South Park Self

Truth! Freedom! Justice! And a hard-boiled egg!

We are closed for another week, i.e. lectures and tutorials are suspended, but other university "operations" are supposed to continue. I am on campus today, and it's all quiet. Too quiet, she says, channelling her favourite Fallout 4 companion. Suspiciously quiet. It's very difficult not to read the quiet as a lull while increasingly conflicted and deadlocked students/protesters/university management plan their next move, which may or may not be another round of dramatic mass action. I'm still having the room-invasion nightmares, I woke myself up last night with a yell in the small hours, because two bearded men were standing outside my window, dissolving it with some sort of projector thingy so they could come in. They seemed... affable but implacable. With a decided resemblance to Terry Pratchett, actually, tending to underline the fact that Pterry was an affable gent with an ideological spine of steel. Affability notwithstanding, I got a hell of a fright; I had to switch on all the lights to persuade myself I'd dreamed these two gents, and I lay there shaking like a jelly for about half an hour. Bloody adrenaline.

I am feeling, in short, a little beleaguered, and more than somewhat exhausted at the thought of all the knock-on implications of these closures: two weeks delay to the semester, exams set back, grad ceremonies cancelled, probably another set of expanded deferred exams in January as all these poor kids try to negotiate booked plane tickets and work/holiday plans which are now affected. That's supposing the unfortunate vice-chancellor manages to wrestle some sort of compromise out of the negotiations, and we actually open again next week as planned. If we don't, things really get hairy.

Right now discussions seem to be running aground on the jagged shoals of the handful of protesters whose intimidation/vandalism antics last year got them interdicted and disciplined, who are now demanding that the charges be dropped as a condition to any other sort of agreement about fees. This is at heart a profound philosophical difference about the nature of protest: whether or not any (criminal, destructive) action performed under its auspices is somehow acceptable by virtue of its political intent. I am not even attempting to be balanced about this, as my language may suggest. I do not wish to negate or trivialise the very real grievances of black students fed up to the back teeth with the slow processes of political, institutional and cultural change; there are a lot of the tenets of the protests with which I am in wholehearted agreement. But I think we have failed in our duty as an institution of higher learning if we launch back into the world student leaders who have been encouraged to think that there are no consequences to violence and destruction. These should not, in my view, be the leaders of the future. The protests have revealed that we have some damned fine potential leaders, we don't need the ones who actually burn buses. And to hinge the continuation of the academic year and the progress of the fees talks around what is not just a political issue but one of self-preservation seems more than a little dodgy.

I don't even want to get into the "free higher education" demand which is part of the protest discourse. In the immortal words of Pratchett in my subject line, they can want what they like, but they might actually get the hard-boiled egg.
South Park Self

madder.republish.flumes

Campus has been formally closed until Sunday, while students march on campus and academics march on Parliament and students and academics disagree, generally politely, on why they should be marching and what's actually a realistic demand. It's like a slow-moving, disruptive and unusually verbose dramatisation of the generation gap, with occasional police presence. I am imitating the action of the Harry Potter, which is to stay in my room keeping very quiet and pretending I don't exist.

Recent interesting discoveries: student mass action is both a fatigue trigger and a source of more subliminal stress than I was aware of. Last night I actually had a sleep-walking dream, for the first time in years. A very tall man in flowing, fragmented, cream-coloured robes, like a cross between a Grecian statue and Rey from Star Wars, came through the wall above my bed, and I woke up with my heart pounding, trying to hold him back by main force. I don't think he was actively trying to hurt me, but he was very definitely present and invasive and insisting on being heard. I resent that in my bedroom at three in the morning. I'm picky about who occupies that space. Sometimes the cats don't even qualify.

I am, however, particularly delighted to note the pleasantly insane existence of what3words, which purports to identify a 3m square anywhere on the planet in three easy to remember words, and stuff all these postcodes or GPS, anyway. As far as I can work out, at least a portion of my house sits firmly in my subject line. I am somewhat delighted.
South Park Self

slaughter in the air, protest on the wind

Lectures are suspended today, and the faculty sent all the staff home on the grounds that they'd rather not have us tangle with protests, which I welcome, even if it does mean I suffer momentary setbacks like a sudden Hobbit to the touchscreen at a psychological moment, causing me to, e.g., randomly leave a Whatsapp group I'd just carefully created. (In other news: Whatsapp! I resisted it with all four feet for years on end, but it's seriously great for keeping contact with people during, I dunno, massive campus meltdowns or whatever. I am industriously proliferating groups.)

