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June 21st, 2012


04:32 pm - First Impressions of Australia
I have been terribly neglectful. I'm so sorry.

I've been in Australia for a almost two months now. I'm living on my boyfriend's family farm, way out in the countryside surrounding Melbourne. There are sheep in our backyard, and I can hear cows lowing at night. I can see 2-3 dormant volcanoes from our windows.

I intend to share photos here, but my internet connection is throttled at the moment (we need to up our bandwidth limit). So I'll share just a couple teaser photos for now:

PhotosCollapse )

I have been keeping fairly busy. I've been working on projects most days—usually working on my vegetable garden or making artwork—and I got a job working on a farm. Work starts in the spring (September).

Since everyone asks, this are some of the more noticeable differences I've picked up between Australia and the US:

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•There are parrots everywhere in Australia. And even most of the non-parrot birds I've seen are bigger than ravens.

•Mammals—aside from pets, livestock, and kangaroos—are rare. Supposedly there are echidnas and wombats around, but all I've seen is a bat, a wallaby, and about 50 kangaroos (no exaggeration).

•Australian kitchen sinks are shallow, have drainage ridges (like this), and no spray nozzles. I don't know how people wash their dishes by hand here.

•Toilets are weird. They have two flush settings (full flush and half flush), they are made with more plastic and less ceramic, they have much less water in the bowl, and they flush dramatically faster and more thoroughly. If you're wondering which direction the water rotates as it drains, the answer is that it doesn't rotate at all; it drops straight down.

•Every single roof I've seen in Australia has been metal or ceramic. As far as I'm aware, asphalt roofing tiles simply don't exist.

•Victorian-era houses are decorated in wrought iron, not wood.

•Almost every truck (or "ute" as they are called here) looks like either this or this. American-style trucks exist, but they're very rare.

•School children ride buses that look like this.

•Spiders are really fucking big and really fucking fast.

•Wall outlets (or "power points" as they're called) all have on/off switches like this. By the way, that's how light switches look, too.

•Australians get excited whenever the temperature reaches freezing. They'll wake you up to go look at the frost on the grass, and they'll cross their fingers for snow flurries.

•Even though it's exceptionally rainy during the wet season, thunderstorms basically don't happen.

•Australian buildings often have multiple roofs that meet in the middle. (I have an example of this in the teaser photos above).

•Australians eat tons and tons of pastries. There are bakeries on every corner selling meat pies, vegetable pasties, danishes, scones, eclairs, and lots of things I can't recognize. Yet most American standbys like chocolate chip cookies, funnel cakes, and muffins are rare to unheard of in bakeries.

•Rice milk is shitty here, but soy milk is super tasty.

•Supermarkets keep their eggs on non-refrigerated shelves as if they were canned goods or something.

•I hate carbonation, but I've tried some of the sodas here and they are way better. Real sugar makes a huge difference.

•There is a common flavor here called "forest fruits". Its closest American counterpart would probably be "berry" flavor, but "forest fruits" is much better. Indeed, it is the best flavor ever.

•"Passion fruit" as a flavor is way more common than, say, "peach" as a flavor.

•Australians really do eat a lot of Vegemite, and Vegemite does indeed have a pretty loathsome taste.

•In the US, I hate desserts that contain blueberries. But blueberry desserts in Australia are absolutely scrumptious. By all accounts, though, American blueberries are better for eating fresh than Australian blueberries are.

•The food in general is quite a bit more different than I was expecting. Australians cook different dishes, and the overall taste of food is different. I can't quite explain the difference, except that Australian meals strike me as more buttery, less cheesy, less Mexican-spicy, more Indian-spicy, and cooked such that the same taste permeates the entire dish (rather than having different bits with different tastes). And the desserts are noticeably less tart, less savory, less chocolatey, and more sweet. I guess I'd describe American food as more "sharp" in flavor than Australian food. Perhaps because I'm an American, I do prefer American dishes, but Australian food is good, too—especially the colby cheese, whole wheat breads, and cooked vegetables. I don't particularly like the desserts, with some exceptions (especially blueberry and white chocolate scones—yum!).

