Oberlin Blogs


March 30, 2013

Ida Hoequist ’14

I want it to be summer.

1. It's supposed to get to 55 degrees today. The sun has been shining for the past two days, and I know the weather forecast for next week is back to the same old freezing rain, but I'm looking out my beautiful, ancient, ill-fitting windows right now, and I see grass outside. I see a sky with blue in it - water for thirsty eyes.

2. I've been wearing boots for months now, but I wore the most thin-soled shoes I own yesterday and the day before that, and my feet are remembering what the ground feels like. My toes aren't boxed up my boots anymore - they're working when I walk. I've never had sore toes before, but it feels right.

3. I took a walk with a friend last week and saw a flower bed full of budding crocuses, which almost made me cry a little because crocuses belong to the springs of my childhood, in Denmark. (Crocuses don't really grow in Alabama. You would have to refrigerate the bulbs.)

4. I have been listening to all the songs I associate with warm weather. Maybe I am hoping they will be an incantation to make the sun come.

5. I want to walk outside in shorts and a t-shirt and break out into acrobatics on the lawn with my friends. I want sidewalk chalk (I saw some hopscotch happening yesterday!) and porch swings and skinny dipping by night and something other than gosh darn root vegetables. I want to enjoy fresh fruit.

6. I want to erase the word 'deadline' from my vocabulary.

7. A treasured memory from my one Oberlin summer: I am walking home from a dear friend's house, nearing Tappan, and I hear one of my favorite, most danceable big band tunes wafting over from the bandstand. There is a concert happening that I knew nothing of. Tappan is carpeted in clouds of fireflies, herds of lawn chairs with grey-haired folks in them, and families on blankets with little kids dancing to Glen Miller music.
I want that again.

I feel pale and worn thin. I want the summer.

This is what I miss.

Oberlin is taxing. It has this way of sucking every part of me into it, even if I'm determined to dial back my involvement (like I was at the beginning of this term, hah). It used to be that I just felt like there were too many events and clubs and fun things for me to dream of keeping up with; these days, I feel like I'm having to choose not just between commitments, but also between parts of myself. I feel like I'm having to choose between being a good student, a good partner, a good human, and a good Ida - and I heartily dislike feeling like I need to make that choice.

Being a good student is straightforward, for me. I'm in one German seminar and three linguistics courses this semester, and I know exactly what I need to do to learn what I need to learn and produce what I need to produce. The path is clear. It's not necessarily an easy path, but at least I can see it.

Being a good partner is harder. The thicket of care and intentionality and open-mindedness and soul-searching and serious, ouchy blunders that grows around and between two humans when they move into each other's heads is... exhausting. And rewarding, and sometimes fun. And often consumes my brain. I could keep chucking out words here, but I think I'll end it with this one: it's intricate.

Being a good human is harder still. I want so much to do good for my peers - and for everyone who isn't handed the opportunities I've been given in my life, really - but I am not the kind of leader who can effect widespread change, I think. I'm not much of a leader at all; I have enough trouble keeping tabs on my own life. I can be an ally in my limited sphere of human contact, yes, and I know that I can do good on that scale. But that feels unsatisfactory. This community (also this country, and this world) needs great changes, and I feel like all good humans should be working tirelessly to make those large-scale changes happen.

I wish I were better at large-scale.

(And if I knew how to reach any of these good human goals, that would be one thing, but the hard part about being a good human is that no one can really tell you how to get there.)

Being a good Ida is hardest of all. I don't understand the first thing about myself. I know that am an introvert, because I will happily spend days at a time hanging out with myself, without any other meaningful human contact; it nourishes me. I like myself more when I am alone. I can tell who I am when I am alone. Then again, inherently shared activities like acrobatics and music also nourish me terrifically. But I also worry about how self-centered they are. The (copious) time that I set aside for acro and my instruments could go to being a good human instead. Should it? The feeling that I am very selfish in my choice of pastimes is doing battle in me with the knowledge that it is necessary to take care of your body and heart, and the knowledge that I will never again be in a place that has as many perfect pastimes as Oberlin does, and the very important knowledge that the act of living radically is in itself an act of resistance. I don't know what to do about this battle. I mean, there's a lovely life advice quote about doing whatever makes you come alive1 that sounds about right to me, but not everyone has the chance to even do that much. A whole lot of people can't, in fact, do whatever makes them happiest, because the cards are stacked against them from day one - and that's crap. That is crap. So who am I to sit back and bask in my unfairly achieved alive-ness while that is going on?

Even if I don't try to concern myself with such ponderances, I still don't know what is best for me, because I still don't know me! I am young, I am still unwrapping myself. And: it doesn't help that rational Ida and emotional Ida have lately been at odds. (My perfectionism has been running especially rampant this year, and, from time to time, I have incapacitating bouts of sadness and shame that always trace back to a feeling of profound incompetence. Fixing that is one more number on the list of things that I don't know how to do.)

The thing is, I want to be good at everything, all at the same time, because it's all terribly important. I resent that I'm not, and I resent being made to choose. I resent the day - why does it not have more hours! I resent myself for being so unknown to me and for caring so much! I resent Oberlin for piling the weight of these considerations on me... And I love all of these things in equal measure. I love the shortness of the day for making me rest periodically. I love my complexity; I love sitting with myself for long stretches of time and still being able to say that I've forgotten what boredom feels like. I love Oberlin for not letting me lose sight of how important it is to be stellar at being me, at being with someone else, at being human.