If nothing else, being formally at home to work means I don't have to attempt the classic student protest manoeuvre, namely swearing my way through rush hour traffic for twenty minutes only to fetch up against a barricade and have to turn around and swear my way all the way back home. Not good for the fatigue. In addition to rush hour traffic as a fatigue trigger, recent discoveries of other, more exciting triggers include continuous fire alarms, crowds singing in the foyer, and faculty board meetings during which the assembled academics of the faculty bombard the VC with complaints, questions and thinly-veiled ideological harangues, mostly conflicting, for two hours. I staggered home yesterday in a state perilously close to collapse.

Of course, the inscrutable workings of Sod's Law dictate that this week is my most congested teaching-wise for the semester, with a batch of lectures as well as my usual seminar. I am scrambling to find ways to catch up, with the uneasy awareness that I have it desperately easy given how little I teach in comparison to most academics.

Among the considerable advantages of working at home: decorative kitties.



I have a dark suspicion that Pandora may actually be giving me the finger as a side effect of that adorable flumphed paw-to-nose pose. Also, winter didn't quite generate the puddle of cat I'd hoped for, but the two of them are getting on surprisingly well. Mostly. Half a second after this photo Dorable rolled over and almost touched him, and a startled Hobbit leaped about two foot backwards and into the water bowl.

(Subject line gloss: Bowie, natch. "Beauty and the Beast". Although possibly something from "Diamond Dogs" might have been more appropriate to the faint air of apocalypse.)
South Park Self

I aten't dead

Apparently I haven't been blogging because my life is not very exciting, but blogging is generally good for me and stops my mother from worrying, so I should try and get back into it. (Hi, mum!) Right now I also have something of a reason to blog, as there are student protesters parading down the avenue outside my office, singing and toyi-toying. Protesters have spent the last few teaching days disrupting lectures in small groups, coming into buildings, singing, shouting and setting off fire alarms. I am locked into my office, more because I don't feel like altercations than because I feel in any way seriously threatened, there has been no violence or damage. The fire siren has been going for about ten minutes and is beginning to sound forlorn and warbling, as though it has a sore throat. Lectures were suspended yesterday, and the website reports that they have been cancelled today and tomorrow as well, so it's all beginning to feel a bit post-apocalyptic.

This is all a carry-over from last year's protests, and is a tiny fragment of last year's numbers: a few die-hard students from our campus plus workers, students from other campuses and other random bods. They seem to be generally expressing disgruntlement at various things (insufficient fee cuts, criminal proceedings against a handful of bus-burning protesters from last year, etc) in a way that's neither articulate nor particularly goal-directed. It's rather disappointing: last year's protests were massive, instrumental and beautifully focused, these ones feel far less adult. The protesters are asking for impossible things, refusing to consider realities or to negotiate; these protests feel a lot more like childlike tantrums, toddlers making a scene because they aren't being given what they want.

Students are such interesting people: on the cusp of adulthood, still with one foot in the adolescent camp and one in grown-up function. I was so proud of ours last year, their political maturity and sense of justice, and the huge instrumentality and restraint of the protests. This is a regression. While it's far less widespread than last year and has lost the broader support of the student body, it's still enormously disruptive, and I hope the protesters find that maturity again. Also, my teaching schedule is completely stuffed, and I have a tiny portion of a usual teaching load, the overall chaos must be hideous. Disappointing.
South Park Self

Who the fuck's gonna mess with me?

I am slightly saddened that the Great Year Of Subject Line Bowie Mourning is still in force, as really this post should be entitled "Into each life some rain must fall". On the upside, the actual subject line I chose does come from possibly my favorite track on Blackstar, "Girl Loves Me", which is bouncy and catchy and written in a sort of frangled Clockwork-Orangesque mad post-apocalyptic vernacular1, which is not unapposite to my week.

The Cosmic Wossnames are gonna mess with me, is who. I am on leave. It's lovely. I'm catching up on sleep, and apparently all I need to do is to leave work for my dream-life to swing back into nightly focus with an audible click. And in my personal value system, shaped as it is by a drought-scarred Zimbabwean childhood, actual rain falling into my life, as it has done for the last few days, is cause for rejoicing. It's been bucketing, and cold, and the cats and I have been congregated around the contented purr of the gas heater for large swathes of time. I would prefer, however, if the otherwise much-enjoyed precipitation could refrain from precipitating actually inside the house.