•Icecream is an interesting exception to the dessert rule. Even the really cheap icecream here is more savory, less sweet, and generally sharper and more flavorful; it tastes like high-end American icecream, like Ben & Jerry's.
Current Location: Australia
Current Mood: happyhappy

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February 22nd, 2012


07:37 pm - Hoofdye
We've been playing a lot of Dwarf Fortress lately.

I've been playing a fortress called Hoofdye. When my dwarves arrived, they found a valley where the heads of two rivers meet and flow in opposite directions. I had my miners immediately secure the area by cutting off the surrounding hills to make cliff walls, and then I had them carve out a moat feeding off from the rivers. This left enough land in the middle for my donkey (who is blessed with repeated immaculate conceptions!) and a few other livestock. I also set up a dog field and began breeding for large, muscular dogs to augment the military. And I sent my dwarves digging an orderly underground complex.

Unfortunately, my dwarf population shot up rapidly and they nearly all starved. I ended up having to slaughter almost all the animals. Even though Hoofdye is on a main road, there are no elven traders, and human traders only show up every other year or so. It was a whole year before dwarven traders—the only traders that year—arrived. Before they showed up, though, one of my soldiers went berserk with hunger and beat up the expedition leader. He was taken to the hospital, but my doctor was completely inexperienced—he had never so much as cleaned a wound in his life (not that we had any soap anyway...). He patched Logem up as well as he could just as the dwarven caravan arrived, but Logem died in the middle of his meeting with the outpost liaison. The liaison left furious—which stymied our trade agreements. It was six years before the liaison came back.

About this time, the first crops ripened and the fortress was saved—just barely. The dogs starting being productive about this time, too, so many puppy roasts were had. We made puppy bone arrows for the hunters, puppy tallow soap for the hospital, and puppy leather bucklers for the military.

Unfortunately, the next few years were touch and go. Goblin thieves kidnapped 7 children and murdered an 8th. Goblin ambushers slaughtered every caravan that came through—we had to wall ourselves up inside Hoofdye, which stuttered productivity—and we were haunted by the ghosts of the casualties outside.

Through the constant goblin sieges, we managed to sneak a rag tag human caravan in. We traded (oh, thank god), but the siege worsened in meantime, and we could not lower the drawbridge lest the goblins overrun us. The humans wandered about the grounds until they went berserk. Fortunately, the goblins on the other side of the moat kindly picked the humans off with their arrows before they killed any dwarves. Our wealth increased that day; we smuggled in all the trade goods thrown about by the crazed humans, and we regained everything we sold to them.

Eventually the fortress was attacked by a were-antelope. The were-antelope killed a dog then transformed into a human. My soldiers tried to kill him, but he was much faster than they. In his efforts to escape, though, he fell into a river and drowned.

We were attacked by a kobold army, but my soldiers cleaned that up even faster than my hunters pick off pangolins. Why do kobolds bother?

A particularly strange dwarf arrived at the fort one day. She was very skilled in a huge variety of different crafts, and she came with a long history of having lived in many, many different places. I started reading about the god she worshipped and it turned out he'd cursed her with vampirism a century or so ago.

Most people, in this situation, would have the vampire killed. But I built her an elaborately decorated tomb cut off from the rest of the fortress. There she has access to all the fort's levers, so she (with my directions) can lower the entrance drawbridge, release fresh water into the cistern, and cut off access from the monster-ridden caverns below the fort. Furthermore, above her living quarters is a royal chamber—with a trapdoor. Should any uppity noble make un-fulfillable demands, they shall have a visit with their reclusive compatriot.

The best thing about her is that she is immortal. She need not eat or drink (even blood), she never sleeps, and this suits her fine. Should ever the fort finally topple, she will still be there, buried under the mountain, waiting to let the next band of migrants in.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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December 17th, 2011


10:56 pm - My Occupations
I'm sorry for being so neglectful. I definitely still follow all of you guys (the few of you who still post).

