictionwise are all fantasy. The SF community has been debating for years how to attract kids to its books; I think that this is somewhere near the reason.)

Requiem In Pace, Harry Potter Madness. It was a good way to grow up.

09 August 2007


Hey, there, guys. I realize I forgot to post when I was leaving for crew training aboard the Kalmar Nyckel, but now I'm back again. For ten days. Then I'm going back to the boat for a week--which should be enough to tell you how much I liked learning to sail her. I think I have my ultimate can't-find-a-job fall-back plan: live on a recreation 17th-century Dutch pinnace. (Honestly, what do you think half the people who live there now are doing? Exactly that.)

So from 18-25 August, I will be on the boat again. This time, she's docked in P-Town! Yay, gay! I hear the Cape has some fantastic waters for sailing and lots of wind, for all that you have to weave between the lobster pots. There will be one constant crew, too, instead of the large number of day-volunteers who come for a sail or two and then leave for awhile. That means we'll get really, really good at working together. Yay, mastery of all boat-knowledge!

In the meantime, I'm finally getting around to writing the term paper I was supposed to have finished months ago and putting together some final paperwork for Jordan (like a visa). Never ever again in my life will I ever take an incomplete. They are horrible and bad for you.

22 June 2007

Steve McQueen Returns: Squee at Eleven

MY RATTIE IS COMING HOME TO ME! Some of you have met him. He is a furry ball of love with adorable fuzzy nose that loves burrowing into my elbow like a melty package of cute. I hadn't realized just how much I missed him until I arranged to pick him up.

Will has been rat-sitting since I finished college, and apparently he and Chad have fallen in love with Steve McQueen as well. Because he is that charming. Will called him "Master Longtail" and "Sir Rat." Steve McQueen has been knighted in my absence! He has also apparently gotten a new aquarium because the old one developed a crack (!!!). (Steve McQueen lives in an aquarium with a two-storey wire fortress on top, with ramps and levels and stuff. He spends most of his time on the middle level.) Steve McQueen is adorable and sweet and kinda dumb--no, make that really dumb--and lovable and partially blind and cute and he hearts me. So there. Squee!

20 June 2007

Becoming More Findable

My kid brother's graduation party was last Saturday (yay kid brother!). We had more family over at our house than we have since...well, my high school graduation, back in the Primordial Soup of Time. Family from Ohio, family from Colorado, family from distant Morningside. It was crazy. And somewhere in the midst of family I hadn't seen in ages asking me about my trips to Crete, to Greece, to Egypt, to dig up pyramids, and to go on Semester-at-Sea, I realized that there was a some misinformation floating around due to crappy communication.

I thought about how to fix that, and I came up with the Internet. I know some of you guys aren't exactly techno-savvy, but if you can keep up with my blog, then you can handle this. It's a Google calendar that tracks my every movement from place to place.

Okay, not as stalker-ish as that. But it will tell you which country and/or state I'm in at any given moment and roughly what I'm doing there. If you have a Google account, excellent, you're already equipped for this and you can click here:

If you don't (that is, if you do not use Gmail, Writely.com, Blogger, or any other Google service), then you can get a Google account here or you can subscribe to the calendar by XML (for feed readers), iCal (for Mac iCalendar and other applications), or straight-up HTML (for just bookmarking the page if you don't use a computer calendar. This the best option for you technophobes).

I hope this is useful for you guys. This is good for planning in general, not just for my peace of mind at parties. And, family, please don't be offended. I'm not trying to talk trash about you; obviously I've been less than helpful before about telling you what I'm up to, and you all have lives that don't revolve around keeping up with my every project. Friends, you're in the same boat; I'm not exactly fantastic at this keeping-people-updated thing. This calendar is here as a reference tool for all of you, anybody reading this. Download it once and check it any time you're wondering what I'm up to these days. All of the versions linked above will update automatically every time I add something to the master calendar. It's all for you, honey.

17 June 2007

Nonstop Excitement

I haven't made a single post about being back in the States since I returned, so here we go.

It's boring.

Now, Cyprus wasn't all fun and games. I washed pottery with a toothbrush for hours at a time. I walked along hills staring at the ground. I grew to loathe the company of certain people whose personality quirks really got under my skin. But there was always something to do. My most boring time those three weeks was the last two days, when the IUP All-Stars (Mara, Megan,* and myself) had time off for souvenir shopping and packing. I loathe the idea and practice of souvenir shopping** and had almost nothing to pack, so even after I spent half a morning shopping and drew out the packing as long as possible, I still ended up with vast tracts of unused time. I napped. I read. And then I begged to go out in the field after the other All-Stars had left. I want to do something with my time.

Now I'm home. Unemployed, living in my parents' house, waiting for PALCI books to come in so I can do research I don't enjoy. I'm checking the internet every few hours and continuing to get no love from it, and I'm slowly reordering my entire room so it'll be good to go when I leave for Jordan, instead of piled with mess as it usually is when I leave. I'm bored out of my fucking skull.

Writing, you say?

SLUMPED, I reply. I'm so bored thinking is hard. Tomorrow I'm going to call the climbing wall in Cranberry (10 minutes from my house! Score!) and check them out. I need to get out of this goddamn house. I need my peeps -- where are my writers, my queers, my dorks and geeks and nerdy types? I feel underrepresented in my own house.

And so, to the point, as per always: LET'S DO SOMETHING. BEFORE MY BOOKS COME IN (probably late this week). AFTER THAT I HAVE PAPER TO DO.

*That's "MEE-gen", with a hard G. It's Australian.
**Which is not to say I don't love buying you guys stuff. I do. But souvenir shopping is not about finding good gifts; it's about finding kitschy shit to appease the people back home you're going to assail with ungodly mountains of vacation photos. Combined with my normal loathing of shopping even at the best of times, this really is the lowest you can go.

Neil Gaiman picked up my brain waves

At the bottom of this post, there are a couple of links to mp3's of the beginning of Neil Gaiman's Interworld, read aloud.

People, that is exactly what it's like being lost in Some Town That Is Not Larnaka. You know where you're going, then suddenly you have no idea where you are. Everything looks simultaneously familiar and alien. Somehow, Neil Gaiman picked up on my brain waves from the past, and wrote them down. Perhaps this is another miracle.

16 June 2007

Crazy techno gamer geek vid

You gotta check this out.

1) Cool techno done with a racing game steering wheel console.

2) He looks just like Julian. Down to the glasses. Only Ukrainian. Go look; it's freakish.

10 June 2007

Lost video

I spent my last Sunday in Cyprus lost. Not my finest hour by any stretch of imagination. However, as I was going through my vids for the scavenger vlog, I found this bit of video that I took right at the moment I realized that I was, in fact, rather far from home. If there were anyone from PKAP reading this, they'd probably find it hilarious, but I hope you enjoy laughing at my expense as well. I certainly did when I found it.

