As a college graduate working at a college in a college town, try as you might, your life is still very much defined by the schedule of the college, and by extension, its students' schedules. Every January, I get an itch. Oberlin trained me well to get all antsy and creative every January. It's winter term, after all, the glorious time to explore, to cookeatreadwatchthingshangoutwithfriends and all those other easing-into-the-new-year activities, and to hone in on something new and focus on doing that one great thing for four solid weeks.
Great's a hard word, especially in academia. A final product is necessary in a number of projects (winter term or otherwise) but in many ways, it's about progress and realizations within that span of time that are important and long-lasting. In the 100 or so hours you are required to dedicate to your winter term project each year, you can only do so much (but, oh, you can do SO MUCH!). Winter term is excellent in that it gives you the opportunity to dedicate time to doing something more deeply than before, but it's only a drop in the bucket if you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell's proposal of 10,000 hours to reach mastery.
Are we aiming for mastery? Not exactly. To lift a phrase from dear Tolkien: it's the journey, not the arrival, that matters. Process, not product, is the reason to spend your time exploring something in particular during winter term. You're gaining experience, something that sounds pretty wishy-washy when you say it out loud, but that's the thing you couldn't trade for the world. As a newly minted Grown-up with a capital G who possesses a big-kid job, I'm finding it hard to find a set of days to, say, travel to another country, to begin writing a cookbook, to start a new film project, or even to sit down and read a book for fun (I'm getting better at this last one, however gradually).
This month, I've deemed my project to be related to three things I like very much: food, people, and Oberlin. Well, two projects. Maybe three. But definitely one. (Decision-making is hard, okay?)
I'm doing two things right off the bat:
I'm reading cookbooks, both in my own collection and from other sources (hellooooo Oberlin Public Library!). You learn so much from reading cookbooks. They're all about basics and process, and there are few things I like more than process; it's how you can start to shape it into something of your own. A grasp on ingredients and the kinds of actions you can apply to them means you have a limitless combination of things to create.
Overwhelming much? Perhaps yes, but that's one of the reasons I like cooking so much, and by extension, sharing it with others. When I cook, it's a learning experience, but in cooking/eating/blogging about something I cooked and ate, someone else can learn from that too. I can't stop, won't stop being an educator. (We'll refrain from talking about a winter term project I'm mentoring this year that's been nicknamed "The Need to Feed" at this juncture, because I do believe it'll be a whole post on its own.)
The other thing I'm doing this month is trying to tap into the psyche of Oberlin foodies. Why do all the grandest people in my Oberlin life also happen to be interested in food? (I know I chose my friends well, but this is a trend that's much bigger than my own social circle.) Why is it that Oberlin blood runs thick with tomato sauce, our lungs are filled with the aroma of freshly-baked rosemary bread and caramelized onions, and our heads are brimming with noodles? There's something here that brings us Obies together for a good meal or for a good food cause, on campus and elsewhere, and it's not just that we're hungry.
So, tell me in the comments, of your most memorable Oberlin meal, your favorite co-op or dorm kitchen concoction, your experiences with food academically — classes, winter terms, internships — or while getting your hands dirty in a professional capacity. Your main challenge, should you choose to accept, is to make me drool while I contemplate the greater forces at play in the Oberlin kitchen.
What are you waiting for? I'm hungry.