Independent Means

What do I know?

I was asked to write a piece advising first years on school. Naturally I have little advice to offer that’s appropriate for a “university sanctioned” publication. This is what I managed, (though I was forced to lose “dissipation” for “recreation” and “Good luck. Be careful this weekend. Security will be watching for you” for “Good luck. And don’t get too carried away this weekend”). I suppose we all have to make sacrifices for our art institutional writing.

Hello first-years. You’ve made it here. Stop. Look around. Appreciate your surroundings for a second. Gloat. You are no longer in high school. Celebration is appropriate. The next time you see your younger friends from home you will have an indisputable claim to superiority.

Here are some things that are cool about college. Your friends here will be less than 15 minutes away, with almost no exceptions. (The downside is you also see all of your friends almost every day. You also may end up living with them. Think about that for a second.)

Also cool is the fact that most people really can’t tell you to do things. They can only make strong suggestions and imply consequences. Your parents will no longer be around to harass you to feed the dog or empty the dishwasher. This is one of the reasons my father and I now have a much stronger relationship.

This freedom from chores, however, has a price. For example, unless you are willing to pay to go out to eat, no one really cares what you think of the food in the dining hall. You have to make do with the choices offered to you. Similarly, for the first couple weeks of school, the food in the dining hall will be pretty good and you won’t be sick of it yet. Savor this.

But your ability to govern your own life is pretty nifty. America was founded on the model of self-determination. So here you are. Self-determine. If you want to spend your first semester in dissipation, then go for it. If you’d prefer to spend all your time in the library, you can do that too. I advise trying to find a happy medium. This is difficult. I don’t quite have it down yet but I’m working on it.

In terms of concrete advice I have little to offer. I would advise that you join a couple student organizations. The involvement fair is cool. You will give up your email address to way too many people, and you will be spammed. I have found that I am able to devote my time to about two or three things while still managing to spend a lot of time finding cool stuff on the Internet.

If you do actually commit to a student organization, you will get the added benefit of having friends, or at least people who must be polite and can’t protest too much when you go to sit with them in the dining hall. These people also will be able to advise you in terms of what courses and professors to take, etc. etc.

The other thing that’s cool about Denison is that the professors/staff are actually here to work for you. They will take time out of their (maybe) busy day to talk to you about getting a job, or who you have to talk to for some paperwork to fill out. This is a good thing. Learn who to talk to get things done. It will make your life easier in the long run.

All in all you will be overwhelmed with pretty much everything. All of the clichéd advice people give you is probably good, and you probably won’t follow it because you, like me, probably believe in learning things the hard way.

Good luck. Be careful this weekend. Security will be watching for you.

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Dept. of Good Stewardship: Student Housing or Trees & Houses

FIJI House in the 1930s. An elegant building.

The current administration, willingly subverting itself to student demands of apartment housing and perhaps in the name of progress itself, seems to have set itself on slapping a couple of boxlike apartments on the back of the historic and unique house.

A friend of mine who works for the University dug up these photos of Denison from the 30s to the 60s… and I figured it’s an appropriate time as any to see from whence we came and to where we’re going.

As a school Denison does have one thing going for it: history. It has been a place where young men (and since the 20s and 30s) women have gone to learn how to grow comfortable with power and money. Three fraternity houses are especially powerful examples: the houses of Beta, Sigma Chi, and FIJI.

As I look around the campus, there is so much worth preserving and so little of it is being preserved. The school seems desperate to foment “community” and yet it shortchanges the physical spaces that all of this community necessarily happens in. This is not to say Denison has been entirely derelict in its treatment of the campus: Bryant is a useful, well-designed building. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule. Maybe trees just don’t foster community like open space does?

Trees on the Quad 1930s

Another look at the FIJI House. Notice the well tended hedges, now gone.

And to as casual observer, this would be true. But Denison hasn’t shown great fidelity in maintaining the charming and authentic parts of the campus. Chapel Walk around Swasey is no longer real brick; the railings on Bryant Morgan Arts Center are aluminum, instead of cast iron. Denison is not a cheap school. It is not a cheap campus. And preserving it cannot be done cheaply. 

A Very Modest Proposal

I wrote this after a conversation with my friend who works for the (Republican) Governor’s office. Though I’m fairly liberal and he’s a die hard conservative, intermixed with our shoptalk we happened on an idea that would both thought would improve Dem Repub relations and actually help get things done. 

Think back to your time at school: even if your personal experience wasn’t the traditional dorm life, your probably still knew someone who had to get along with many people in extremely close quarters. Being a college student you get used to certain things: warm beer, cold pizza, and living with people who might not share similar tastes in cleanliness, hours for sleeping, or music. However, seeing as you live in a dorm/constrained space you have to cowboy up, and get along with this roommate/friend’s roommate/fraternity brother/sorority sister etc. In fact, at times you must even cooperate on such mutually beneficial tasks as vacuuming, dish washing, or alcohol purchasing.

The Senators and Representatives of the United States must go back to school. My proposal is as follows. It is very easy to demonize someone with whom you spend little time; you don’t have to talk to them, they don’t have to talk to you, and communication can be handled by pointed press releases and snarky tweets written by an intern. Overheated rhetoric is par for the course. However, if Senators and Representatives had to live in dorm style housing, I believe a new civility would prevail.

