Sep 012014
 

To all my new readers and new Dartmouth students, welcome to the first blog of Alex D. Hurt II. This blog will be an instrument for some interesting thoughts, reactions to current events, and occasionally just for some of my signature dark, irreverent humor about nothing important. Before I move any further I most gave a fair warning. WARNING: This blog will contain strong language and opinions and is only for the open minded. The vast majority of people will read something like that and say “pssh sure whatever I’m in college now. I’m a big boy and I can handle anything.” One of the biggest mistakes I made when I entered college is that when people said this, I actually believed them. Dartmouth students tend to fall into one of two categories: those who have shaped an identity out of what they think, and those you can actually have a nice conversation with. What the heck does that mean? I’m so glad you asked.

Do not say “I am a Conservative,” instead say “I think conservatively.” This may seem like a small difference, but its implications are huge. In my time here there have been several on and off campus events that have sparked controversy or healthy debate. However I believe if I smoked five packs a day, ate nothing but weeks-old McDonald’s, and thought the Star Wars prequel trilogy wasn’t that bad, I would be healthier than this debate has been. Let me lead with an example; I am against gay marriage. Now already most of you are divided into two categories. There are those of you who are going to take that statement and immediately begin to make all kinds of assumptions about me, without ever having met me before. (P.S. My real opinions on gay marriage are not reflected here as this is only an example) You may feel discouraged from ever reading this blog again because I am a “bigot” or which ever synonym fits your fancy. You fall into category #2, but I will address you first.

This reaction is common and is a result of someone of making a classic mistake of equating opinions and identity. I could be a charming Daniel Craig-esque dude and you would never know because you are unable to get over my opinions on a topic you care about. Some feel by me disagreeing I have somehow attacked them personally. You are not your opinions, and neither am I. Your choices and actions make you who you are, not what you think. If someone is against gay marriage, but treats all people with respect and dignity, I see nothing wrong with them voicing their opinions loudly and strongly. Do not equate identity and opinions. I would estimate over 80% of Dartmouth makes this mistake, but only 20% can identify this as a problem. Get off the #2 bus, by definition of it being #2 you shouldn’t want to be a part of it.

Category #1 are those who see the statement “I am against gay marriage,” have a different opinion, and there immediate words are “And why is that?” These are the kind of people you want to be around, and the type of person you should be. These people understand that you being against their beliefs does not mean you are against them personally. In fact they may have curiosity into the opinions of someone on the other side of the fence. They understand the difference between opinion and identity, and as such you can talk to them about anything.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Understand what makes identity, and apply it to every aspect of your life. Your grades don’t make your identity, how many friends you have doesn’t make your identity, whether you know that House of Cards is in fact better than Scandal doesn’t make your identity, how many times you check Facebook every 15 minutes even though you know nothing has changed doesn’t make your identity, and neither does your opinions. It would be a waste of the thousands of dollars you are spending to leave the Ivy League thinking the same way about the same way as you came. Look forward to change and Welcome to Dartmouth.

Aug 222014
 

This post will be mostly about abroad terms, but due to my imminent earth science exam, I should at least pay lip service to the studying I’m supposed to be doing right now. Phreatomagmatism describes volcanic eruptions characterized by the explosion of groundwater due to sudden heating. These eruptions often lead up to, and in some cases precipitate a major volcanic eruption (i.e Mt. Pinatubo (1991) in the Phillippines, or Mt. St. Helens (1980) in Washington State). Essentially, sudden increases in temperatures causes water to vaporize and burst out of the ground in huge clounds of smoke and debris.

If you wanted to be metaphorical (and if you attend or aspire to attend Dartmouth, you probably spend a decent amount of time being metaphorical), you might compare my decision to study abroad to a volcanic eruption. If that is the case, associated phreatomagmatic events would probably include the dire decision to drop my Spanish class before the 6 native speakers in the class destruyen la media y mi GPA. Following that line of reasoning, the next sudden vaporization would be my decision to fill the opening in my schedule with a music class on Brahms and Berlioz. That class taught me more than I could have hoped – I now have a very informed view that Hector Berlioz is my least favorite composer, especially considering his place in music history, his ego, and his inability to write a bass line. More importantly it introduced me to Autumn, the principle bassoonist in the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra. It is a little embarrassing that it was sophomore fall and I was still meeting other ’16s in the DSO, but after our mutual sufferings in that class, we were better acquainted than the average high string and low wind player. These explosions of groundwater eventually triggered the main event. Over the course of 48 hours late in November, Autumn suggested I enroll in the music study abroad to London, I thought about it briefly, and I accepted an offer to be on the program. This analogy is all very absurd when you think of the lack of volcanic activity in Hanover (we are nowhere NEAR a subduction zone) so I will stop using it. Sorry EARS 5 – studying will have to wait until after this blog.

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Autumn and I writing about Symphonie Fanstatique. It’s awful.