So the bathroom sprang a leak on Tuesday. A little one, in the corner, where it rained gently on the towels. My nice landlord came round on Thursday and spent several hours tromping around on the roof, doing mystic passes with sealant and cloth coverings and what have you. This appears to have been something of a catastrophic fail in the DIY department, one of those epic fumbles that made everything worse, because Saturday's heavy rain revealed that the original leak had multiplied its output by a factor of ten, the bathroom had sprung two additional leaks in solidarity, and there were another series of sinister plopping noises in the living-room ceiling. Plus one small, diffident leak from the skylight contributing intermittently and with mathematical accuracy to the center of the carpet. I have no idea what the hell he did up there, but the roof really didn't like it. I await, somewhat damply, his no doubt shamefaced return to make good.

In retrospect possibly the leaking roof was inevitable, because I've been playing Fallout 4, which is littered with destroyed houses and makeshift shacks all with gaping holes in their roofs. But I can't even retreat from the deluge into more literal, if abstracted, postapocalyptic ruination, because the Cosmic Wossnames' two-punch sabotage followed its own inexorable logic: if I take ten days of leave and download Fallout 4 as the gaming project for said time, two days into the leave my computer will awake bright and early to an existential crisis in which it has convinced itself that it doesn't have a graphics card. Crawling in emo denial under its metaphorical bed, it will paralyse its own functions to the point where it not only wholesalely refuses to admit the existence of the graphics card on which it has been happily playing Fallout for two days, it will also reduce its screen resolution to a lowly 800x600 and refuse to change it at any price.

I dunno. It's distinctly possible that my computer is hallucinating it's Kylo Ren; if this is the case, hopefully the nice geeky types at my local computer shop will apply sufficient therapy to disabuse it of this misapprehension. If it's not, in fact, hallucinating and the (brand new, circa two days after the Inquisition release date) graphics card has in fact died, I apologize for the Kylo Ren slur and reflect, with some satisfaction, that at least the damned card is still under warranty. Either way, hopefully my computer returns to my bosom today, and I can stop this ridiculous half-existence where I experience the world through an IPad and my phone. Blarg. Any errors in this post are entirely attributable to the IPad's over-zealous and unduly American auto-correct. The verbosity is, however, absolutely my own. It's been over-watered.

1 Actually, subsequent research suggests it's half Nadsat and half Polari, which is something of an enchanting mix.
South Park Self

spiders from Mars

When I left to do some shopping early on Saturday there was a small flock of hadeda ibises (ibi?) posed dramatically along the roof-tree of my house, against the morning sky. Rather like a boy-band album cover, in fact: studied poses, all carefully differentiated, positions and distances calculated to hint at relationships. A deliberate construction of unity and individuality. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't take a photo, if only as documentary evidence so I can pick the right bird out of the line-up for punitive purposes. Because in retrospect that was a sinister little flock loitering with intent.

During the course of Saturday, while I was in my study innocently ambling through the Shivering Isles1 one or more nameless hadedaean perpetrators spent several hours wreaking wanton destruction in the back courtyard2. My container garden has a terribly tendency to cutworm, who drowned in droves in the heavy rain last week, and the Hadeda Boy Band obviously had a field day noshing the little surface-floated squishy corpses. Which is fine, and would cause me fist-pumps of vindictive satisfaction, except that hadedas are large birds who (a) trampled several plants nearly to death, and (b) half dug up others - the soil in the pots is basically harrowed and drilled by the multiple stabbings of hadeda beaks. Have you seen the beaks on those things? like bloody ice-picks. And, crowning insult, they crapped (c) all over the back courtyard, with that excessive bowel enthusiasm characteristic of their kind, and (d) all over the kitchen, because I leave the courtyard door open for ventilation during the day, and they clearly wandered in like they owned the place. I basically had to hose down and disinfect the whole room. I'm not sure the cutworm decimation is worth it. Seriously, One Direction would definitely do less damage, or at least damage that was somewhat less scatological. Probably.

I'm feeling a little besieged, is all. The neighbourhood tomcat who beats up Hobbit is still prone to coming into the house at night to beat up Hobbit, play with his cat-toys, steal the catfood and spray all over the passage. (Where the hadedas crapped. I'm sensing a theme.) I'm sleeping with the bathroom window closed, which means my cats trying to get out or the tomcat trying to get in have to go through my bedroom window and over my recumbent form. This does seem to be excluding the tomcat quite usefully, hooray, even if it does necessitate 2am wake-ups as Hobbit launches heavily from my midriff. But clearly any open window is an invitation. Last night I was lying in bed playing Avengers Academy on my phone3, and I happened to look up at the curtain because my eye caught a slight movement of something dark against the dark green. And a massive spider, must have been 8-10cm across, came moseying out from behind it and across it like the hot contender in the World's Most Nonchalant Arachnoid heats.

