Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections on Reflections on Bennington

Browsing my old entries (you know, just casually) I found the following odd little description of my first year at Bennington, composed during my third year while abroad in Leeds (coincidentally when this blog first began). I don't think this is how I'd describe that year now, with an extra two years behind me, but it is interesting, to me, nonetheless.

The length of the daily writing response astounds me. I forgot just how bored I was in Leeds.

"I had applied to thirteen colleges, and visited seven of them, and got into roughly that many. The summer after I left CRMS I kinda didn't do much. My mom was not impressed. I was preparing psychologically for the shift to college. This was not really needed, or true, but I lazed about all the same. It's not easy getting a summer job in SF when you get out of school a month after the local schools. Directly after CRMS my dad and I went on a bonding trip through the South West, hitting Mesa Verde, Arches, Goblin Valley. I took him to one of my favorite restaurants in Moab, called Zax, a pizza, soup and salad buffet. It was nice. Saw more Utah and Nevada. Of the thirteen schools I applied to, those being Earlham, Beloit, Evergreen State, UCSC, UCD, Hampshire, Skidmore, Drew, Sarah Lawrence, Pitzer, Eckerd, St. Johns and Bennington, St. Johns was top of the list. I wanted to go to the Santa Fe Campus and read the Great Books out in the desert. It was one of the few I didn't get into, along with the UC schools, Davis and Santa Cruz, Pitzer, and surely some others. I had, starting Junior year, begun reading classics of literature, and now I pursued this passion with vigor when applying. It was, ironically, my math grades that they cited being too low for my entry. So I have read them on my own time, and am about 2/3, at the time of writing, completed. I have added many more and fleshed out the list, and learned math from Euclid to Lobachevsky, and intend on reading them all within the next two or three years. So I decided to go Bennington College in rural Vermont, as it reminded me most of CRMS. It had the streak of John Dewey in it that was present at CRMS. The campus is very pretty, as was CRMS'. I moved in and went on an orientation backpacking trip through the Appalachian trail. I assumed this sort of thing would be common, but it was not to be. I've not gone backpacking since.

I fell in at once with a group called the Long Table. Comprised primarily of seniors, the group spanned all grades (once I joined) and was known as the Long Table since they took up two rectangular tables in the dining hall. Our antics were well known, and people at other tables would watch us and get involved occasionally. Extremely social meals was a carry-over from CRMS, but not nearly to the same degree. They were bawdy, loud, hysterical, emotional, and fantastic friends. John Wiswell was the patriarch, and his best friend was Nat Sylva, a junior. Wiswell had founded the table his first year, and had included people older than him at one point, who'd since graduated. Ryan Tittle and Penn Guenthner were a comedic team of playwrights/directors. Cassie Nichols dated a fellow named Nick, who had dropped out from Bennington, but showed up at the table about weekly. Megan Napier and Vanessa Grasso were best friends, and John's most loyal subjects. Max Cantor was a Sophomore who added an odd intellectualism to the atmosphere, he soon started dating a girl named Sarah King, a freshman who most of us were not fond of. This continued until they were engaged. Dana Brzezinski and Abbi Westwood were also Sophomores, and were often at the table, both had a bit of a reputation as party-earth-girls, and both were quite pretty. Amanda Nazarian and Mike Houlding had been dating forever, and were a quirky couple, of whom everyone was fond. Those were the principals. And me. They were so good to me, I miss that amazing pentadecatuplet of friendship, support and humor. As such I spent a lot of time that year with them, we met in John's room, and played video games, that is, everyone else did. Sometimes we'd squeeze nearly everyone in his tiny single, on his bed and floor. Meanwhile I lived in Sawtell, where Mike and Amanda lived my first term, going to Japan for the second. Sawtell had a great community spirit as well, and so I immediately started living this double social existence between the Long Table and Sawtell. I have kept up an increasingly complex version of this going ever since. My earliest friends, of course, I didn't stick with for long. My room mate was a fellow named Matt Mayo, who dropped after the first year, but we got on well, he really like Michael Moore and introduced me to Carlin. He was gay and had different boyfriends, but rarely sexiled me. After first term I moved in with Jake Cutler, an amazing fellow, whom I lived with until I came to Leeds, for reasons to be disclosed later.

In between the two terms I had my first Field Work Term, which I spent in SF at the SF Zen Center. I studied and practiced, and got a very good grasp, I think, on Soto Zen Buddhism. It was a little surreal, of course, living in a monastery. Up early, bed early, very ritualized, and structured, it was more religious than I anticipated. My classes went well, I had no tests or grades. My first semester I took, let's see if I can recall, British Regional Fiction with Davis-Goff, which I was quite good at, Intro to Anthropology, with Prazak, since I thought I might want to be an anthropologist, Astronomy with Norman Derby, which was fun, and about as in-depth as my independent study had been, and Internationalizing America with Eileen Scully. I did very well in this last course, and brought quite a bit to the class, I think. So, for my second term, I took Musics of Asia, on a lark, but quite an enjoyable one, with Nicholas Brooke who that term was my advisor, replacing Ron Cohen from the term before, Spacetime with Derby, since I didn't know a thing about it, Existentialism with Paul Voice, and Democracy Projects with Scully and Liz Coleman, the head of the school. The latter two I marginally passed, leading to my being put on academic concern for a term sophomore year. The first was due to laziness on my part and Paul's seeing that I was quite well-informed in the area, comparably, and so was not exerting myself enough. The second is a longer story, which may be summed up in that it was the worst academic experience I've ever had. Scully and I have not been on good terms since, and she does not let me into her classes. Part of it was due to my telling her that I knew she could do better, that I'd seen it the term before."