Oberlin Bucket List

“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.” – J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye)

By this time on Friday, I will have said goodbye to five dear friends in less than seven days. I will have hugged five different people. My eyes will have blinked back five different walls of tears. My lips will have stretched themselves into five different “go get ‘em” smiles. My hands will have patted five different shoulders. My lungs will have sighed five different sighs…

The past few months, it seems, Oberlin has become a place people leave. A place that once meant home to so many people I love is now just a place those people will drive through. The brick buildings, the faded chalk on the sidewalks, the smell of Ohio grass in the air will be nothing but a sweet memory fed by a fancy brunch and a cheap pint…and then it will all be gone  again.

I used to bristle and get angry when returning Obies waxed nostalgic and remarked on all that had changed. I used to want to shout that this was a place people lived, not their personal memory. I wanted to shake off their Instagram-colored glasses. I wanted them to live here like me, with me. I still do…but the more people leave, the more I realize “my” Oberlin wasn’t all that real either.

While I grew roots, my friends grew transient. I had built my stability on top of a collapsing sink hole. I can wax nostalgic and remark on everything that is changing all I want, but I can’t fix it. This is a place, not a sanctuary. It was never mine. The louder I shouted about students and rich alums like they were some sort of inconvenient truth, the less I understood about this place I love with all my heart. Blaming alumni who come back for brunch and a beer but forget to tip doesn’t change the fear that I am about to become one.

In less than a month, someone (I hope) will be hugging me. Someone (I hope) will be telling me they’ll miss me and twisting their lips into a “go get ‘em” smile. Alternatively, I will stand under the stars, shove the last box into my car, and head 40 miles east to Cleveland with only the stoic, brick buildings and faded chalk drawings to note my passing. Whatever happens, no matter how much I love it, Oberlin has become a place that I will leave. It will no longer be the center of my identity, the first thing my friends know about me, the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. (I work at a historical society. It’s not weird.)

Anyway, like Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, I struggle with good-byes. Loose ends and unfinished business are my worst nightmare. Incomplete interactions keep unhealthy friendships alive, keep me up at night browsing old flings’ wedding pictures, make me guilty when fate takes the person from my life too soon. I am determined that Oberlin will not become an old fling’s wedding picture on Facebook, so I made up a list for me (for you) of 25 things I think everyone in Oberlin should try at least once. As I prepare to say goodbye, as Oberlin becomes a destination more than a home, I want to make sure that I can say good-bye to these things properly.

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1. Visit the Oberlin Heritage Center. What better way to discover Oberlin than by learning how it all began? There are house tours, walking tours, public talks, self-guided bike tours, family days, etc. Really, if you haven’t been there yet, it’s your own fault, and you should remedy it immediately.

2. Walk through Westwood Cemetery. Established in 1864, this 150-year-old cemetery connects the past to the present and whispers the story of a unique and profoundly dedicated town. The graves appear simple, but their inscriptions tell the story of generations of Oberlinians who shaped the city. The trees, ponds, and abundant wildlife make the cemetery an enchanting place for a stroll.

3. Participate in a community garden. Community gardening fosters civic participation, encourages locally grown foods, and preserves green open spaces. Plus, there’s nothing quite like watching something grow. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can plant an extra row and donate that produce to Oberlin Community Services.

4. Go to Feve Brunch. Yes, brunch with a capital B.  The menu changes every week, providing Feve fans with an exciting dining experience as well as an unparalleled sense of urgency. Think you’d love those peach-lavender pancakes? Better get them now, because you might not see them again for a while. I don’t even like brunch, but Brunch is an institution.

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5. See a movie at the Apollo. The Apollo opened in the early 1900s and was the first theater in Oberlin to show a “talkie.” With different daily bargains, special screenings, and its unique relationship to Oberlin College’s cinema studies department, it’s “always a good show” at the Apollo.

6. Visit the Allen Memorial Art Museum. There are over 12,000 works of art in the AMAM. Founded in 1917, the collections include paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs from a variety of cultures and periods. I used to sit in the galleries and do my homework. There’s no greater inspiration than the inspired work of others.

7. Take a hike through the Arboretum and Ladies’ Grove. These little pockets of nature are great for wildlife, trail running, and working through problems on long, wandering strolls.

8. Listen to WOBC-FM. Sure, WOBC can be weird, but that’s all a part of its charm. I don’t really know what “freeform radio” means, but when you tune into 91.5FM, you’re tuning into something special. With more than 150 weekly programs that range from talk shows, news reports, live performances, and music of all genres, every hour they broadcast daily is unique.

9. Volunteer at Oberlin Community Services. This organization is amazing. Their programs do great work in the community, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been an active part of it.

10. Go bowling at Oberlin College Lanes. For those of you who are new to this blog, you probably don’t know how much I love bowling. This has got to be one of my favorite places in town. Cute, affordable, and fun–the Lanes are a great place to bowl.

11. Bike somewhere. It’s always been a dream of mine to bike to Kipton, or Elyria, or Chance Creek, or Lake Erie, or an apple orchard…The point is, Oberlin is close to a lot of really neat places. And it’s also pretty flat. Take advantage.

