In honor of my upcoming Bard reunion, here’s a post about high-school reunions, which are like college reunions, except 6000 times worse! Link to the full discourse, courtesy of The Perpetual Post, is here.
My ten-year high school reunion is around the corner, and my feeling is, either I’m showing up with Hugh Jackman on one arm, pushing a stroller full of nonuplets with the other, or I’m not showing up at all.
A high school reunion is no time for subtlety. Trust me, nobody wants to hear about your new springer spaniel puppy or your job in publishing. They want to see whether you got fat or divorced or developed a nervous tic. They want to hear if you’ve saddled yourself with a whiny loser or had any kids, and if those kids are fat. They want to casually pretend not to recognize you, to show that they’re too cool to bother remembering once knowing you. Ninth grade habits die hard. Maybe things will be different in another ten years when you all feel like failures, but right now it’s still too soon. Your only defense against this kind of behavior is a good offense, and you only get one chance to make a dynamite first impression—to achieve that sweet moment of redemption that somehow erases an entire freshman year spent pretending that you had no friends on purpose. You better make it good.
But wait, put the monocle down, sparky. Don’t bother going if you’re going to look like you’re trying. You cannot walk back into the gym reeking of desperation. If you’re busy whiting out the word ‘Assistant’ on your business cards or thinking up ways to make it sound like you moved back in with your parents because they missed you, stay the hell home, and I’ll tell you why: Above all, the name of the game is to keep those bitches guessing, and sometimes, putting in a non-appearance is the flashiest way to do that. In the back of their minds, those people I spent four years love-hating are bound to have a brief moment of wondering, “Huh, and where is Molly? I was looking forward to pretending not to recognize her.”
Is she sitting at home watching The Wedding Date and eating raw Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from the can? Or out partying topless on the French Riviera with Kate Moss? Maybe I’m home polishing my Nobel Peace Prize or at a cocktail party chatting with Tom Wolfe and wearing a 24 karat gold pantsuit. No one really knows. And nobody really wins, either, but I also don’t have to nod with a frozen smile on my face as my former classmate tells me she just got back from spending the year in Machu Picchu, “just hanging out”. I don’t have to congratulate girls who used to make fun of my thrift store clothes for passing the Bar exam, or having babies, or headlining the World Organization Committee on Agricultural Transportation Banking Summit. So actually, someone does win: Me. Take that, Class of 1999!
Some of you may not know this, but I studied Japanese during my last two years in college. I didn’t do particularly well, in fact I did terribly, but I refused to give up, re-enrolling doggedly every semester until I graduated. After four semesters of studying Japanese, I can tell when someone is speaking Japanese; that’s about the extent of my enduring understanding of the language. When I graduated, there was no suggestion from my Sensei that I continue any post-grad work in the field of Japanese Studies, or move abroad to continue learning the language. In fact, I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘Schoemann-san, you’re graduating? Thank God.’ If nothing else, I suppose my persistence was commendable, although it might have been more like sad.
One of my favorite memories of the saga of Taking Japanese Even Though I was Horrible at It came after I completed the year-long introductory class. During the following registration period, in a moment of unusual cruelty, I told the Sensei that I thought I was ready to skip the Intermediate level class and move straight to Advanced Japanese. “I’m sure you can agree,” I said, “that I am far enough along after only a year of Japanese that I should be able to keep up with the Advanced class.” My Sensei was aghast. The look on his face was priceless. I can still his strangled response of “Schoemann-san, no!” It brings a smile to my face to this day.
My other favorite memory is of the time a friend of mine asked me to translate the title of a Japanese movie he had rented to watch for a film class. His copy didn’t have subtitles, and I boldly told him that, after three semesters of Japanese, I should be able to at least translate the title of a film for him. I stared at the cover.
“Well,” I said, “this is the character for…‘meat’, I think. And this one…means…vacation? I KNOW that this is the sign that means ‘of’—and this last character is the verb ‘listen’. So, your movie is called ‘Meat Vacation of Listening’. You’re welcome.”
A short google search later, and my friend found a translation of the title online. “You mean, ‘Temple of Flesh’?” he said.
“Yes. Of course that’s what I meant.”
I had almost forgotten this, until I did it yesterday.
I whine a lot about the weather here in NC (it’s like a toothless northern winter, without the glory or the snow-days) etc etc, but it’s pretty great being able to go for a run in shorts in February.
It was a cool 55 degrees out that kind of felt like Fall, what with all the crunchy dead leaves and the bleak white sky, and I was reminded of the four years I served on the Cross Country team at Bard. Once again I experienced the strange tightness I get in my shoulders when I am about halfway through an outdoor run, coupled with rubbery legs and a feeling of joy and despair having it out in the pit of my stomach. Also, possibly in response to the sharpness of the air, my mouth waters, as if I am running after a plate of Oreos. Anyone else ever have that happen?