Life has been swell, and I haven't felt like I have anything newsworthy—which is funny, because a lot has been happening. I've been very busy doing things, big and small. My boyfriend and I got an awesome attic apartment together this past summer and we've been working on some exciting projects together (not giving away details just yet)—and when we haven't been doing that, we've been doing other good stuff. Tonight, for example, we're camping out in the living room and building a tent fort to shield us from scary, creaky, 100-year-old house noises. I've been so busy that I've yet to even explore the hidden passages in the living room and dining room walls (yes, our apartment really is that awesome!). Maybe tonight will be the night! I think there's a barbell in one of them; who knows what other mundane treasures await?

A sampling of other things I've been doing: Looking for work. Learning 3D modeling software. Building up a portfolio (slowly). Sewing, mending, and tailoring. A little painting. Some cooking (recently added pancakes to my pitiable repertoire). Learning geology. Idly playing at learning how to program—mostly just thinking up programs I wish I could program already (especially along the lines of simulation, genetic algorithms, and procedural generation—basically, the kinds of things that are way, way beyond the scope of anything a novice should be attempting). Contra dancing and a little beginner's lindy hop. Playing computer games. Going on night walks. Reading Reddit. Playing with my hissing roaches. Watching Netflix. Planting terrariums. Staying up way too late analyzing things I can't change and can only pretend to understand with any authority: economics, politics, human nature, evolution, plate tectonics, language, etc. Or staying up late planning the perfect survivalist's homestead assuming a massive, worldwide apocalyptic event. Consequently sleeping in way too late the next day.

I've never been so consistently happy at least since I was a baby. (I don't remember my babyhood's happiness-to-unhappiness ratio, so I can't in good conscience claim I'm happier now than I was then. It's plausible that infancy was so ridiculously delightful that I had to suppress the memory for the sake of my future self-preservation.) It's somewhat tainted by the fact that all plans are up in the air. I don't know where I'll be living in a couple months, or if I'll even be in the country. Such is the nature of adventure, though, and I'd rather have it this way than any other. It probably builds character or something.
Current Mood: chipperchipper

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January 4th, 2011


10:32 pm - Planless
2010 was the best year in my memory to date. I got a job. I got promoted. I reached my first financial goal ever. I made a difficult relationship decision that needed deciding. I made up my mind to quit forcing myself to socialize in ways that make me hate socializing—which is to say, I finally embraced my introversion in a way that I haven't since I was a child. Against all reason, I fell in love with a man I never met, and then I met him. I became more motivated than ever to do all the things I want to do, and for once I was limited more by practical factors (money, time, location, the usual) than by my own procrastinatory habits.

Despite all that, 2011 is utterly up in the air. I have no idea what sort of trajectory the rest of my life will take. It is scary; I am poised to gain or lose everything, it seems. But even if I lose it all, I did very nearly have it! These types of things, all the pieces to the life I want (or one of the hundreds of potential lives I want), are achievable, I am now convinced. This year is looking to be my most mysterious and directionless yet, and I foresee many trying moments obfuscating my way through, but I am the most hopeful I've ever been in the face of the unknown. However shitty it gets, I have had it plenty shittier, and I'm still here and still hopeful I might just be able to wing this one.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

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July 10th, 2010


11:38 pm - Absurdity
I want to say so much.
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: "Don't Fence Me In" by David Byrne

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June 4th, 2010


09:17 pm - Dating
I really dislike dates. I like hanging out with people, and I like having excuses to see things and do things. I just dislike the wishy-washiness of it all. Sometimes dates feel like a job interview, except that it isn't clear who's interviewing whom or what, precisely, the position is. The process is like a strange, stilted, improvised dance where you must wordlessly guess your partner's steps or somehow get them to guess yours. It wouldn't be so bad if you knew each other well, but the fact that you are essentially strangers hobbles communication to a near standstill. I find us chattering about things I don't think either of us cares about, and I find myself increasingly stressed and disinterested—not because my date has screwed up, but because the act of dating appears inherently draining.

I've never been on a date that went anywhere or that didn't sour my taste for pursuing something further. All the successes in my romantic life began as friendships without time line or expectation, and the rest unfolded organically. Sure, we went places together, but they were more like outings than dates; we already liked each other, we already knew we liked each other, and going out together was a natural fulfillment of our already established desires.
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated

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April 22nd, 2010


03:35 pm - Fulfillment
I don't mind people who go door-to-door or cry out on street corners to convert you to religion. I do think their methods are ineffective and frequently irritating, but their hearts are in the right places.