12. See a show with the Oberlin Summer Theatre Series. It’s free and their line-up has something for everyone. Plus, the people who produce the shows are pretty darn talented. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

13. Eat something sweet at Gibson’s. People say all the time that Gibson’s is overpriced. True or not, history demands you get at least one piece of candy, doughnut, or ice cream scoop from this store. It’s older than just about everything else.

14. Buy a book at MindFair Books. There are so many options, and they all smell gloriously musty. You never know what you’ll find, so be sure to spend some real time browsing the stacks. Bonus points, you’re giving a book new life when you buy it and love it.

15. Visit Martin Luther King Park or sit at Toni Morrison’s Bench By the Road. Oberlin has a really important history of fighting for social justice. I think it’s easy to get caught up in today’s issues and not take into account how the struggles of the past still affect our lives. These places are good for sitting and thinking.

16. Attend a concert. Classical, contemporary, solo, choral, ensemble, jazz, TIMARA, dance, folk, indie, oldie…so many options, and they’re all so damn good!

17. Make use of the Oberlin Public Library. There are programs, book sales, and your standard library fare all in this repurposed grocery store building. Oh, and did I mention the friendly staff? Mudd Library is great, but OPL just has that charm.1

18. Support local farmers. There’s plenty of ways to support local produce in Oberlin. Farmers’ Market, City Fresh, community gardening…I’m about to move to a city. I should take advantage of this while I can.

19. Use a microfilm machine and visit the Oberlin College Archives. Mudd Library has a lot of resources that have changed my life. The documents in the Archives are spectacular, and the microfilm machines will never cease to make me feel like I’m on a television show. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like casually browsing issues of the Oberlin Review from the 1890s.

20. Finish an Agave burrito in one sitting. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person, at some point in their lives, will be in want of a burrito the size of their face.

21. Go to the Free Store. I can explain this one in one word and an overdose of punctuation: FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

22. Visit the kittens at the Ginko Gallery. Not only are these little critters adorable and will melt your heart, the organization that rescues them plays an important role in helping reduce Oberlin’s feral cat population. They make sure these sweethearts get a good forever home instead of struggling to survive on the streets.

23. Walk to every single monument in Oberlin. I couldn’t pick just one. I love them all. (Highlights: Gateway to Women’s Education, Giles Shurtleff, Shansi Memorial Arch, Harper’s Ferry Memorial, and Charles Martin Hall Plaque.)

24. Get another free cone at Krieg’s. This custard is like God’s poop…meaning it is the most delicious thing on a hot summer day. I just started a new loyalty card. Buy 10, get your 11th free. Bring it on, custard.

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25. Go to the Observatory on Peters Hall. They have great telescopes, a planetarium, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. (I should know. I used to work there.) Just being on a roof and looking down on the other buildings and people is enough to give anyone a God complex, but don’t worry. There are plenty of stars, galaxies, and planets to put you back in your place.

There is, of course, so much more that makes this town special for me. If I had less self-control, I would have put things like “catch frogs in the AJLC pond,” or “eat a bowl of cereal in Tappan Square,” or “take a walk after a nighttime rain in the summer,” or “go contra dancing,” or…see what I did there? I said them anyway.

Words cannot express how hard it will be for me to leave this town. Oberlin is more than just the stuff I listed, but maybe if I manage to do them all, my heart will break a little less, and I will be able to look forward to the next adventure with a little more youthful abandon.

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“Hitch your wagon to a star…”

The past three days, I have devoted myself to writing an essay on the 1916 Easter Rising. I’m done with school, but I entered an essay contest as part of the Columbus Feis because I was feeling disenchanted with my dancing. I haven’t been able to increase my endurance, perform my steps without error, or even motivate myself to care. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I get a little demoralized when I don’t win. Culture, history, and my own nostalgia don’t need a fancy dress, a big wig, or even a fake tan for validation, but they feel a lot more pride when they’re rewarded with a trophy.

In short, I saw that there was an essay contest, that the prompt was women’s involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising, and I thought, “That prize is mine.”  Later, when I saw that I was the only one entered, I was even happier. I was going to do some quality work, and someone was going to say “Good job!” (That doesn’t happen enough in the world. To everyone who is doing work out there–any work–great job, keep it up, you matter.) Anyway, long story short, the deadline was yesterday. All I had was the skeleton of an outline and a choice. I wasn’t that invested. It was only a $7 entry fee. I could always just quit…or I could do the research, learn something awesome about my heritage, and try to submit it anyway.

I chose the latter, and I learned a valuable lesson. Irish women were seriously awesome. What’s more, I learned I don’t really care about the commendation…at least not as much as I appreciate the opportunity to research and know these incredible people. I woke up this morning, I watched some TV, did some gardening, and then sat down to write. Four hours later, viola. Without further ado: my words.

