How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
- Annie Dillard
A module short of a year ago, I was running around in heat. The heat of exams, that is. My mind occupied by microeconomics (#OccupyJacobsMind) from two days of studying for the final, I scrawled this on the chalkboard in Burton's basement, probably just to check how well the facts were sticking on my way to the bathroom.
This picture, however, was taken on the 27th of October of 2011 (which happens to be my older brother's 22nd birthday, a fact my sister temporarily forgot1). Unlike so many pieces of furniture, this economic doodle has managed to survive ten months on a college campus. It hasn't been erased or even much effaced by time, probably because passersby deeply appreciate learning that a marginal cost curve will intersect an average cost curve at its minimum. (I had to fact-check that on Wikipedia; as mentioned, it's been a while.)
On another night of the Fall 2010 exam gauntlet, I wrote "U.S. v. Lopez" up there. I figured seeing these words each time I passed would really help me master the material for my Constitutional Interpretation exam (especially since the final was an essay). My true intention, if I recall, had been to mark my progress through the exam period, so that after finishing each one I could see something I'd written back when I was in the heat (promise to stop using that soon) of studying for it. It would become a historical artifact, a memorial to my efforts. This has been fulfilled in an unexpectedly extreme way.
Now I could use this to segue into a meditation on mutability versus memory, about what trivialities remain amid the massive changes of a college career. I could pull an Erich Maria Remarque move and point out the academic equivalent of boots outliving their soldiers — but I want to springboard somewhere else off this curiosity of the Burton Board. I want to talk about bowling, which is free at College Lanes every Tuesday from 3:30-6:00 p.m.
But first the passage of time in college deserves a discussion; that chalkboard epigraph got me thinking about how it feels different here from how I've experienced it every-when else (though I haven't yet experienced post-college life, I'm gonna presume and keep going).
The summer before I came to Oberlin, lots of people warned me about how quickly college goes. This has not been the case, exactly. I've experienced very long days and very short weeks. During my first semester, it felt like Sunday was coming every three days; my friend Kevin and I would marvel at this when we saw each other at Mass, which served as the divider of my weeks. Though Mass seemed to be happening incredibly frequently, in between were some loooong days — days on which, by bedtime, the morning would seem like a lifetime ago since so much had happened since. Recently, my housemate Nina commented on a similar phenomenon: events that happened two weeks ago feel much further in the past than that — at the same time she can't believe it's late October already.
During freshman orientation (speaking of long ago), the aforementioned Kevin and I happened to go bowling; afterwards, we talked excitedly about making it a weekly tradition. We'd occasionally reaffirm this idea self-flagellatingly when we encountered each other in the weeks and months that followed. But we have yet to bowl together again. People at Oberlin are busy.
Bowling has finally become a tradition for me, though. Starting this semester, my buddy David Cogswell and I meet up before cross country practice on Tuesdays, strap on our free bowling shoes, and play as many games as we can cram in before 4:30. (I lose them all. I have a long history of getting beaten by David in just about every sport, and bowling hasn't turned out to be the thing I'm magically better than him at.) Lately, Dave's girlfriend Jill has graced us with her presence as well, showcasing her unbelievable ability not to care what happens to her ball after letting go and still knocking down at least eight or nine pins every time.
Let's tear our attention away from bowling for just a moment so I can share this cool thing I heard from Dean Doane, who told me about a student who makes an effort to have brunch with a different group of friends every Sunday. This idea is not revolutionary, but it's also something I bet most people don't think to do. For me, it's tough keeping up with friends who aren't on the cross country team, and whenever I pass one on the way to class or join one at a urinal (a nearby urinal, I mean), we express our earnest desire to have lunch together "sometime," which is the generic sort of thing you say in such circumstances to indicate you want to see somebody more often.
Obviously, "sometime" is the same sort of nonexistent entity as the "someone" my Mom asks to vacuum at home right before it doesn't get done. Arranging meals with pals requires some degree of planning and commitment (which you know if you've ever tried to set up a group meeting at Oberlin), but I'm well aware that all the required texting would be worth it.
Still, it's wicked easy just to get absorbed in your own life at Oberlin and to be so consumed by all the stuff you have to do that adding anything else — even fun stuff like meeting with friends — can seem like more work, something else to write in an already overloaded planner. Though I know it means neglecting some relationships, sticking to the default (i.e., eating at the team table in Longman, where there are always people I like, almost irrespective of when I show up to Stevie) all the time is just easier, especially since the vast majority of my meals at Oberlin are, perforce, explorations of how much food I can eat in how little time (one of the few things I've beaten David at is the Saltine Challenge, and then I got a nosebleed). This is because my academic schedule is a bit crazy. For the same reason, I often eat at unusual times. Which makes carving out an hour for lunch with a friend — and getting un-wired enough to be enjoyable company — a real project for me. And so, more often than not, such meals happen only by luck — great to see ya! Can I join you?
