Woman Crush Wednesday

It is my pleasure to announce that my former advisor, Professor Carol Lasser, has received a Woman of Achievement Award from the Elyria YWCA. I nominated Professor Lasser for the award, not only because her achievements as a human blow my mind, but because I have personally felt her profound and unending support in my growth as an intellectual young woman. I first met Professor Lasser in 2009, when I was a quiet, nervous sophomore who dreaded knocking on professors’ doors. I remember that visit, because the door swung open before I could consider scurrying away. I was greeted with a smile, told to sit down, and handed a Snickers bar. Thirty minutes later, I was an official college history major. Thirty minutes later, my life had new direction.

The support and inspiration that followed was unbelievable to me. I had been struggling at Oberlin, and wanted to transfer to finish my degree. It is difficult to describe the changes that occurred when I enrolled in Professor Lasser’s Oberlin history course, but I am certain the course and her enthusiasm are the reasons I stayed. There is something special in learning about the places we live and getting involved. Carol Lasser excels at sharing that experience with her students. The more I learned about Oberlin’s history, the more connected I felt to this place. As a young woman, feeling so close to women who had walked these streets before me was invigorating. Studying their lives encouraged me to find my own meaningful space in the community as well as larger social movements.

I was not taught women’s history or the concept of feminism until I met Professor Lasser. My high school teacher introduced Betty Friedan as the “ugliest woman in the world,” but failed to mention how she galvanized an entire generation of women. I could not have named one woman of color other than Harriet Tubman who had changed the nation. Through simple neglect, I was unaware that women’s contributions to society were worth studying. The African environmentalist Baba Dioum wrote: “In the end, we will only conserve what we love. We will only love what we understand. We will only understand what we are taught.” This maxim is usually applied to environmentalism, but it is not unreasonable to apply it to our history as well. The more I learned about women’s history, the more I understood where I wanted our country go next. The more I learned about my community’s history, the more invested I became in its future.

It can be difficult to see empowerment taking hold of your own life, but I have had the opportunity to witness Professor Lasser’s inspiration change the mindsets of younger generations of students as well. I have watched as she encouraged young women to begin statements with “I think” instead of “I feel,” to be confident and take pride in what they have to contribute. I have seen her carefully guide eager male allies to better listen and respect the voices of their female peers. Indeed, Carol Lasser teaches feminism in a way that is inclusive, that inspires all students, regardless of race or gender, to enact change.

As a young woman, my future has been undeniably influenced by Carol Lasser. She was my research advisor my senior year, and supported my thesis on women in early America. Despite having had thoughts of leaving Oberlin my sophomore year, I now consider Oberlin my home [away from home]. Since graduating in 2012, Professor Lasser has supported and mentored me in my career as an emerging museum professional. With her encouragement, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps member, working with local historical societies in Northeast Ohio. As part of my service, I developed a women’s history walking tour for Oberlin and presented an evening program on how local women influenced national history. Without question, none of this would have been possible without the support of my mentor and friend, Carol Lasser.

I would like to thank the Elyria YWCA on behalf of myself and all of Professor Lasser’s former students. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give back to a woman that has so positively impacted my life. She has empowered generations of students and has helped build a strong feminist community through historic exploration. I am so proud to know such an amazing woman, and so proud that my nomination helped honor her amazing life.

IMG_20141112_133149 IMG_20141112_133430

“Persimmon is for power.”

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“The cause of woman is moveing along finely here.”

On Sunday, an Ohio Historic Marker was unveiled on the lawn of First Church in Oberlin in memory of Antoinette Brown Blackwell. It is the eighth marker in Oberlin, the thirtieth in Lorain County, and the one nearest to my heart. I’ve said time and again, what makes Oberlin so dear to me is its history–not just the black-and-white faces that stare eerily out of weathered daguerreotypes, but the sheer abundance of spaces in which those people come alive again.



