Being from Vermont, I’ve had my fair share of sledding experiences. But sledding today in the Arbo has got to be one of the best. Students from all over campus congregated on the big hill, laughing and sharing the random objects brought for sledding, a variety of accessories that included skis, snowboards, cardboard boxes, trays borrowed from the dining hall and, or course, actual sleds.
We all worked together to pack the feet of powder down into a trail, and then took turns going down, giving each other pushes to gain momentum. People tried all sorts of techniques including standing up on trays and hooking sleds together to form a long train. It was most definitely one of my best Conn College experiences to date.
It’s the snowpacolypse! When leaving my dorm this morning, I was greeted with a wall of snow. Forging our way through in order to get to Harris, my friends and I were delighted in the dramatically changed scenery, so much so that the first thing my friend did was jump into the snow and make a snow angel.
Banks of snow up to my knees are everywhere; haphazard piles and trails wind their way through the campus as we embarked on the cold trek to the dining hall. Classes have been canceled for the day, and I hear the shouts and laughter outside my window as students, reverting into our child-like selves, play in the snow.
My friends and I have signed out our house's sled and later today, we will take to the Arbo, the most popular place for sledding on campus. Sledding down the hill in the Arboretum has been on my Conn Coll bucket list since I arrived in my first year and I just cannot wait. Snow days are the best.
I declared my majors the other week. This is how it happens: You walk into the middle of Tempel Green, spin around in a circle 10 times, shouting your major and adviser while the registrar sits 10 feet away, ringing her bell, asking you to be louder.
The above is decidedly not true. It's just something a professor told me when I came to her with the declaration that I was finally, after months of indecision, declaring two decisive majors. She looked me up and down; I was excited, like I was declaring a big secret. It really is not that big of a deal. She sarcastically joked that I was making a ritual out of it; most students get so stressed about majors, they forget about classes. I agree with her now, I think.
After declaring my majors, I felt no difference. No history or art god descended from the heavens to bless me or take me into their secret society. On paper, I simply declared a major, which did make me feel better. I had goals to work toward.
I think the reason this professor said this to me is because she could see the fear in my eyes. Declaring your major sounds like such a big deal. It seems like you're setting yourself up in life for something so specific. Like now, I can't be anything but a historian, and I'm restricted. All these things are just untrue; I'm still taking classes I want to take, whether they relate to my major or not. I'm working with people I like working with, whether they fall into my department or not. This is what makes a small college like Conn special — because of the high number of professors, you really can, even within the confines of your major, blaze your own trail.
So I went up to Tempel Green, signed my declaration form and spun in a circle anyway, content in the knowledge that I was still free. Majors don't restrict you — fear does.
In my two-dimensional art class, we've been learning how to create drawings that appear more full. A lot of our still life paintings were "floating" in the middle of the page with only a thin table line to spruce up the background. Our professor has been stressing that we should add more to the drawings so that they are more interesting, or draw the things we see behind our still lifes. Despite her gentle nagging, the class as a whole wasn't really getting the concept.
To solve the issue, our professor came up with a creative way to intervene in our bad habits. She took us down to the Lyman Allyn Museum, a fine arts museum adjacent to campus with which the College has a working relationship. First, we did some critiques of the pieces because, as an art class, we can't just ignore the masterpieces when visiting a museum. Then, we were told to pick a spot in the exhibit and draw the space. We weren't supposed to hone in on any artwork, just get the dimensions and perspectives of the complex interior design.
It was frustrating trying to capture the relationship between angles and objects and such, but I found that when I slowed down and really observed my surroundings, it became a lot easier to create a realistic drawing. By the end, I was really happy with what I had created.
Our walking-distance field trip to the museum proved a unique way to improve our work and technique. During the following class, when we were back in the studio, we were given another still life to draw. Again, we were told to pay careful attention to the space around the still life. There was a clear improvement after our museum intervention. We hung all of our drawings up for a critique and each pretty accurately reflected the still life, as well as the room behind the still life.
Here at Conn, Tuesdays and Thursdays are associated with one of our College's beloved traditions: "Soup and Bread Day." Taking place in Freeman Dining Hall, one of our smaller, more homey dining halls, Soup and Bread Day offers a variety of soups and fresh baked loaves of bread, in addition to the usual options. This means a stomach full of buttery, creamy goodness. Everyone develops their own soup and bread preferences. I, for one, think that the circular loaves with a thick crust are without competition. A slice of that with a bowl of butternut squash soup is magical. Others, however, disagree. Some of my friends, for example, prefer the whole grain breads, which I find ridiculous.
I've been going to Soup and Bread Day since nearly the first week of school. It's always nice to be able to take a break from Harris, the main dining hall, and be able to traverse campus a bit. My friend Anne and I generally head there after Latin class and, without a doubt, there are always crowds. Students from every corner of campus seem to flock to Freeman twice a week. There are a lot of regulars, like myself, as well as newcomers. It's always interesting to compare how many familiar faces there are versus how many new faces there are.
After a few visits, you'll find that more and more faces become familiar. Given the popularity of Soup and Bread Day and the intimacy of the dining hall, people often find themselves merging tables with strangers. It offers a great opportunity to make friends, or at least have interesting conversations with new people over a meal. Personally, I've met a couple of very close friends over soup and bread.
Now that it's getting colder, I can only imagine how satisfying warm soup will be in the winter.