Ahh, running outdoors. There is nothing like it. It returns me to my masochistic roots.
Tried to do some writing this evening, but my bed and my laptop are so warm and fuzzy and sleepy making…so here’s another one from the archives. Hey, if you didn’t know me in college, it’s new to you! If you did, I’m sorry. More new material soon!
Spring break has been punching me in the face for long enough. I’m quite ready for it to be over. Those of us who chose to stick it out and remain on campus for the week were rewarded with a series of days that never quite saw direct sunlight or made it out of the 40-degree range. There was also an intermittent mix of fog, drizzle and freezing rain, just to keep us on our toes. And by on our toes, I mean suicidal.
The highlight of my week may have been watching Labyrinth. Remember that movie? If you’re like me, you saw it when you were five or six and found it fascinating even as it systematically scared the living daylights out of you. Children tend to be simultaneously horrified and fascinated by things a lot. Just show a live lobster to a four-year-old and you’ll see what I mean. There is a home movie of me at age three fleeing in terror from one of the oversized characters at Disneyland. (I think it was the Big Bad Wolf. At least I had good
instincts.) Fleeing in terror, and then running up to him. Fleeing, running up. It’s fun to watch on high speed.
It’s also fun to consider how little has changed since then in my way of relating to others.
My other highlight would probably be eating an entire box of macaroni and cheese in my room by myself. Wait, that wasn’t a highlight at all. I couldn’t move afterwards and had to lie down. It was awful. All I could do was lay there and think about what I had done. I once heard somewhere (or made up in my head) that sharks will just eat and eat until they explode because they’re missing some sort of gene that tells them to stop when they are full. If that’s true, then I am definitely missing that gene. I probably ate it.
So anyway, Labyrinth. I got a kick out of actually knowing who David Bowie was this time around. Not to mention the amazing 80s hair, shiny knee-length boots and leggings he wears in his role as the Goblin King. Someone once told me that Bowie apparently doesn’t remember being in Labyrinth. This is remarkable, considering the fact that he wrote songs for it, performed several musical numbers, and starred in the film.
While watching the movie we decided that at the time, he probably thought it was real. “I’m the Goblin King,” thought Bowie, circa 1986. “I stole Jennifer Connelly’s baby brother. I am dancing with my goblin subjects and tossing around a magical glass ball.” Stranger things probably happened to him in that decade. It made me wish that I had made movies in the 80s and not remembered making them. Although I suppose I did, if you count my opus, “Molly Runs from Giant Disney Character”. But my failure in recollecting that performance is probably less drug related.
During my freshman year at Bard College I lived in one of the infamous wooden “ravine” dorms. They’re in heaven now. I mourn the fact that there will soon be precious few students left on campus who can remember what it was like to live in a dorm which stood on wooden stilts over a yawning chasm of forest dotted with defunct lounge furniture. However, I mourn this mostly the way the older generation resents that today’s youth don’t have to hike seven miles each way in the snow just to use the outhouse. Nor are they forced to pinpoint, with soul-shriveling accuracy, just exactly whose bed is making the dorm sway gently in counterclockwise circles.
My friends back home used to ridicule my recurring ‘falling’ dreams throughout that year. ‘It’s just stress. You’re not used to being away from home,” they told me. I knew better. They didn’t have to look out their window at an empty space where the dorm next to theirs once stood. The only ones who decided when the ravine dorm went down, were the ravine dorms. My dormmates and I discovered at one point that many of us had individually mapped-out out emergency escape plans in our heads, should the worst ever come to pass. “I plan to shimmy down the balcony,” I’d said. “No kidding. I’ll probably jump off the back porch. I think the lounge sofa is down somewhere in that area anyway.” We weren’t fooling ourselves. Our Emergency Exit signs read, “In Case of Fire— Hey! Look over There! Free Beer!”
I remember hearing sometime during that first memorable year that the ravine dorms had been built long ago as ‘temporary housing’, but somehow ended up hanging around and making the freshman uncomfortable for much longer than they should have, the way many Bard graduates do. I used to wonder about the idea of ‘temporary housing’, especially temporary ‘suspended thirty feet off a cold, rocky ground strewn with empty Corona bottles’ housing. To me, temporary meant, ‘might potentially kill you’, not to mention, ‘barely trickling showers’. As temporary as those dorms were, the college was reluctant to let them go.