When Antoinette Brown came to Oberlin in 1846, she found a school not yet ready for her dreams of becoming a minister. More concerned with the reputation of their female students than their aspirations and potential, Oberlin still ridiculed and (to some extent) feared women who wished to speak in public. One young woman, Lucy Stone, had already been pushing back against the administration for years when Antoinette Brown arrived, a fresh-faced youth of twenty. Lonely and ostracized for her Garrisonian beliefs, I imagine meeting Nette was like a breath of fresh air for Lucy. Suddenly, she had someone to talk to, someone who shared her ideas (and who wasn’t afraid to debate if she happened to disagree). They would sit with their arms around each other “& talk & talk of…ten thousand subjects of mutual interest till both our hearts felt warmer and lighter for this pure communication of spirit.” (ABB to LS, June 1848)


How difficult, then, for the two to be separated after graduation! When Lucy Stone left Oberlin to join the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a lecturer, her dreams were coming true, but she had left her kindred spirit behind. Now Nette was the one facing institutional admonition for her beliefs. Without Lucy as an instant confidant, it must have been hard for Antoinette to hold her head high and remain confident in her abilities. Unable to protect the younger woman, Lucy Stone also suffered. What few letters survive from Lucy show a deep concern and anxiety for her friend’s well-being. In the winter of 1848, Stone wrote to Brown that she felt “dreadfully” about her decision to study “musty old theology.”

Yet my very own dear Nette is spending three precious years of her life’s young prime, wading through that deep slough, from the stain of which she can never wash herself, and by which I fear, her vision will be so clouded that she can only see men through creeds, while her ear, will only hear God’s voice speaking in the written Book, unconscious of the unwritten revelations so grand and glorious which stand out, in ‘living light’ all over God’s creation—Your heart, it cannot spoil I know… Your heart will ever feel after the heart of its fellows—to drop healing where sorrow’s wounds are made—to purify, where Crimes viper brood nestle—to cheer where adversity lowers—and to banish hate by its Love… I dread to see these noble qualities trimmed, and your generous soul belittled to the defence of an outgrown creed—O Nette it is intolerable and I can think of it with allowance only when I think that the loss of what is invaluable in you will purchase apparatus to battle down the wall of bible, brimstone,  church and corruption, which has hitherto hemmed women into nothingness—The fact that you have entered a field forbidden to women, will be a good to the sex, but I half fear it will be purchased at too dear a rate. Sometimes I think that you will leave Oberlin with the same free spirit which which you entered it, and blame myself for ever thinking otherwise, then it creeps over me again, like the cold sense of ‘coming ill,’ that you will be only a sectarian…

Needless to say, Lucy Stone had a much less positive view of Oberlin and theology than her younger friend. Where Lucy’s spirit felt suffocated by the stale, prohibitive atmosphere at Oberlin, Nette was able (eventually) to thrive. Despite the efforts of Professor John Morgan, whose conscience never allowed him to accept Antoinette Brown as a theology student, she made significant gains with the rest of the faculty. Only months after Lucy’s anxiety-ridden letter, Nette responded with self-assurance. “The cause of woman is moveing along finely here,” she reported, proudly.

You know the Theological students are all required to tell their religious experience before Prof Finney. Once or twice when he called for those who already had not done so Teft mentioned Lettice & I think he looked as though he did not know what to say & the next time said ‘O we dont call upon the ladies.’ They had all told me we should have to speak & I felt so badly at what he said that I just began to cry & was obliged to leave the room. It was the first & last time that I have cried about anything connected with this matter this spring but it came so unexpectedly. After I went out they talked over the matter & it seems Prof Finney did not know we were members of the department in any other sense than the other ladies are who go in to hear the lectures… He said he was willing any lady should speak if she wished to… I went over to see him & he certainly seemed to forget that he was talking with a woman. We conversed more than an hour sometimes upon the gravest subjects of Philosophy & Theology & he expressed himself freely upon the true position of woman. Said he did not care how much she was educated that her education had been fundamentally wrong—that though he did not think she was generally called upon to preach or speak in public because the circumstances did not demand it—still that there was nothing right or wrong in the thing itself & that sometimes she was specially called to speak—that he would not only permit us to take part in every exercise in his classes but would aid & encourage us in doing so &c. &c… So this ball is rolling steadily steadily steadily.

