Oberlin Blogs

Semi-Productive Procrastination

September 10, 2009

John West ’10

Well, this semester is kicking my butt--already.

To understand why, we have to go back a bit. When I first came to Oberlin, I thought I was going to be a politics/historical performance major. It turns out that, as much as I like politics, I don't much care for political science (even the name is a contradiction in terms). Unfortunately, I didn't figure this out until my junior year, when I switched my focus to philosophy. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem--it's normal to cycle through majors--but I had a couple of strikes against me. First of all, I think I had about nine credits in Philosophy when I decided that I wanted to major in it (you need 30). Second, I pretty much completely ignored the distribution requirements within the philosophy major, which has left me with a lot of credits in Mind and World and very few in History and Ethics. Third, I'm a double-degree student, and, despite what some snide College kids believe, the Con is not "Clown College." Indeed, the Con eats up a great deal of credit hours (not to mention real hours).

So here I am: It's my fourth year, and I want to be done with my College degree. Unfortunately for me, I have less foresight than the Bush administration (zing!), and so I now have to fit in just about every required class that I really don't want to take in the next two semesters.

You see, Oberlin has all these bizarre rules like "9-9-9" to make you a "well-rounded student." 9-9-9 means you have to take at least nine humanities, nine social science, nine natural science/math, and nine cultural diversity credits (I know, that's four '9's, but we don't question these sorts of things). That means you have to take a whole 16 percent of your classes outside of your division of interest. Crazy! I, being the meticulous planner that I am, had a total of zero natural science and zero cultural diversity credits going into this fourth year.

Of course, I jest. I'm actually thoroughly enjoying some of the non-humanities classes I'm taking. Bowling, for example, rocks--for reasons that should be obvious. And Professor Dan Styer's "Einstein and Relativity" is fun and causing brain-spasms in the way only General Relativity can.

But, that a course is fun does not imply that it is easy. I haven't done algebra since high school, and now I'm expected to remember how to solve for things? I'm a philosophy and historical performance major, not a mathematician!

Let's add to this an upper-level philosophy seminar, whose reading list makes me cry a little each time I look at it, two ensembles, another philosophy class, private lessons, my jobs blogging, copy editing for The Grape, and tutoring in the Writing Center... you get the idea.

And it gets worse. I'm playing in a competition next week in Montreal. It's for young recorder players (that's me!). Yes, I play the recorder. Yes, you can major in recorder performance (it's actually called "Historical Performance - Recorder"). And I've heard every joke; don't even try. There's this compulsory piece that is absolutely unplayable. I'm sure my neighbors think I'm crazy, because my practicing goes like this: thirty seconds of unplayable atonal blah blah blah. Thirty seconds of curses and threats of physical violence against the composer. Thirty seconds of unplayable atonal blah blah blah... This lasts for about an hour each day.

There's also the matter of my senior recital in November and a staged reading of a play I wrote, which is happening in about two weeks (for those interested, Saturday, September 26, at a time TBA).


But enough whining! I wouldn't be doing all this stuff if I didn't enjoy it--and I do. When I sit down to write these posts, I try to think about things that make me an Obie, and I don't mean in the literal sense (that is: you're an Obie if you attend Oberlin). I mean, what is it that connects me to that somewhat hazy thing we call "The Ethos of Obies." For this post, the watchword is varied interests. If you've been reading these blogs at all, you must have seen that (for example, the last post, Megan's, included yogurt making. Awesome). Oberliners do a lot of crazy, off-the-wall things--disparate things, random things that strike their fancy.

This is part of what drew me to Oberlin, and it's part of what makes me so damn fond of the place. When people with whom I went to high school laugh at me for going to a school in the middle of a cornfield, I just smile: I might notice the cornfields more if it weren't for the millions of zany and fascinating things going on here, courtesy of all the zany and fascinating people who live here.

There's another upshot to all of this work: productive procrastination. You see, the more work I have, the more desperate I become to avoid it. I do things like collect every issue of The Nation for the last four years, and organize them in binders:

Binders full of "The Nation" magazine

I do things like make a website for Wilder Voice (which will have its beta launch sometime later this month):

Home page for Wilder Voice

I do things like make stupid graphs for those who have managed to make it through the last 900 words of my inscrutable prose:

Graph titled "How Clean is John Apartment:


One last thing that's causing this semester to kick my ass: Wilder Voice, Oberlin's magazine for longform journalism and creative non-fiction. I am now editor-in-chief. It's a lot of work! We're just gearing up now, and (shameless plug alert) we're having our general interest meeting in Wilder this Sunday at 1:00 PM, a meeting to which all of you writers and artists should come.

Wilder Voice general interest meeting poster

Poster by Eliza Koch


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