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star:
Women in the 1916 Easter Rising
by Jen Graham

“Hitch your wagon to a star. Do not work for the right to share in the government of that nation that holds Ireland enslaved, but work to procure for our sex the rights of free citizenship in an independent Ireland.”
– Bean na hEireann, 1900s

On Easter Monday in 1916, the city of Dublin was engulfed in a week-long revolt for Irish independence. The Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers set up garrisons at posts around the city, including the General Post Office, Stephen’s Green, and City Hall. Over the course of one week, shots were fired, arrests were made, and the lives of Irish women were changed forever. In 1917, when Margaret Skinnider published her memoir of the 1916 Easter Rising in the United States, she lamented that “when the revolt of a people that feels itself oppressed is successful, it is written down in history as a revolution…when it fails, it is called an insurrection—as in Ireland in 1916. Those who conquer usually write the history of the conquest.”[1] In the historic memory of the world, the events of Easter Week have gone down for nearly a century as a failed rebellion. It is possible, however, to push Skinnider’s idea one step further: because those who write the history of the conquest are usually men, the 1916 uprising has been recorded as a decidedly male movement.

The Fianna Eireann—the boys of Ireland—are more often associated with the rebellion than the nation’s daughters. Yet it was a woman, Constance Markievicz, who founded the organization and recruited those boys, teaching them the history and language of their country and how to shoot a gun.[2] Typical historical narrative closely associates masculinity with violence and femininity with pacifism. However, historian Gerardine Meaney argues that “women are not…essentially more peaceable, less dogmatic, uninfected by blood-thirsty political ideologies. Women have been actively involved in every possible variant of both nationalism and Unionism…Women have supported and carried out violent actions. They have gained and lost from their involvement. If patriarchal history has portrayed us as bystanders to the political process, it has lied.”[3] The 1916 Easter Rising engaged hundreds of Irish women, uniting disparate strands of feminism, bringing them out of the narrow confines of domesticity, and opening the door to fight for a greater role in Irish society. Far from impartial observers, Irish women were active participants in the struggle for independence, before, during, and after the events of 1916.

Cumann na mBan

Cumann na mBan

Before 1913, women’s attitudes in Ireland were divided along ideological lines. Members of the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), founded by Hanna and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, considered universal suffrage the top feminist priority in the nation. According to Janine Booth, Irish suffragists felt that women should not simply champion the cause of Irish independence if, in an independent Ireland, they would still be disenfranchised, second-class citizens.[4] Suffrage women believed only the vote could save them from the lives of “mere camp-followers and parasites of public life.”[5] The nationalist women of the Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Erin) believed differently.

The Daughters of Erin were founded in 1908 by Maud Gonne for women who “resented being excluded, as women, from national organizations.”[6] They believed that universal suffrage could not protect Ireland from the tyranny of the British. Securing the vote for women while Ireland was still under British rule would not liberate Irish women, but would make them participants in a government whose legitimacy they did not recognize. The Bean na hEireann, a publication of the Daughters of Erin advocating “militancy, Irish separatism, and feminism,” emphasized this idea when it urged women to take action. “Hitch your wagon to a star,” it advised. “Do not work for the right to share in the government of that nation that holds Ireland enslaved, but work to procure for our sex the rights of free citizenship in an independent Ireland.”[7]

Divided, the feminist movement in Ireland could not live up to its potential. Both suffragist and nationalist feminists needed a cause to unite them, and that cause soon revealed itself in the form of labor and socialism. Politically active women like Constance Markievicz and Margaret Skinnider witnessed the poverty of the Irish first hand. Walking through Ash Street in Dublin, Skinnider remembered the decrepit living conditions. “The fallen houses look like corpses,” she wrote, “the others like cripples leaning on crutches…They were built by rich Irishmen for their homes. Today they are tenements for the poorest Irish people…the poor among the ruins of grandeur.”[8] Markievicz, too, found her firm convictions wavering in the face of poverty. “What was the best way to tackle the problems of huge unemployment, exhausted workers, wages, and poor accommodation?” she asked in 1910. “Nationalism alone may not be the answer.”[9]

Children on the streets, 1913

Children on the streets, 1913

In addition to experiencing poverty, activist women were becoming disillusioned with the political process in the early 1900s. Sinn Fein, a nationalist organization founded in 1908, was not actively anti-feminist, but the group was slow to react to women’s demands.[10] Socialist James Connolly, on the other hand, believed in the ability of women to successfully power social movements. Connolly identified with the feminist cause, writing that “the worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave.”[11] Thus, Connolly actively recruited women to join a strike known as the 1913 Dublin Lock Out. The strike centered around a dispute between Irish workers and their employers over the right to unionize against poor working conditions and low wages. As a result of the strike, employers locked their employees out of the workplace and hired scab workers from Britain and other cities in Ireland instead. For seven months, Irish workers, the poorest in the United Kingdom, were forced to live off what charity they could find for their families.[12]

The events of 1913 effectively brought the causes of labor and feminism closer together. Women who disagreed on the priorities of nationalism and suffrage involved themselves in the fight for justice. Constance Markievicz was known for working day and night, “collecting funds and serving meals in the food kitchen. Her home [had] become a sort of refugee camp for all those who had got into trouble with the police.”[13] Actress and activist Helena Molony described Markievicz as “working as a man might have worked for the freedom of Ireland.”[14] Of her own experience, Constance Markievicz wrote: “My first realization of tyranny came from some chance words spoken in favour of women’s suffrage…That was my first bite, you may say, at the apple of freedom, and I soon got on to the other freedoms, freedom to the nation, freedom to the worker.”[15] The women who participated in the 1913 action learned that freedom was multifaceted. Neither nationalism, socialism, nor suffrage alone could solve the nation’s problems. It was only through a unification of ideologies that Irish women could free their country from tyranny.

