Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm sure you've noticed, dear readers, that I've been neglecting postings as of late. I kept trying to think of things to write about: new things I've discovered about Dartmouth, new experiences and adventures that have taught me something utterly unique about the College on the Hill. It's not that I don't have anything to say - I do. It's just that there have been a few things keeping me from writing.

First, discovering things about Dartmouth means necessarily being separate from it: it wouldn't be called discovery if you were already a part of that which you were exploring. And I feel as though, after two years here, discoveries about Dartmouth are fairly indistinguishable from discoveries about myself - and I have yet to decide whether or not I want to share those discoveries here.

Which leads me to my second point: although Dartmouth is a wonderful place, it's also a small place. Living here is like living in a petri dish - and that analogy works on so many levels. (The first time I went to office hours with my English professor this term, for instance, he told me that he'd read my blog.) I've often wondered if there's a way to be a social person here without encountering uninvited criticism and scrutiny... I imagine this statement could be misconstrued in a thousand different ways, but each of them would only serve to prove my point, I think. So no matter what I write, I feel, someone will have something bad to say about it, and about me, or about both - and that's rather paralyzing, especially for someone who seeks only to be a positive force (or, at the very least, an unobtrusive presence) in people's lives.

Third, I don't know how much more I can say about Dartmouth that's appropriate for an admissions website. Of course, Dartmouth is a charming little collective of brick buildings tucked away amongst the pine trees of New Hampshire where eager, bright-eyed students toddle off to class in the mornings. But Dartmouth is also the inspiration for Animal House. There seems to be this fine line between "selling" the college to prospective students like yourselves and letting you know what you're really buying. Yes, you're going to be receiving a world-class education with a walk-in closet and a full bath - but you might also get a mundane lecture of 100 disinterested, hungover students with a drippy faucet and the occasional mouse. You'll get friendly, kind, interesting, compassionate peers - but you'll also get bored@baker (look it up... trust me).

When people ask me what I want to do after college, I used to say that I wanted to go to University of Chicago and get a PhD in English and become a prof and live in a quiet little house built fifty years before I was born. Now I tell them I want to live in a field, off the grid, exploring and adventuring and misadventuring. I say this now because the thought of three more years of school after these four years feels absolutely excruciating. It seems nearly impossible to me to balance what I want to do and what I have to do - and I think I have a lot more what-I-want-to-do to get out of my system before I can move on to the obligatory. And I want to live in a field because I want to live alone - I want to escape the endless exhaustion that comes with participating in a community every hour of the day. I'm fascinated by the possibility of it, by the limitless freedom of choice - by this I don't mean physical or logistical choice, but rather ideological decision: I want to think everything, an everything unconstrained by the linguistic and geographical and social limits of an institution - any institution.

"Do you think it'd be different at any other school?" my roommate asked me.
"No," I said. "I don't."

Sunday, April 10, 2011


About halfway through my freshman fall, I became a vegetarian. I sat down one day with a group of friends at Homeplate (one of the dining areas on campus that, thanks to a series of complex and unnavigable renovations has recently been transformed into some sort of hidden Narnia behind Food Court), my plate heavy with roast beef and mashed potatoes, like those of so many other people around me. I began to cut into the first piece, a deep, red liquid spilling out over the white ceramic.

"What is that?" I asked my friend sitting next to me.
"...blood?" he said.

In that moment, I realized that I was eating an animal. Not Animals, captial-A, abstraction, but a specific animal, an individual, a living creature - just like me. I quietly finished my mashed potatoes.

And that's what I've been doing ever since - quietly finishing my mashed potatoes. I was never an outspoken vegetarian; when people asked me about my choice, I skirted the question; I wasn't sure why, I just knew how I felt. But recently, I've decided to become more outspoken about not eating meat. I realized that every time I got a meal with someone, I was witnessing them making a choice about food - we were participating in a ritualistic cultural act together; we were each other's audiences, both of our meals and our conversations.

"Can we go to FoCo for dinner tonight?" my friend asked.
"Why?" I countered. "Do they have anything good?"
"They have tuna!"
Much in the manner of someone who throws red paint on people wearing fur, I responded "Do you know how many dolphins died to make that tuna possible?"
Needless to say, we went to FoCo, and she got the tuna.

Yet I remained undeterred - I wanted people to be informed about their food choices; I wanted them to know what I knew about factory farms, about animal cruelty, about sustainable agriculture. A fresh can of paint in my hand, I persisted.