07 June 2007

Back From Cyprus

Back in Pittsburgh. Mostly dead at the moment. For some reason the weather is hotter here than in Cyprus. Possibly the humidity, despite Cyprus being an island. No idea.

But I found out this morning that I've gotten a Gilman Scholarship, which is sweet. Also flabbergastifying. Will blog about that more later, especially since this blog is part of my follow-on project for said scholarship. (Paid to go abroad and blog about it? Brilliant!)

All is well. I have to unearth my bed from the piles of stuff I left on it when I was last here, and then I'm crashing.

Official Summaries:
Number flights rerouted: 1 (of 6)
Number of hours 6 June lasted for due to the magic of time zones: 28
Number of clean clothes brought back: -6
Amount of time spent walking in a straight line: infinite
Improvement to ability to fake out drunk tests: equally infinite
Beers native to Cyprus: 2
Good beers native to Cyprus: 1
Overall success of Cypriot beer: 50%
Amount of confusion as to why I'm still blogging and not sleeping yet: 100%

Good night, all. Be well. I will be at the Parsec meeting on Saturday, so you should be there too.

22 May 2007

The Thin Green Line

Yesterday I got rolled by the U.N.

It was our first full day of survey; we'd done a practice unit the day before in the afternoon, but yesterday was supposed to be the first day entirely in the field for us undergrads. The project had gotten permission from the British to work in the UK Sovereign Base Area (SBA), which is right by the buffer zone between Greek and Turkish Cyprus; indeed, the units we were to walk nearly abutted the buffer. We could see into what Bill (Dr. Bill Carahar, University of North Dakota) knew was the buffer zone. He wasn't sure where the buffer started exactly, since there was a big modern highway on the northern edge of the field that he assumed would have to be in the SBA. But whatever--we started walking.

I discovered that I really like survey. It's not terribly exciting, but it is relaxing. What you do is line up at one end of a squareish plot that's been marked off with flags, take a bearing to the opposite line, and walk straight along that bearing scouring the ground for pottery, glass, mortar, tile, and any other kind of artifact. It's repetitious, by no means mindless, yet allows you enough free brainspace to think about other things. It's a good time.

Partway through our fourth unit (of 15, I believe), a white van pulls up the side road. It's got blue paint on the side: "UN". Bill gets kind of tense, quietly passes by all four of us who were walking and facing away from the van. "Finish the unit and drop your bags by the pin flag. I have to go talk to these guys." We did.

Turns out that the U.N.'s maps differ on the minor point of where the buffer zone starts, and we were in it. Systematically walking in straight lines picking up artifacts in the demilitarized buffer cutting across an island that could blow up at any moment, the island with the last divided capitol in the world.

The Slovakian UN unit kindly asked us to follow them to the base in Pyla.

In the car, Bill kept telling us to keep our heads, not do anything stupid--in fact, just to shut up and let him do the talking. We were not actually trying to restart open hostilities, so we had to make sure our intentions were not mistaken. We met with the base commander, a very nice man from Melbourne who'd only just gotten back from vacation. Bill showed him our permission from the Brits and explained how the maps at the SBA HQ looked a lot different from the one he was looking at here at the UN HQ, and this must be just some confusion here. He volunteered to abandon that field entirely, which the commander readily accepted. The commander seemed very glad to help and to avert the political headache that could arise from a team of Americans wandering into the buffer zone. He called in an escort to take us back to the field to get our flags, so that the UN didn't have to, and then sent us off to get a coffee and wait for our escort to arrive.

We had Cyprus coffee, which was excellent. It's kind of like Greek or Turkish coffee (imagine!), and comes in similarly tiny mugs. Having been surviving on the Nescafe provided by the project, I was glad to have something I didn't have to bury in sugar to get down.

Our friendly Dutch escort arrived and followed us out to the field. We found our flags and collection bags, dumped out the artifacts, and brought the empty bags and flags back to the car. It was a shame to lose the collections. There were some very nice pieces there, including some colored glazes that Bill estimated as medieval. But given the sensitivity of (a) the island, (b) the buffer, and (c) removing archaelogical materials from anywhere, leaving them was our best option. The Dutchman identified our orange flags with his country and asked about the significance of the site, we piled in the car, and we headed back to the range. Joe Patrow, our videographer, was very, very sad that he had missed probably the most exciting thing to happen this season on the project. But that's probably for the best, since he's rather attached to keeping his camera and footage intact.

Welcome to the exciting world of archaelogy, everyone! Fedora and bull-whip donations appreciated.

20 May 2007

First Cyprus Photos!

On Friday, my first full day here, we (Bill, Dave, John, Megan, Mara, and I) went on a walking tour of the town of Larnaka and some cool old shit within its boundaries. These include: the Church of St. Lazarus (alleged resting place of that Biblical Lazarus guy), its attending Byzantine museum, a very comfy-feeling local mosque, and the Mediterranean Sea. In more site-seeing later in the day, outside of Larnaka, there were: an ancient Byzantine church with amazing artwork and the Sultan Halal Tekke Mosque, which was lovely. Good day.

There are also a couple of photos from the roadtrip to the Nebulas with Diane and Mike, and more from NYC with Anna.

Photos are here, at my Flickr account.

And photos from the Nebulas with me in them are:
here (no dress),
and here (no dress),
and here (no dress),
and here (photos I may have
taken: three in the middle of the authors at tables, including their
name tags)
and here (still no dress),
and finally HERE (CRAPPY SHOT OF DRESS -- also of me being Very Obviously Oogled in a manner that makes me feel very uncomfortable, esp. since it's on the nets at a well-respected site).

And that's today's photo post! Enjoy.

18 May 2007

Frequent Flying

I am in Cyprus. I remain tired and cannot wait till my circadian rhythm gets its shit together again. Already been to two mosques, two churches, and a Venetian watchtower. Many pictures to come.

And now, something I wrote in the Heathrow Airport:

Behold now unto you, a tale of airplane woe. Remember ye that my original itinerary was to fly from JFK in NYC to London Heathrow to Frankfurt to Larnaka.

The JFK-LHR flight was fantastic. Virgin Atlantic rocks my socks; it's like British Airways but with bells on. They have individualized movie capability in all the seatbacks, and a very nice database of movies and TV episodes, on call whenever you want them. I watched The Illusionist (not bad, great atmosphere) and the Dr. Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace" (bloody fantastic, Tennant is still hot). Plane came in pretty much on time despite storms racing across all of North America, including NYC.

Which was not true of many, many other flights. LHR Transfer Connections was a freaking zoo, with only one very slow guy checking in transfers onto Lufthansa. Net result: by the time I reached the desk (now staffed by an additional person, Prussian Efficiency Lady) I had twenty minutes until my plane left. Prussian Efficiency Lady told me I was too close for her to give me a boarding pass (wtf) and sent me to Terminal 2.

