My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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My Grandmother is Planning to Die During the First Week of Classes

When i applied to Berkeley, it never dawned on me that classes might begin *before* Labor Day. It’s Berkeley, neighbor of San Francisco, the city that moves to Black Rock for a week at the end of August. How dare they!?!? I went through a great deal of strife trying to figure out how i would get myself out of this one and was utterly relieved when my mumbling lead-in statement to my new advisor “So…. i uh noticed that well classes seem to umm start on umm August 25…” was responded to with “Don’t worry, no one shows up for the first week – they’re all at Burning Man. SIMS even has a camp going.”

Much relief.

But apparently i’m not the only one who worries about these things. In the latest Jack Rabbit Speaks (the announcement list for Burning Man), a student at Berkeley wrote a letter entitled “August: A Bad Time to be a Berkeley Grandmother.” It’s hysterical. Click here to read more

AUGUST: A BAD TIME TO BE A BERKELEY GRANDMOTHER

[ED.: Mr. Frisky may have just thought we were going to include his letter to the UC Berkeley paper, but we liked his intro, too.]

As I’m sure you probably know, Burning Man overlaps the first week of classes at UC Berkeley (and other schools), making it de rigueur for burner students to have to make up some lame-ass excuse so our professors won’t kick us out of their class for not showing up during that all-important first week.

Usually, they’re pretty accommodating, but why should the sham continue?

It’s time for the shame, fear, and lying to end. Now. I’m outing all of us burner students simultaneously, and shining the truth on the Great Grandmother Lie. I’m planning to mail this letter to The Daily Californian (Cal’s student-run newspaper) sometime around, I don’t know, the day before class starts in August. Feel free to put this up on JRS if you think other burners (students, faculty, or otherwise) might enjoy it.

Cheers, -Mr. Frisky

My Grandmother is Planning to Die During the First Week of Classes By Matthew Taylor

Dearest Professors to whom it may concern,

For the third time in three years, my grandmother is planning to die during the week leading into and including Labor Day. In fact, her funeral pyre will be lit at approximately 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 30th, at which time 30,000 of my closest friends will join me in mourning as her remains are charred into a 40 foot tall column of flame illuminating a moonless sky over the Nevada desert.

This, of course, means that I will miss the entirety of the first week of classes. As I have done in years past, I am writing this letter to ask that you hold my place in your class. I hope you, as many instructors have before, will show compassion and understanding for my week of grief and grant this highly unusual request.

I realize it inconveniences you that grandmothers of thousands of UC Berkeley students all simultaneously die at this time every year, depriving you of the opportunity to orient students, confirm enrollees, and churn through the waiting list during the first week of fall classes. I understand how frustrated you must feel with the administration’s continued apathy, indifference, and insensitivity to the grief and sorrow felt by this significant percentage of the campus population, who are forced to miss out on higher educational opportunities, every year, without fail, because of how very, very much they love their grandmothers. I know that every year, you probably band together to lobby Sproul to push back the start of school to the first Tuesday after Labor Day, and fail in the face of the Orwellian indifference of administrators who continue to believe that the first loyalty of students is to their institution, not their family.

As I am sure you know, attending a funeral is a somber affair, devoid of any fun or creative expression. Nothing is more serious than a funeral. Most of the attendees are dressed head-to-toe in black, muted garb; none are ever clad in multi-colored peacock suits, body paint, mud, or nothing in all. They never run behind water trucks screaming with laughter, practice Yoga with 80 other people under a shade structure, explore massive hedge mazes, ride their bicycles in random directions around a playa, or bump into a friendly “love ranger” who can attend to all their love emergencies.

At my grandmother’s annual funeral, there is little in the way of conversation, much less community building – no chance of meeting about 200 new friends in a dance camp, participating in a community grey-water recycling project, building a theme camp of like-minded mourners or even a village of similarly bereaved theme camps, or getting spanked on the ass by a “Greeter.”

To add insult to injury, at my grandmother’s tragic annual funeral, there is no artwork. No giant, 30-foot-tall statues of naked women moaning in ecstasy, no art installations that are testament to the fallacy of consumer culture, no glowing, flashing lilly pads, no massive temple so intricately crafted you’d think it was the eighth wonder of the world.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the worst part of grandmother’s funeral is: no gifts. NONE! Can you believe it? I mean, gramma DIED for chrissakes, you’d think someone would have the forethought to introduce some sort of “gift economy” which would inspire attendees to give gifts from their heart to strangers with no expectation of return. Yup, that means no one handing out banana bread to strangers, no free drinks on roving “art cars” with bars straight out of the Mos Eisley cantina, no giving pedicures to anyone whose feet are chapped, and, horror of horrors, no free grilled cheese sandwiches at smut shacks.

Yes, my grandmother’s funeral is such a morbid affair it’s beyond belief, and worst of all it interferes with my college education. Have pity on me, and the world. Hopefully, this year, she won’t be standing erect on a massive platform, naked and barren in all her wooden glory, with brilliant neon lights wrapped around her carcass and her arms raised as if calling to the gods for deliverance, before we burn, baby, burn.

– Berkeley Undergrad’s Remorse Never Is Neglecting Grandmother’s Merry Abundant Neofestival

Notes of condolence for the author’s upcoming loss may be mailed to frisky@klodhopper.com

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