Oct 162014
 

bike

As a Texan, or “Person of Salsa” as I prefer to be addressed, I am no great fan of New England’s climate for a good two-thirds of the year. It is with clenched apprehension that I await Hanover’s mutation into a two-tone (gray and white) blur of snow, what everyone else seems to think is some fantastic, Winter Wonderland scenario, like some Twilight Zone episode about a bunch of kids who attend a college housed in a giant snowglobe. I, by contrast, am accustomed dust, mesquite, grackles, sweat and supernovan quantities of sunshine in a sky of molten blue (to borrow a lovely chromatic idiom from my top homegirl Emily Dickinson), so winter in Hanover resembles more of a hell-hole Hoth.

But it is still a matter of a few month’s time before the great icy metamorphosis, and I am enjoying Hanover during the period I do really love: the fall. The air has distinct, seasonal smells to it, there are firestorms of red fallen leaves in every direction, and the sun sinks each evening over the hill in magnificent splendor, like a fat gold cookie being dipped slowly into an earth-sized Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Provoke by such autumnal beauty, I have taken to riding my rental bicycle around to kill time and to think. The bike is a new addition to my lifestyle and quite a good one, too. I’m living off-campus (and loving it!) and the extra minutes shaved off my commute give me great flexibility. It’s also just to move a little faster in a town where everything is so ancient and slow. Sometimes, as I rush past a flock of pedestrians, hobbling in Hunter boots at two miles per hour towards their Earth Science layup, I experience an exhilarating sensation of the quasi-supernatural; I declare to myself in my head:

“On this bike I am not a man. I am a centaur!”

Another great cycling activity is bombing around the Green listening to ‘Bicycle Race’ by Queen at full blast. This is what I was doing one day last week when I spotted one of my best friends, Edward “Crazy Eddy” Henderville. I cut across the Green, slowed down and pulled up next to him.

“HEY EDDY!”

“Yo, what’s good, Pellowski?”

Not answering his question, I yank out my earphones and announce:

“All the little people of the world, like mosquitoes caught in eddies too large to comprehend, pursuing vain dreams and stalking empty loves: they will never know anything like True Happiness until they ride a bicycle while listening to Bicycle race by Queen.”

Before he can utter a word, I re-insert the earphones and speed off, confident that I have impart some hefty wisdom upon my friend as I coast homeward, bouncing up and down and singing along to the chorus: “BICYCLE! BICYCLE! BICYCLE! BICYCLE!”

Of course, this is all therapy designed to mitigate some deeper despair. As a senior, for the first time in my life I don’t know what I’m doing next year. The near future stretches out before my like a gaping chasm, full of darkness and ice and howling befanged ghosts. I see my brother, Class of 2018, having a great time during his first fall at Dartmouth while I cling to every hour of every day of my last.

It’s freaky how I feel simultaneously like freshman year was forever ago but also still feel like I just got here… and am totally emotionally unprepared to leave. Every square foot of this campus has some memory attached to it, both pleasant and painful. But when will be the last time I remember those memories? When will be the last time I walk down the steps of Reed Hall? When will be the last time I turn off an explored road and find myself face to face with a ten-mile view over a stained-glass valley of pines and flashing river light?

I’m almost inclined to do some stupid romantic thing like plant a time capsule in the BEMA containing a copy of Plato’s Euthyphro, a scarf, the a cappella sheet music to Footloose, a Keystone Light and buffalo tender queso from the HOP. Then, in some surrogate, symbolic way, I would never have to leave. For little part of AP’15—the part I didn’t have when I first stepped into Russell Sage 109 back in 2012—that little part would remain.

 

Oct 142014
 
2014-09-28 12.37.03

2014-09-28 12.37.03My first reaction upon arriving to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge on the morning of October 4th was assuredly expletive filled and incoherent, but it probably boiled down to “It’s about time.” Of course, I can only guess as to this, seeing as the contents of my brain from 6AM-1PM that morning were best represented as a Jackson Pollack painting. My second, and much more delayed, reaction to this arrival was a strange sort of hunger. I hadn’t died, I hadn’t broken a bone, I hadn’t even gotten a blister. It’s inappropriate and probably a little demeaning to the 13 people who did not finish, but I couldn’t help but thinking, “what’s next?” Which I suppose is one of the numerous possible reactions one could have to hiking for 25 hours straight through the night to get from point A to point B.

The 50 is a time honored Dartmouth tradition that I have written about before. Groups of four sign up for a lottery, and 8 teams are selected to hike (32 total hikers). This fall, I decided to do the famed death march that starts at Robinson Hall, summits 6 mountains, and arrives 53.6 miles later at the Dartmouth owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge (known simply as ‘the Lodge’). Seeing as this was right around the time of the fall equinox (based on the number of werewolf sightings during the night), the hike contained a 12 hour segment in the dark. There were many highlights from this period. When we started our ascent up Mt. Smarts, you better believe we had Eminem going at full volume feeling like we were about to storm the walls of Helm’s Deep. And on the way down Mt. Cube, we blasted the first book of Harry Potter on audiobook as if we were about to storm the walls of my mom’s mini van. And there was that moment when we thought that we might literally have found Hell when we reached the road at 3:30 in the morning and it was so pitch black that when we turned our headlamps off we couldn’t see our hands. There was only the unrelenting pain in our feet and knees. At 8AM, one of my friends hiking on my team said that he was relieved. I asked why. He said it was because he thought he was finally going crazy, and that meant his brain was doing something to cope with the pain, which was evidently a good sign. I couldn’t really work out what he was saying. I was too busy swimming in a sea of jelly beans.