Terminal 2 was empty. There were shops, gates, and people, but no desk at which one might obtain a boarding pass. I stuck my head into an open office-type room and made a general plea for help to a very nice lady who sent me through immigration to the Lufthansa ticket office. This meant going through a Restricted Section* because you're really not supposed to do this. It's kind of cracked-out to try, apparently. The man at the immigration desk thought my plight was hilarious but managed to keep a straight face...mainly.

Lufthansa ticket desk informed my watch-less self that my flight had left already and that rerouting me would be Virgin's problem. Virgin's ticket desk was in Terminal 1.

The wonderful, dignified Irishman at Virgin found me a flight directly from LHR to Larnaka, leaving at 3:40 pm, a full three hours later. I could have kissed him. I estimate by that time I'd speed-walked about a mile from terminal to terminal, and it's not like I got a full night's sleep on my plane across the Atlantic. I checked in, was assured that my bag would be transferred with me, and updated Dr. Moore (whom I am now training myself to call Scott) via pay phone.

And now I've gotten through security again, eaten an overpriced though tasty sandwich, and found The Tiniest Chocolate Bar in the World. And one of the stores nearby is playing "The Final Countdown." In conclusion: human institutions such as airlines and airports are far more convoluted than than is advisable, but the people who run them tend to agree with you and are largely fantastic individuals. Also, Vigin's ticket desk had a "Don't be a bitch to our peeps. We will smack you down" sign; whatever stupid institution (LHR, Virgin, the UK?) is responsible for that is doing at least one thing right.

Now, since I wrote that bit, I've landed in Larnaka at 10 pm, found that my bag was not transferred with me, met the other project people, and jaunted around our bit of the island a little. Apparently we're in time for Kataklysmos,** which is only a one-day holiday for most of Cyprus. Larnaka, however, is there with Gigantic Glittery Extravagant Bells On. It lasts for a week. There are carnival rides already appearing. Our hotel is just a block or two from the boardwalk. It's gonna be a paaaar-tay.

So now I'm here in the Internet cafe, discovering that uploading photos and video from camera may indeed be possible and that when I'm actually paying for every minute on the Webs there really isn't as much I need to do. Also waiting for my bag, which carries within its bowels not only my shower stuff, sarong (for religious sites), and camera cables and plug adapters, but most importantly my teddy bear. Never put your teddy bear in your checked luggage! It's cruel! My teddy bear has been nearly lost to me many times before; I hope he manages to return to me again.

To keep in touch with me, comment on this blog or my vlog (see next post) or send me an email at damnowls@gmail.com. I'll be checking the internets 2-3 times per week. I arrive back in Pittsburgh on the evening of 7 July.

*and only narrowly avoiding the screaming book.
**Hey, Anna, is this a Russian Orthodox holiday as well, or are the Greeks just weird? I'm curious.

08 May 2007

In the Wex

Moved out of the BGH now. Back at my parents' house in Wexford and I'm slowly unloading the Unholy Landslide of Boxes, Laundry Baskets, and Miscellaneous Loose Items that my mum, Cassidy, and I somehow filled the van with. Why do I have so much freaking stuff? If I took all this stuff and lobbed it into Lake Erie, I could build a land bridge to Canada. (Well, a stuff bridge, anyway.)

Now I'm going through my exciting to do list!
Laundry: in progress
Packing: to follow laundry
Set up Skype: later tonight or possibly tomorrow
Find Dad's plug converters or buy my own: really, people, what is up with such varied plugs of the world? Can't we all just get along and be compatible with all other plugs?

And then tomorrow there are errands for regular business hours, like bra refitting and getting travel-size shaving cream. (Sorry if that's TMI. I'll also be getting a Greek phrasebook and notifying my bank that I'm leaving the country, if that makes it better.)

And that is the conclusion of Slade's Exciting Travel Update Series, Episode 1. For far more awesome offerings, you should stay tuned. Anna and I are going to be doing a video blog while I'm abroad, like unto one eerily similar blog that shall remain nameless. More details to follow. It's gonna be SO FREAKING FANTASTIC AND FUN. And we'd appreciate suggestions for what to call it, too.

06 May 2007

Moving = LEAVING!

I do not enjoy inhabiting Indiana, Pennsylvania. The town is too small, there are no good cruising highways for half an hour in any direction, the fashion sense is so bad that even I have noticed how bad it is, the college is largely lame, and I've had a couple of really bad roommates. But tomorrow I'm leaving. I'm moving out, going to a huge gala for my chosen profession, and leaving the country.

Moving. Back into my parents' house. Which is almost as far from most of my friends as Indiana is. And means losing autonomy. And I can't walk anywhere. Or talk about how pretty girls are. Or just go out to the bar with friends. Or run downstairs and show Laura some wonderful thing I found on the interweb. Or picnic with Audrey in the backyard. Or scream the chorus of "Luv, Luv, Luv" (by the Pansy Division), or in fact any of my queer music. Or get my head around writing properly.* In fact, my feelings about moving out of my one and only fabulous Big Queer House, successor to the Big Gay Apartment, are more like this.

I love this house. It's falling apart a little, it's been a pretty drama-full semester, and I haven't always gotten along with everyone living in it, but goddammit, I love living here! It's been keeping me sane. I love being able to yell downstairs to Audrey anytime I want. I like having people around with whom I can talk about serious shit or weird shit or utterly silly nonsensical shit. We have our own vocabulary subset. We've proclaimed our own individual gender identities.** For the love of God, I told these guys about pixel-stained technopeasant wretches, and despite being in no way attacted to SFWA or even writing fiction, they've picked it up and use it in conversation because it's such a great phrase and a great thing to do. The amount of knowledge about gender I've simply osmosed, let alone researched! I have drinking buddies, people to go to for hugs, people who like just spending time with me, people whom I like spending time with. I don't want to break up the BGA now! GODDAMMIT, THIS IS MY HOME AND NOW IT'S GOING AWAY RIGHT WHEN I'VE REALIZED JUST HOW GOOD IT IS. How is this right?

*I have to leave the house to write. There's a good place in my neighborhood for this, but Wexford is really not set up for spaces to go and hang out for long periods of time. I hate this.

**I am a slutty goth girl who really wants to wear plaid and climb trees.

Bed or Meditation Platform?

You ever see those people with little daises in their houses, and when you ask them if they're planning a very small dinner theater event, they tell you that it's a meditation platform? Like the lotus Buddha sits on in many Buddha icons?

I have one now. It's made of metal and cracked plywood.