The Dublin strike, 1913

The Dublin strike, 1913

In 1916, the time seemed ripe for a political upheaval. Britain had declared war with Germany in 1914, and the pride of the Irish had been rising for decades. Through plays, stories, and poems, the Irish people had learned of their ancient culture and history. What was called the Celtic Revival had shown Ireland what was, and what could be once more. “The refusal to do or say or think in the Anglicized way,” wrote Margaret Skinnider, “held in it a loyalty to something fine and free, the existence of which we believed in because we had read of it in the history of Ireland in our sagas. We were not a people struggling up into an untried experience, but a people regaining our kingdom.”[16] Capitalizing on the birth of a national conscience and the distraction of the British Army, James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army (ICA) planned and executed an Irish rebellion on Easter Week in 1916.

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic, also known as the Easter Proclamation, was read aloud on the steps of the General Post Office under the new flag of the republic at the beginning of the uprising. The Proclamation was signed by activist leaders James Connolly, Padraic Pearse, and Joseph Plunkett, and made official the rising’s commitment to women’s rights. The Proclamation addressed “Irishmen and Irishwomen,” claimed “the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman,” and declared the intention to establish a national Government for the Republic of Ireland, “representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women.”[17] As Margaret Skinnider noted in her memoirs, “For the first time in history…a constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage.”[18] Where Sinn Fein had dawdled, James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army followed through on granting equality to women.

Proclamation of the Easter Rising

Proclamation of the Easter Rising

Not every organization involved in the rising agreed with the Proclamation. The Irish Volunteers, a militant counterpart to the ICA, did not accept women into its ranks. The group had “a macho ethos” it did not want disturbed, and so it created a subgroup for sisters, wives, and sweethearts of the Volunteers to join called the Cumann na mBan.[19] The women of the Cumann na mBan initially played a background (and thus more “feminine”) role than other female participants.[20] They were cooks, nurses, and fundraisers, and they were given no say in the management of the organization. Constance Markievicz saw women’s exclusion from the Irish Volunteers as a joke, “depriving women of initiative and independence,” and instead became involved in the Irish Citizen Army.[21] It wasn’t until later that the Cumann na mBan changed its tune and took on a more active militant role in the Easter Rising and its aftermath.

In contrast, Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army opened its ranks to any woman who wished to join. Although the Irish Times considered it “deplorable that amongst the rebels, working their insensate folly, women were found doing unwomanly work,” the female participants in the 1916 rising were outfitted in the green ICA uniforms, given weapons, and even promised positions in the new government should the revolt succeed.[22] Women of all classes joined the ICA to fight for Irish freedom; however, it was largely upper class women like Constance Markievicz and Dr. Kathleen Lynn who were able to devote the most to the cause. Where working class women were constrained by family responsibilities and the desperate situation of their employment, members of the upper class could choose where to invest their time and money, and these women were involved at every turn.[23] Markievicz was a member of the Army Council. Dr. Kathleen Lynn held the rank of lieutenant and was in charge of the medical section. When the Irish Citizen Army hoisted the Irish flag over Liberty Hall, it was raised by Mollie O’Reilly.[24] Margaret Skinnider made reconnaissance missions to British barracks, transported explosives from the continent, and bravely rode her bike between garrisons, carrying dispatches and ammunition.[25] When Skinnider was denied the opportunity to join a mission to bomb a building, she reminded her commandant that “we had the same right to risk our lives as the men; that in the constitution of the Irish republic, women were on an equality with men.”[26]

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz

Even after the fighting had ended and the cause was lost, women continued their bravery. Dr. Kathleen Lynn, when the British decided not to arrest her based on her status as a Red Cross doctor, insisted upon her own seizure, describing herself as “a red cross doctor and a belligerent.”[27] A woman named Chris Caffery, who had been a bicycle dispatcher like Margaret Skinnider, was apprehended, stripped, and searched by the British soldiers, “but she had eaten her dispatch before they dragged her off the streets.”[28] Constance Markievicz spent more time in prison than any other woman who was arrested. She had originally been sentenced to death, but after having executed all the signatories of the Proclamation and even Irish leaders who were not involved with the uprising, the British government reconsidered her sentence.