What I still can’t quite wrap my mind around is the fact that after the creaking, ailing ravines were deemed unlivable-in for students, they were structurally fortified with a new coat of paint (no doubt it was some sort of advanced ‘load-bearing’ paint), filled with new furniture–and pianos–and turned into office space for music professors and practice space for their students. The message was quite clear: life is cheap in the music department.
Back in the day before new dorms were popping up angry faces when you use your outdoor voice in the library, I used to ponder the lengths to which my school would go to solve its housing crisis. I was fond of picturing a nervous, jumpy Resident Director escorting a new arrival and his parents through a dorm, stopping in front of a door and pausing just long enough to say, “Here’s your room. Bye now,” before disappearing around the corner before the student can try to open the door and discover that it’s been painted on.
When the trailers arrived my freshman year, I imagined the day when other types of vehicles would be also used as living quarters. “I live in Honda 103,” you’d say, if anyone asked. “You’re in the Buick triple? You’re lucky. All that legroom.” The trunk would be a single for an upperclassman. The back and front seats would each serve as doubles for incoming freshmen. I had it all worked out. Unfortunately, nobody ever asked me.
One of these days I am hoping to get a handle on the actual length of an hour. It still seems to stand for such varying amounts of time. The idea that the hour I spent on my sociology midterm was the same hour I spent toying with a bowl of melted frozen yogurt in Kline and reliving L&T with a few friends (man, wasn’t L&T so awesome?) is difficult for me to grasp.
Living in New Cruger (or North Campus Lite) as I do, I’ve found that it takes about ten minutes to get from my nice warm bed to my nice early class in Olin, whether I have those ten minutes at my disposal or not. Still, rooted deep within me is a firm belief that minutes are as elastic as pajama pants, and that when I really need to, I can count on stretching them to fit my travel time needs.
Need to get from my room to Olin with only four minutes till class? No problem, long as I walk fast. Time will wait.
Time knows what it’s like, after having gotten only five hours of sleep the night before (and the hours during which I sleep go the fastest of all). The distance between my door and the shuttle stop shrinks before my mind’s eye as I stare dully into my clothes drawer and ponder what to wear, with a minute to go.
I don’t think I’ve ever driven to catch a train without staring at my watch the entire time, fervently reassuring myself that minutes are, after all, individually quite long. You can drive pretty far in a minute. Sixty whole seconds! Eventually the minutes begin to expand before my very eyes. Each minute is a world within itself, a length of time during which anything is possible, if you only believe.
Showers also have their own special laws concerning time. I have been firmly convinced that I could take a quick two-minute shower, though in the morning that’s the length of time it takes me to figure out how my bathrobe works. I will go to breakfast at 9:58, two minutes before my class begins, and trust that I can toast a bagel in negative time.
I will also believe that I can write a coherent column on the afternoon it’s due.
I don’t want this to get around, but I wasn’t on campus over Reading Week. I wasn’t doing any reading during it, either. I’d like to think I’m of the sort who call a spade a spade, and when a spade is a week of school during which there are no classes, I call it a vacation.
Designating a week-long vacation as a time to read guarantees that I will forget how. I’ve been doing my best to escape the prison of literacy for the past week, and I’m proud of my success. Never mind that I’m going to have to relearn the alphabet in time for my 10 AM class on Monday, and not to mention the fact that I have to dictate this column to my younger sister and am taking her word for it that she’s writing down exactly what I say N’SYNC RULZ! To make matters worse, I’m working on a different computer than I’m used to, and I use ‘different’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, meaning not as good. I tried to use the thesaurus feature just now, but it took forever, so I can’t rely on it this week to make me sound smart and big-word-knowing.
I am becoming more aware of my tendency to abuse the computer thesaurus whenever it is available. Oftentimes, when writing difficult papers, I will search idly for synonyms I don’t need, hoping that finding just the right word to describe my opinion on a Russian novel will disguise the fact that I haven’t read it. I skimp on researching for papers, secretly hoping that I’ll find first-hand quotes about the suffrage movement hidden in the list of suggested words for ‘oppression’. Perhaps it is the ease with which I am able to use the computer thesaurus that is the problem; it’s much easier to select a word and click on an option on the screen than to have to find, pick up and hunt through a book with both hands. Actually, I like flipping through a real thesaurus now and then, because, though I’ll be looking for one word, other words often catch my eye along the way. Looking something up in a paperback thesaurus always leads me on tangents and searches for other kinds of words, the sheer spontanaeity and variety of which a computer thesaurus can’t offer. As a kid I discovered that while the dictionary held the thrill of looking up dirty words, the more subtle but ultimately more satisfying thrill of the thesaurus relied on the power of suggestion. Filled with an enormous range of intriguing, evocative words, but with no rules on how to use them, to me it was the Kama Sutra of language. Maybe next year I should give this “Reading Week” idea a chance.