Really, it used to be the thing that passed for a bed frame in my rented house in Indiana, Pennsylvania, but today my dad and kid brother took away the first load of my stuff, and my mattress and box springs were part of that. Tonight I will be sleeping in a borrowed sleeping bag on my new meditation platform.

If I attain enlightenment, they have to publish me. Right?

04 May 2007

Rat-sitter Needed

As some of you know, I have a wonderful little rat named Steve McQueen. He's well-behaved, adorable, loves people, and currently in danger of being neglected for five out of the next seven months.

As you may have noticed, I'm going to be spending a lot of time out of the country. That means somebody needs to take care of Steve McQueen while I'm gone. My mother really, really does not want this job. She hates cleaning out rodent cages. So does the rest of my family. My family also has a tendency to let pets in cages stay in their cages, instead of letting them out to play and be petted and suchlike. This leads to very sad pets trapped in sad cages.

Steve McQueen is a wonderful rat, and I know you guys are wonderful people. I want to hook the pair of you up. I'm looking for someone who is willing to temporarily adopt Steve McQueen into their household while I'm away. I'll buy his food, bedding, toys, etc., so that caring for him brings no extra expense for you. That just leaves maintenance tasks (feeding, watering, cleaning the cage) and playing.

Steve McQueen loves to be played with; in fact that link could be a freaking documentary of this ratty's life. That cute. No joke. He gets along with other animals; my housemate has a cat whose tendency to track our dear rat's movements hungrily goes completely unnoticed by the rat himself. (Steve McQueen is nothing if not friendly and charming, but he may also be a little bit dim.) As long as your current pets can handle cohabitating with a rat, Steve McQueen is perfectly content to cohabitate with them. And petting him can make you healthier, too. He even doubles as a recycling center/garbage disposal, because he chews up light cardboard (such as cereal and tea boxes) as a hobby. Steve McQueen can reduce your environmental footprint.

This deal is really win-win. I get the peace of mind of knowing that Steve McQueen (who is currently poking his nose out of my comforter and licking my fingers) is being well cared for and nurtured as he deserves. You get a happy ratty to pet, play with, and pretend not to secretly address in babytalk when no one else is around. And Steve McQueen gets all of the above, plus new places to explore and elbows to burrow into!

So if you think you might like to rat-sit Steve McQueen for the three weeks I'll be in New York and Cyprus (May 10 through June 6) or the two weeks I'll be in Delaware (July 19 through August 6) or the four months I'll be in Jordan (September 10 through sometime in December or January), please contact me. If you're on the fence, contact me with whatever concerns you have and we'll see if they can be addressed. If you would like to meet Steve McQueen before you commit to anything so that you know he's not secretly an axe murderer rat, then contact me and you can come hang out with him. If you're not sure you'll have a stable address in the future but you think Steve McQueen sounds pretty freaking cute--well, you obviously have good taste, and if you keep me posted on your housing situation, then I can keep you posted on Steve McQueen's, and perhaps they'll dovetail later.

The best ways to effect this contact are:
1. to leave a comment on this blog and
2. to email me at powell.slade @ gmail.com (obviously, delete the spaces before you click "send.")

Thanks in advance for any help you can give us on this front. We really appreciate it. Steve McQueen is even giving you a standing ovation on his hind legs. (Yep. That cute.)

Prepping for the Nebulas, Part 3.6 Gagillion

Audrey (housemate) and I drove into civilization today and met up with Joseph and Kass to scour the Monroeville Mall for formalwear. It was awesome, ultra-efficient (for us), and draining (read: it was shopping). Skip to the end: I have a gown, and it is beautiful. In fact, even after three hours of mall-searching, it was the first dress I tried on. I have shoes and a bra for it, which leaves only jewelry, a bag, and possibly makeup. I'll post pictures when I can get them off my camera; that'll probably be after the Nebulas, because Anna has a thingy for that. Which means there will be marvelous Nebula photos to go with them, and you can see the dress in its native environment.

In news possibly of more interest to other people, I have things to do now! On Thursday I'll be helping with setting up the hospitality suite. And on Friday I will aid Susan Hanniford Crowley by taking names and giving directions for the book signing. (That means I'm like the bouncer, but with more lip gloss and less promise of unspeakable, eternal torment.* Come for the hot chick at the door, stay for the brilliant, famous people you find inside.

*I'm going to hell for that link. You know, as if I weren't before for that whole non-believer heathen infidel denier of the three-for-one true deity of whatever thing...and maybe I shouldn't go around likening deities to really nice sale racks. That can't be helping my case.

**Maybe that link isn't the reason I'm going to hell. Oh, well. Party on the sixth level! We'll be serving hard liquor and chocolate body paint (contraband in heaven)!

03 May 2007


I complain a lot. I know this, and I try to stop myself when I hear myself start, but a lot of the time I fail. For one thing, it's hard to see that line between useful, socially acceptable venting about a legitimate problem and beating the shit out of an annoying yet inescapably dead packhorse. I fail a lot. And I fail more when I'm stressed.

You see, Slade's response to overwork is to look at the length and complexity of her to-do list, freak the fuck out, tell everyone she sees about her to-do list and how it's freaking her out, and then go read Boing Boing for two hours while pretending said to-do list has ceased to inhabit the same plane of existence she does.*

Some of you may remember the last time I blogged while the third stage of this cycle.

Everything I said in that post is still relevant. It's just me that's changed. Because you know what I realized today?

I'm done with Core. If I haven't failed the class, I am finished with the entire Honors College track.

Finished as in done. Done as in through with. Never again. Gone. By the wayside. Completed, finite, nothing, the end. That's it. No more of wanting to shoot myself in the face during in-class discussion with people who militantly misread all the major points of the chapter. No tri- or quarto-weekly** journals full of high school-style regurgitation of the reading. No Thesis, as in no all-nighter to finish a paper you know is shit in which you're supposed to answer one of the Big Unanswerable Questions of Life that all the profs acknowledge are unanswerable. And best of all, No More Consensus, Ever, Ever, Ever Again. No more am I stuck in a room with 20 other students forced to agree on one, unified, coherent, practically applicable answer to Those Same Unanswerable Fucking Questions. How do we understand art? Suck me. How do we tell the good from the bad? Get the hell out of my life. Must the need for social order conflict with individual liberty? Yes, full stop.

I love the HC; it's been a second home for all my three years here. Some--hell, most--of my best college friends are in it. We have great times, we laugh, it's been a great ride. But there comes a time when you've taken the same class eight times in rapid succession when you are just so fucking glad to be done with that shit. As of this semester, if I haven't flunked Science Core, I'll have completed all my HC requirements, including Senior Synthesis. It's a rush. I can't really believe I've come that far, that (1) not only is there a light at the end of the tunnel, but (2) it is not an oncoming train and (3) I have reached it somehow without even noticing. It's a pretty great feeling.