In addition to imprisonment, women carried the burden of perseverance. With nearly the entire male leadership of the rebellion executed or in prison, only the women remained free to carry the torch and pass it to the next generation. The survival of the movement depended on their commitment, and they delivered.[29] As Margaret Skinnider lay injured in hospital, women of the movement visited her and told her “stories of heroism and stories of disaster…each strengthening my belief that the courage and honor of the heroic days of Ireland were still alive in our hearts.”[30] The Cumann na mBan organized masses for the dead rebels and held after-mass political meetings. They taught their children of the heroism of 1916, and raised the next generation of Irish republicans.[31] Women of the ICA even took the message of Irish resistance abroad to the United States, where they met with government officials, gave lectures, and published political tracts.[32] Inspired by the work of her peers and the rise of women in Ireland, Margaret Skinnider wrote in her memoirs, “Perhaps it is for this we should love our enemies: when they cleave with their swords the heart of a brave man, they lay bare the truth of life.”[33]

Margaret Skinnider

Margaret Skinnider

The 1916 Easter Rising brought together socialist, nationalist, and, in its devotion to equal rights, feminist ideologies. However, for the women involved, there was an intense backlash in its aftermath. Involvement in the struggle for freedom had opened the possibility for women to step beyond the domestic sphere. As these women became increasingly involved in public affairs, they entered into a world that had previously been dominated by men. Rather than honored for their contribution to the nationalist cause, women were ridiculed for “acting like men.”[34] Women were increasingly shut out from the politics of the post-1916 movement. Eventually their heroism became invisible even to history. Nevertheless, just as women were intrinsic to the movement for Irish independence, so too was the nationalist fight significant in the development of female political consciences in Ireland. The 1916 Easter Uprising engaged women in new and exciting ways. For the future of feminism in Ireland, it is important to reclaim women’s place in national memory.

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My Own Un-doing

A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends where I should go on vacation. It was a hypothetical week off at the time, and so I told them to go wild. Pretend I have money, I instructed. Pretend transportation is not an issue. No suggestion was a disappointment. Close friends suggested I hop on a bus and visit them in The City. The globe-trekkers tempted me with sandy beaches and mountain peaks. On my lunch break at work, I googled every place and quietly sipped a coffee while I imagined myself there. In 30 minutes, I went on a million vacations, each as fulfilling as the last.

And then I got my week off.

Realizing that my service hours were nearly complete almost two months before my contract is set to end in August, my supervisors actually encouraged taking time for myself. I submitted my request for vacation days, extending what I’d already requested for a dance competition, and it came back in less than an hour with a signature, a smiley face, and a “have fun!” I haphazardly began to plan…but suddenly, I wasn’t so keen. Machu Picchu never seemed further away.

Since graduation, my newsfeed has been lighting up with adventure stories. A new apartment in The City, a week in the jungle without a shower, a fellowship abroad, destination weddings and selfies at the beach. Here was my chance to join them. I looked up wineries, campsites, and bike routes. I planned at least four different out-of-state vacations, and I went on none of them. I cried about it for a few hours, but somewhere between the tears and the hiccups, I realized that none of those vacations would have been mine.

In the end, I chose to stay. What I wanted wasn’t a vacation. What I wanted was a nostalgic filtered image (with an artistic lens flare for good measure) that would make my peers jealous. Every morning, I wake up to see my friends go-go-going and do-do-doing, and, every morning, I wake up to face my own un-doing. I’m twenty four years old, and the last time I used my passport was at a bar when I couldn’t find my drivers license. When did I get so boring?, I wonder. When did my stories stop making people laugh? I put on my clothes–likely the same outfit I wore last Wednesday–and I bike to work. Every day, my friends are going, and I am staying, wondering where I went wrong.

This isn’t to begrudge my friends’ their adventures. Peer pressure isn’t always a negative thing. In college, watching my peers introduced me to new political issues, foods, board games, music, books, and movies. In dance, watching the other girls has helped my technique and style. Peer pressure can push you in really positive ways to expand your horizons and discover new things about yourself. What’s troubling is that my interaction with my peers lately has been largely impersonal. Like contemplating a photo-shopped image of a celebrity on the cover of a magazine, seeing my friends’ lives filtered through Instagram and shared on Facebook has made me question everything. 1,000,000 sit-ups won’t make my neck longer or my teeth smaller. A series of sepia toned pictures won’t make me a better adult, but having an actual conversation will.

The first step is admitting there is a problem… Rather than appreciating a photo with a glib thumbs-up to let my friends know I saw it, I should actively engage in a conversation. What did they like best, did they try any new foods, how was the weather? I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to talk about their vacation, whether it was a disaster or not. Shared words are how we grow; manicured money-shots are just the icing on an already delicious cake.  I’m immensely grateful to social media for keeping my loved ones close, but I’ve been going about it all wrong. I want to learn about and show my appreciation for my friends’ lives on a deeper level. It’s time to stop liking and start talking.

There’s a lot of pressure to achieve as a young person, and most of that we place on ourselves. It’s exciting to test out new research methods and try new recipes. I can read the books my friends recommend, but no matter how hard I try, that cornfield will never look as good as it does in lo-fi. To say that I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Columbus, completely content with my un-doing, would be a lie. I want to go somewhere; I want to do something. I could have gone anywhere this week, but it wouldn’t have been for me. It would have been for future lovers (to keep them interested), for old professors (to make them proud), for people I haven’t talked to in years (to make them jealous). My photos would have been gorgeous, but they would have been meaningless. I stayed for me. I stayed for my friends, my family, my wallet. This vacation may not be “exciting,” but it’s mine, and I’m going to make the most of it.