 

In perhaps the quickest and least predictable D-Plan change ever, I had decided to go abroad 2 months after the application deadline and 3 months before I was slated to leave. I said sayonara to my old plan of staying in Hanover in the spring and studying History abroad my Junior Fall, and I started reading Wikipedia pages about Queen Elizabeth II on the off chance she invited me over for tea.

 

Flash forward to me, sleep deprived and still woozy from the flight, trying to explain to British customs why I was there. “No I’m not a student in a British University. I’m in an American University, but there is this program here…..read this sketchy letter that sort of explains it.” It’s a miracle they let me in. I probably would still be rotting in the tower of London if it weren’t for Autumn swooping in and explaining our moral right to return to Mother England. I could probably write a book about my time in London, so I will condense to the basics for the sake of this post. There were 12 of us travelling to study music in the undisputed classical music hub of the world; 4 singers, 1 clarinetist, 1 classical guitarist, 1 bassoonist, 1 flautist, 1 pianist, 1 organist, 1 violinist (me), and 1 digital music specialist/I don’t really know what he did the whole time. The program housed us in student flats in north London (anti-shout out to Camden Town and The Stay Club – it’s like if you turned Hot Topic into a borrough). Our coursework was a collage of musical offerings. We attended five concerts a week, usually hearing one of London’s premier orchestras, but occasionally attending operas, ballets, chamber music performances, and jazz shows. We had two classes – one on London’s Music History (taught by the esteemed Roderick Swanston, notable for giving lectures on Mahler in which he accuses octogenarians of obsessing about sex while listening to the 6th symphony) and one on Performance. The performance class was taught by Sally Pinkas, our FSP leader, and it included discussions of the shows we saw as well as chamber music coachings. The main course, so to speak, of the program was our individual lessons. Most of us were paired with teachers from the Royal College of Music, London’s top conservatory. The finale of the 10 weeks was a set of two concerts, one for chamber works and one for solo works, that showcase the music learned over the term. The auxiliary defining feature is the 10 day travel break in the middle. Since there aren’t weekends during the term (most concerts happen on Fridays and Saturdays), we took all our weekends at once, and were given 10 days to travel around Europe at our own discretion.

2014-03-25 23.39.15

2014-03-25 23.39.15

2014-04-11 13.43.17I will leave off the travel subplot, but I will just mention it here to give an idea of what it entailed. Autumn and I started dating around week 3 of the program (to exasperated sighs of “obviously” from all of our friends) and decided to travel to Barcelona and Amsterdam together. We objectively had the best trip, although other groups had varying degrees of fun in Scotland, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. We all survived, despite several close calls.

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Although the program only paid for 8-10 hours of lessons, I was fortunate enough to be paired with Dona Lee Croft, an esteemed music educator who had recently retired after 30 years on the RCM strings faculty. She generously allowed our lessons to extend beyond 2 hours every week, and I ended up with something like 20 hours of lessons (not to mention the additional recital she scheduled for her studio which I performed in). Without getting into the technical speak, she had a transformative impact on my playing and outlook. If any violinist are reading this, I’ll just say that this book reminds me more of London than any Harry Potter book:

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While I’ve gotten good at explaining what the program entailed, its hard for me to express the experience of being there. I can’t really even conceptualize it fully when I think back on it now. I just remember walking around London with my violin and riding the tube with my headphones in and a book settled on my case. I remember picking up food at the grocery store and eating beans out of a can when I was low on money. I remember the first time the barristas at the my favorite coffee shop remembered my order; I remember my excitement upon finding cool pubs. I guess all of those things sort of blur into this memory of freedom I’ve never experienced at any other time in my life. Despite my decision to attend a liberal arts institution, I was living as a musician in London, playing violin 2 hours a day and taking notes on where to find the cheapest wine at convenience stores. I have a lot of stories. If you cared to know, you could ask me about Autumn and my experience with a certain Jolyon, my weekend excursion to St. Vincent’s pub in Edinburgh, or the time I was trapped in the women’s restroom at the RCM. I could talk to you about skin lice and getting robbed and countless times different group members almost got hit by double decker buses. Those stories are fun, some even informative (or medically pertinent). But if you really want to get an idea of my abroad term, I would paint a quieter picture, one of packing peanut-butter and cheese sandwiches and writing on a beautiful spring day in Hyde Park, of watching the city lights at 3 in the morning from Primrose Hill, of living life with the second movement of Bruckner 9th stuck in your head. It is a great way to live, maybe even my favorite way to live. It’s a special sort of freedom to do what you love in a city that you love with people that you love. Everything feels a little fresher, a little more real. So when people ask “how was your abroad term,” I’d rather answer with a joke about being drunk under the table by a 45 year old father of two. Saying the truth would risk making it false; putting it into words somehow cheapens it. Going abroad is a lot like a pyroclastic flow – it is a burning hot cloud of tephra – volcanic debris – that scorches everything in its path as it descends to earth and leaves discreet geologic evidence of the volcano’s activity.