"Hey, how are you? I haven't seen you in ages!" I had run into an acquaintance in FoCo.
"I'm good, I'm good... just about to order a chicken sandwich..." he said inconsequentially.
I thought for a moment. "Can I tell you something about your chicken?"
"Er... I guess?"
"Seriously, tell me if you don't want to know. I don't have to tell you." And I meant it - I didn't want to ruin his dinner without his permission.
"No, go ahead."
I grinned. "Your chicken is 11% feces-infected water!" I stated proudly.
"It's what?"
And I told him about USDA regulations, and how in fact it's encouraged to contaminate chickens like that during slaughter, and on and on until I could tell I had gotten my point across. I apologized for spoiling his chicken sandwich and wished him a good dinner.
A few minutes later, I was sitting down with my friends; I heard someone call my name.
"Alexis!" I turned. "I got a veggie burger!"

Chicken Sandwich Boy had gotten a veggie burger. I had convinced someone, even for just one meal, to choose not to eat meat. The feeling still sticks with me - I felt that if I could make one change like that, I could make a thousand changes like that. If I made a thousand changes, that might add up to one big change, like a factory farm going out of business. Even if it only mattered to Chicken Sandwich Boy and me, I made a difference.

And it struck me that that difference couldn't have happened anywhere - at Dartmouth, people are willing to listen. Even if the vast majority of my friends currently and will continue to eat meat, they're still interested in other perspectives, other approaches to what seems like an almost intuitive thing. In talking to my friends about vegetarianism, I've come to realize a new dimension to my friendships at Dartmouth: classrooms are a wonderful forum for sharing ideas, but so are dining halls, dorm rooms, and the Green. I can't say with certainty that this pervasive intellectual curiosity - the need-to-know-why - is particular to Dartmouth; the only certainty that I have is that at Dartmouth, that curiosity is met with encouragement, with eager ears, open arms, and a critical eye. Dear Old Dartmouthians not only genuinely care about each other; we are sincerely interested in each other's ideas, passions, and pipe dreams. Which is why I can eat a veggie sandwich while my best friend sits across the table eating a tuna steak, and we can still have an amazing conversation.

Monday, March 7, 2011


We smiled knowingly at each other as he began pushing the shopping cart. I jumped on the front; he pushed faster. A familiar song from our childhood played hazily from the speaker system: we sing to each other. (There are no other PriceChopper customers in sight to judge us.) We go down aisle after aisle, picking up boxes of cookies, putting them back, taking three more of a different brand; we get peanut butter, chocolate, cheese, hummus; we fill our cart knowing we will eat like Snack Food Kings through finals period. At the checkout counter we try to convince the cashier to give us all of the leftover baguettes for free -- he counters with the reasonable point that he could lose his job. As we drove home through the dull New Hampshire dark, I said, "Thanks so much for this. It was really nice to get away from Hanover for a little while."

Away-from-Hanover, in this case, meant a 20-minute trek to a prep school 20 minutes south of Dartmouth to see my friend's high school play. They were performing "Sweeny Todd"; he needed a car, and I needed a break -- and so we went. The closer we got to the school, the more reminiscent he became: "Look at the view!" he cried. "There is no view..." I said, looking off into the black trees. "No, it's coming up! Wait for it.... wait for it... NOW!" and, sure enough, a sloping campus revealed itself from amidst the trees, shining and warm on the hillside.

As we walked into the theatre, I felt immediately out of place. Everyone else was, for those familiar with uniforms, in "Friday Dress" -- suits for men, dresses for women. I was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and snowboots. And yet, I was almost glad to stand out; I was not only a play-watcher, I was a people-watcher, borne back into the world of high school theatre once again, witnessing the glimmering eagerness of being-out-on-a-school-night, of classmates in costume, of mingling with teachers under the equalizing gaze of the proscenium. During intermission, I smiled nostalgically at the over-tight dresses of the girls, at the ill-fitting suits of the boys: at the performative insecurity of high school. When the show ended, the actors poured out into the auditorium, not even changing out of their costumes before rushing into the open arms of friends and family.

And I remembered my days in high school spent rehearsing; my nights eating Subway for dinner on the way home; the chilling anticipation of before each show and the kindness of teachers in assigning less homework over opening weekend. I remembered the communal joy of being a part of a production, of traveling to other schools, treading the fine line of support and scoping-out-the-competition. But most of all, I remembered the divided life of high school: time between home and classes, friends you only see during the day, family dinners at night, homework done at the kitchen counter or at your father's desk. It all felt so utterly different from Dartmouth -- from the 24-hour day, from all-nighters and everything unsupervised.