I did win a medal on Saturday, so there you go.

I did win a medal on Saturday, so there you go.

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Pros & Cons

For the past two years, my life has been guided by a television show. Not only has NBC’s Parks & Recreation provided me with a chance to laugh when I’m sad, it has laid out some pretty solid directions for living a fuller life. Crazy or not, I turn to Parks when I’m lonely or worried about work, when I’m unlucky in love… I turn to Parks, and I’m never disappointed. Crazy or not, it’s a good show full of good people, and it’s helped me be better.

A few weeks ago, I informed my AmeriCorps supervisor that I would not be reapplying for a second year. I followed my gut and the will of the universe and decided I would not stay in Oberlin another year. It was not an easy decision, but it’s one many of my friends have faced or will be facing soon, so I thought I would share a little of my thought process. It may not help you. I’m still not sure it really helped me, but here goes: I turned to Parks.

When Leslie Knope (also known as my spirit animal) is faced with a difficult decision, she whips out the tried-and-true pros & cons list. “You know what I would do?” she asks Ben Wyatt when he is trying to decide whether or not he will stay in Pawnee. “Make a pros & cons list.” Following the advice of that spunky woman who has yet to steer me wrong, I scribbled out a list not 60 seconds before the meeting with my supervisor about my future plans.

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As you can see, my thoughts never quite crystallized with an answer. Each pro opened a new con, whether I was thinking of staying or leaving. The thrill of the unknown unraveled to panic. The comfort of home was wrapped in the suffocation of standing still. The pressure to leave and the compulsion to stay battled it out in those 60 seconds. I thought about jobs, apartments, lovers, transportation, reputations, and adventure. As I walked up the stairs, my hands gripped the railing, and I thought of everything that would keep me here. Job security, future projects, a community I love, friends, mentors, former lovers. It’s only been six years, but my roots grow deep, and my roots grow fast.  As I knocked on the door, I put one hand on the door knob and thought about all the things that wait for me in the great big world. A fresh start, new streets to bike, new foods to try, new friends, new lovers, the open road and a playlist full of potential…

Before I fully understood what was happening, our meeting was over. The question was posed. The answer was given. I would not be returning. I was leaving Oberlin.

Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in work and play that I forget I ever decided to leave. Remembering brings tears to my eyes. I love this town with all my heart, but I’ve been in love before, and I’ve learned that sometimes letting go is the best thing you can do. Leslie Knope may never leave Pawnee, but she always follows her gut.  I’m only twenty-four years old. Oberlin may feel like a forever home to me now, but the timing’s all off. It’s too early for roots as deep as this, so we’re doing an emergency transplant. There’s something out there waiting for me. There’s someone out there waiting for me. Pros and cons aside, this is what I’m meant to do.

cleskyline

 

 

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spoiler warning.

This morning at work I realized that it’s been over a month since I really checked-in. I don’t particularly have much to say about my life, and part of the reason is that I haven’t really been able to sit down and think about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, and so I’ve been letting things drop in the present. In fact, when preparing to write this post, all I could think of was a list of things I need and stuff I need to do. I don’t think I could tell you a single thing I have gained or something I’ve accomplished since my last update.

(It’s not because I’m ungrateful; I’m just busy.)

So…sorry I have nothing to say about yesterday or today yet, but I have a lot to say about tomorrow, so–spoiler alert–here are some things I see myself having in the next 24 to 8,765 hours.

  1. better wine
  2. a massage
  3. a plan
  4. a GRE score
  5. a steady lover
  6. a haircut
  7. a photo album
  8. a good comment from a judge on my dance results
  9. a playlist that makes sense
  10. an updated resume
  11. a new checkbook
  12. a more active relationship with my family and old friends
  13. at least 10 separate Skype dates
  14. a new dance outfit
  15. an inactive Facebook account
  16. my Confirmation
  17. my first manicure
  18. a city I call home
  19. a realistic budget
  20. a better bowling average
  21. at least 5 new books to read
  22. a vacation or two
  23. a new hobby
  24. the ability to bake a pie

Just in case you were wondering, I stopped myself at 24 things, because I will be turning 24 in less than two weeks. Despite the fact that I have been saying I’m 24 for months now in preparation for the big moment, it’s quickly becoming overwhelming. A lot has happened since my last birthday, and I’ll try to make time to think about that, but for now…I will keep on building future me, because–hot damn–if that list doesn’t make me sound interesting.

Until next time.

Cheers!

Cheers!

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To the Class of 2014

You’re not really an adult at all. You’re just a tall child holding a beer, having a conversation you don’t understand.
– Dylan Moran

end
To the Class of 2014: I’m going to tell you a story. It’s one of those weird, all-too-personal life stories you’re sick of hearing by now. There’s always a moral at the end, and it’s always supposed to make you feel better. Here’s the thing, though–I bet you’re feeling pretty good right now. The sun is shining and the weather is mild. You were no more dried up in the sun as you were drenched by a downpour. Your parents sacrificed their perfect video moment to aggressively push their way to the front. They argued with a security officer, and had at least ten people yell at them to sit down–all to see you shine. There’s a diploma in your hand and an open road in your future. You did it.