Spring in Camden

British Currency

British Currency

 

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Mt. St. Helens Erupts

Ahead

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Aug 202014
 

In conversations of late, there’s a topic that my friends and I won’t broach. References to it with words like “thesis” and “eighteens” terrify. Someone informed me yesterday that the new freshmen would be arriving on campus this Sunday and suddenly the number sixteen did not strike me as a particularly nice number. Time is a funny thing at Dartmouth, seemingly going along at an average pace until you’re standing in line at Novack at 12:30 AM in the morning, refilling your cup of tea for the third time that night because you have 1294890 words to write in three days and finals on the same day and you have to pack and move out of your room and work on that group project and prepare that presentation and figure out what you’re doing for interim or how to maximize suitcase space for your study abroad next term. Until you are walking across the Green at night and you are shaking in the cold because temperatures have dropped and leaves have begun to change color. Time has taken away the claim you had on being a sophomore. As one of my friends stated, “Sophomore summer is the hump day of college”. While I am not so pleased about the prospect of falling action, I can’t say this hump day has been bad. There have been quite a handful of beautiful people, places, moments, my go to running hill in Norwich being one such beautiful place:

IMG_1265 blueberry picking at SuperAcres and the Norwich Farmer’s Market:

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sprawled across a bed in a room with some friends and a flipboard, sitting in front of the VAC at dusk, making sunbutter&J sandwiches for the Fifty, or just walking home alone and looking at Baker Tower, already nostalgic for something that hasn’t ended yet.

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The 50.

 Posted by at 11:52 am  No Responses »
Aug 122014
 

My summer term has unfolded in episodes. More than the usual term, I think my life could be serialized. I mean the ads write themselves – next time on NBC’s hit comedy “Robbie”, Robbie drives to the emergency room at 1 in the morning, Robbie finds himself soaking wet and naked outside….again, Robbie sleepwalks through his girlfriend’s house, and is noticed by other occupants. I’d watch that. About 2 weeks ago I got a blitz with a large picture of the Hiker from the pokemon gameboy games. “Hike the 50″ the flyer said, “Info meeting Tuesday at 9:30.” Commence episode, “Robbie tries to hike the 50 but ends up dressed in a cut-off bear t shirt playing steel drums outside a cabin at 6 in the morning.” Stay tuned for more after these messages!

Before I go further, I should explain what exactly the 50 is. In Dartmouth students’ infinite quest for disavowing all rational behavior, they discovered a interesting coincidence. It is exactly 53.6 miles from Hanover to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge – a beloved facility that is a central part of Freshman trips and Dartmouth culture. 53.6 is pretty much 50, and with a nice square number like 50, how could you NOT hike that entire distance in 24 hours without stopping. When hiking the 50, one summits several mountains, many at night, and ends with a grueling trek up and over the famed Mount Moosilauke – a serious hike in its own right. No one claims that it is fun, no one claims that is a constructive way to spend your weekend, no one claims that the hike wont leave lasting physical damage weeks afterward. Naturally, when I showed up at the 50 info meeting, the lecture hall was packed with eager applicants, each strategizing their teams of four to maximize their chance of getting selected.

I quickly found my group – a hodgepodge bunch with enough Birkenstocks between us to suggest we might have a real chance here. The meeting was called to attention, and we got a quick run down of what the hike entailed. One support station every 10 miles. Frequent blisters and chafing – vaseline provided. Decent likelihood of trench foot – bring your own change of socks. Nighttime hallucinations – not a whole lot to do there apart from toughing out the spirits of Mt. Cube that roam around in the moonlight. Soon enough it was time to place our names into a lottery – only 8 teams are allowed to go at a time. At around 1:00 AM that night, I got a text from my potential team mate. We had not gotten selected. In fact we were so far down on the waitlist that our team was guaranteed not to go. It was a strange mixture of disappointment and relief. I guess I didn’t really have a right to be angry about being denied the chance to go on a death march across New Hampshire. And yet, the energy and excitement of the event, the strange appeal of doing something so reckless, so elegantly designed to push anyone to their mental and physical breaking point…..I don’t know, something about the 50 seemed irresistible. If I were to get pyschoanalytical, I might mention my early childhood love for the Iditarod, but that is another discussion for another day. Short of hiking it myself, I resolved to support the 50, and I was selected to be in charge of the support station at Great Bear Cabin. The Great Bear support station is at mile 48 and is likewise the last and most dangerous station. A real gem for the masochistic adventurer. Needless to say I was thrilled!

 

In the intervening week and a half, the hike loomed large. Though I was not slated to endure the challenge, several of my close friends were, including my roommate, who was almost demobilized by an unexpected face/neck/chest injury the week before. Much discussion was had over what teams had the advantage, whose knees would fail, which group would be destabilized by bickering. The hike began on 2PM on a Friday, and I walked a group of friends out of Hanover and watched them embark toward Velvet Rocks. I wasn’t on call until 9 that night, at which point my support station assembled to drive to Great Bear cabin. It was just getting dark, and we had our first variation of the “can you believe they have been hiking this long?” conversation. As I watched the sunset behind Robinson hall, it occurred to me that in the woods, it got dark long before the sun set, and it had been some time since they began wading through darkness.

