Oberlin Blogs

Cocooning

January 3, 2023

Minerva Macarrulla ’23

Every January, Oberlin students can choose to do basically anything they want under the very broad premise of "project." For one month between semesters, we're not in classes, but focusing on one specific thing either in a group or by ourselves. I won't try to summarize the range of Winter Term projects I've heard of in my time here, but know that you can make yours fit essentially any interest, learning style and commitment level. They can also take place from anywhere. Basically, there's no need to do anything you don't want to. Winter Term is one of my favorite times of the Oberlin year.

I'm in my fourth year at Oberlin. This is my third Winter Term, my second one on campus, and my first time doing a project all by myself. Each January I've been in college has in some way felt like being in a cocoon: being separate from regular routines, life being much more focused and singular than usual, and some kind of intensive transformative experience that releases you back into the world understanding something much more deeply, feeling like, "Woah. These people don't know what I just experienced." And then you remember the cocoon every time you have a reason to, and it comes up again and again.

In my first year at Oberlin, I took a group trip to Guatemala with Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala (OSSGUA). The group was formed alongside other groups like Oberlin in Solidarity with El Salvador (OSES) in the 1970s and 1980s, when the sanctuary movement was really popping off around the country to receive and protect a wave of migration from Central America. Non-coincidentally, the wave followed a series of US- and colonially-instigated civil wars and anti-indigenous genocides throughout Central America. In order to go on the trip, you had to take an ExCo (class taught by students) in the fall semester called Conflict and Resistance in Guatemala. The ExCo focused on the history (and present) of indigenous activism, economic imperialism, state- and industry-sanctioned violence, and the ongoing fight to defend the lands and waters of the region we now call Guatemala. The material seeped under my skin and burned itself into my memory, it was so red-hot and world-shaping. The Winter Term trip cemented the lessons of the ExCo. It made them tangible and touchable in my mind. Most of what we did there was hearing from activists who were working on indigenous land struggle and reconciliation from genocide in Guatemala. We also stayed in an indigenous community, Copal AA, for a week. There, we learned about their movement to protect the river that gives water to their village in the face of a planned hydroelectric dam.

It's very important to me that this was a solidarity trip, not a savior trip, so we were not trying to decide what work we could do for them in return, offer them anything that they didn't need, or offer them anything that we didn't have the expertise to offer them in a sustainable way. The communities and activists we spoke with were knowledgeable, organized, self-sufficient, and dignified; contrary to what most "service" trips tend to assume, they are the rightful leaders of their movement. I do still have lingering questions about whether our trip there was truly a reciprocal exchange. Still, my best understanding is that what the people we learned from asked for in exchange for their time was money, and that is what we gave them (after fundraising together the semester before). OSSGUA also traditionally did advocacy work for indigenous communities in Guatemala throughout the spring semester. Since the US plays such a huge role in the oppression of indigenous Central Americans, it's crucial that people who live in the US know how to spot US imperialism and do our best to take it down from the inside. I never got to see the advocacy side of OSSGUA because the pandemic hit during our planning process, and unfortunately, OSSGUA dissolved during the height of the pandemic. I'm so grateful to have been involved in OSSGUA's last fully functioning semester and Winter Term. The experience left me reeling and it continues to shape how I show up in the world.

A wall with a mural reading "Memoria, Verdad, Justicia" (memory, truth, justice) and some people standing below.

 

My second year was a weird Winter Term. I had many ideas for an independent project, but we weren't allowed to do independent projects that year (pandemic things, but honestly I don't know why). The Winter Term options for people in my year were to do a program called Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources (SOAR) from the Career Development Center or to take a semester-long language class. At first I was going to take a Spanish literature class, but for various reasons I got annoyed and dropped it. I didn't want to do SOAR because it was five hours in front of a Zoom screen every day and I felt like I could probably access the most relevant information from the office or from friends another time. (Based on what I heard from people who did do it, I was right.) I didn't end up doing a Winter Term that year. You need three Winter Terms to graduate. A lot of students choose to do the first three and then take January of their senior year off, but I realized that I would be happy to do a Winter Term as a senior if it meant having a full Winter Term experience (i.e., doing whatever you want). That January, I was home in Brooklyn, listening to podcasts, knitting profusely, and babysitting my three-year-old neighbor. I learned a ton about many spiritual traditions and belief systems from a podcast mega-playlist that I created and obsessed over. When people asked, I literally told them I was cocooning. I have zero regrets.