One thing I know about myself: if Ron Weasley has the emotional range of a teaspoon, I have the emotional range of a whole cutlery set. A confused, tired cutlery set that would very much like the world to go back to being crocuses and long bike rides, please.

In sum: Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh. (Found on photobucket.)

I know this post is rather unfocused and not cheery at all, but it approximates, in an honest way, how I have been feeling (namely, privileged, overworked, small, and a bit lost). I shall end on a fitting note of uncertainty: I don't know which thought I find worse, the possibility that my sort of overwhelmed fatigue is rare in Oberlin or the possibility that everyone gets it for a bit sooner or later.

1. "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman

Responses to this Entry

Thank you for your honesty, and for the courage it takes to be vulnerable in front of other people. The things you are struggling to think through are such important questions, and I hope that you find ways to work through them that feel energizing rather than exhausting.

Posted by: Nora on April 2, 2013 11:59 AM

You have the winter blues!
Can you remember how a few sunny days and sunshine on your face or a picnic on a lawn can make everything seem fine? Will those crocuses start popping up all over campus once spring gets going? Spring must be coming at some point; soon we hope!

Remember that you also did not get pampered at home over break, which might have helped your overall feel and may be helping those around you starting classes back up. This is simply a disadvantage for you!

And finally, just because you cannot solve the BIG issues of the world, does not mean you are not a leader. There are many ways to lead. Being a strong base is a great contribution and a good metaphor again. You really cannot know how many people rely on you and are encouraged by your hard work! Being passionately involved and attentive to details is not necessarily perfectionism, either.

So - postpone "big thoughts" to a sunny, happy day and allow yourself to just crunch through those wintery days bit by bit for now. Your thinking will be more productive and accurate on a better day! What you have to do right now is resolve to wait for it.
Those winter months - not a picnic!

Posted by: Muriel on April 2, 2013 6:07 PM

Nora: thanks, friend. You leave the sweetest comments.

Mama: thanks for reminding me to take care of myself. I feel well taken care of, especially because I know we are going to talk more about this in the future - but a few things about your comment are rubbing me the wrong way, so I want to address them (partly because I also think it might clarify this post a tad).

I think that chalking the worry up to winter blues is a little trivializing. I can't say that gloomy weather doesn't exacerbate gloom, but these are things that have been on my mind for a long time and will be worrying me well into the summer. (Me wishing for the sun is really me wishing I could revert to eight years old or so.)
Also, I'm not comfortable saying "I'm just going to put this important cluster of thoughts about being a good human aside until I'm nice and happy, I don't need to be thinking about it until then," because that's untrue. These are things that need to be thought about with great frequency and diligence, by everyone who can possibly at all muster the energy. Besides, I don't even know for sure that I'll be more emotionally robust in the future, and if this is how I'm going to feel for a while, I'd rather find a way to feel this way sustainably than try to put off my feelings until some TBA future date.
And then of course, I'm not the kind of person who can just be like 'I will just not think about this for now!' and then actually not think about it. I'm the kind of person who goes 'sure wish I could turn my brain off' and then proceeds to not be able to turn my brain off.

I think it's also important to keep in mind that even entertaining the notion of postponing thinking about how to live in a powerful, radical way is a tremendous privilege. There are a great many people who don't get to choose - either they live radically (which takes a massive amount of energy and thought, see: this post) or they accept and thereby passively perpetuate the systems that are hurting them. I have enough privilege that I could reasonably contemplate a future in which I live more or less safely and also do nothing to change any kind of systematic oppression, but I know that, for many people, it's not possible to envision a future day in which safety, comfort, and the current status quo can coexist.

Not that any of that invalidates self-care (which can itself be a radical act!); my bottom line is, I don't want self-care to slither over into making myself comfortable, and I especially don't want to take comfort for granted.

Posted by: Ida on April 3, 2013 7:46 PM

Wow, I see so much of myself in this post, it's crazy. I think you're right in that last line, saying that a lot of Oberlin students feel this way.... but it's not necessarily a bad thing. I've come to realize that my almost obsessive tendency to scrutinize myself and how I can become a better human, a better Paris etc is not the worse quality a person can have. Sure, it would be easier to be carefree, not worry or fret or feel overwhelmed with passions and expectations - but thinking in this deep way about yourself and how you want to live will ultimately only help you and the rest of the world. (Or so I like to think. But what do I know? I'm not even 22).

Oh, and for the record, you may not think of yourself as a leader - but I think it's possible to be a good leader through writing, and you certainly are a good writer! Keep at it. Spring is almost here!

Posted by: Paris on April 4, 2013 7:18 PM

Ida, this is such a beautiful post. I felt connected to it on so many levels.

I, too, deeply long for summers, and home, and summers at home. Twice in the past two weeks I've jumped into 40 degree water in a desperate attempt to feel a Michigan lake in July.

Oberlin is exhausting. School and work is exhausting. Relationships, of all types, but especially my long-distance one, is exhausting. And I hate resenting the things I love. But I do. There. I said it. I do.

"I am young, I am still unwrapping myself." That's worth tattooing onto my body. Thank God you're a Linguistics major, because you are so gifted with words.

I realize this comment is so unhelpful; I have no advice for you. I can only offer companionship in this struggle/journey/experience. If it's a boat, I think we're both sailing and drifting. There's a crucial difference between the two and a necessity in experiencing them at the same time. Remember summer is just over the shoreline.

Thank you so much for the beauty and the honesty and the realness of this post.

Posted by: Karalyn on April 6, 2013 10:45 PM

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