When Antoinette Brown completed her theology coursework, she was not awarded a degree and ordination like the men in her classes. Despite her love for Oberlin, she would return home to New York. There, she was ordained in 1853 by a socially progressive minister, the first U.S. woman to receive such an honor. In recognition of her achievements (and an indication of the changing times), Oberlin awarded Antoinette Brown Blackwell an honorary degree in 1878 and 1908. Although Nette would eventually break with the conservatism of the Congregationalist clergy, she continued to preach and crusade for equal rights until she was well into her nineties. She died in 1921, at the age of ninety-six, twenty seven years after Lucy Stone, and one year after the 19th Amendment mandated universal American suffrage.

When I think of the history Antoinette Brown Blackwell experienced–when I think of all the history Antoinette Brown Blackwell made–I am filled with pride. On Sunday, as I sat in First Church, the very building where she worshiped and prayed for courage, I couldn’t help but feel invigorated. It wasn’t just historians who gathered in the church to celebrate Nette, it was a community of men and women that profoundly identified with her struggles and achievements. Together, we sang hymns that she would have sung as a student. The building swelled with energy as our voices joined the voices of generations past, and, as I looked down at the program in my lap, I thought I could see a little color in the cheeks of that prim and proper face staring out of the daguerreotype.


In 1846, Antoinette Brown traveled to Oberlin to fulfill a dream. In 2014, a town gathered to celebrate the memory of a woman who, despite the odds, refused to give up. As I sat there, moved to my very foundation, I remembered Nette’s words of reassurance and smiled.

“The cause of woman is moveing along finely here…So this ball is rolling steadily steadily steadily.”


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A Twin Peaks Experience

Binge-watch (v.t.) the practice of watching television for longer time spans than usual; often described as watching between 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. E.g. “I am going to binge-watch my favorite comedy all night.”

I am Netflix’s most eager hostage. In my Stockholm Syndrome attachment to the automatic playback feature, I have managed to “accidentally” watch the entire series of Parks & Recreation twice in the past four months. In a single night, I watched seven episodes of Elementary simply because I could. Two nights ago, I watched four episodes of Father Ted before going to bed, and two again the next morning.

(I can stop anytime.)

I am currently in the unfortunate position of being held firmly in the grasp of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The episodes are long. The dialogue makes no sense. Half the characters make me cringe. The music is grating. Yet, having only begun the series anew three days ago, I am already well into the second season. (Thank god there are only two seasons.) Already, I can feel my mind changing, flitting about between what is real and what is Netflix. Already, I can feel the side-effects of this fateful, late-night decision…

Upon waking up this morning, I found myself followed by an imaginary and intensely sensual jazz soundtrack. Every experience stands out against this background music, even when it doesn’t make sense that I should be hearing jazz. Brushing my teeth, walking past a fountain, putting on and taking off socks. My mind generates jazz at every moment, and it’s all I can do to pursue what, I hope, outwardly appears to others as the continuance of a normal life.


I’ve found myself staring. Not ponderously. Not meaningfully. I’ve found myself staring, for no reason except for that’s what they do in the show. They stare with open mouths (or closed mouths). They stare with eyes as big as saucers as that haunting jazz pushes on in the background. Sometimes they sway. Sometimes they lean backward (or forward). One time they started barking.

(I haven’t started barking.)


I’ve found myself terribly offended anytime Audrey Horne and Special Agent Dale Cooper are not on screen together. It is a crime against nature that two such beautiful people were cast with no hope of locking lips. Even watching different shows, I think of those perfect arching eyebrows, those softly curving lips and hips, and I’m offended that they are not onscreen.


I really want to smoke a cigarette. That is to say, I want to be the sort of person that would smoke a cigarette, hold it loosely between my fingers while I stare vacantly (yet deliberately) at objects that mean nothing. I want to stand alone in the middle of the room with a cigarette and gently sway back and forth as I drown in jazz, and I want that to be normal.