 

Great Bear cabin is about an hour and a half away from campus, on the north side of Mount Moosilauke. I’m definitely not allowed to complain about carrying jugs of water up to the cabin, so I will use this space to pointedly not remark on how much of a pain it was. We got to bed at about midnight, and set the alarm for 6AM to start setting up our cabin. I’m definitely not allowed to comment on how little sleep we had before a full day of difficult work. Every station has a theme, and ours naturally was “Tropical Bear-adise.” Once we had inflated all of the palm trees and set the keyboard to play a marimba beat underneath our zesty steel drum melodies, we were ready to roll.

 

The first group stumbled in around 9AM. It was my roommate’s group, and they were short a man. Their fourth had dropped at mile 30, acknowledging that his deteriorating knees could prevent the entire group from finishing. The group was ominously silent, and they refused our generous offering of grilled cheeses. They eagerly accepted both advil and vaseline, and when asked how they were, one group member said to make sure we keep him talking or moving lest he fall asleep standing up. Nick (roommate) expressed distate for my keyboard playing (I think he threatened to decapitate me if I didn’t turn that f******* thing off). Once they were adequately bandaged and de-blistered, our safety dorks got them up and back on the trail, sending them up the most brutal 3 mile climb of the entire hike. My friend Katie bounced in with the next group, and when she smelled grilled cheese, she told us to make sure she had a sandwich in either hand at all times. Not all members were so enthusiastic, and we learned the hard way that the only vegan food we had at our station was bread, fruit, and granola bars. Katie and company were on a mission, however, and they stayed a paltry 15 minutes before booming up Moosilauke, extra sandwiches in their pockets.

 

Groups continued to arrive throughout the day, and each one arrived in dramatically different conditions. One group had snuck some birthday bubbly (non-alcoholic, of course) in their drop bags (prepacked care bags groups leave at every station) and was in full celebration at Great Bear. One group sat in complete stillness and silence for 25 minutes, and it was only at our intense prompting that they got moving again – the inertia of movement and resting can be irresistible at this point in the hike. Most hikers came in with 24 hours of hiking under their belt, and all of them had just finished most challenging mental portion of the hike. Our station was reportedly 2 miles further than most groups expected, and many said they had imagined seeing the cabin several times along the way. Katie told me that a van waiting to take them the rest of the way had materialized mirage-like midway through the most recent leg. This made for a very interesting dynamic – although the hikers were intensely frustrated by miles 38-48, they were so viscerally happy to see our tropical bearadise that they were prone to giddiness at our station.* Groups that arrived near the end exhibited the most severe degree of exhaustion and injury, including one blister that was appropriately described as “plum sized.” We doubted our decision to let one group continue as they hobbled away from us, and we were maybe a little too relieved to see them again at the Lodge later that night. No groups had any serious injury, though, and all of them had a solid foundation of determination that we could tell would carry their bruised feet over the last mountain. When the last group finally left our station – a chipper crew of tri-delts that had recently lost the trail – we began the process of breaking down camp. An hour after the last group left, we sent sweepers to hike the trial behind them and ensure that no one had been left bloodied along the ascent up Moosilauke. An hour after the sweepers left, we said goodbye to our bear-adise and headed over to the Lodge.

 

All but two hikers made it the entire way, and the two who dropped did so to allow their groups to hike faster. Though all the groups were nearly immobilized when I saw them lying in the Lodge living room, they were all smiling and sharing stories by dinner time. For pretty much all of them, it had been one of the most intense and challenging experiences of their lives, and all had entertained doubts about their ability to finish. And yet, in a testament to human spirit that seems equally trite and bizarre, they had finished our completely arbitrary challenge to walk from one Dartmouth place to another Dartmouth place. Nevertheless, it is hard to look at the finishers and not feel a pang of envy. Yes, this particular physical challenge may seem needlessly dangerous and potentially self-destructive. But these hikers had grappled with something real and succeeded. You feel it at the support stations – there is something important that happens during the 50, some transformation that allows participants to travel to the liminal corners of their selves. The further they explore, the more they need our assistance for basic things like cheese-eating and blister-popping. And when 40 of my classmates show up at various cabins and hills in rural New Hampshire to giver hikers mental and physical sustenance, I think it acknowledges our collective understanding that beneath the ridiculousness, there is something here of value. Not only for the hikers either – there is a special pride we all take in providing support to our friends. I’ve never witnessed many of my friends as broken and tired as they were when they came to Great Bear, and being the one to feed them, massage their feet, and tell a bad joke that makes them smile despite themselves, that seems life-affirming to me. Needless to say, I am already forming my team for the fall.