Senators and Representatives may read this and feel as though they would be forced into regression: they paid their dues and they should not suffer the same indignities as lowly college students. And to a certain point, that does make sense. But what our congressmen forget is that they are in this together. It is up to each and every one of them to craft solutions together that keep our country great. And lately, they seem to have forgotten that they are partners in this exercise, willing or not.

By confining congressmen to live together in close quarters, there would be a physical representation of how responsibility for the country works. We elect our senators or representatives to work for us; and it’s time that they start making sacrifices necessary to wrestle our country forward. With dormitory style housing, congressmen would no longer have to spend time dealing with leases or rent or any of those things; and the charges could be taken out of their paychecks.

As Abraham Lincoln famously stole from Mark 3:25 “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Well these days we don’t we even have a house. So I propose to create one. Imagine: the excitement of finding roommate assignments, the creation of house rules, and deciding who can use what when… I imagine somewhere in those negotiations, there could be time for a sensible discussion of healthcare, the taxcode, and citizen’s rights.

Big Boat Cherry

Pearson 30 underway

from Sailing Data

Big boats are big. It is an adjustment to step on a sailboat and not immediately stand center so the damn thing doesn’t go over and put you in the water.

A friend took me aboard their Pearson 30 this weekend for a small regatta. At school I sail (and I use that term in a loose sense: I certainly don’t sail well, or more unfortunately, fast) small boats, FJs or 420s. And so my first time on a sailboat of size was this weekend.

I mostly scraped my elbows on the top of the cabin ducking the boom and staying out of the way of people who purpose on the boat. But I swear to God my eyes have never been open wider. The thing moves in the water. The jib fills up and you can feel it urge the boat forward, cutting the water.

I’ve seen harbors from a distance full of sails gently leaning, moving smoothly through the water. That image is a lie. Everything thing is moving and the wind is whistling through the lines. I’m clinging to the cabin cause the fucking thing is listing over so far that I almost stop believing that 3500 pounds or whatever of lead in the keel will keep the boat up and me out of the water. And it feels right that this boat is pitched over with water coming over the gunwales. I just want us to go faster and pass boats.

I can’t take credit for keeping the boat underway but goddamn I wish I could. I know more time on a boat will hone my skills. Cause I want keep a boat on the edge and sail fast. And maybe I’ll even get to bring a wide-eyed kid, nervous and new and pay the favor back.

Writing For School Papers & On Smoking

This is a piece I wrote for the school paper. Though it’s adapted from something I had scrawled down on a legal pad sometime during December. I think it has some strong points but after reporting for paper for lecture, I kind of realized that I’m not much of a reporter. It seems the prose only works if the topic and a phrase or two up and appear to me and harass me until I write about it.

 

There are very few pieces of advice that I have remembered from when I was young. However, on a ski-lift outside Burlington, Vermont when I was perhaps 8 years old, I went on a ski-lift with a stranger (I couldn’t lift the bar on my own). I remember his name as Matt. He had dark, tightly curled hair. He lifted a cigarette to his lips, lit it, and told me to never start smoking and “if you do don’t smoke them down to the filter like I do” as he threw the butt away. 10 years have passed since I rode the ski-lift with Matt and now I’m the one with cigarettes on my lips—not something I altogether predicted. I’ll be honest. My tastes and consumption is fairly mild. I smoke Turkish Golds and American Spirits, not more than 3, even on a bad day.

But between the flick of my Zippo and the first smoke-filtered breath, Matt’s advice has come to me: I watch the ash burn its way down toward the filter. And when the smoke becomes harsh and I know the heat is coming closer to my fingertips, I realized that I didn’t follow either part of Matt’s advice: not only do I smoke cigarettes, I smoke them down the filter.

Attending school hasn’t helped my habit much. You try to quit during exams. There are a fair amount of smokers here and I think we mostly recognize each other. You’ll see them outside Curtis after dinner when it’s warm, on the deck at Crawford, and the warm spot at Shep. Now that you can see your breath without smoking, they’ll be huddled near but not too close to doorways all around A-quad. As a group we do each other a lot of favors. I bummed a Camel Light off a professor and offered to pay her back in kind the next time I saw her. She gracefully declined—and that’s fairly typical of all smokers. We know we’ll be out sometime and you’ll hook us up.

This of course, is during the day-time; which I suppose means I’ve crossed the line from social smoker to “smoker” smoker. However we have social smokers too here: outside any Sunset Apartment building on Friday, Saturday, Monday, or Wednesday you’ll hear the gentle strains of “Bottoms up! Bottoms up!” drifting down and see the smoke drifting up. There’ll be a motley line of guys and girls leaning against the railings, probably sweaty, talking animatedly or just looking up, depending on how their night is going. The firefly cherries telling whoever walks by they’re out for a smoke. The security guards might be there too–waiting for someone to come by with an open container, sure, but if you’re smoking with him there’s a certain understanding that you’ve come to. You’d lend him a lighter. You can make small talk on the noise of the party that’s spilling out of the building.

And trust us we know: we don’t look cool, we’re taking years off our life, we smell like smoke and probably taste like it too. We’re a forgiving group though. After all we share at least one vice with each other—and that means even if we don’t know each other, we can still say at least “hey”… and maybe ask for a cigarette.