I found myself struck by the notion that as much as high school can try to prepare you for college, it never will. And perhaps that's why it was so nice to get away from Dartmouth for an evening (to wander raucously through supermarket aisles; to take the long way home) -- because sometimes it's important to reflect on how life worked before college. And so I say to you, dear readers: treasure your time in high school while it lasts. Rejoice in the simple wonder of plays, of lunch periods, of the library that you hardly use. Embrace the measured freedom of staying out past curfew, of getting your license, of dressing up for dances. Each of those things -- and a thousand more -- is precious in its own right; and from the moment you graduate, you'll only be able to watch them as I watched the audience during intermission: from a point of detached reflection, punctuated by fleeting moments of recollection.

And another thing, readers: find those moments, once you're away from home, that bring you back to the simpler joys of schooldays. In the words of Ferris Bueller, the greatest high-schooler of our era: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." As much as I love Dartmouth, it's not the only thing I want to see when I look around. See beyond, dear readers; give yourself a moment to reflect in broad-scope every so often; consider not only where you are, but where you came from, and, if you're brave enough, where you are going. Love the moment that surrounds you, not without context, but because of all the moments before and after it, too. And college will be but one moment in a string of beautiful moments -- don't try so hard to create memories that you find yourself always standing one step ahead of time, looking back on it and wondering after its worth; stand firmly, look around, remember and expect, but be here now.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'm sure, loyal readers, that in your insatiable quest for knowledge about Dartmouth, you've stumbled upon the tried-and-true tradition of the Big Weekend. One for every term, they stand as both a beacon of pride and celebration and a hazy abyss of incomplete assignments and partially-recalled memories. Whether out of respect for tradition or pure rationalism, classes are cancelled on the Friday of each of these weekends, and the campus is left with nothing other than a vague schedule and its own debaucherous devices. For fall there is Homecoming; for spring, Green Key; for winter: Carnival. And this Winter Carnival, I vowed, would be The Best Carnival Ever.

I've worked hard this term, readers, taking three major classes and trying my hardest to figure out what on earth I should be involved in on campus. I watched my friends sink happily back into the overstuffed armchair of Greek life, while I chose to remain (mostly) unaffiliated. I saw upperclassmen I admire pursue research, find internships, and plan for life post-graduation (in what I presume to be The Real World Out There). And I, chugging happily along, decided that what I needed, more than anything, was one glorious, exhausting, unparalleled Big Weekend. What I got was a concussion.

At around midnight on Friday night -- just as my Carnival festivities were getting underway -- I fell face first into, what else but, the floor, from about two feet up. I didn't realize anything was wrong until the next morning when, in a valiant attempt to get breakfast at the Hop, I couldn't seem to keep the ground from moving beneath my feet. Each time someone engaged me in conversation, I found myself at not a loss for words, but a loss for any thoughts at all. When I tried to read, my dull headache flared and my vision blurred. My head felt, for lack of any other fitting metaphor, like it was filled with Brillo pads -- and what else could I expect, given that this would now be not my first, but my fourth concussion? And so, I spent the rest of my Carnival weekend in bed, dividing my time between staring at the ceiling, sleeping, and eating Frosted Flakes.

Over the past week, I've slowly improved, but there have been moments where I've felt nothing short of terrible. Not because of the headaches or the wooziness, but because of the overwhelming frustration at my inability to read a book, to navigate Collis, to go to class, to stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. This post has taken me ages to write because where there used to be a seamless interchange between my ideas and the sentences on the page, there's now a screen, a filter that keeps me from expressing myself as quickly and as fluidly as I'm normally able to.

If you'll forgive the quality of this post for a final paragraph, I'll tell you what I've learned: it takes a lot to be at Dartmouth. By this I don't mean: it takes hard work to be academically successful at Dartmouth; it takes brilliant interpersonal skills to be socially successful at Dartmouth; or, it takes drive and commitment to be extracurricularly successful at Dartmouth. I mean, simply, that being, existing day-to-day, in such a busy, complex, fast-paced, ever-changing place like Dartmouth, takes a lot of energy -- energy which, post-concussion, I don't seem to have. Over the past week I've come to appreciate so much the high level of mental functioning Dartmouth requires of me every day, regardless of the context. If I ever come to doubt the rigor or intensity of my experience here, I hope I can look back on this hazy, headachey time and be thankful for all that Dartmouth has asked of me, and all I've been able to give.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Walking back to my dorm just now, Iron & Wine singing sweetly in my ears, their guitar strings tangled up in the barren treetops, I couldn't help but smile. I knew I wanted to write to you, but I'm not sure I have any grand and sweeping revelation to share; merely a moment of happiness, of having dinner with friends you run into, of hearing a good song, of knowing you have a hockey game later; of walking down the slushy path of Massachusetts Row and all-of-a-sudden emerging onto Tuck Mall, looking down the snowlit hill towards the mountains, trying to count the number of paths that some anonymous person in the early-morning wrought through the snow and how many people after them followed in their unsigned footsteps.