*One group that deserves separate mention were the nordic skiiers. It is an annual tradition for these athletes to RUN the 50, and they aren’t allowed to start until most hikers are 8 or 9 hours into the event. Without any particular training (outside of their sport practices, of course) they jog the 53.6 miles in about 10 hours. They came into our station as the fifth group, none of them looking particularly phased by the first 48 miles, and they easily finished before any of the other groups. When I was asking if they wanted any food, one of them looked at me dubiously and said, “I guess I’ll take some. I mean, if you can spare any. I’m really fine either way.”

Aug 062014
 

While the title of this blog post is of course (mostly) a joke, I’ve learned an important lesson over the last 19 years and 11 months of my life, and I’d like to share it here. Before coming to Dartmouth–or any other institution, for that matter–think critically about the way you approach your own happiness. At the end of the day (or your life), your happiness will have mattered in a serious, serious way. And I firmly believe that the way you go about finding it should reflect that level of paramount importance.

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 (Photo: Kelsey Biddle ’17)

Throughout my two years at Dartmouth thus far–and especially this summer–I’ve heard complaints of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. “I thought sophomore summer was supposed to be the best time of my life, but it’s pretty normal. Almost boring, actually.” “Dartmouth promised me a lot of things in its admissions brochure that didn’t quite turn out to be true.” “Everyone told me that college would be the best four years of my life, but it just doesn’t seem like it is.”

Before continuing, I’d like to clarify that complaints like these are not unique to Dartmouth, by any means. Many of my friends at other schools report similar feelings of disillusionment with their college experiences, and each thinks that it is the fault of their school or their environment.

Too often, the question seems to be: What did my school not do for me? However, it is much more important that we adopt a Kennedy-esque revision: What have I not been doing for myself?

While I acknowledge that my own experience does not necessarily reflect the experiences of others–I have certain advantages and disadvantages in virtue of being who I am that allow and prevent me from doing various things–I am led to believe that the vast majority of complaints about unhappiness at Dartmouth are unfounded.

I absolutely love it here. My friends are some of the best I could ask for. My professors and classes have taught me more than I ever anticipated. Sophomore summer has been a truly incredible time–not far from the “Camp Dartmouth” about which I’d heard so many stories. And the last two years I’ve spend in Hanover have probably been the best of my life.

And I genuinely mean that.

This blog post may seem like an attempt to justify the imperfections of Dartmouth; it is not. Instead, it is an attempt to show that Dartmouth gives us ample opportunities to live the fulfilling, happy lives that we all wanted upon graduating high school. It should be obvious that our happiness will not be handed to us in gift-wrapped boxes, but Dartmouth has left such boxes all around for us to discover ourselves.

And so, I may have been alive for less than two decades, but the lesson I wish to impart now is simple: Fulfill your own sophomore summer, college experience, and life in general. Dartmouth wants to help you do so.

Be outside.

Pine Park Blog pic

Eat with friends.

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Initiate meaningful conversations with friends.

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Initiate meaningful conversations with strangers.

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Write something for your own personal benefit.

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Go whitewater kayaking.

Whitewater-Group

Find rope swings.

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Study what you love. Learn outside the classroom.

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Listen to a new genre of music.

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Remember to smile. Laugh.

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Don’t just look at the glass as half-empty or half-full. There is water all around us–fill your own glass the rest of the way.

I’ll end this post as I have in the past. I love this place, and if you have any questions about why you might not, please email me @ alexander.e.libre.16@dartmouth.edu.

Have a happy, full-glassed summer, and I hope to see you on campus in the future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 032014
 

Apostrophe – Abbreviation:
Freshman fall
Trip leader, on a clandestine meeting:
her: “meet me @ 22 ww”
read 11:32
me: “Ok. what is ww”
sent 12:01

’13: “working in one wheelock. LNC?”
sent 9:32
Me: “sure. what is lnc?”
sent 9:33

In the Rauner common room
Floormate: “guys I just flitzed my professor”
Me: “You mean blitz?”
Her: “I know what I said, I know the difference.”

Apostrophe – Possessive:
The season isn’t particularly relevant, but it happened to be freshman spring. I leave my water bottle in the lecture hall of my 12 o’clock class. I realize it during lunch, and I promptly return to retrieve it. I see there is another class in session, but decide that most professors wouldn’t mind if a student pops into a big lecture to grab a forgotten object and leaves discreetly. I wait for someone else to open the door, but as I walk into view the professor immediately stops talking. I walk up the stairs to the back, but she stops me before I get very far.
“Can we help you?” Her voice is impassable.
“I just forgot something in my previous class. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I move further back in the room. I see it perched in the very back row. She sees where my eyes are focused. She reads my intention.
“A water bottle. You stopped my class because it was so urgent that you immediately have your water bottle.” The derision blows hot on my neck, but I am now within 20 feet and I can’t stop now.
“I’m sorry I didn’t realize it would be a distraction. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I’m moving quickly now, knowing I have only moments. I triumphantly grab the forest green plastic and turn to the front. She has completely stepped out from behind the podium. The gawking faces of the lecture hall beneath me seem only to magnify the disgust in her gaze. She points with one finger.
“Get out of my classroom. Now.”