This is, quite frankly, rude. Because one's body does that complete muscular lock-down thing, frozen in horror and with faint echoes of Dragon Age dialogue drifting across one's cerebellum4. During this involuntary play-dead manoeuvre the spider ambled unhurriedly on a dead level path across the curtain, and disappeared behind it. Then I lay there for the next hour, staring into the dark with eyes like the third dog from the tinderbox fairy tale, every fibre of my being tense, while scenarios play out endlessly: spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the bed leg and under the blankets. Spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the mosquito net to drop on me. Spider is climbing up the wall so it can fall on me from the ceiling. It's lurking on the curtain so it can fall on me when I forget about it and open the curtain in the morning. It's fallen on the floor and will run up my leg when I get out of bed. It's moseyed on out into the courtyard and I can go to sleep now. Really. Really. I can sleep now. Any time.

I eventually did, and it didn't leap out at me at any point during the night, but I find the fact of its complete disappearance suspicious. With any luck the nice cleaning lady will find it and chase it out into the courtyard, where a hadeda will eat it. Because apparently I have an ecosystem.



1 Oblivion re-play while waiting for Fallout 4 to download. The Shivering Isles are perfectly demented, but I'd forgotten how pretty they are.

2 Which in retrospect does explain why the cats spent the day attached to my ankles, lily-livered beasts.

3 This is a deliberate attempt to try and connect me more with my phone, which I forget to check or charge or bring half the time, and which would be long since dead if it were a tamagotchi. Judicious experimentation suggests that being able to make teen superheroes dance or fly or take selfies does indeed foster attachment. Go figure.

4 Cole: "Too many legs!". Dorian: "Just once, we should see normal-sized spiders!"

South Park Self

and the next day and the next

Good lord, I am overcome with nostalgia. The student who just wandered into my office for a change of curriculum signature was in full-on Goth performance dress: dead white face, black hair, black lipstick, heavy eye-liner, docs, tights, the whole nine yards, circa approximately mid-80s. I haven't seen that in years. Judging by the name, voice register and painful politeness, somewhere under all that was a rather sweet and well-brung-up Indian lad. For all its self-conscious angst and gloom, Goth as a counter-culture is so inward-turned as to be basically harmless. Rather endearingly so. I am now all flashing back to my own undergrad Goth days and pining for Egyptian eye make-up and the Sisters of Mercy. If stv ever makes good on his threat regarding a non-cheesy 80s dance party, I will have to acquire some eye-liner and roll back the "DECADES WITHOUT MAKE-UP" sign to 0.

'Tis graduation, and the Avenue has blossomed with kids in gowns and proud parents, all more or less dressed to the nines. I have to avoid it: it makes me cry, mostly because sublimated maternal wossnames, and also investment: I see so many of these kids in distress in my office, it's warmly poignant to see them finally pull it together. Today they are proudly graduating in the pouring rain, because Cape Town and winter. I am enjoying this, too. Likewise the way that the angst and imperative of the semester has choked off suddenly, and I'm sitting in my office twiddling my thumbs with not much to do. I am very tired, see semester, angst and imperative of, above. I am also on leave from Friday next week, for almost two weeks. I am going to enjoy this very much indeed. If you're in Cape Town, let's do coffee. General exhaustion levels have meant that I haven't seen anyone much for ages, and this shall not stand.
South Park Self

Monday Wol generates spontaneously on cacti in stick-figure silhouette

I am loving the slow, whimsical randomness of the XKCD garden, which is still sitting in a tab on my Chrome, gently accreting to no fixed rhythm or timetable. Mine has had a cat on a goat for a while, and a rather pleasing shark-fin in the birdbath, not to mention platform octopi. Today it grew a wol. Every now and then I fiddle with its lighting in a desultory sort of fashion, but it's such slow-motion cause and effect, it hardly feels instrumental. I am still inexpressibly charmed by the whole thing.