2014-09-28 12.37.44

3/4 of the group on a training hike

There are a lot of canned answers you get about things at Dartmouth. “How was your freshman trip?” Great! “How was your FSP” Wonderful! “How was sophomore summer?” Sunny! In reality, these things are all very complex and warrant long and reflective answers, but you have about 47 seconds standing in line before it is your turn to order, and you wont be able to rehearse what you are going to ask for in your head if you are seriously reflecting on your experiences. There isn’t really a canned response for hiking the 50 (only 32 people set out to do it twice a year), but if there were it would probably go like: “How was the 50” Terrible! I don’t know why people do it! I personally have never been more stumped by small talk than I am by that question. Am I allowed to say, “It sucked, I guess, but it was also great. I want to do it again?” The question mark indicates an upward inflection rather than an actual question (other people rarely have the answers to questions you ask yourself). It’s hard to process an experience when you are progressively losing your mind as it gets more interesting. The sucky parts definitely sucked. Miles 42-44 felt like I was walking in circles, and I could have sworn the forest was mocking me with its colors. There was a distinct point when I almost got in a fist fight with Mount Moosilauke over the sheer audacity of its final uphill. But I never for a second doubted that I would finish, and that gave me pause. How much further could we have gone? There are two things about the 50 that are so indescribably great that I can’t imagine that I only got to experience them in those 25 hours and 47 minutes of my entire life.

2014-09-28 12.37.03

  1. Getting supported by my friends for a meaningless task, merely because I had set out to do that meaningless task:

Every 10 miles, I was shepherded to comfy seats with hot drinks and food while eager pre-med students took my boots off and anxiously searched for blisters. Maybe its just me enjoying luxury, but it is just awesome to feel the full support and enthusiasm for upwards of 60 people who want you to finish. I think Dartmouth has a special capacity for generating these sort of people/this type of experience.

 

  1. Accomplishing something immensely dumb and dangerous with a team of my closest friends

Doing the 50 is a weird and circuitous way of expressing camaraderie and friendship in the form of “how the hell are we going to get up that mountain?” We all were in the same place when the gradients got steep, when the moon set, when the fog descended; we went through the same hell together. Conversely, we were there together when the sun rose and we remembered how beautiful the New England colors were (I wish I were exaggerating when I say I remembered that the forest had color at all). We were there at every support station (which is the psychological equivalent of a particularly fun holiday, maybe Halloween). We were there when we passed people at the top of Mount Moosilauke and they asked us where we were coming from and we said defiantly “Hanover.” And then they looked as us weird because we smelled bad and were empirically insane and they probably didn’t believe us. These two things are so wonderful, and the sense of accomplishment is so strong, that I want to do the 50 again. Except not literally – the 50 at this point is a metaphor for fun suffering (keep up). So I guess all that’s left is the question, “What’s next?”

Smiles only go so far to mask the existential pain.

Smiles only go so far to mask the existential pain.

Couldn't move my legs for a minute.

Couldn’t move my legs for a minute.

At the lodge, trying to reach back to Hanover

At the lodge, trying to reach back to Hanover

Optimism at mile 10

Optimism at mile 10

Colors!

Colors!

Sep 172014
 

Every September at Dartmouth the college photographer takes an official photograph of the new, first-year class standing together on the Green in front of Dartmouth Hall (built 1784). Here’s the Class of 2018 photo.

Image of the class of 2018 on the Green at Dartmouth College

Class of 2018

Now that classes have started our bloggers are busy reconnecting with friends, meeting and greeting the new first-years, settling into rooms, getting used to the fall schedule of classes, and finding little time just now to sit down and share with you. Give ‘em a few weeks and you’ll likely see some accounts of how the start of term is going for the Dartmouth Direct blogging team.

In the meantime, here are a few more snaps of the last few weeks from our Flickr stream.

Students dancing the Salty Dog Rag

First-Year Trips: Salty Dog Rag

Girls carrying fridge.

Move-In Day: Sustainability Fair

Image of international students chatting

International Student Orientation

 

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.

2013-11-23 14.35.54

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.

uQ0WgUN

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:

sevcik-violin-studies-opus-1-part-1-14029815

 

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

 

imgres

Mt. St. Helens Erupts

Ahead

 Posted by at 2:34 pm  No Responses »
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:

IMG_1177

IMG_1183

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.

IMG_1210

 

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.

kelsey biddle blog pic

 (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.

niccookingblogpic

Initiate meaningful conversations with friends.

vic and nic blog pic

Initiate meaningful conversations with strangers.

Stripsblogpic

Write something for your own personal benefit.

killington blog pic

Go whitewater kayaking.

Whitewater-Group

Find rope swings.

Ropeswingblogpic

Study what you love. Learn outside the classroom.

Reid Moose blog pic

Listen to a new genre of music.

Vibes blog pic

Remember to smile. Laugh.

Cords Blog Pic

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 cappella 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 cappella 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 cappella 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 cappella 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 cappella 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 cappella 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 cappella 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, unashamed 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 it’s with a Cord that I’m currently living off-campus all summer.

I can’t speak for other a cappella 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 cappella 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!)