I like my coffee black as midnight on a moonless night. (I have always liked my coffee this way, but it would be a horrible offense to not use this image.)


I want to say cool, beatnicky things about owls and giants and mysterious one-armed men. And, what’s more, I want those things to mean something. Like, I want to dance sideways into a room and announce, “My toes sleep soundly when the fly smiles.” I want to say that, and I want an attractive man to be in the room. He will be wearing a three-piece suit, just because. I want him to stand up, walk towards me, take my slim shoulders in his hands. His fingers will curl tightly and press into my skin, and his eyes will be ablaze with wonder. “Your toes!” he will exclaim, his voice wavering. He will look down and stare intently before grabbing my hand and pulling me out of the room. “The fly!” We will run together to a destination, and together we will stare some more. There–just there!–will be the answer to everything.


Now, it would seem by these side-effects of binge-watching Twin Peaks that this show has a pretty good hold on my life, but I can stop anytime. (I can stop anytime.) With the completion of the thirtieth episode sometime in the next two weeks, things will go back to normal. The jazz will fade, the coffee will lose its taste, the staring will taper, and the lust for meaning will dissolve. The owls will be exactly what they seem, and I will restart Parks and Recreation……….. 

But, for now, my toes sleep soundly when the fly smiles.

(this is from clueless)

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Whose Boobs?

When dissecting a person’s work, we tend to focus only on the content and form of the product. That is the meat and potatoes of the thing, right? Still, I believe there’s something to be said for the dinner plate. At least as far as my own work is concerned, just as much labor (if not more) is spent on the packaging. A painting’s frame, a poem’s font–these often overlooked parts invite us into the whole, prepare our eyes and minds for what we are about to experience, and, without our realizing, can influence how we ultimately process the information.

I spent days perfecting the layout of my blog until I felt it would suit the character of its content. I carefully chose a title, and I painstakingly tested thousands of different header images. Now, you may have noticed over the past two years that the header of this blog features a lady’s boobs elegantly covered in cream-colored satin. I have explained my username and the title of this blog as an homage to Alcuin (1798) by Charles Brockden Brown, but you may be wondering–just whose boobs are those, anyway? Well, they belong to Judith Sargent Murray, one of the most outspoken advocates for women’s rights in early America, and I chose them for a reason.

Judith Sargent Murray (John Singleton Copley, 1770s)

Judith Sargent Murray (John Singleton Copley, 1770s)

It had to be her boobs because the development of Judith Sargent Murray’s writing career offers a beautiful and informative parallel to how and why I engage with social media. It couldn’t have been any historic lady’s boobs up there, because not every historic lady found the same empowerment in careful curation of a semipublic self, and not every historic lady openly admitted that she was doing for personal validation.

I was prompted to write this entry and explain the boobs because, every so often, an article or a video about the dangers of social media and “screens” (ironically) appears on my newsfeed. We’re missing the beauty of everyday life! We’re losing the ability to be genuine and empathetic towards others! We’re stunting our emotional development and our children’s imaginations! Everyone, hear me now! Put down your phone, hold out your hand, and in ten seconds or less a little goldfinch will perch on your outstretched fingers and whisper the world’s wisdoms in your ear…!

Before I go any further, I will concede that I often rail against social media’s unique, glib style of communication, and I adore any musical parody mocking the disingenuousness of peoples’ profiles. I’m painfully introspective and easily recognize everything that is bad about my relationship to the Internet. It’s such a farce. I compare myself to others. I take selfies at work. I aggressively cry over ex-lovers’ wedding pictures. Sometimes I would rather consent to Netflix playing yet another episode than get up for a glass of water. Truly, I am disgusting. I’m single, underemployed, and gaining weight faster than a newborn babe. Surely I can blame this all on social media!

That’s what I used to think, and, to some extent, it is true. But it’s not that simple. As the author Emma Healy recently wrote: “Fetishizing ‘presence’ by telling everyone to stop staring at their phones perpetuates the myth that simply being around other people automatically means you’re attuned or empathetic to them…Confusing the easy work of ‘unplugging’ with the hard work of meeting your feelings of solipsism and alienation and distraction on their own turf doesn’t benefit anyone. Ultimately, the doctrine of disconnection-as-self-improvement can only offer us the same kind of shallow distraction that social media does…The real work of ‘connecting’ is still just in learning to live with ourselves, and others, and our faults, and not stop caring.”

