Oberlin Blogs

Early to Root

September 16, 2011

EJ Dickson ’11

A month or two before I graduated last May, I was talking to my friend Ricky about the possibility of staying in Oberlin for another year. "I feel like I pissed away my first two years here, and there's so much I have left to do," I remember telling him. "I kind of wish I could chill for a little bit longer so I can make up for lost time, because I really dig living here."

Like some of my other friends, Ricky did not share my sentiments, and like all of my other friends, he expressed surprise that I felt this way (up to this point, I had devoted 85% of my time on campus to bemoaning the lack of decent pizza in the northeastern Ohio area, and the remaining 15% bitching about the weather). He did, however, mention that he had a friend, also an Oberlin alumnus who stayed on campus after graduation, who had developed a unique perspective on this phenomenon (known pejoratively as FTL, or "failure to launch"). "'Failure to launch?'" his friend would often say, presumably to a group of wide-eyed first-years eager to know why this thirty-something with grey hair and a mortgage was buying them Splitchers at the 'Sco. "Naw, man. More like, 'early to root.'"

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting the venerable author of this philosophy (I like to imagine him as the Midwestern counterpart of Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused), his words have stuck with me for quite some time, especially after I accepted a year-long editorial fellowship at the Office of Communications the day after graduating. For the next ten months, while my friends and classmates are teaching English in China's Sichuan Province, or rubbing elbows with the hipster elite in Bushwick dive bars, I will be here, biking through Tappan Square and eating wings at the Feve. Like Ricky's acquaintance, and like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, my roots are planted firmly in the soil of my alma mater.

This is not to say that there are extensive parallels between Matthew McConaughey and myself. For instance, unlike Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused I am a fully functioning member of the workforce; I pay my rent, clock in 9 to 5 at a (awesome) job, and I have goals and ambitions beyond cruising around East College Street in a 1970 Pontiac GTO. Nor do I spend my evenings trying to seduce first-years at Splitchers -- I'm in a long-distance relationship with a fellow Oberlin graduate, and even if I weren't, the thought of staying out past 1 a.m. on a weekday makes my joints ache like those of an elderly woman.

I am, however, now all too familiar with the feeling that Matthew McConaughey describes in Dazed and Confused, when he's explaining why he exclusively dates high school girls: I've gotten older, but everyone else at Oberlin has stayed the same age. With a new crop of first-years running around who are at least five years younger than me, walking around campus is a little like being in a time warp, or dreaming about taking a ninth-grade U.S. history test. Everyone and everything around you -- the posters on the walls of your old classroom, your teacher's kitten Christmas sweater-- is exactly the same, but you're completely different. The other students in the class are as you remember them, but you yourself have aged; you no longer remember any of the material you're being tested on, and as you're trying to recall the effects of the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Act on the Coolidge administration, you're suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that you've gotten very, very old.

In the months leading up to my start date, I spent a lot of time wondering whether I could handle feeling this way for a whole year -- like I was driving around the 21st century in a 1970 Pontiac GTO; that I was stuck in the past like Matthew McConaughey; that I would come back to campus and no longer feel that I belonged. Then I remembered why I wanted to spend another year at Oberlin in the first place: because I loved the people, because I loved the town, because I loved bitching about the lack of pizza in the town, because I loved that it was the kind of place that would offer a complete imbecile like myself real, actual non-Monopoly money to write for them (which they are probably regretting right now as they read the numerous references to the star of EdTV in this post).

I wanted to spend another year at Oberlin because I loved that it was the kind of place that made people want to establish their roots there; because it was the kind of place that didn't make anyone, not even a thirty-something with grey hair and a mortgage, feel that they didn't belong. And when I pulled into town after flying back from New York in July, I was reminded of this, and I'd never been happier to eat a slice of the Tuscan pizza at Magpie's (and by "a slice" I of course mean "like, nine," because it's delicious).

I've never been to China's Sichuan Province, but I imagine it's (moderately) cooler than the Arb; similarly, knocking back G&Ts with one of the Olsen twins at Tenjune is a lot more glamorous than bumping into your old Stats professor at Long Island night. But right now, I'm pretty comfortable with my roots planted here, and like the sage Mr. McConaughey, if I'm gonna get older and have to start following rules, there are way, way worse places than the campus I love to keep on L-I-V-I-N.

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