I just wanted to share that moment with you, the one that's about how close I am to the finish line and everything I've done to get here, instead of all the stupid shit I have to do before I can cross it. Tomorrow there will be dress shopping, and then that will (hopefully) be done too. I like this "all things will pass" thing. It's neat.***

*And occasionally, when you're very good and put away all your toys right away, she blogs about it. Highly productive.

**Now I'm making up words.

***I thought about finishing this post with a notice of my discovery that I can continue to have casual, mature, friendly conversation with someone who rejected me on the dating front due to a prior engagement--the kind that comes with kneeling and diamonds--but then decided against it because I couldn't make "prior engagement" sound less stuck-up. Sorry.

01 May 2007

Spring Fever

This is a bizarre time of year. The sun has finally returned to us up here in the north and seems to be here for the long haul till November, even out in dreary Indiana. There is birdsong in the morning again and warmth seeping out from the pavement and the air. The world is gilded with sunbeams. I am happy again.*

However, it is also the end of the semester. Today was my last day of classes. Tomorrow is reading day and Thursday is the beginning of finals week. Next Monday I take my last final, move out of my house in Indiana, and move back into my parents' house for the summer. In that time, I have to write a 20-25 page term paper, take one real final exam,** redye my hair, find an evening gown (and matching shoes, jewelry, and purse), meet with my study abroad advisor to make sure everything is working out for Jordan next semester, finish my paperwork for Cyprus this summer, acquire and fill out job applications for summer, find a rat-sitter for the next seven months (because my mother doesn't want to deal with cleaning Steve McQueen's cage), and pack up all my worldly possessions for transport--twice.

And I am not the only one facing this dichotomy of interest. Check out my flist. Everyone who's in college is posting something along the lines of "OMG SO MUCH WORK JFKDJFKDSJFKDSJFKDJSDSS WANNA GO PLAY IN THE SUN" while the people who are not in college are posting things like "Man, sun rocks. Life is good."

I think the obvious solution to the sun/work dilemma is to make college shorter. Say, ten weeks in a semester. Those ten weeks might be an extra special hell, but then it would be done, just in time for proper spring. Summer classes do something similar; IUP runs three sessions lasting five weeks apiece, in which classes meet every day for twice as long as usual. It's intense and it's a bit hard to get excited about (being, after all, a more intense version of the sun/work dilemma). However, the system works. One of my summer classes was Beginning French, and in this context it was practically an immersion course. My Comics Lit course was similar; for how inept the prof was, I learned a remarkable amount.*** And there was still time for me to complete my final project, a comic script, such that I was proud of it. A shorter semester may interfere with research projects; however, I would gladly put in the extra time and stress every day of getting my research done if it meant I could finish each semester sooner.

What say you? Would you temporarily give up some degree of emotional sanity in order to have more time to yourself in which to cultivate greater inner peace?

*Seasonal Affected Disorder: bitch in the winter, but gods above, if it ain't a treat all summer long.

**The rest are papers. Don't be envious; I'd rather stuff myself with information and then vomit it into a Blue Book than have to pull it out of my ass in a slow, painful, supposedly intelligent and synthetic manner. And I apologize for how disgusting that metaphor turned out.

***In part, this may have been due to my relative newb-ness to comics. I only started reading them in high school, for all that I've fallen hard in love with the medium.

27 April 2007

What Slade has learned from dress-shopping to date

1. There are more dress shops in Indiana than previously supposed, including two within walking distance of my house.

2. I have a size 14 ass matched with size 12 boobage, no matter what certain Hong Kong dressmakers have to say. However attractive that might be, it is definitely not convenient.

3. Really hot, classy, gorgeous dresses are almost universally out of my price range.

4. Case in point: The dress that has been hanging in the window of Michael B's for months, which I walk past every day, by some miracle does fit me. There was a chorus of angels till I checked the $500 price tag. (Note: That was a $200 dress, tops. $500 is outrageous.)

5. I seem to have a very different idea of what dresses are worth than the people who set their prices. This ought to be rectified.

6. Things on sale racks are usually there for a reason. (Exception: Snug, adorable, red-and-white strapless at the bridal store. But maybe there just aren't many size 6's around Indiana looking for hot dresses.)

7. Trying on dresses is fun.

8. Trying on dress after dress that almost-but-not-quite fits or requires alterations I don't have time for or turns out to be uglier than presupposed or for whatever reason is Entirely the Wrong Dress, is depressing.

9. My theory of differentiated passing of time between the inside of a changing room and the rest of the world has been upheld.

10. This shopping trip was brought to you by Slade actually taking her measurements and discovering that Dress No. 5, which I had decided to buy as a backup because Good Orient has a fantastic return policy, will in no way fit. The waist is two inches too small, which is enough for me not to be able to breathe right. They do have tailored dresses, but those are twice as expensive and probably won't get here in time.

In conclusion, I'll be going to the Nebulas ceremony naked.

25 April 2007

Dress Me Up Pretty

Okay, guys, we -- well, I -- have a situation. It has just been brought to my attention that I need to have an evening gown and associated ensemble in hand and ready to wear by the 10th of May. That is 15 actual days, or 11 business days, from now. I have since been madly searching the Interweb for dresses that are:

1) actually evening gowns and not mislabelled as such
2) pretty (read: gorgeous yet NOT SLUTTY)
3) pretty on me
4) affordable in any universe not encompassed by Paris Hilton's closets

This search has been difficult, but I have in fact turned up a few choice picks. And this is where you come in and why I'm bothering you with this trite matter of not looking like a slob or a slut in front of important, fancy, famous people: the list of dresses (and accessories) is here. Please please please go look at them and tell me what you think. I'm going for elegant, stylish, comfortable, and if possible, hot.

If the link doesn't work for you, then go to my regular The Things I Want page and click on the "Nebulas 07" tag. (For future reference, this is my end-all-be-all stuff-I-want list, if you're ever in the mood and/or holiday season to get me some kind of gift. Not pushing, just saying it's there.)

Seriously, I'm overworked and underslept as it is without fashion butting into my life. There are seven dresses there; please comment here with, at the very least, a number. If that doesn't work for you, then email me: damnowls @ gmail.com. Thank you all; you're wonderful people.

23 April 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day

In honor of International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day, here is a short, flashy story about eating babies. (No, I'm not kidding. This is your warning; if A Modest Proposal grossed you out, this is not for you. In fact, if you dislike gore or the implication of gore, this really isn't for you either. Sorry. I'll try for something with happy unicorns and puppies next time.)


The sight of them made me want to vomit. In our hiding-place at the top of the stairs, I covered little Marie's eyes. They came in like locusts, waving their parchment so heavy with official seals it wouldn't roll up right. They demanded our wine, our bread, our meat -- Mother tried to explain that we had no meat, but her words fell upon callous ears.