If there is an afterlife, securing a satisfying one—and helping others to do the same—is the single most important thing one can do. Nothing in life matters except that which determines the afterlife. Irritating people a few people like me is defensible, so long as souls are saved.

But I don't believe there is an afterlife. We live for a short while and we die, and that's all we get. To me, living a fulfilling life—and helping others do likewise—is all that matters. It is the single greatest impetus behind all my ethical opinions.

Fulfillment is tricky, however. It is often correlated with happiness, but they are hardly synonymous. Different people are fulfilled by different things; sometimes the same person is fulfilled by different things at different points, and at times one can't be fulfilled by anything at all. There is no cure-all, no way for us to know for certain what other people will or should find fulfilling. We just have to trust them: trust them by giving them the knowledge for their decisions, and trust them with the power to act on them.

In my ideal dream world, government would exist solely to trust people—to preserve their rights to know and preserve their rights to act, insofar as the utility of those rights do not meaningfully curtail anyone else's rights. In my ideal dream world, no one would ever purposely mislead or manipulate another person. "Complacent" and "self-satisfied" would not be insults, and the highest admiration would gravitate to those who pursue the lives they love, however unpopular or nontraditional the methods of pursuit.

This is not my ideal dream world. Still, I respect sidewalk preachers because they act on their ethical values, however ineffective they must surely know they are in the broad scheme. And so I will spend my life trying to be as honest, accepting, and trusting as I can manage to be—including to myself—even in the face of sometimes overwhelming adversity, even in the knowledge that I will fail repeatedly and that my successes will be largely fruitless. That's not why I'll do it. I'll do it because my life will be more fulfilled for my attempts.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

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January 6th, 2010


12:01 am - 2009
In 2008, I decided that 2009 would be different. A number of things led me to the conclusion: the deaths of two grandparents, the fights with my ex, the new presidency, my graduation, the development of a crush, the recession…

It couldn't keep going that way. Something had to bend or break, for better or for worse. In late 2008, I began.

I didn't realize how dramatic and terrifying the changes would be. I suspected all the changes would be mine, but the biggest were not—they happened suddenly and outside of my control. My resolution for 2009 was more like a premonition.

After the events of February, I felt lost for a long time. I was like a puppet to unending waves of intense anger, passionate sorrow, overwhelming joy, and shackling fear. It brought me a sense of vitality that had been missing for a long time. More than anything, I just wanted to live and keep living, come what may.

It was a period of foot-finding. I made attempts at being sociable and otherwise constructing a new life around myself amid the debris of 2008 and the last several years. It was hard to do, however; I was shaky and directionless, and things largely fell apart before they'd hardly even begun. But all the same, I am indebted to all the people who helped me—or even only offered help, which was still help in itself. I don't know how else I could have managed, without knowing all the support there was behind me. I've never in my life felt so much gratitude for my friends as I felt in 2009.

By mid-2009, I was not sure that I would ever recover. But even with that fear, I took a terrifying step and entered a relationship with aforesaid crush. He was gentle and let me pace everything, despite my cold, cold plodding feet. Everything became easier; I found I was resilient, I could trust again, I could build this new life around me. The year that began as very close to the worst in my life (and nearly the last of my life) turned into one of the happiest in my life.

There were troubles; there were times the past came back—after me, after my family, after my boyfriend—and I became severely frightened. There were times I was so afraid that I thought I would leave everyone—run away to someplace I could not be found, so I would be safe and my loved ones would be safe without me. But, ultimately, we made it through unscathed. I still have my escape plan, but I do not wonder if I will have to use it anymore.

There were other troubles. I lost two cats in one day—one of them belonging to my late grandmother, the other I considered almost as the companion to my soul. And the dog that was my grandmother's became severely ill and blind with brain cancer; she will be put down this week.

And I've lost momentum. I'm still not where I was so many years ago, and I don't know that I will ever recover the person I used to be. I might always carry this spiking little ball of fear inside me. Sometimes I feel stunted and malformed, and it's hard to motivate myself to even bother trying to be anything resembling human anymore. I largely feel very alone.