So, what about social media and what about me and what about Judith Sargent Murray?

Despite society’s consistent pining for “the good old days,” the epistolary culture of the 18th-century was remarkably similar to our modern social media culture. Letters were never truly private. Excerpts were often read aloud to others in the room. As soon as a brief left your hands, it was completely out of your control and could be read by anyone who happened upon it. People knew that and they created public personae in their letters that didn’t always reflect their lived realities. Still, this was intentional and empowering. As Shelia Skemp writes: “[Letters] provided writer and reader alike with a fictive place where people could meet, breaking down their sense of isolation, establishing connections, and sharing beliefs, interests, and experiences.” For women, letter-writing was their way to connect and enter the solidarity of sisterhood. It gave a voice to the voiceless, a community to the isolated.

When I first read about Judith Sargent Murray’s forays into writing, I instantly felt a kinship. I had studied early American female authors before, but I had revered them. I didn’t relate to them. Never had I read a biography that seemed so closely to echo my own soul. Not for the benefit of posterity or the development of the republic–Judith Sargent Murray started writing because she yearned for validation and praise from her ever-expanding circle of friends. She wrote, she claimed, out of desire “to snatch from oblivion the sentiment of worth.” Each positive response encouraged her to write more and better.

The experience, for her, was transformative. Even as she performed her wifely duties in the home, she could send the written word out as an avatar far beyond the reach of her personal experience. She suddenly had control of her identity. Her collection of correspondence was her story, and she found she could tell it any way she wished. She obsessively edited her letters until they were nearly flawless. She omitted many of them that were personal and too revealing.Where her life was messy, on the printed page, she was able to control the view of herself and her world that future generations would receive. As biographer Shelia Skemp writes: “While a woman could not transcend her sex in the real world, on paper, if she could write correctly and with some evidence of erudition, she might be able to create her own literary universe where mind ruled and body–sex–was momentarily forgotten.” At a time when women’s worlds were small, writing allowed Judith Sargent Murray to dream bigger–of fame and recognition. Eventually, she would make her mark by taking on important subjects like female education.

A screenshot of an old blog entry

A screenshot of a four-year-old blog entry (and, yes, I spent nearly an hour looking for the perfect one)

We often make the mistake of thinking that social media provides a quick, casual snapshot of our lives, but it’s more than that for me. If it was as instant as we claim, we wouldn’t spend hours combing through our own profiles and removing or altering the bits we don’t quite like. I was a shy, nerdy teenager when I first started blogging. I think only one person responded to my entries, and I responded to hers, even though we sat next to each other in class and called each other after school. We safely experimented with slang and emoji, and made up different (often unintelligible) ways of typing. Later, I started a different blog, with more followers. I continued to grow as a “scribbler,” and soon I was talking about more than just food and attractive celebrities. Soon I was talking about politics, religion, and mental illness. Those blogs are nearly unreadable now, but they were intrinsic to the development of my voice.

There’s still a lot in this world that terrifies me, but social media allows me to be more confident. A photograph of a city with big buildings and loud traffic that makes me nervous, when posted on social media is a beautiful image my friends can like, and I can even start liking it, too. The more I take pictures and the more people praise them, the better I become at documenting my own little world. It’s empowering. Situations that have made me cry can be funny on Facebook. At times I feel small and lost; I am whole and home when I blog. I can find solidarity and comfort in shared experience, and I can learn to laugh in the face of personal tragedies. Every comment on my blog encourages me to keep writing and my voice gets stronger with each post.

I may present a curated image to the world through social media, but it is not fake, and it is not disconnected. I have grown up writing online for myself, for my friends, and for any stranger that happens to pass by. The things I have learned, the people I have reached and that have reached me, the sadness I have overcome–a lot has happened online. The Internet is not a plague on my generation. It’s the extension of collective growth and development of identity that began with the written word. So, like it or not, history seems to say social media (selfies and all) is here to stay.