"Bring us your food, woman," they growled, bayonets glinting in the sun through the window. "All of it."

Mother did as they said, carrying plates and platters and boards full of onions, stale bread, cabbage, turnips--even the tomato she was saving for Sunday.

"More," the soldiers shouted, crumbs covering their uniforms.

She did as they said, ferrying flagons of wine until the cellar was empty.

"More," they screamed. "Where is the meat?"

"We have none," Mother whispered.

One of the soldiers spoke up, his hungry eyes on Marie's terrified little face. "Oh, yes, you have."

Mother's eyes followed the soldier's. Her mouth opened, formed the word "no," once, twice, then other words that made no sound. When he climbed the stairs after Marie, I tried to hide her behind me, to drag her up higher away from him, but like a Musketeer's rapier his hand shot out and snatched her away from me, dragged her downstairs by the ankle.

They boiled my baby sister alive. Mother tried to pull her out bare-handed, but they wrenched her arms behind her and tied her to a chair. One of them held me by the arm, hard like steel, but that didn't stop me screaming like Marie was screaming. I cried and cajoled and begged them to stop, to look somewhere else.

"There's a butcher's shop around the corner," I pleaded. "You can smell it from here on hot days." That was a lie, but they were boiling Marie, and I didn't think God could mind one little fib to save her life.

He did.

They carved her up on the solid kitchen table, each one awarded his fair share of my baby sister's flesh. They ate badly, no manners, ripping the meat from her little bones. One collected his in a teetering pile, crunched them in half with his teeth, and sucked the marrow out.

When there was no more flesh for them, the one holding my arm asked, "What do we do with the skull?"

The one that had hungrily watched my baby sister grinned. "Is there any brain in it?"

There was. They fried it.

Finally full, the one holding my arm found some old rags and bound my wrists in front of me to the oven door, and then the lot of them trooped cheerfully upstairs.

It took me half an hour to untie the rags with my teeth, carefully lift the carving knife from what had once been Marie's body, and cut the throat of every man in the house.

Mother and I ate very well for the next few weeks.

20 April 2007

Question: "Where is Slade right now?" (May 07 - May 08)


Present - 7 May: in Indiana, PA, doing college. (Note: 3-7 May is Finals Week.)

7-10 May: in Pittsburgh, at my parents' house. THIS MEANS WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING BEFORE I LEAVE THE COUNTRY.

11-13 May: in NYC, at the Nebula Awards.

13-16 May: in NYC, hanging out with Anna.

16 May - 6 June: in Larnaca, Cyprus, doing archaelogy and sight-seeing.


19 July - 6 August: in Lewes, DE, learning to sail the 18th-century tall ship Kalmar Nyckel.


Sometime between 3 and 10 September - sometime in December (or January): in Jordan, learning Arabic. Please note that there is a possibility that I will not be in the States for Christmas break, but that such a development cannot stop me sending you presents at the very least. More information when I have it.

14 January - sometime in May: probably in Indiana, PA, doing the college again. And GRADUATING "JGHDFHDJFHDJFDJ!!!11!one!! (which means...)

Sometime in May: in Pittsburgh, moved out of my parents' house. Expect Massive Extravagent Gradumacation Par-tay! W00t! (in addition to/in combination with Ultra-Fabulous Housewarming Party. It's gonna be great, people.)

And that is the upcoming year, as it looks right now. And I am not even joking about the bits that say "let's do something." The world is young, I love you guys, Indiana is the devil, let's all go dancing.

06 April 2007

Dykey brain

You know, one of the weird things about being bi is that sometimes you get on a long stretch of being attracted mainly to one gender. (Which also tends to make it harder for some people to accept that you do, in fact, not prefer that gender exclusively.) And then sometimes your brain is just like, "Hey, you remember girls, right? Well, here's one for you now."

If you are interested in women, follow the link. Possibly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen; at the very least, in the top ten. Smokin'.

(ETA: Never mind. The image is on a rotating thingy. If you follow the link however, and you see a beautiful Hispanic girl looking straight at you with a half-smile and wearing a green bikini top, then that's her.)

03 April 2007

Collision of worlds

Weird shit: getting into a writing kick/zone/high/thing and using it to write a paper. There must be Cartographers for Social Equality around, because it's freaking me out.

31 March 2007

Keeping It Real review

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

This is a fun book. Lila Black, our cyborg, spook heroine, is currently undercover as bodyguard for elf rock star Zal, the best thing to hit rock music since electricity but whose fellows elves show their appreciation with death threats. Lila travels not only through Otopia (Earth, the human domain) but transdimensionally to Alfheim (the elf domain), trying to keep Zal's pretty head and vocal cords attached to the rest of him. There is love and a whole lot of lust, racism and revolutionaries, rock and roll, an an elf who sings like Mick Jagger and a bionic soldier who gets back in touch with her humanity. I didn't think I'd like this novel and honestly I still think the prose is inelegant, but the story is an intense joyride that screeches through sexual tension, a political morass, impending doom, and then more sex and doom, and skids to a halt on the other side with a great big whooping "HELL YEAH!"

One of the cool things Justina Robson does in this novel is break down the racism common to fantasies with multiple "races" (which are often in fact species). Lila starts out our story hating elves -- all elves, indiscriminately -- despite her knowledge that racism is bad and she has to deal with elves anyway. There are even very good reasons that Lila began hating elves, which you'll have to read the book to find out.

And then Lila goes to Alfheim, befriends an elf or two, sees how the elf stereotypes are wrong in some places. Where some of the stereotypes hold up, such as that elves hate living in Otopia, she discovers why: in this case, elves are such a part of the Alfheim ecology that being removed from it is somewhat like always being too cold. Robson portrays this breakdown of Lila's prejudices well. A bit preachy on occasion, but the message is strong: overcoming racism, reducing prejudice and discrimination, require as much interaction between the groups in question as possible. Lila willingly travels with and among elves in their homeland; she becomes friends of some and enemies with others, but she learns that elves are not a homogenous, monolithic group. An elf is an individual person, not a representative of some monstrous elf organism. The value of a book that portrays large, hot-button issues as solvable problems is obvious.

On the other hand, I would have liked to see more development of the relationship that Lila and Zal's bizarre, frantic interactions are certainly cementing into. Through the intervention of a great deal of mortal peril and magically intensified sexual duelling/foreplay, they have skipped right over the dinner-and-a-movie stage of relationship-building and gone straight to the post-climactic-explosion sex. (Think The Fifth Element. Think The Italian Job. Think James Bond.)