 

My third year was my first on-campus Winter Term! Highly recommend. My project was to revise (flesh out, re-write) the syllabus for MassageCo, the ExCo I was about to teach, with my co-instructor. We met up every day, massaged each other for "'practice'" while talking about how we were doing, and then got to work creating lesson plans and presentations, learning about musculoskeletal anatomy, absorbing media by healing justice organizers/thinkers, and watching massage techniques on YouTube. This time was more of a break from the overbooked buzz of a regular Oberlin semester than I've gotten on most actual breaks and summers, because it was also an intentional collective healing and release time (cocoon vibes for real). Giving and receiving massage every day was what I needed. Knowing that we were preparing to bring massage to more people and wanting to do it in a well-rounded way gave me a sense of purpose, but not a consuming or overpowering one. Some hard stuff happened over that Winter Term, and it really helped to have a flexible schedule and something to do that was actively restorative to the both of us.

My co-instructor lying down while my feet, in black socks, massage them.
Sometimes my co-instructor and I would stand on each other to massage one another.

 

Somehow this is my fourth year, wow. When people ask me what I'm doing this Winter Term, I've been struggling to summarize my project accurately enough. I don't feel like trying again, so if you're curious, you can read block quotations from my Winter Term application.

"I want to reflect on, research, analyze, and make art about ballet culture, emphasizing themes of autonomy and devotion among people who have been on a pre-professional ballet track. I specify 'pre-professional ballet track' to point to the very particular experience of intending to devote your whole life to the pursuit of a chronically traumatizing art form from an early age. I am extremely fascinated by the questions, what drives that kind of devotion? What in our personal histories compelled us to choose ballet once knowing its culture? I believe that a complex mixture of love, anxiety, admiration, and trauma gave me that drive. I want to understand that impetus more deeply and also uncover similarities and differences between my story and others' who have also been on a pre-professional ballet track. Over Winter Term, I will read and watch videos about ballet history, especially as it entwines with white supremacy, classism, and other structures that often cause ballet's goals to be fundamentally different from most dance forms. I will also host storytelling circles that I hope will facilitate collective healing among people with related experiences.

"I am curious about the ways that balletic beauty standards and social norms, which are shaped by white supremacy, sizeism and classism, negatively impact all people— even those that they privilege. I am interested in this because I believe that all people fundamentally have a common interest in dismantling oppression. This is one example of that truth that I think has been understudied from a social justice, liberatory framework.

"I am interested in the values of autonomy and individuality vs. striving for sameness, because I have seen them compete in a ballet environment and know what it's like to transition between each of those values.

"I am interested in understanding cultural parallels and shared history between ballet and militarism. While these are very different institutions and people come into them for very different reasons, I believe that each is revealing in terms of the relationship between masses of highly agile bodies and hierarchical interests.

"Finally, I am simply interested in devoting time to this thought/feeling process. I doubt I'll ever have a reason to spend time dissecting ballet culture in depth again. While ballet and ballet trauma aren't constantly relevant to my life anymore, at least not in an obvious way, they are extremely relevant in very specific moments. 

"I will document my work through a google document where I will compile poems, photos, dance videos, voice memos, drawings, and research in a cohesive multimedia presentation."

A screenshot of a google doc with bold red text that reads "Ballet Ruckus Mosaic" and a photo of me with my mouth on a pointe shoe.
The title page. The album cover. The vision.

I'm also doing several other things this Winter Term (co-choreographing, practicing driving, figuring out how I'm presenting my Environmental Studies capstone, grant writing for my former bosses, being in a food coop, writing HerbCo lesson plans, ummm experimenting with using apple cider vinegar/egg yolks/castile soap/coconut oil/fenugreek powder/castor oil instead of conventional shampoo and conditioner…). Who knows what will happen! I am basically letting the wind carry me. In this last Winter Term, I trust that my tangent-heavy mind and passionate curiosities will guide me to create as much "final product" material as is necessary. I have my dance improvisation classes to thank for the fact that I am completely open to the actual content of this material being unpredictable. Whatever happens will be what needs to happen. I am excited to collaborate with the limitations, expansiveness, and quiet warmth of the cocoon.

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