The night before I came back to Bard, I fell off my parents’ bed. I had been knitting while watching TV when the ball of yarn rolled off the bed onto the floor. I thought I could retrieve it without getting off the bed, leaned over too far, lost my balance and fell on the carpet. I mention this incident not to draw attention to my nonexistent social life, or as an omen having to do with coming back to Bard, knitting, or having no sense of gravity or spatial awareness (although that might have something to do with my going to Bard). I only want to illustrate the fact that I’m the same clumsy person who went off to college a year and a half ago.
It is not that I expected that going away to school would change me completely or even significantly. However, coming back home for six weeks in the middle of the school year has certainly kept me grounded. My parents were adamant that I continue my education by going away to school. They are always interested in hearing about my classes and activities. Nevertheless, while I live at home, their concerns lie in the more practical applications of my talents and achievements.
“Yo’uve learned such wonderful things in that Philosophy class. When are they going to teach you how to hang up your coat?”
It’s not just the bad personal habits I’ve kept throughout college and brought back home again that are met with disapproval. Apparently college has also failed to teach me How Not to Burn Toast, How to Remember What I Did With the Goddamn Remote, and How to Wear a Hat When It’s Freezing Out. I won’t even go into my failure to show any improvement in the field of shouting out answers to the questions on Jeopardy, even after three semesters and 48 credits at a liberal arts institution. Oh, the shame.
I’m no less annoyed when, at dinner, my sister breathes through her nose at me in that really annoying way, even though two semesters of psychology have helped me to understand that she’s being passive-aggressive because she feels powerless (and because I took the last corn muffin). Maybe if the break was shorter, I could keep up the “My education has made me a changed person” facade, but you can’t hide behind Nietzsche quotes for six whole weeks. Two weeks, tops. Eventually it’s going to come out that you can’t spell “Nietzsche” and you just learned how it’s pronounced.
“Did you know that Thoreau never did his own laundry, either? There’s already greatness in your future.” On the one hand, it’s nice to learn that you can go home and things will pretty much be the way they were. On the other hand, maybe I’ll look into studying abroad next January.
I don’t trust early risers. There’s something suspicious about a person who can get out of bed before 11 a.m. in one swift, sure movement. Each morning when my alarm goes off, I am filled with self-pity. Poor, miserable, sleep-deprived me. No one understands how I suffer. During the first half-hour of the day, I am convinced that cold bathroom tiles, sunlight, and roommates who don’t have class until 1:30 in the afternoon were created for the sole purpose of causing me pain. I look and feel like an impressionist painting in the morning. And not necessarily a painting of a person. Maybe a foot-stool.
I don’t know how my roommate puts up with my Snooze Button shenanigans either. I discovered long ago that hitting Snooze allows me another period of blissful sleep–in seven-minute increments. More than once I have lain in bed hitting Snooze every seven minutes for an hour or more. Sometimes I’ll get fancy and set my alarm for 9:03 so that if I hit snooze once, I’ll end up (theoretically) rising at ten past nine. This plan never works and I end up getting out of bed at awkward times such as 9:17 a.m. Who gets up at 9:17 a.m.? It wreaks havoc on your karma.
I scheduled an 8:30 a.m. class during my freshman year and prided myself on my brilliance, but my plan backfired. I thought I could outwit myself into starting my day at 8 a.m., but my body knew perfectly well that it didn’t have anywhere special to be when class ended at 9:50–except for bed. The temptation to go back to sleep was too great to resist. I would sit in class and all I could think about was going back to sleep when it was over. I was led on a downward spiral of binge-napping. Sometimes I would nap after an early class, and then that evening I would have the urge to nap again. I always told myself I could stop any time I wanted. Next time, I thought, I’ll go to the library in the morning after class and get some work done. But I knew that I was lying to myself. I lied to my friends about my sleeping habits, too. When they knocked on my door I would tell them I was drinking. By the end of that semester, I had sunk to new lows. I could get up at eight in the morning, eat something, go to class, come back and get back into bed without having once opened my eyes. Sometimes the only way I could tell I had been to class at all was because I found a pen clutched in my fist (or because I woke up wearing my shoes). I took tests and wrote in-class essays during R.E.M. sleep.
Fortunately those dark days are behind me. My earliest classes now start at 10 a.m. I’ve found there’s really no excuse for going back to sleep once they’ve ended at 11:20. Come on. Some people are already on their way to lunch by then. The maniacs.