But I’m going to tell you a story anyhow, because in a few hours or a few days or a few months, maybe it will mean something. I was like you when I graduated, drunk off the sun, the hugs, and the flash of a camera. I couldn’t see beyond those stoic rows of white chairs because that was the dream. I walked across the stage and shook hands with my future. I cradled it in my arms as I posed for pictures. In private moments, I flipped it open and stared at its face with pride.

??????????

Almost as quickly as they arrived, those white chairs disappeared. My lease ended, and I packed my diploma in an unlabeled box.

I blamed Oberlin for what came next. A great lot of nothing they’d taught me. I could speak three different languages, but I didn’t have a resume. I could identify most of the constellations in the northern hemisphere, but I had no credit score. I had a degree and a GPA to be envied, but little direction on what was supposed to come next. I said, ‘Those who know no tool but the liberal arts cannot be skillful in the real world.” I blamed the world for expecting too much and cursed the media for blaming Us. For the next twelve months, I shrugged and plead not guilty.

Then, the white chairs came back–perfect and unfeeling. I watched my friends sit down and listen to people with money tell them about what comes next. Every speaker tried to empathize, but their advice felt like it missed the mark (by about 20 years). So, I wrote a manifesto. I gave good advice. You can read it if you like. I wanted people to understand that traditional happiness was a pipe dream. I wanted people to understand that someone else’s idea of happiness would always be unattainable. I said, “Love yourself anyway.”

I didn’t want my friends to feel like I had felt, and, if they did, I wanted them to know that it was normal.

Well, I’ve said all that. This year, I want to tell you something completely different. I want to tell you that you are some of the smartest people I know. I want to tell you that you are some of the coolest, most capable people I know. Seriously, you guys are remarkable in so many different ways, it blows my mind. But, I also want to tell you that, chances are, you’re going to suck at your job at first, and it’s really no one’s fault.

No matter how much we believe in our maturity, we are not full-grown. Oberlin takes you apart and builds you into a whole new person–sometimes subtly, sometimes like a T-Rex tearing into a ground-feeding mammal. Give it time; I guarantee you’ll start loving what you see. But just because you can hold a beer and talk about privilege does not mean that you won’t feel like crying in the office bathroom every once in a while. You might feel inadequate; your dream job might become a nightmare. Don’t be discouraged. After 9 months of insecurity at work, I’ve come to think all of that is pretty normal.

Whether it’s learning to sit still and focus on a single project for 40+ hours a week, or having your boss tear apart your project draft, or feeling like you’re always in the way, we all have something to learn. No matter how well-honed our theoretical expertise, the application is always full of fits and starts. Keep an open mind, and remember when you learned to drive or how to ride a bike. I barely grasped the concept of the steering wheel, let alone the right brake pressure to apply for a smooth stop. Now I can parallel park and prevent my car from spinning out on the ice without breaking a sweat. The point is, we all really suck, but that’s what growing up is. Go easy on yourself and the people around you, grab an occasional beer, and have a conversation about privilege.

a note i wrote on my hand before my phone interview

I’ve learned a lot this year, and one of those things is that, despite my swath of experience earning minimum wage in very different jobs, I don’t know everything. If I could, I’d write you a manifesto worthy of last year’s, but what do I know? There are dozens of people in your lives that have put my words into statements 100x more meaningful than any I could make. Your commencement speaker told you to be kind; your family told you they loved you. (For what it’s worth: Be kind. I love you. I believe in you so much it makes me cry.)

But here are a few things maybe your commencement speaker and families were too embarrassed to say. This is the only advice I feel comfortable giving, as a fellow beer-holding-child myself. Still, it’s good advice, and you can be sure to take it anywhere.

Everybody poops.
Don’t keep your digestive system from fulfilling its full potential. There is nothing more healthy than a happy bowel movement. Bathroom time is alone time that can be used to untangle difficult thoughts, and, speaking from experience, no situation seems as daunting after a good cleanse.

Always have a piece of cheese handy.
Cheese is not only a good source of protein to stop random hunger in its tracks, but it is also pretty darn delicious. If you’re lactose intolerant, have some nuts or a piece of fruit at the ready. Treat your tastebuds and your outlook will improve at least 10%.

Go on a walk.
We can’t all be Bilbo Baggins, but even a stroll through a new part of town can be an adventure. Aimless walking not only leads to more productive thinking, it also boosts mood and expands worlds. Driving around is too fast. Slow it down sometime, and give your patience some exercise. Think of all those hidden ice cream shops and bookstores–all the puppies and waves–you’re missing speeding down the main drag. Take a risk sometime and wander.

There you have it, Class of 2014. As you prepare to start on the post-grad Afterlife, it begs repeating, if only because it means so much to me: you are going to blow peoples’ minds. I love you. I believe in you so much that sometimes I really do cry about it. Be happy; be healthy; and stay in touch.