That's not to say I dislike myself. I love myself. I love myself more than ever because we have been through so many horrors together. I know where I am, I know how I got here, I know why I do so many of the idiosyncratic things I do. But it's hard not to become frustrated with myself sometimes—especially when it strikes me that I'm the only person who can ever genuinely understand and accept myself for it all, or even know about most of it in the first place.

Most of all, I have a hard time talking about these kinds of things. I've hid and I buried so much and so long to protect myself, and now I can't seem to do any other. It's hard to even say thank you sometimes, no matter how much I light up inside with gratitude.

I do not know what 2010 will hold, and I will not try to guess. My life has steadied considerably in the last several months, but I still have not reached homeostasis.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: dog snores

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October 14th, 2009


02:46 am - Bronchitis
So I've had bronchitis for two weeks now, apparently a complication of swine flu. I'm on antibiotics and a prescription inhaler. It's very nearly cleared up now, though there's still some slight wheezing and occasional coughing fits.

It was not a very good two weeks. My muscles have atrophied (though my diaphragm is in excellent shape, I must say) and I'm more tired than usual. I've neglected my studying, my job search, my social life, and various projects I've been working on. Now that I'm starting to feel better, I really want to jump back into things.

I saw Allison (my oldest friend, whom I've known since 1st grade) this weekend, and it was wonderful. I miss her so much. I went rollerskating for the first time Monday, and I'm very bruised and sore—but I still wish I could do it again right now.

I want to practice some painting techniques (namely those used by classical oil painters, though I'll have to do it with acrylic). I want to get physically stronger, especially after spending two weeks in bed. I want to finish up with the GRE.

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to do and by how much time I've lost. This might just be the longest I've ever been sick; even mono took me out of commission for only about a week.
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: rain

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September 30th, 2009


01:35 am - Me and the Other Me's
I want to talk, but my throat is sore, so instead I want to write, but I'm not sure what to say. Time to wing it.

I am very attuned to certain ranges of temperature; they incite the most evocative memories and urges and sensations. The temperature today felt like pumpkin-carving, signing onto AOL, steam vents in the street, and new relationships when they're still iffy. I felt like going very fast.

I have been re-reading the journals I kept from mid 2001 to mid 2003, and it feels very peculiar. I have given little thought to that period in recent years. I wrote desperately how I wanted to share things with someone, to be heard and understood, and so it is strange to finally circle back around to hear and understand myself after so many years. It doesn't feel like we're—I'm—the same person, but rather that she still exists in that long-ago world, as a separate entity from myself. But then I always feel that way about me. I always seem intimately acquainted, yet distinct and disconnected, from myself. I'm not really Halley—just the leading Halley expert.

I've been re-dreaming some of the dreams I wrote about. It all feels very nostalgic and eerie and magical. Even when I'm awake, my dream-places (though bizarre and ever distorting) feel like real places I've been, where various former me's still live.

Apparently I used to write a lot of poems in my journal—silly poems, serious poems. I don't do that anymore. In 2004, the last poem I wrote was to professor who asked if I wrote poems, and I explained that I did not. (Mind you, my primary objective was to find an excuse to put a bulleted list in a rhyming, metered poem. Nevertheless, it was a very heartfelt list and I cried when I wrote it.)

Nearly all of my in-person interactions with people recently have been limited to Samantha, Wheeler, and my family; most days I talk to no one. Yet I'm still feeling rather socially overwhelmed, and I'm not sure why.

In my journals, I continuously berated myself for being so solitary. It still kind of bothers me—not because I want to be more socially inclined than I am (that would make me much too vulnerable to loneliness), but because I feel like I'm supposed to be.

When I was a little girl in elementary school, I always sat alone during lunch and every other time I had a choice in the matter, and my friends and teachers seemed to constantly ask, "What's wrong?" I heard the question so many times that I began to suspect something really was wrong—and I learned to smile readily to cover it up, whatever it might be.

Now I smile too much, and people don't take me very seriously when I speak.

My head is killing me. My throat, too.

I think I want to write more. Maybe even poems; after all, it wasn't me who made the vow. It was some other me. Maybe I should try to be a little rebellious sometimes.
Current Mood: sicksick
Current Music: a dreaming puppy

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