""I remember that my first idea of the happiness of Heaven was a place where we should find our thirst for knowledge fully gratified." - Hannah Adams

“”I remember that my first idea of the happiness of Heaven was a place where we should find our thirst for knowledge fully gratified.” – Hannah Adams

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All that was me is gone…

“I’m going to go blog about my feelings,” I joked as I left the apartment this morning. My keys jingled as I put them in my backpack, and I slammed the door shut behind me. (If you could only see the door, Your Honor, you would agree that the force was necessary!) I walked around; I got a little lost; my backpack made me sweat in really weird places. My left shoe broke halfway to the coffee shop, and then it started raining. Now I’m sitting here watching a woman in the restaurant across the street chew her food. It’s been a weird morning…

I came to blog about  my feelings, but the truth is, I’m not 100% sure what those feelings are. My friends in committed relationships like to remind me that I’ve never been in love, that I’ve never had the experience of sharing a life with another person, all your interests, hopes, and dreams. Out of respect for their opinions, I’ve refrained from calling any romantic engagement I’ve had with another human “dating.” I’ve refrained from calling any ending a “break up.” What I say is this: “We did stuff, then he rejected me.” I even called one instance “A Mutual Dissolution of Something That Was Bad,” or AMDSTWB for short, to avoid taboo terminology. I did this because I heard my friends, and I agreed with them.

I don’t agree with them anymore.

I’m going through a break up now, and you know it’s real because I’m calling it a break up. For a few years now, we knew it wasn’t working the way it should. The love was still there, so we tried to make it work. I think we succeeded…for a little while. I had something to talk about to strangers in bars. I had a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. I was proud of it, of how much I knew, of how special it made me feel. We saw each other every day, and it was almost spiritual the connection I felt we shared. The more we kept it up, though, the more I realized that something was missing. Most of the important places in my heart were full to the brim, but those that weren’t were empty and meaningless. I cried sometimes for no reason. What we had couldn’t help that. What was staying giving me? I felt thin and old, stretched too far. My wants and needs echoed unanswered in the emptiness. I knew it was time to leave.

Yes, Oberlin is the closest thing I’ve had to being in a relationship. Did we go on dates? Of course not. Did I get weak in the knees thinking of the well-manicured streets and cute historic homes? Don’t be silly. But for upwards of six years, being an Oberlinian has been a defining part of my personality. I loved walking through the streets knowing who had walked there before me. I loved chatting with the bartenders and baristas that I knew, not only by name, but by having actually worked with them. I loved everything about it, and I still do. That’s the thing: I still do.

You may think I’m crazy for comparing moving to a new city to breaking up with a partner, but hear me out. What I had in Oberlin, I can’t have anymore by virtue of not living there. We’re not strangers, but whenever I walk the streets, it will just be temporary now. The storefronts will change, the kids I taught will grow up, and we won’t share that experience. I’ll visit, of course, but it won’t be the same like I want it to be. We’ll make casual small talk. We will part amicably and promise to see each other soon, but I can’t wrap myself up in its familiarity on a cold, lonely night anymore. The intimacy that existed between us is gone, and my future is unknown.

As scary as it is, I think separation is okay. If movies have taught me anything about break ups, it’s that the love is still there, but you’re better apart. There’s a lot my deep connection to Oberlin prevented me from experiencing. This is a step forward, but it is so hard not to look back. For the next two weeks, I will be filling my unemployed hours with things I haven’t yet planned. There’s nothing I want more than to go back to Oberlin, to drink where I know I’m safe, to make old jokes with good friends, to be somewhere where my crazy knowledge of local history adds to a conversation…

It’s hard to describe my feelings because, like most of my knowledge, I find myself suddenly displaced and irrelevant. Cleveland is a small city, but my experience of life is minuscule in comparison. I know I’m smart and talented and independent and all those good things people keep telling me. (That’s another similarity to a break up. My friends are rallying around me, validating me, and rehashing all the bad things about my relationship to Oberlin like that will help me forget I ever loved it.) I know I’ll be okay. I know someday I’ll find what I couldn’t in Oberlin. But for now, I’m going to randomly start crying. I’m going to miss it with all my heart.  And I’m going to call it a break up.