Love,
A Not-So-Recent Graduate (ca. 2012)

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Meet Mrs. Blackwell: She’s Literally the Worst Speaker in the Whole World

So, there’s been a bit of talk on social media about a BuzzFeed article featuring a recent Oberlin grad and their controversial performance/street art in New York. It’s not a positive article. It looks at the way this person has decided to live their life, decides it’s completely incomprehensible, and so calls it the worst ever. I’m not going to link to the article, because the point I’m trying to make isn’t about the person in question. Although I saw them naked on more than one occasion, I never spoke with them more than two or three times. Sure, existing on the same campus as this person was an Experience and often tried my patience. (Ask me about it now, and I’ll talk about those days with a sense of pride you younger Oberlin students just wouldn’t understand.) But, the point is: I didn’t know this person. I didn’t like their art. I sometimes felt unsafe. I also didn’t try to talk about it, and I passed judgment without using my words.

I’ve seen a lot of comments and posts about the article wanting to distance this person from Oberlin. We used to take pride in graduates like Charles Martin Hall (the inventor of the aluminum reduction process) and John Mercer Langston (one of the first black lawyers in Ohio). What happened, Oberlin? Are you just a bunch of trust fund kids looking for attention from your distant millionaire parents?* Ugh, disgusting. Please, stop associating this person with Oberlin. I’m so sick of our school being a joke!!

Well, those comments got me to thinking. Yes, we’ve put out some awesome grads over the years, but when has Oberlin not been a joke? Would our beloved institution have even survived the first few years if the Internet had existed then? The founders were so into being thrifty that they almost painted every single building in Oberlin red, because that was the cheapest paint. We educated women at a time when most people thought it would render them barren. Our first settler was a guy named Peter Pindar Pease. Our idea of a prank in 1898 was to drag a goddamn boulder from Plum Creek and set it up in Tappan Square. As a response to being one-upped, the senior class threatened to blow the boulder to smithereens with nitroglycerin, so there was an midnight vigil held to protect the boulder. (It’s still standing.) Oberlin, Oberlin, Oberlin…hate to break it to you: people have been shaking their heads at us since 1833.

Anyway, that got me thinking…what if the Internet had been around when Oberlin was first established?

Meet Mrs. Blackwell, She’s Literally The Worst Speaker In The Whole World

“I will everywhere make humanity MORE than sex.” 

Thankfully for the rest of us, we’ve found the world’s worst speaker. Her name is Mrs. Lucy Blackwell**, and unsurprisingly, she tours with the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

Lucy_stone
Lucy wears bloomers, or, as she calls them “freedom dresses.”

And she travels around in these pantaloons unaccompanied by a strong male arm.

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She runs around train stations dressed like some sort of amphibious creature–neither male, nor female.

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Sometimes she stands on podiums facing promiscuous audiences.

She describes what she does as: living and loving  “all that is loveable, whether in men or women. And I will let them know it too. I will talk with men as well as women, on all subjects, that pertain to the good of the race…I will everywhere, make humanity MORE than sex…”

Pictured below, something about the “elevation” of woman.

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Oh, and sometimes she touches you with her sweet voice.

She uses her feminine charms and rosy cheeks to touch your heart.

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But you should listen to the words she’s blowing in your face and decide for yourself if they have any merit.

Who does she think she is? William Lloyd Garrison?

(Who, by the way, is also crazy.)

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Mrs. Blackwell is a Transcendentalist Unitarian heathen.

She thinks women and black people should vote.

She thinks legal marriage is a crime against her sex.

She didn’t pay her taxes in 1857, because it was “taxation without representation.”

Lucy-Stone

And, guess what: she went to Oberlin.

So, now you know.

This is Mrs. Blackwell.

And she’s the worst.

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Top commenters, by the way, would be Marianne Parker Dascomb with this gem: “Ugh, how manly of her. I knew her from around town, and we had such a hard time getting her to wear a bonnet in church.” And let’s not forget Professor John Morgan: “Mrs. Blackwell so corrupted her bosom friend, Antoinette Brown, that the little lady thought she could become a minister and aspired to be the next Charles Finney. Disgraceful.” Speaking of Charles Finney, he’d be in on the action, too: “Truly the daughter of Satan. She is a disgrace to the virtuous name of Oberlin.”

So, what I mean to say is…love or hate what other people choose to do with their lives. I don’t have a stance on this issue because, if I did, it’d be largely uninformed. I don’t get it; I don’t like it; but I haven’t even begun to try to understand it. It’s not my place to comment, but I just wanted to say–be careful who you disassociate from your college. They could be the next century’s hero.

*FYI: This person has clarified that they were not born into money. Their privilege comes from their gender and their race, but not from their social status. So, like them or not, this is not a good argument to make if you’re going to discuss their art.

**Although Lucy Stone did not take her husband, Henry Blackwell’s name, many newspapers continued to call her Mrs. Blackwell.

***Images came from a Google search. “Sorry,” said the guilty historian.

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