Question Mark:
It’s the first week of sophomore summer and I am sleeping in my new room in my fraternity. I finally have it set up how I like, and I go to bed every night to the reassuring twinkle of President Hanlon’s upstairs window. Each morning the sun rises warmly into my room on waves of birdsong, strains of Peer Gynt Suite following not long behind. It’s Thursday. My first class isn’t until noon and I can sleep to my hearts content. Despite that, I wake in the dappled pre-dawn light. I feel a flurry of movement near the end of my bed. Looking up, I see a squirrel perched on my toe. I gaze into his eyes, black and calm, and for a moment we are both still. I don’t feel fear or confusion, it is just me and the squirrel. He is in my bed and I am in his bed – thoughtless, perfect understanding. Then I flinch and he bites my toe and he runs back out the window. I look out to check the ledge directly below, and his head pokes up over the sill right as I arrive. He lets go out of shock, and for a second I expect a splat on the ground. Before I can go back to bed, I see him scurrying across the porch. This is the first of several times Amos visits me during the summer.

Exclamation Point:
Sophomore fall. I’m standing on the green at night by myself. The air is warm for November, warm enough that I am bare foot. The grass is damp and refreshing beneath my feet, and a wind stirs in my hair. With sudden clarity, I realize that I am dreaming. I grip the grass between my toes. I start to run. I approach the library, and I’m in mid air. The wind is howling past my ears now, and I propel myself higher into the air. At such high speeds, I sense the prevailing currents as they flap my shirt sleeves. The ground is a distant sight, and for a minute I know only the terrifying isolation of being miles in the sky, unsupported as I zoom through space. As the sun rises, the upper valley opens up underneath me, the Connecticut a blue slash through flaming mountains and twinkling villages. My fingers grip the air like reigns – each digit sensing the elaborate connections between myself and the world beneath. I’m no longer flying; I hover in the air as I rotate the earth beneath me. There is a growing tension. The art I am engaging in grows increasingly delicate, as if it all might collapse at any second. With a faint pop, the illusion dissipates, and I fall into a shallow stream in mid morning. The forest is around me, and I forget where I came from. I lie in the sun, dozing back into the wakefulness of my room in the River. I stay under the comforter for some time, happy to waste the morning contemplating wherever it is I had just come from.

Period:
Freshman Spring
I’m sitting at the top of the hop and my attention span has gone dry. Not just for the present moment – as I lay the book against my stomach and watch the sunset, I doubt I will spend another second studying for the rest of term. The sky spins like a marble, purple and orange and azure streaks drifting behind the silhouettes of budding trees. Campus burns slowly in the fading day. I have one final thought before I relax into the thoughtlessness of the moment. I’m happy.

Jul 222014
 

I’m now four weeks into my sophomore summer, a term commonly considered as some sort of golden time, the last term to make the most of my youthful vigor before I’m officially a junior in college and all that’s left for me is the tribulations of the real world (or grad school, which is like half-real world). Summer term certainly differs from other on terms. There is a lot of physical freedom that seems to translate well into the free spirit of summer. With 3/4 of the undergraduate population off, there’s more campus land available per person. I can actually walk normally in Collis after 11s, and save Sundays before a week of midterms, each floor of the library is inhabited by maybe ten people. With less students, Dartmouth feels less like an academic institution and more like an academic summer camp. Provided, of course, that you have a less strenuous course load. This has unfortunately not been true for me and most of my friends, but despite the work, I’ve managed to do something somewhat interesting every week. Programming Board sponsored a trip to Maine this past Saturday, thus allowing me to fulfill my longtime dreams of vacationing in Maine:

Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine. dreamy

Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine. dreamy

Programming Board also provided us with a free towel and 14X tank top apiece, which was a truly delightful surprise! We were only there for five hours or so, but it was nice to decompress and be in a completely different landscape from campus.

The previous week, my friends and I went to the Andrew Bird concert at the Hop. Students pay a flat price of $10 per ticket for all visiting artists, and $5 for student ensembles. The first time I saw Andrew Bird, I paid around $35 for my ticket. If you’ve never seen him perform or even heard of him, it’s high time you did. He’s simply amazing, creates many of his songs through layers of looped tracks of whistling, violin playing, singing… If I had been at Northwestern 20 years ago, I would have insisted on marriage.

in love.

in love

Before that was Fourth of July weekend. My roommate and I went to Boston and ate a lot. We were supposed to have gone to the Red Sox vs. Orioles game, but it was raining VERY heavily that day and the game was postponed. So instead we ate pizza, walked around the Harvard area, ducked into a used bookstore, and had frozen custard.