You know how I say over and over that Dartmouth is incredible? I was all wrong, readers. I thought that for something to be incredible, it had to be perfect; that I had to like every single aspect of Dartmouth for it to be an amazing place. But somehow in the time between Collis and Fahey I realized: I don't have to love everything about Dartmouth. In fact, there are quite a few things about Dartmouth that I don't like (that, perhaps, given the chance, I would change; although I don't know if there are such chances to be had) - and, dear readers, there are going to be things about the schools that each one of you go to that you won't like, either.

But I think that might be tied up in loving something: perhaps before I was just in love with Dartmouth, blind or deliberately ignorant of its faults and failings, embracing it for all that it was and wasn't so that I might doubly ensure my happiness. Now, though, now I think I could love it here - even in the dead of winter (when the high temperature for the day is five degrees and over everything there sits a few feet of snow), even though I have more work this term than I've ever had before, even given all of the weird and nonsensical subtleties about Dartmouth that no one in Real Life could possibly understand.

For whenever people ask me how my term is going, I always reply, "Great!" - and it's always sincere (I feel a twinge of guilt if I answer with anything else). Because it is. Because slowly but surely, even if I haven't found exactly what I want to do, or exactly what I love, I know I'm on my way. With each new grey day I feel hewn out a bit more my place here; my place amidst that which I would change and that which I hope always stays the same; my place amidst my fellow sons and daughters of this bleak and snowy New Hampshire town; my place at Dartmouth, good and bad alike.

Friday, January 21, 2011

(a favor)

Ah, loyal blog-followers. How are you this lazy Friday afternoon? As much as I love to wander off along the paths that lead far away from the topic at hand, this time I promise to keep to the highway and get to the point. I can't help but notice that for the majority of my recent posts, the number of 'unhelpful's has outweighed the 'helpful's. Of course I appreciate the feedback, but since it's been consistently rather negative, I was hoping to ask a favor from you: next time you click the 'unhelpful' button, leave me a few words of advice.

I write for you - to help you understand some of the, as they say, ups and downs and ins and outs not only of life at Dartmouth, but of the college experience in general. If I'm not fulfilling that, or if what I'm writing about isn't what you're interested in reading, then let me know how I can better inform (entertain, amuse, bewilder, distract) you.

Too much to ask? I hope not! Critique away, dear followers, and happy reading.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Usually it's something that strikes me as soon as I press my nose to the glass of the car window to see the still, ancient water of the Connecticut River gazing expectantly up at me, or as I heave my suitcase from the underbelly of the bus, my feet firmly on New Hampshire ground after whatever endless time away. This time, it took a day, perhaps a night or two; it wasn't the same sudden rush, the same feeling of instant and boundless freedom, it was slow, careful, dawning; something that only strikes you as different after it has settled in completely, like waking up to new snow. Perhaps it was because last term was so tumultuous that I was unwilling to let myself be immediately overwhelmed by that I'm-at-Dartmouth-now feeling, or perhaps Dartmouth simply wasn't as overwhelming anymore.

But after waking up in my new room, two days after moving in, I knew that it wasn't that I had lost faith in Dartmouth, or that it wasn't as incredible a place as I thought it was - it was home. Not the new home that you move into, still alight with the thrill of the neighborhood, the decorating, the creating-a-space, but the old home, the home that has become familiar, navigable, one which seems incomplete without you and you incomplete without it. I wasn't thrilled to be back at Dartmouth because it is no longer new to me (although of course every day little revelations present themselves), I was relieved to be back at Dartmouth because its place in my life has shifted - although I belong to Dartmouth, it has begun to belong to me, too.

The shift is not so simple, though - what about my home 'back home'? Where does it fall in this dynamic, given that it held its ground solely for the fact that Dartmouth was still fresh, revelatory, astonishing? Home was comfortable, warm and worn, there at the end-of-the-day; Dartmouth was out-there, beyond, waiting for my return, a deviation from reality, a treat, a reward. Now, after spending time in Maryland over winter break, I realized that it was not 'back home' that would always be there, for 'back home' is something we outgrow, something that remains the same as we grow up; it is home-cooked meals, newly-washed sheets, reruns on TV, time with family; it is a series of traditions that persists, and in its persistence serves to reflect our unrelenting difference. I realized that it was not 'back home' to which I could always return, it was Dartmouth.

Dartmouth is, in its own way, ageless - its traditions existed long before us, and will continue long after we let go its ivory hands for the last time. We are a part of it for four years, for a series of fleeting forays, and yet our time is unique; our time is our own. Dartmouth is waking up to new snow, it is going outside and running through it, making tracks and angels and men, all the while knowing another snowfall is bound to come.