On Being Back: Part I, My Orientation Life
Three weeks ago I packed our borrowed Suburban to the brim with my possessions. It was the third time in three months I put all of my belongings in a vehicle to move. I had the system down--crates in first, then clothes, then lamps, extraneous boxes last. It's interesting what you start to define as extraneous when your life has become so fragmented you're packing it up every four weeks. I did it in twenty minutes, barely paying attention. My mind was elsewhere. The motions were like the previous two moves, but this time was different. Before I had been going places, now I was returning.
Four hours and eight episodes of Welcome to Night Vale later, the doors of Harkness were greeting me. Its exterior red brick walls--still coated in chalk from last semester's Keep raid--and its recently buffed quartz floors were the colors that my heart must have been returning to this space. I'm finally back, I thought to myself.
The house was hauntingly empty. I had Early Arrival because I'm one of the Housing Loose Ends Coordinators (HLECs, or, HarkLECs) this year. I walked through the halls and noticed how gaping and strange the freshly clean, empty rooms felt. I noticed the Harkness mural has the face of the Giver on it. The free room, miraculously and mysteriously, already had shirts and hangers and bed risers in it. My new room, with its glorious southern exposure and extra space that only a double functioning as a single can have, had presents waiting for me. A plastic white rose and an empty can of pink spraypaint were pleasant surprises left behind in the storage above my closet. My belongings began to fill the space. My books, mugs, tea, and plants spread over my shelves and counters. I let the feeling of being back wash over me. It feels good to be home, I thought.
The next few days are a blur. Slowly, Harks and OSCAns trickled back into town. There were many hugs, lots of laughter, and two special dinners cooked for me by friends who stayed in town over the summer. At Griff's, we made pasta from scratch and went to his neighbor's to buy a dozen eggs. We talked about him being away, on the farm, what he learned, and how he's grown. The contrast between life at Oberlin and life outside of Oberlin is stark and so relevant to my life right now. Griff lived that divide last semester, but talking with him made me realize that life outside of Oberlin feeds life here and vice versa. The other dinner was at John Bergen's, and I arrived to a kitchen full of baskets of peaches. Him and his housemates had been canning all day. Over handmade lentil burgers, and under Tibetan prayer flags swaying in the breeze, we sat discussing grassroots organizing. Swapping activist jokes and stories, I found myself settling back into the ethos of Oberlin. Griff and John's graciousness in opening their homes to me reminded me of what I had been missing these past three months. Oberlin in the summertime is magic. The atmosphere is heavy with laughter. The grass is full of the comfort felt by hundreds of barefoot toes treading leisurely across it. There is a type of relaxed here that can be felt in the air. At those two dinners I soaked up every ounce of this. I knew I couldn't hold on to the summertime forever.
Starting Monday, I had HLEC training with Residential Education (ResEd) from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. all week. In addition, I had OSCA meetings with officers and my fellow HLECs, I had to get our house ready, I had to make door decs and bulletin boards, get facilitation trained, and plan our first house meeting. It was an intense and trying week. In other words, it was a sneak preview on returning to my vigorous Oberlin life (discussed in Part II of this post). Since it was so exhilarating and exhausting, I deeply appreciated going through this week with some very awesome people. I love my fellow HLECs. So much so that I'm going to depart from relaying my pre-Orientation experience just for a moment in order to tell you all about them.
Myself included, there are eight of us. HLECing Tank are Jackson and Pablo. Jackson reminds me of all my middle school punk band boy crushes, while Pablo is like the excited best friend that I always wished I had. Then in Keep there are Rosa and Noah. Rosa is a connoisseur of bikes and Noah has a tattoo of his area code from home, and they're both such interesting and exceptionally considerate people. Then there's Joelle, the sole Old B HLEC, whose dedication and drive and busyness are a wonder and inspiration to me. Caroline, the overall Housing Coordinator, is a serene presence, and being able to rely on her, both during training and now, is comforting to me. Lastly is Dan, my co-HarkLEC. Dan is my rock and I'm so lucky to have them to share this job with. HLECing Harkness is like herding cats. Angry-passionate-opinionated cats, and without Dan I would have lost my mind long ago. Going through training with these folks, and the past few weeks of actually HLECing, has been such a blessing. (And if you all are reading this, thank you. Deeply.)
Now back to my pre-Orientation life. At the same time as HLEC training, I had job training at the Lanes, the college-owned bowling alley. Tom, the Associate Director of the Student Union who hires all the Cat and Lanes staff, is an awesome boss. He has an amazing attitude towards work and the work environment and his number one priority is that we provide Stellar Customer Service. And to do so, we must be present, in every sense of the word. Bowling training taught me all this and more. I worked my first shift Saturday night, rounding off my whirlwind first week back. Over the four hours, a young son and dad bowled together, the Lanes hosted a party for the Bonner Scholars, and the entire football team showed up ten minutes before closing. My friend Ben walked me home and I felt so grateful to feel so happy to be back here and to be working and to be working towards things. In the short six days I'd been back I had already learned so much and I felt so much and I was already exhausted. Welcome back to Oberlin, I thought.
That Welcome Back became an exuberant Welcome To on August 31, when twenty first-year Harkness residents, or fresharks as we lovingly call them, arrived. It was pouring rain on Move-In Day and I spent my morning and afternoon manning the arrival desk, joking about the weather, answering questions, and reassuring parents. That evening we hosted the cluster meeting in Harkness' spacious lounge. All new living OSCAns came and, as it happens every year, we explained the basics of living at college, living on Oberlin-owned property, and living in OSCA. Then the fresharks went off on their merry ways to do whatever it is you do on your first day of college and we regrouped with just the Harkness first-years at nine p.m for their first house meeting! We went more in depth on consensus, cooperative living, and then they set their community standards for Orientation Week. It went great. Quiet hours started a little late, in my opinion, but the seeing the first-years begin to engage with each other and with this house was great. The rest of Orientation Week is a blur. People in and out all the time, laughing, late nights, more people arriving, limited responsibility, and more-than-usual free time.
Then, all at once, school was upon me.
I'll leave school and classes to Part II: My Post-Orientation life, so I will pick up there when you read me next. I want to end this post on the note that being back at Oberlin has made me overwhelmingly grateful. As is apparent, my life here is always active and exhausting, and that can make me feel crummy, but by-and-large I am so thankful to have the opportunity to live it.