There is only one word to describe the Upright Citizens Brigade: hilarious. This touring improv group based out of New York City, also known as UCB, is sidesplittingly funny. Lately, they have performed at Conn each year. UCB begins by interviewing a student about life here at Conn, and this year it was a first-year student named Carson (as seen in the photo above). This interview provides the material for their set, so the show includes our college's inside jokes. And, to add to the fun, our student improv groups, Scuds and N20, opened for UCB, making it a great night of comedy.
The College's Roth Writing Center offers free peer tutoring on papers and drafts for all students on campus. One becomes a tutor after being recommended to Professor Steven Shoemaker, the director of the center, after which there is an interview, a callback and a class offered in the Fall called "The Teaching of Writing." It's a 300-level English seminar. I was recommended last year by two professors, and went for my interview. (I wore my brightest paisley shirt, in an effort to be memorable.) Since English is not my first language, I want to help other non-native English speakers feel empowered through writing. I'm taking the seminar now, and as the semester winds down, the writing center is in need for more tutors. So the week before Thanksgiving, I had my first appointment. I was to tutor for the first time, finally, after the long, long process. I walked into the center five minutes early, set up my folder, took out my pen, and waited.
My first student was a first-year student who needed help with his first-year seminar. The center works this way: We ask the students to read their paper or draft out loud. If the student isn't comfortable reading aloud, we'll read it for them. The motto is to make sure the student is in the driver's seat; the tutor is a road guide, a map to the destination that the student must find themselves. I took notes as he read.
Collaborating with the tutee, working on problems, is a huge part of the job. The goal is to nudge, to prod students in a direction where their own thinking gets expanded, and to give them ideas, not to impose. This is hard for me; I love imposing myself on people most of the time. I have a specific way in which I do things, and this makes me a bit stubborn sometimes. I had to reign that in super hard when I was tutoring, and the results were a clear indication that this was the right philosophy. The student left with a better understanding of the paper, his assignment and what he might do better.
I left with an understanding of my own role in this, which is — and should be — minimal. I left with a better understanding of how my professors must feel when students don't understand what they're trying to do. Their job is hard. A teacher doesn't teach knowledge, I discovered. They teach the process of knowledge. The knowledge must be acquired oneself. I left knowing that our jobs as students are also hard: We have to come to conclusions ourselves, with the road map of learning in front of us. The destination is ours to conquer. This is a responsibility I felt heavy on my shoulders as I walked out, but it gave me more incentive to learn vicariously. If I'm being trusted as a student to make my own contribution, the responsibility also gave me agency. And students need agency to learn creatively. Most of all, I left with a giant amount of respect for this learning environment. If one doesn't take responsibility for one's own learning, everything falls apart. You can flourish or you can fail. The decision is in your hands, and that's kind of liberating. It means you're taken seriously. That's the path to adulthood, not regurging knowledge. It felt good to know.
I'm an art and history double major, and as I entered my sophomore year, I realized that I hadn't taken many classes in either. I told myself that I was going to make my requirements a priority, take classes I needed to, and expedite the process. No extra classes, no outstanding interests.
It didn't work out that way.
Last year, my friends took a class called "Narrative Non Fiction" with Professor Blanche Boyd; it's a creative writing class. Although I've been writing since middle school, I'd never taken an English class at Conn. I really couldn't envision myself writing stories; primarily because I'd seen some friends in high school do a much better job than me and I was scared. Plus, I kept telling myself, writing wasn't sustainable for me. Ironic, since I'm an art major, but we all delude ourselves sometimes. Through some weird twist of fate, however, the class I was planning to take filled up before I registered, and it was in the exact time slot as Blanche's short story writing class. I scrambled to send her an email, since a writing sample is a requirement for this class. A day before pre-registration, I got the email that I'd been accepted into the short-story writing class.
I had no idea what I was signing up for.
The class is more of a conference, with a lot of writing, critique and support. It's a very organic way of learning, where your brain begins to comprehend it's own problems. In many ways, it's more challenging than being told what to do, or what you're doing wrong. You have to realize it yourself. Blanche is always there to help you, and will nudge you, but she herself claims that you can't learn writing through someone else's efforts. It's different from information being disseminated, it comes from within. That's hard to confront, but it's so, so rewarding.
The one event we had to attend on the very minimal syllabus was the Klagsbrun symposium, which is an event Blanche has been organizing for a while. We've had great writers come to campus as part of the symposium, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Michael Cunningham, and Art Spiegelman to David Sedaris. This year, we got an extra; we had two writers join us. Conn alumna and professor Jessica Soffer '07 and her writing mentor, Colum McCann, spoke about their work and we had dinner together. Afterward, there was still half the symposium left, and I was sitting on a bus with my friends on my way to watch the premiere of Mockingjay Part 1.
I couldn't go. I thrust my ticket into my friend's hand, walked off the bus and went back into the symposium.
Colum McCann reads like a god. His reading is theatrical, interspersed with slight Irish brogue, emotions coming through like waves as he stresses and de-stresses some words, changing their meaning. One of the excerpts he read was a piece about a dancer in the '80s, and he wrote 40 pages without a full stop. Seeing that made my brain explode. Here we were, not knowing how to write with given structure, and this man sat casually on a stool, decimating every rule with absolute panache. Soffer's reading was more subdued; her clear, quiet intonation reflecting the tightness of her sentences, the sheer structure of her words. Everything counted. Emotions resonated from the words themselves, as she read everything at the same pace. In it's own way, it was as immersive as McCann's.
I left the symposium with nothing; no signed books, no selfies, no ticket stub, no name tag. But in my mind, a tiny dent was filled with possibilities, with ideas and with futures. I wrote well into midnight that night, and signed up for Blanche's non-fiction class the next day.