There are a lot of personal and gender issues they'll have to deal with. Near the beginning of their intense courtship, Zal angrily predicts that "after a few more sessions [of Lila saving his life]...I can feel grateful and emasculated and throw myself into further extremes to prove my virility" (119). And that's more or less what happens by the end, except that Zal doesn't seem to mind so much by then.* HoweveLinkr, Zal's inability to bench-press a sequoia is matched by Lila's emotional IQ of 12. I think they could either make a good go of it or let it blow up in their faces.** I'll be interested to see how that evolves.

Overall, I suggest giving Keeping It Real a read. Especially as you come off of a semester of hellish paper-writing from college, Robson writes a great adventure story for relaxing after finals. You can find it at all the big-name bookstores (B&N, Amazon, Borders), but I suggest giving your money to Overstock (who offer a variety of fair trade goods), Better World Books (who ship green and donate part of your purchase to literacy efforts), Powell's Books, or your local independent bookstore. By and large, it is not more expensive to shop locally or eco-friendly. You can also price-compare across the Internet at BookFinder and Campus1.

*Could be the nookie.
**Stating the forfeit was probably the stupidest thing Robson did in this book. It guarantees a happy/angstful ending even beyond the chicklit-ness and ruins all the suspense and curiosity of figuring out how the Game will end.

28 March 2007

Caribbean: E.T. Paradise

OMG, kids. Have you looked at the Bahamas on Google Earth? Go do it now. It looks like this.

Yep, that's right, and its freaking me out. That famously clear Caribbean water is truly transparent that you can see down to the ocean floor through it... from space.

I can muster only a two-word response: Road Trip. Who's with me now?

27 March 2007

Long post about academic disaster and emotional draining

I like the way this man's brain works.

And now I have to complain and freak the fuck out, so if you're in a good mood, skip to the next blog on your flist.

I hate this goddamn semester. I know that every semester I say that, and I also say "This project/class is kicking my ass" and it's always true. College is not my thing. I hate classes, I hate stupid busywork, I hate giant-ass research projects that make or break your grade, I hate grades, and I hate the institutionalized boredom wrapped up in overwork that so clearly defines School. I have loathed school since the third grade, if not before. This is not where I ever want to find myself again in my life. If Albus Dumbledore (RIP) walked through my front door and told me I was to enroll in Hogwarts for the next seven years because I'm magic, I'd be hard pressed not to rip this throat out with my teeth.*

And this semester is in fact worse than most. I have not dropped out of college, which is good, but I'm running GPA numbers and grade percentages a lot more than normal, trying to see just how badly I can afford to do in my classes, and it's not looking good. Usually there's one class that I just can't manage, and a couple of weeks where I honestly cannot complete all the assigned work -- but now it's all my classes I can't handle and all my weeks I'm dropping necessary things to do other necessary things. And too many of those "necessary things" are along the lines of "get drunk with roommates and watch CoS in Spanish because I can't even face the tonnage of work that is even now toppling over on top of me and dear God I want to have something in this semester that I can say I enjoyed."** I have barely hung out with my Whit friends (which is, sadly, not unusual; another thing I hate about school).

Tomorrow I have to meet with my Seminar prof to explain to her that I've scarcely gotten beyond background research on the paper that makes up 75% of my grade, and then beg her for either a topic change or an incomplete, neither of which is all that good with three-and-a-half weeks left to pull this bastard together and then a summer full of not-school.

It's bad, kids. Even my drop-out semester was better than this. I'm taking my two senior-level classes, plus Science Core (and Arabic). I'm madly planning for leaving the country twice this year and scrounging money to make that possible (ie. grant proposals). My Jordan paperwork and Gilman scholarship packet are due the 3rd, and thank almighty fucking powers that be that I have profs who like me enough to do recommendations on that short of notice. My thesis is due halfway through the unit, on the 9th (final due the 15th), instead of at the very end of the semester as per usual. My Seminar paper is due the 18th, also obscenely early for a term paper. After that, there's a paper on serial killers due the 27th, presenting my Seminar paper sometime that same week, and a presentation on Angela Carter, none of which I've even started dealing with. I have no finals (except Arabic, which will not be graded by Motasim and hence is going to be hell), only papers and presentations. I'm drowning in work. I have no idea how to get any of it done, let alone all of it, and don't even talk to me about turning in quality. Last year I thought I had a shot at graduating Summa Cum Laude (3.75 GPA); now I'll be glad to get Magna (3.50) -- and that's including a semester abroad in which grades don't transfer (THANK GOD).

Can I even explain to you how very, very fucked I am academically and emotionally right now? Spring is popping out all over even in Fuckin' Indiana, and it is not making it better. A bit happier, but my SAD-addled brain is not soaring in delight as if usually does this time of year. I want the semester to be over now so that I can forget it ever happened and move on to things I like, things I love, things that make me happy and that I'm passionate about. There's a part of me that really doesn't fucking care that I've already sunk three years and loads of money into this bullshit and that I only have one semester left next year on this campus; it just wants out. The people who tell you these are the best years of your life are fucked in the head.

*Now, personal tutoring on the side would be fine for something as awesome as magic. But no school. No classes, no bells, no term papers, none of this fucking bullshit. Besides, that means Voldie is real, and if that is true then I had better learn magic, sharp-shooting, and wilderness survival pretty damn fast.


22 March 2007

Best Rube Goldberg EVER

It's got a water wheel, a dart board, an empty wine bottle, a slinky, CD dominoes...seriously, it's worth three minutes of your time. Click here for the video.

21 March 2007

Money for Nothing, Words for Free

Oh my God, kids, there's a Fulbright for writing. They'll pay for you to go abroad to cool places and write cool things. Oh my God. Travel+Writing+Free Money=OH MY GOD

16 March 2007

Civil Unions in Mexico

Can I get a hell yeah for Mexico City's new civil unions laws? In general, Mexico is a lot more conservative on this issue than the States is, and here we have the first, brand spanking new same-sex civil unions. I'm thrilled. A lot of European countries have already passed national legislation allowing civil unions or even outright marriage. (Some have also done just the opposite and legally banned such innovations. And others are battling it out much as the States is doing.) Honestly, I think that eventually this is a done deal. Barring major disaster in Congress or a sudden outbreak of gay serial killers, I think the States is hitting the point where there's a decent gay rights movement that can create change. At the very least, it has demonstrated that gay people exist, are not going away, and will just yell louder if anyone tries to silence them. Making us part of what America is -- that's half the battle. Now our governing bodies, including church groups and lobbies and every voting block there is, have to deal with our existence. If we do this right, we might be able to make the next generation's lives that much less hellish.

13 March 2007

The Riches: Pilot

In case you live under a bigger rock than I do, Eddie Izzard's new TV series The Riches premiered last night at 10 pm on FX. He plays Wayne, the father in a family of white gypsies who witness the death of a couple in a car crash, and then take over the couple's house and lives.

