Oberlin Blogs

Oberlin Anecdotes

April 16, 2010

Tess Yanisch ’13

Oberlin is a fun place where all kinds of quirky things happen. Often, I will see or participate in something and think that I should work it into a blog post. Sometimes I succeed, but, more often, I just can't think of a way to work whatever it is in. So I decided to write a post composed of almost nothing but these interesting, amusing, or just plain fun insights into life at Oberlin.

Story #1: An aggressively affectionate cat

I stayed on campus over spring break, spending my time lifeguarding, reading, working ahead in classes, finally watching the first season of Dollhouse so I can return it to my friend before the end of the year, et cetera. It was very relaxing--I needed the time to decompress. One day, I was out on a walk when a sleek black cat came bounding up to me.

Now, I love cats. At Oberlin, I confess I am a little furry-friend-deprived. I immediately squatted down next to the cat and started cooing the usual nonsense at hir (I'm going to use gender-neutral pronouns because I didn't check its sex). Zie butted hir head against my hand, rubbed against my fingers, even tried to climb up onto my knee at one point. Zie had gorgeous green eyes--really green, not that yellow-green that most cats' are if they're not blue. I noticed that zie was one of those cats who purr almost silently: I felt the purr before I heard it.

Usually the cats I meet on walks will let themselves be petted for a little while and then walk away. I felt a little bad leaving this one when I decided to move on--zie was so affectionate. I gave hir a last pat, brushed the worst of the cat hair off my jeans, stood up, and walked away--or tried to. The cat ran after me and rubbed against my legs, nearly tripping me. I laughed and rubbed hir head again, then tried to move on. The same thing happened. The third time I didn't stop--I staggered when zie tangled my feet up, but didn't fall, and overtook hir. Zie followed me past a house or two before sitting down and watching me go. I ought to go back that way and see if zie's still there.

Tale #2: Fun with new instruments

I've played the violin since fourth grade. I'm nowhere near Con level, but I'm not bad, actually. I haven't played as much as I'd like since coming here, but I brought all my fun movie music (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, assorted Disney musicals) and every now and then I take it out and play. I'm happy that I'm at a level where I can do that--it's cool to be able to play pieces I know and love, and that other people recognize, without too much trouble. But it's taken me a long time to get that good.

I think everyone has instruments they want to learn at some point in their lives. A few days before spring break, I was talking with some friends at lunch about various instruments we wanted to learn and I casually mentioned that I wanted to learn the guitar.

On the Sunday at the end of spring break, I talked with my friends who had just gotten back. I'd missed them; the week alone was very relaxing, but I was ready for long, intense conversations about books and Internet memes and Firefly again. After dinner, I went with one of my friends to swap books; I'd lent him The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert Heinlein and he'd brought back Dinotopia by James Gurney. His roommate had gotten back too in the last hour or so, and he said he had something to lend me too.

He'd brought back his guitar.

I was very happy that I'd worked ahead in most of my classes, as it gave me more time that week to spend gazing from the instruction book to the strings of the guitar and strumming experimentally. It was briefly confusing adapting from the violin--there are two extra strings and I still feel there's something fundamentally odd about B being an open string--but after two days I had figured out a few basic scales and memorized nine chords. I could pluck out the Ode to Joy and the theme to Lord of the Rings. Not bad.

Then I went online to look for chords for some of my favorite songs.

I was delighted to find that I could fumble my way through at least half of what I found. The rest is just a matter of teaching myself more chords. Dar Williams, the Firefly theme, Simon and Garfunkel, Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan . . . It's all out there and it's not that difficult!

I've spent much of last two weeks standing in front of the computer with the guitar, glorying in the sensation of creating my favorite music. It's a special treat because it's so much faster this time! I have decided I love the guitar. It's so easy to sound like you know what you're doing--and so easy to actually know what you're doing, for real.

Snapshot #3: ExCos and the Meaning of Life

When I first came to Oberlin, I thought going to the local Unitarian Universalist services would be a good way to meet people, and I was right. However, I rapidly got too busy to really be involved much. However, I do try to go to the meetings of the UU student group. There are only six or seven of us, as far as I can tell--Oberlin is a place you would expect to have lots of UU-type people, but it's also a place with more focused spiritual experiences. For instance, a lot of people who would otherwise be in the UUs are in the Pagan Awareness Network. It's awesome that we have things like the PAN, but it makes the UU presence on campus smaller. So does the fact that lots of people with vaguer spiritualities can really easy satisfy them with other things--art, drama, walking in the Arb, whatever.

(Frankly, I'm one of them. I wasn't raised UU [I wasn't really raised as anything, actually, although I spent much of fourth grade faithfully training myself to be a Jedi], so the main reason I'm involved is because I like the people and I like the kinds of things we talk about. I suppose that's a spiritual need too--interesting and honest conversation--but I'm drifting from my main point.)

Anyway, the UU group was invited to lead a service last month. We were trying to pick a theme for it, but we kept getting distracted by talking about our respective ExCos. Then someone had the bright idea of centering the discussion around ExCos. It was kind of an off-hand suggestion, very casual, but we latched onto it with great enthusiasm. ExCos, we realized, are some of those things that fulfill spiritual needs.

We ended up giving a service on "taking your interests for credit"--allowing yourself to prioritize hobbies and try new things rather than discounting them. We talked about how such things can complement your main interest or provide a new perspective on major issues in your life. One of the girls in the group--it's all women, interestingly--talked about learning the Hero's Journey though Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I discussed the importance of community that an ExCo creates: everyone has at least one common interest, usually in a kind of quirky area, which makes it a great basis for forming friendships.

Then we invited people to share their interests. We had lots of gardeners, someone who wanted to take up sailing again, a few people who wanted to make time to write. It was really interesting and a lot of fun to see how excited people got about this. After the service, we received many compliments and questions about how ExCos work. A few people expressed interest in teaching ExCos at the college and sharing their passions. It was really fun.

As usual at Oberlin, the question is, where will I find the time to explore all this . . . ?

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