Connecticut College keeps you incredibly involved. With papers to write, student performances to see and tours to give, a little break can prepare me better than anything for the coming week.
At the beginning of every week, I've come to relax by exploring the area. At promptly 9:30 every Sunday morning, I rent one of the Zip Cars located on campus and drive with my girlfriend down to Muddy Waters for breakfast and a coffee. Muddy Waters is by far my favorite restaurant in New London. The counter is piled high with sweet breakfast treats, and music by The Temptations plays over the radio as we sit and eat our breakfast. When it's warm enough outside, we sit on the deck and watch the boats going in and out of the Thames River. I’m fascinated by submarines and Muddy Waters is directly across from Electric Boat, so it is always fun to watch them building submarine components across the river. When it's cold outside, we sit inside the restaurant, which resembles an antique shop. Every chair and table in Muddy Waters is a different shape or size and, with walls covered in pictures and newspaper clippings, it feels cozy and safe.
After breakfast is over, it is back in the car for my favorite part of the day. We start off by driving out to Guthrie Beach and the windy streets in the southern part of New London. Looking out at Long Island Sound through quaint neighborhoods is always a good reset before going back to the College. Our final destination is sometimes Harkness State Park, a massive stretch of land that has tall trees, broad marshes and crashing waves on a beach of golden sand. It's cold, but the views are very relaxing. With only 15 minutes to spare, I rush back to the College and finish up my homework from Friday night.
You've probably never heard of Amy Poehler, Ellie Kemper, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari or Ben Schwartz, right? Well, they're alums of this little comedy group called the Upright Citizens Brigade ("UCB.") The traveling UCB team performed a personalized improv show on campus recently ... no big deal.
Kidding. It was a pretty big deal. Yesterday, I got to see a free show, on campus, that likely featured the next generation of famous comedians. Conn's own improv groups, N20 and Scuds, opened up for UCB. Even cooler is the fact that the entire performance was based on my campus neighbor's life. UCB started their show by picking someone from the audience — my neighbor Carson — and interviewing him. The interview included stories about smooth rocks, broken Playstations, the nicest woman on earth, professors, making films, girlfriends, etc. It was very eclectic. At first no one really knew why Carson was being interviewed. Then, once he sat back down, UCB told us that they would now be performing Carson's life ... with a few changes using their artistic license, of course. Carson's brother, for example, turned into someone who breaks antiques in fits of rage. A smooth rock that Carson owns also became part of the story by morphing into some sort of addictive, apocalyptic device. Even Harris, our main dining hall, got a shout out. The UCB actors played chefs who put peanuts in "peanut-free" food in order to play mind games with the students who are allergic to peanuts. It was a very strange, but very funny skit (with no connection to reality, I promise).
It was a hilarious show, especially since I know Carson personally. I was sitting in his row, so I was able to look over and see his reactions to UCB's interpretation of his life. Carson loves improv, so it was a great opportunity for him and the rest of us and, in 10 years, he'll probably be able to say that he was on stage with famous comedians.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, some of the student organizations within Unity House, Conn's multicultural center, hosted a Latin Night. After all sorts of events throughout the month, a little dance party was in order. What better way to celebrate a month of cultural awareness than by having a cultural dance?
Latin Night was dedicated to the understanding and enjoyment of Latin dance, a dance form you don't see on campus with great regularity. It was a supportive event, too, as experienced dancers were there to help those who didn't know a dance step or two. Everyone was in good spirits. On campus, students are always passionate about dance and music, but heritage months really bring out the joy and pride that students have in their own cultures. It's a way for students with different backgorunds to share experiences with friends and the campus community.
It's always nice to have an alternative to our usual "Cro dances" and Latin Night was packed, with tons of Camels coming out to dance. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I think I was doing alright, trying my moves with friends and fellow students. Everything from bachata to salsa was played. The energy in the room was uplifting and happy. It was a night filled with good music and great people.