And before THAT was STRIPS weekend! STRIPS is the sophomore summer version of First Year Trips. It runs from Friday to midday Sunday, and you can choose what sort of trip you’d like to go on. I went on a moderate hiking trip that encompassed part of the Appalachian Trail. There was a really neat moment coming back to campus on Sunday when I ran across a hiker we had met somewhere on the trail in Vermont the previous night. He and his friend had just graduated high school and were hiking the Vermont Long Trail, part of which coincides with the Appalachian Trail. They wanted to get to Hanover by 3-4 ish the next day so that they could get food in town and spend the night at Velvet Rocks shelter (Velvet Rocks is a great hike just a little off of Main Street). We told them that we would be coming back from Moosilauke Lodge around that time, and my STRIPS leader offered up his phone number, suggesting that they call if they wanted a ride from Norwich, VT (the town just a bridge away) to Hanover. It was kind of surreal to see the boy in the basement of Robo, refilling his water bottle at the tap when just ten hours before we had all been filtering water from the stream, swatting away the mosquitoes, eating our delicious non-perishables (snacks provided by the Dartmouth Outing Club are usually great, we just didn’t have much left besides raisins and granola). I will have fond memories of adding an entire block of Cabot cheese into our three courses of Annie’s mac and cheese.

So the mystique of sophomore summer? A bit of a ruse, really. Occasionally I  hear about Masters games, weekend visits to the copper mines or to the original KAF in Norwich, other traditional sophomore summer things I have no clue about, but as for me, I’m not sure I’ve found Camp Dartmouth yet. Less people, fewer course selections, no Hop café, more construction, all offset by more sun: that’s really 14X.

Jun 232014
 

 In the whole history of everything, a capella music is the most impossible thing to explain to an outsider. It’s deliberately cheesy. It almost always falls short of the original music. The choreography is frequently lackluster, predictable and flaccid. Often, the soloists are neck-craningly inaudible on the freshman-swamped first floor of a frat house, which, despite possessing the stunted acoustical virtues of giant, gritty shoebox, is almost always the site of a capella shows.

By all principles of common sense and ordinary taste, a capella music and its contagious subculture should not exist on the planet, much less at Dartmouth, where accomplished pianists, brilliant opera-singers and the most stimulating flautists in the western hemisphere suffer daily of almost total ignominy, sequestered in the windowless practice rooms located seven miles below ground at the HOP.

And yet I find all my fluorescent common sense of little importance, for I am, at Dartmouth, the most passionate proponent of a capella music under the sun.

Here’s why:

Last Friday, I sat down in the Ticknor room of Rauner Library and gave over an hour of testimony to the Upper Valley Oral History project. I answered, at length and in detail, questions about my experiences at Dartmouth as a freshman, a sophomore, a junior and now, a rogue senior on a mission to never graduate. I gave my two cents on recent events and my take on longstanding trends and changes in my time at this institution. I took advantage of more personal and philosophical questions about exclusion, tradition and community. For this third principle, I could give no better example of a perfect community than the Dartmouth Cords All-Male a capella group.

I grew up in a house full of song and I knew I loved to sing. Other than the occasional kiddy musical, I’d never performed in a formal capacity. So, more than anything, I was beyond excited to be one of a swarm of anxious freshmen in suit jackets flooding into the Hopkins center during orientation. My trip leader, a Cord in the class of 2014, had heard me singing in the woods. “You should audition for a capella Pellowski! We always need more basses. You don’t even have to be that good.”

He didn’t have to ask me to audition, since it was already my number one priority. But like all dreams of the young, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After forty-eight hours of being passed around like a dipspit cup among more a capella groups than I could even now name, I felt fried, frazzled and a little bit afraid. As is chronically my habit, I had underestimated what large proportions of my nerditudinal classmates had as much talent as I had, in this case, it seemed like every other dude was gifted with great pipes and just an ounce more social aptitude than I had.

At 3AM, walking home from the final round, I was accosted by a skunk outside of Russell Sage, causing me to jump out of my pants in terror and, in my delirium, lose all hope in my chances.

So when, as I made my way to my first college class ever as good as drunk from auditions-induced fatigue, the sight of a Cord from the Class of 2013 approaching me on the Green caused me to just about pee myself.

“Hey. Welcome to the Cords!”

WHAT.”

“Uh, I said welcome to the Cords.”

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! THANK YOU!”

I made it to Italian One with an extra helping of bang and bounce in my bottom. I recognized a dude down the row from me from the previous night. He’d made it into the Aires. It was with great mutual smugness that we shared our success stories, taking ten-story-tall pride in our new membership to the most uncool thing to which either of us would ever belong.

There are hundreds more stories that unfolded following that day, many of which would do more representative justice to the experience of being in a Dartmouth a capella group. But those first few hours, in which I was privileged with my longest-lasting foothold in the Dartmouth community, have become increasingly endeared to me as I look over my shoulder at the past three years.