At the beginning of the year, my house decided we should have dinner together every Thursday, an hour to actually be with each other. Co-residing with someone (good thing I double-checked the definition of cohabitating), after all, is no guarantee of quality time together.
But — mindful of all the meals I've had to rush or skip to finish a paper — I was worried I would have to miss most of them and become the pariah of the PLoB, or that the proposed tradition would be something of a burden. But I've only had to miss one so far and PLoB dinners have turned out to be one of the best parts of the week. (We've got a tune of thanks we sing before eating and everything! By the end of the semester, I betcha I'll have the whole thing memorized, too, so that I'll no longer have to sing it half-a-second behind everyone else and pass it off as a harmonizing echo effect.)
That's why the brunch thing is such a good idea — it's a personal policy. It's a habit. It's a ritual. It becomes the default. Building people you care about into your weekly routine is never a bad idea.
As mentioned, though, lunch isn't my favorite way to catch up with friends. You know what would be way cooler? Inviting them to come bowling with me and Dave on Tuesdays!
An important qualification to this plan is that it hasn't worked yet. Tuesday afternoon's a crappy time for most people. Kevin, for instance, has class then — but I'm hoping I can get him next semester for a second game.
Almost every week I have several good reasons not to go myself, but I make a conscious effort to honor the tradition. Ed Helms, when he came back to convoke us, regretted that he'd been "a bit of a nerd in a grind" while he was at Oberlin. There are a lot of grinding nerds at Oberlin (especially at the 'Sco on a Wednesday night) and Ed's regret was pretty much my life for my first two years here (years that I very much enjoyed, but at the expense of some other important things in life), holing up on Saturday nights in my room to work and almost never seeing friends outside of class, meals, or practice. I even lived in Barnard (before it was cool to live in Barnard).
You could argue I'm still guilty of such hermit-neutics (this is neither the time nor the place for that though — this is a blog about how I've started bowling!), but I'm working on following the advice I gave as an Academic Ambassador to my protégés (haha yeah right) at the beginning of the semester: if you're stuck on what to do, go for what'll give you the best memory (within reasonable limits, guys, within limits!). This was meant to be a guiding principle for if you're debating between doing some assigned reading for a cinema class or seeing Ira Glass, but it applies to a lot of other choices as well, like spending time with friends vs. [something else]. As senior year rolls onward, this becomes even more important.
I've already experienced my concluding Cross Country Camp, my last OCXC race, and my final Fancy Feast. My friend Ben, reflecting back on our collegiate running careers, said something on a warm-up a few weeks ago that I found rather profound: "It all feels like missed opportunities." I don't think that's actually the case for either of us (especially since Ben's wicked fast and his season isn't even done), but you can't help but look back on life you've lived and wish you'd done some things differently. Trying to minimize those regrets on the front end by making choices that value the same things you profess to [see guideline above] is the name of the game.
It's not so much the pace of time I'm thinking about now as how much I have left here. Odds are good I won't have so many of my favorite people living within a half-mile of me next year (unless it turns out I really messed up on that cultural diversity requirement). And so we bowl.
And if Wilder Bowl ain't wild enough for you, you should see me and Dave go at it. Every few games, I end up hitting the sweep (the metal bar that comes down to block any extra balls I might throw while the pinsetter is doing its thing) and getting my 8-pounder ricocheted back down the lane towards me for another chance, which I often need. But I think my average score is getting better by the week. It was 107 this past Tuesday (pulled down by an outlier of 82, a game with two frames in a row that shared one downed pin between them) — not counting the strike-filled jam session Dave and I enjoyed after finishing up the official games. Here's us going at it.
Notice that I get a strike and David doesn't. I have already watched this video like 12 times. I will return to it often in the future. (The pretense in asking my pal Joey to film this was that I wanted a clip where we both got strikes; imagine my glee when [on our fourth or fifth attempt] I got one and he didn't.)
All right, let's tear ourselves away from bowling once more to hear something the wise Robert Frost once said: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life — it goes on." As it does, we'll see how much longer that cost curve graph stays up in Burton. And come December when I'm studying for my macroeconomics final, you'll probably see it replaced by an aggregate supply/aggregate demand model. Get excited.
And if you're a friend of mine whom I haven't seen in a while, drop by College Lanes some Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. It's about time we catch up.
Aim txt: Is it joe's birthday today?
Jacob txt: You bad sister! Joe's birthday is on the 29th.
Aim txt: No it isn't. You bad brother trying to make me look like a bad sister. I know you want joe to think you're a better sister than I am. I'm onto your little game.
Aim txt: Also, I doublechecked with dad...
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