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.
Have you ever walked into a classroom expecting to take a quiz, only to realize that your quiz has been replaced by a naked middle-aged man?
Me neither. Well, not until a few days ago.
What does this mean? It was figure drawing week in my two-dimensional art class! This came as quite the surprise, since we had totally different plans for that class.
It only took a few seconds for faces to light up in shock as my classmates started walking into the classroom. Our professor, however, was, appropriately, very nonchalant about the whole thing, particularly since she has more experience with figure drawing. I won't lie, it was pretty uncomfortable at first. I was not alone; there were many glances of discomfort exchanged around the room. Once in the drawing process, though, we became more accustomed to the situation. In order to draw something, you have to visually break up the form into shapes. Instead of drawing a figure, it was more like we were drawing shapes that happened to connect into a figure. That helped lessen the awkward tension in the room.
Despite the initial unease, one has to appreciate the opportunity to be able to draw nude models. In high school, we did figure drawing, but we used clothed models. This can highly distort the perception of human anatomy. That's an unfortunate reality for artists, since proportions are so important. Working with nude models is also helpful for creating shading and forms, because the model is, of course, three-dimensional. If you use something two-dimensional, like a photograph, you'll never develop the skills to be able to transform a 3D form onto your 2D paper. It was helpful to have the model in the classroom, and our progress was very quick and very noticable.
One word of advice I'll give you from this experience: avoid eye contact with the nude model at all costs, because if you're not careful, it will happen and you will feel awkward about it.
I have never been particularly excited for the end of a semester, nor have I looked forward to finals — big exams that bring together all that you've learned aren't very enjoyable.
What if that exam was in the form of a paper? And what if that paper gave you the freedom to explore something new? In my history class, I have been given an amazing opportunity to choose: I could elaborate on some of the themes discussed in class or I could find something new in the vast array of human history and write about that. How often does a student get the freedom to find something they are passionate about in a field of study and write about it?
My choice has been exciting. In the context of Big History, the course I am taking, I will be researching the influence of African nations, empires and ideals in what has become a Eurocentric world. Simply, I get to take a closer look at how human history has developed from the perspective of those whose history isn't told. From the moment I told my professor, Fred Paxton, about my idea, he has been extraordinarily supportive of my process and progress. As I share my findings and discuss my plan, he shares potential resources and helps me keep the paper grounded, connected to a few central themes.
Research projects are far more exciting when when your professor encourages you to test the limits of what you have learned, and maybe even reinvent these concepts. Using everything from documentaries to articles and books, I have a final project that I am excited for, a project that lets me use the skills I have developed to do something creative.
And if you're curious about the course, Big History is an emerging field that covers history from the Big Bang to the modern day and beyond. See bighistoryproject.com
Joe Standart is one those success stories: a self-taught photographer who pursued his dream of taking photos and made it big. While I’ve never aspired to be a professional photographer — it’s just a fun hobby for me — it was still wonderful to hear about the steps he took to become one. Standart came to campus to speak about his project, “Portrait of America,” and portraits of our very own New London. Beginning in 2004, he pulled individuals off the street as they were and took elegant portraits of them. Photographing his subjects from all walks of life in the same studio setting served as an equalizer. Their profession or income was of no matter; each person was photographed the same way. The description of the project explains, “The Portrait exhibitions hold a mirror up to a community to reveal what's already there — the inherent dignity and promise of its people.” The exhibition was not held in a museum, but rather the streets of New London. Large portraits were hung on the sides of buildings and in windows, thus providing a “mirror” for the community. Looking through his photos, I see New London in a new way. I get a glimpse into the lives of its residents.
A week ago, I went to work at 9 a.m. in Ruane's Den, a coffee shop located in Harkness, one of the College's residence halls. I work the opening shift on Mondays and after a long, tiring Sunday filled with homework, I wanted nothing more than to escape into the warmth of the coffee shop and make myself a chai latte.