Winter tour is a blast, rehearsal is high-pressure, frat shows, despite their rampant audio flaws, make you feel like you’re in NSYNC and it’s still 2002. But as I sometimes find myself telling faces befuddled at the notion that it all could still be worth six hours a week of rehearsal, music is really only about 2 percent of what an a capella group does.

More than anything, the Cords have been the best friends I’ve had in my entire life. Something about the intimacy of vocal harmony, or the painstaking process of working to turn sheet music into sound, or just the hundreds of quiet hours packed snug in a car going straight down a New England road, headed to a five-song show at who-knows-which-college-it-is-tonight, has led to a flourishing little world of twentysomething twentysomethings with backgrounds as diverse as a bowl of Gardetto’s.

Whether I am stressed, ecstatic, depressed or ready to toss back a few Cold Ones, the Cords are the Minute Men, the First Responders, the surrogate brothers, dads and moms. We can all make each other laugh ourselves to pieces, and we have, on evenings of safe, unshamed emotion and honesty, shared our most tender dreams and fears.

From freshmen year on, it was a Cord I talked to on Facebook at 2am, home from the frats, distraught at an unreciprocated crush, Cords I met up with in Boston to smoke hookah and shoot the breeze about love, rap music, phil classes and finance. A Cord let me sleep over in his room for days during the darkest winter of my life, when I was too sad to sleep alone, and its with a Cord that I’m currently living off-campus all summer.

I can’t speak for other a capella groups, though I trust they could tell similar stories. And I know that even if it’s only one of many forces, music has a power to unify and cohere people into communities in a way that dispels the tenacious restrictions of class, masculinity, anxiety, affiliation, religion and ideology. You learn that any voice, however excellent it is in its own right, is brightened and empowered by the empathetic addition of another voice seeking harmony. Unconsciously, the lesson translates from melody to humanity, and you find all the calcification of feeling towards other people drop away.

Whatever I’m saying here is probably too far-fetched or, worse, even too obvious to claim any profundity. But I can’t grasp any better explanation for how I feel about the Cords. Maybe this gives words to a sensation that somebody reading this has had before in one way or another, or maybe I sound like I’m advertising an experiment for those folks just starting, untethered, on their undergraduate exploration. But throughout all its neverending, zany nonsense and tutti frutti narcissism, being in an a capella group has taught me one true thing: that to create a true community, you must treat people like music.

Jun 082014
 

I suppose the title of this post is a bit of a turn-off since it refers to this period of time in my life as “pre-”, but in some ways the entirety of college is pre, and I couldn’t really think of a better title for interim that didn’t include the word interim.

I suppose I should recap the last bit of my spring term! There was this:

10272630_650716094983945_5687268962227919694_owhich went marvelously, I thought! A bit of a struggle with the death toll chimes in the Berlioz, which had me literally rolling my eyes on stage, but it was a great time regardless. I woke up the next morning with a nice little nacho belly from post-concert Murphy’s and the prospect of catching up on all the studying I had missed for concert week (four, 3 hour rehearsals that week plus the concert itself, and then not being able to do any work the evening of the concert), which was not so marvelous. I spent the following Monday getting trained to be a First-Year Trips leader, which sucked up another 9 hours (three, three-hour sessions back to back) of study time. The training was quite useful, though, seeing as I did need to learn about reading maps and wrapping ankles, and there was also a component called, “Community Building” that I found quite engaging! It was another opportunity to talk about some important features of identity that can come into conflict at Dartmouth, and the trainers also prepped us for different moments of Trips, from the moment that new students arrive at Robo lawn to when they’re back on the lawn after Trips. Anyway, after 9 hours of talking about Trips, I’m very very very excited for this thing to happen. Potential trippees, think about signing up for Section H cabin camping for some quality time in the woods!

 

Other than literally living at a KAF table studying for finals, which for me constituted a test on Friday morning, a test on Saturday morning, and an essay due immediately following the test on Saturday (this was, suffice to say, THE worst finals schedule I have ever had a Dartmouth), some actually tolerable moments in pictures:

deer crossing during a lunchtime run in pine park!

deer crossing during a lunchtime run in pine park. yes, I was frightened, but then I remembered this happening all the time back at home

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evening at the farm

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DSO end of the year brunch/senior send-off, this year replaced with a dinner instead

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and pancake breakfast on my last full day on campus, featuring that maple syrup I’ve been going on about for so long!

Signing off to read more (for leisure! what a novelty!)

Jun 062014
 

Home Sweet Home Yall’

 

I am back home in Texas for a bit before the start of a new term and I must say, I am very happy to be home. It is great to see family and friends. What amazes me though about returning home is how quickly time has passed in between now and my last visit home. It just goes to show, life is short, so it is up to us to make the very best of each and every day with our family and friends at home, and more importantly, at a great school like Dartmouth.

Enjoy the summer everyone!

Texas Sky

Sincerely,

Irene 

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