Edgewater Park, September 1 2014

P.S. Cleveland is still perfect.

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“Sarah, you look super cute today!” the barista exclaims as a tall woman in a sweater and pearl necklace walks into the shop. I’m facing away from the counter, so as soon as she walks past me, I can no longer see her. The conversation continues behind my back, and I can hear every word. Here’s what I know: Sarah does look super cute today. If this was Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature,” I would probably kick her in the face and steal her sweater. Sarah is applying for a job. She knows the barista and at least two other people in the building. They are laughing. Sarah likes room for cream in her coffee. She likes giving relationship advice, too.

My back is to the counter, but I can see out a big window in front of me and another one on my right. I can’t hear anything that is going on outside, but I can see a dog and some people milling about. A couple of them are hugging. An old man put out a little bowl of water for the dog, and a little bird just stole a piece of bread from a big bird.  Three children are jumping off a ledge where their father is sitting. Every time they make the jump, they act like they’ve just flown over the Atlantic. Their father joins in. He is barely in the air two seconds, but he makes the same jubilant face as his children when his feet touch the ground. The youngest child, a toddler, falls over from laughter. The father picks up all three children, puts them back on the ledge, and they do it all again.

A few days ago, I began moving to Cleveland. In a little over a week, my move will be complete, and I will commence the next chapter of my young life. Here’s what I know:

Furniture is essential. There are few things that are crazier than living without furniture. I did it once my senior year of college. I slept on an air mattress, and barely anything I owned was higher than two feet tall. Live like that for a year, and you start forgetting that you need to stand to use regular furniture. Sleeping on a hardwood floor is great and all, but I’m thinking it’s not something I want to continue doing…


Furniture is expensive. Dear god, is it expensive! I could buy a used couch, but then I’d have to find a way to transport it, which would also cost money, and at that point, why didn’t I just buy a new couch and have it delivered? Well, because buying new things is a little ridiculous when you can give old, storied things a new home. A home needs furniture, but furniture needs a truck and friends to help move it. In this particular situation, my extreme independence and inherent stubbornness prove to be my greatest faults. (I did, however, build a bookshelf out of concrete blocks and pieces of plywood. It looks pretty good, but I would not recommend it unless you are The Hulk.)


Biking is fun. Today, I decided to bike through downtown Cleveland to a coffee shop where I could sit and do some work. Biking is amazing. It’s like driving, but you get to see things. I could hear little bits of people’s conversations. “Yes, I got the eggs!” and “When are you coming home?” My heart beat a little faster when I saw Lake Erie on the horizon. Without my GPS yelling at me to turn left or right and when, this vast hole in my mental map of Cleveland is quickly filling in. Superior Avenue runs parallel to St. Clair. Prospect goes straight to East 4th. &c.

3.3mi is far. I don’t know any way to say this without making it seem like I am majorly unfit, but I was seriously winded by the time I arrived at my destination, a cute little place in the Market District. I was sweating buckets. My thumb was bleeding from where I’d pulled a hang nail at a traffic stop. At that moment, all I wanted to do was teleport back to my apartment. (Speaking of teleportation: we have iPhones, why don’t we have teleportals?) But I sat down. I drank some water and ate lunch on a bench in front of a pretty mural. I feel more revived after the necessary food and water intake, but I’m sort of dreading the ride home…


I know that the refreshment and joy I feel living in Cleveland is a honeymoon phase. When I studied abroad in Ireland, they issued warnings about a honeymoon phase, between the jetlag and the onset of culture shock. I know that some day I will be biking through the rain. I know that some day I will have to shovel snow off my car. But, right now, why can’t I just enjoy the fact that the sun is shining, the people around me are smiling, and I rescued a bumble bee from playing Sisyphys with a window?

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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.


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.


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.


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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