Turns out, I didn't have to. As I walked up the steps to the patio of Harkness, I encountered a strange sight: two open boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and a large box of coffee on a table. A student was sitting in one of the chairs and a slightly older man was sitting in another. They were chatting and laughing, but the scene looked strange still; why would two people need 20 donuts? I then saw random people coming by, conversing with the older man, grabbing a coffee or a donut, and leaving for class. I had to investigate.
The housefellow of Harkness — each residence hall has a "housefellow," a student in charge of the house — had decided to throw a surprise breakfast for the dorm custodian. With the help of the Office of Residential Education and Living (REAL), she'd gone down to Dunkin' early in the morning and brought donuts for all her residents, and she'd asked the custodian to take a few minutes off and just relax with the students. As sappy as it is, I couldn't help but feel a warmth inside me; I didn't even care that people would skip my coffee shop to get free coffee from the table — the custodian looked so happy!
Last year, another student at Conn filmed a short video asking students if they knew their dorm custodians, and quite a few did. I remember leaving notes outside the door of my first-year custodian, and I remember friends going out of their way to clear rubbish just so there would be less work for our friendly, resident custodian. Sometimes, simple acts of caring can really make a difference.
I sipped my coffee and was 10 minutes late to work. My manager didn't care.
I've enjoyed ice skating ever since my friend invited me to the neighborhood rink in middle school. We had to go with her mom, and I almost died at least 20 times, but it was fun. By the end of middle school, I was taking figure skating lessons. I towered over the other, younger skaters, most of whom only came up to my knee. Surprisingly, I moved up in the skating world faster than my small, youthful friends. Once I finished the basic skating levels, and a few figure skating classes, I quit.
I haven't skated much since, so I was excited when I found out that Conn has an ice rink. Many of the schools my friends attend don't have rinks on campus. On a recent Friday, I went to my first open skate here. It was only $1 to skate for 3 hours, and all profits went to the College's Relay For Life chapter.
I was eager to skate again, but a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to do the things I used to be able to do. Most of my friends were having trouble just staying upright, though, so there wasn't much pressure. After I got accustomed to the ice again, I started trying to do some of my old tricks. Some were rough, but others went pretty well.
I was in the middle of the rink practicing when someone skated up to me and asked if I was in the figure skating club. I said that I wasn't, and she told me that I should be, and that she could give me more details if I wanted them. I haven't agreed to anything yet, but I'm definitely considering joining. I really miss ice skating regularly, and it was flattering to be spotted as a possible member. I've already signed up for the email list, and we will see where things go from there.
I think the highlight of my night was when my friend Brion joked that he wasn't impressed by my tricks, and then, seconds later, face-planted on the ice. If he had gotten hurt, I wouldn't be able to note it as the highlight of my night, but he's fine, so I can tell you that it was HILARIOUS.
One of the things I absolutely love about Conn is the sheer disregard for class year by the student body. Let me explain; I was a first-year student last year, and by the end of my second semester, most of my friends were seniors. Frankly, I don't quite know how this happened, but it did. While I was attending their graduation, it occured to me that I'd be losing a lot of my friends.
Well, I didn't. Two of my best friends from last year are still around; one in Boston, the other in Waterford — one town away from New London. As I couldn't go back home this holiday (I'm from Pakistan; home is 8,000 miles away) and I've never really celebrated Thanksgiving before, one of these friends, Evelyn, invited me to her house. I drove there with another alum, Ben, and we were all seated around her table by 4 p.m.
Evelyn, like most people on Thanksgiving, had extended family over, and I got to meet some really amazing people. One of the perks of the night was us setting up a kids' table for those who were under 25; it was a riot. Amongst the amazing food (seriously, we don't have turkey back home and I think it ought to be a trend at this point; it was so good!), reconnecting with people I don't get to see as much, and laughing uproarously most of the time, I didn't at all feel the absence of my own family.