It sounds creepy, and in some ways it is. And you know what? The characters agree. Dahlia, the mother who just got paroled, refuses to go along with her husband's insane scheme. The kids are respectively freaked, apathetic, and have very few lines (in order of age). The characters are amazing. The set-up sounds far more contrived than it played out on the screen.

And this show seems to have been written just for Eddie Izzard. There's a bit where he randomly recites poetry, his youngest son likes wearing dresses, there's some random bad French, and Eddie Izzard plays it hard, like this role matters. If you've seen All the Queen's Men, you know what I'm talking about. But more hardcore.

I am very, very sad that I won't be able to keep up with this show upon return to my house under a rock where we get no cable. I'll have to rent it on DVD.

11 March 2007

Wasted Weed

Someone in California is wasting weed -- the States' number one cash crop. It is a sad affair. I hope the cop who found this poor, forgotten, abandoned cannabis was smart enough to snag a sample before he called in the find. Oh, what a sad day this is.

And in other news, I'm on spring break at last, despite much research to do for my pirates paper. So let's hang out. Seriously, I need this kind of break right now. Let's go ride bikes.

And take the quiz! Come on, you know I wrote it, so you know it'll be funny. I know there are more of you out there than just Anna.

24 February 2007

How's this for a slice of fried gold?

11 May: Take Amtrak (Pennsylvanian line) from Pittsburgh to New York City.
11 May: Catch taxi/subway from Penn Station to the Nebulas' hotel.
11-13 May: Nebula Awards. Be useful and professional, and have fun.
13 May: Catch taxi/subway from Nebulas' hotel to hostel (such as this one).
13-16 May: Chill in New York City. Write in Central Park. Go to a couple museums. Have some fun.
16 May: Catch taxi/subway from hostel to JFK Airport.
17 May: Arrive in London and catch connecting flight to Frankfurt two hours later.
17 May: Arrive in Frankfurt and catch connecting flight to Larnaka, Cyprus, seven hours later.
17 May: Arrive in Larnaka at 2 am. and get picked up by PKAP car.
17 May-6 June: Work on PKAP (with the inimitable Dr. Moore, my advisor) in Cyprus: archaeological survey, data entry, washing ceramic sherds,* eating Thai and Cypriot food cooked on a Foreman grill, and visiting lots of historical sites on weekends in 90-100 degree weather (perfect).
6 June: Catch 3:15 am. flight to Frankfurt.
6 June: Arrive in Frankfurt and catch connecting flight to London nine hours later.
6 June: Arrive in London and catch connecting flight to New York two hours later.
6 June: Arrive in New York and catch taxi/subway to hostel. Collapse after epic 28-hour day despite local time being 9 pm.
7 June: Catch morning train to Pittsburgh.
7 June: Get picked up at Amtrak station. Collapse again.
8-11 June (approx.): Pack all worldly possessions into moveable boxes and similar.
11-12 June (approx.): Move worldly possessions to new flat/room where I will be living for the next eight months while on semester off.

All for about $2400-$2600, of which I can probably get $2000 in grant money from the RECHC Enhancement Fund for PKAP (which is $1000 by itself without airfare), and my parents have promised to help out with the Nebula costs.


*Not shards. Apparently there is some subtle yet gargantuan difference between a shard and a sherd, and archaeologists get pissed off by people confusing the two.

19 February 2007

The first of the last days of winter

The icicles are melting in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Do you know what that means?

Spring is coming.

The sun is getting brighter. The little grasses are wiggling around under the mounds of slush and ice. The snow is melting enough to reveal the dogshit that people left there in January. Pretty soon I'll be starting the slow process of stripping off layers of necessary clothing, till I can head off to campus in a tank top. I might just make it through the semester.

And weirdly, I think that Dr. Zens' classes help combat the evil of winter. They're informative, useful, fun, relatively easy, and involve random tangent storytime at least once a week. Best classes ever. (And what am I taking now? Environmental history? Why did I think that was a good idea?)

15 February 2007

Gray Matters

This movie looks AMAZING. Like the funniest coming-out movie EVER. Check out the trailer -- brilliantly filmed, cut, perfect musical cues, gorgeous, FUNNY.

23 February. I'm going to ask the Indiana Theater to pick it up.

Link: http://www.graymattersmovie.com/?utm_source=phase1&utm_medium=banner&utm_content=728&utm_campaign=IndieClick

13 February 2007

This Just In:

IUP has declared a SNOW DAY TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!

(this never happens. this is like that year in high school when the new superintendent was from some Carolina or the other. )

World War Z

As some of you know, this semester I'm taking Horror Lit with Dr. Carse. We're studying horror films and fiction through postmodernism,* and we're starting our unit on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Films include: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead. Books include: The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, both by Max Brooks.

I read our selection from the Survival Guide grinning the whole way through it. Tire irons and crow-bars are the best hand-to-hand weapons. Voodoo zombies are just different. I loved it and I went straight on into WWZ. It's a memoir of a global struggle against a huge zombie outbreak, and it never happened. What, I asked myself, could be more (a) postmodern and (b) hilariously absurd?

The answer is: dead grandmothers. Because the book is absurd, there's no denying that, but it's not funny. It's the most depressing, gruesome, realistic novel I've read in a while. It's horrible; remember the opening sequences of Dawn of the Dead, with the army trying to clear buildings room by room? It's like that, only there are so many zombies that it's more like block by block, and eventually, the humans close themselves off into safe zones and just try to survive. The book is a series of interviews with survivors who never existed, a lot of them important people (the Vice-Prez of the US, the guy who came up with The Plan to Save Humanity, etc.). Most of them, however, are just people, like a girl whose mother tried to strangle her before the zombies got them, a Russian soldier whose entire base was decimated (in the Roman sense, with rocks, by each other, at gunpoint) for trying to abandon their station to reach their families, a girl whose family fled north to the Canadian wilderness where the zombies would freeze in winter, the guy who invented and marketed a placebo vaccine (Brooks' zombies are viral) that he knew did not work, and even the doctor brought to treat Patient Zero.

I do not read war memoirs, and now I remember why. This book is genius -- twisted, soul-crushing genius. Part of its brilliance (and its horror) is that it is so perfectly contemporary. If there were a viral pandemic now, this is how it would happen, how people and the world and various governments would react. When evidence of the zombie virus gets out, Israel quarantines itself instantly, while China (the source of the outbreak) tries to cover up its existence, and the States skeptically deploys a token force to protect against it. The entire world is totally depopulated, especially large population centers like India and the Chinese coasts.

This book is fucking me up, but it's good. Really good. If you don't mind -- or hell, if you enjoy -- war memoirs, read it. It's a piece of dark, depressing, horrible, zombie-filled reality, and it's worth your time.

*I <3 postmodernism. A lot of it is pretentious nonsense, I'll grant you, but it's so playful! So cute, like a kitten with a ball of string theory! Gotta love it.