My subject line is breaking the David Bowie resolution, because {Weekday} Wol has its own inexorable logic. Not even David Bowie is that surreal. Does it count that I was playing his cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" in the car this morning?
South Park Self

I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes

Class of 16 third-year students, and only two have seen the new Star Wars. The fuck? what's with the youth of today? the movie was huge and mainstream and seen by bazillions of people, but apparently senior Humanities students are not among them. I despair. Genre-shamed by my own students. Particularly because I'm trying to teach fanfic, and it transpires that I no longer have mainstream popular texts in common with my class. They grudgingly admit enough of a passing familiarity with Avengers or Sherlock that my burbling wasn't entirely opaque. I suppose it's not technically genre-shaming because they all watch Game of Thrones, but I refuse, basically on aesthetic grounds. I am unable to admire nasty people.

I am Disgruntled. Fortunately this amazing Tumblr conversation has just made me giggle outrageously for ten minutes, because Science! in the service of Dodginess is a lovesome thing, god wot. "I have no deeper explanation for why human females can dissolve rocks with our genitals. It simply is."

I am also in a horrible fatigue slump, and am perpetually exhausted, which is achieving new heights of horrible because I'm also insomniac like whoa and dammit, which means I stagger into bed, largely incapacitated with tired, at about 9pm and then stare at the ceiling for two hours. And when I sleep, apparently I hallucinate very small stained-glass knights with lances coming through the walls. Vividly. Contemplating firing my subconscious. Apart from anything else, it's giving rise, at extremely infrequent intervals, to particularly disjointed flow-of-consciousness blog posts.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Blackstar", from his last album, which is amazing and rapidly becoming one of my favourites. It is relevant only in the most lateral and tenuous of sleep-deprived fashions).
South Park Self

boys always work it out

oh god I can't believe it, the evil magic of Tumblr has ended up addicting me to an online webcomic about cute American college boys playing hockey. The American version of hockey, i.e. on ice. Ngozi's Check, Please! is weirdly poignant, bizarrely socially aware and basically adorable, mostly because Bitty (small cute gay Southern boy who bakes), and because of the locus of well-intentioned awkward anxiety that is Jack. The comic and fan responses to same have inexorably infected my Tumblr feed over the last couple of months. The fanfic is lovely. Of all the things I ever thought I'd find myself doing, enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey significantly doesn't make the list in any way at all.

As revenge, because it's my only defence against this sort of thing, I shall proceed to dissect it ruthlessly, and with maximum use of polysyllables. I think the thing appeals not just because it's well written and beautifully drawn, but because it self-consciously appropriates and subverts the classically heteronormative and traditionally ideologically ugly setting of the frat house. The male sports team/frat house is a homosocial space whose construction generally implies sexism, toxic masculinity, profanity and all-out grossness, but Ngozi's version of it is resolutely and redeemingly utopian. There's enough grossness and profanity to be vaguely realistic, but the stereotypes are lovingly deconstructed: homosociability is mutually supportive, socially aware, irreverent without being destructive. This reaches its apotheosis in Shitty, the team's Gender Studies wonk and part-time nudist, because apparently "Every hockey team should have a hipster who wears floral snapbacks and shouts about the ironies of male sexuality in the American collegiate Greek system while waiting in line for the pong table to free up." Characters rip into each other cheerfully, both on and off the ice, but the teasing is free of malice. Bitty's gay identity is open, and unquestioningly supported by the team; his endearing personality, which is approximately what you'd get if Tintin embraced the twink stereotype slightly more flamboyantly while more or less continuously baking pie, exists in beautiful relief against the far more macho vibe of the rest of the team.

Part of what Ngozi is doing here, I think, is to present as primary text something which has the sensibility of fan fiction straight off the bat; like slash fic, it posits male relationships in an idealised mode, one in which homoerotic elements, whether literal or subtextual, are celebrated rather than being denied, by the characters and setting as well as the writer. (The college setting is the fictional Samwell, presented as being the most queer-friendly campus in America.) The comic is thus inherently self-aware, existing in dialogue not only with its own raft of external texts (character Twitter feeds, the writer's blog with additional comics, headcanons and occasional character Q&As) but with the whole fanfic paradigm itself. Quite my favourite bit of the series is Johnson the existential goalie, who's a minor character whose hobbies include "breaking the fourth wall": anything he says is metacommentary on his own and the other characters' existences as comic book characters, and he cheerfully acknowledges his own purpose as a device for furthering various narrative arcs. The really good fanfic has him popping in to comment on the difference between his own characterisation in and out of canon. It makes my narrative-fondling toes curl in girly glee.

So, weird but true: I have to admit to enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey. Because life's odd like that. In a good way.