Oberlin Blogs

Snow, Time, and Other Miscellany

November 10, 2019

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

A few days ago, we had our first snow. As I walked out of the gym after my 7 am yoga class on Friday morning, all bundled in a soft blanket-scarf I got out of a free box, I felt transported back to previous Oberlin moments in a very visceral way. There is always something odd about the changing of the seasons, especially the arrival of winter. The physical sensation of walking through the cold, a dusting of snow on the ground and dramatic clouds in the sky, felt exactly as it has every other year I’ve been at Oberlin. Despite being a completely different person than I was when I first arrived here, walking through an Oberlin snow always feels the same in a very eerie (Erie?) way. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently: how it changes, how it seems to move fast, or slow, how it can drag out, make us feel trapped, and slip through our fingers all at once. It’s not uncommon for me to get to the end of the week and say, “I can’t believe it’s Friday already…but Monday also feels like so long ago.” At the summer camp I worked at, we always said “A week feels like a day and a day feels like a week,” which very much applies at Oberlin. 

Things always feel like they speed up after Fall Break. This week I found myself going through a more-or-less typical week at college, only to realize halfway through that in 5 and a half weeks, I’ll be going home. After that, I’m going to Berlin for six months with a study abroad program. I know that it’s going to fly by, so I’m trying to stay present, which is something I often find difficult in my life, though this semester this has been less true than in my previous years at Oberlin.

Historically, I think I have often freaked out upon reaching November. November means Fall Break is over, we’re more than halfway through the semester, and I’ve often freaked out because I feel as if I haven’t accomplished the things I’ve wanted to, and I realize that there isn’t much time left. But this semester, more than ever before, I feel secure in the things I’m doing at Oberlin, and I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, which is a feeling I haven’t had often here. With the exception of really missing dance, which I always feel when I see the dance department’s annual Fall Forward show, I haven’t had misgivings about the ways I’ve chosen to spend my time this semester. I’ve been heavily involved in research in the psychology department (in fact, I am writing this post as I wait for a few research study participants to finish their surveys on our lab computers) and attended a conference in September with a fellow student and our professor to present a poster about a shared neurocognitive mechanism between eating disorders and non-suicidal self-injury. I’m a TA for the Research Methods I class in the psych department, which is a surprisingly fulfilling and enjoyable job. I feel like I’ve established a rapport with the students in the class, and I hope that I’ve been able to make the course, which is often a hurdle for psych majors, more approachable and less intimidating. Being this involved in the psych department truly makes me feel like I’ve settled into my major. I feel like a bona fide psychology major! Oberlin is a place where people aren’t always defined by what they study, because they often study multiple things and are involved in so many extracurricular activities. But this semester, I really identify with my area of study, and I feel involved more than ever before. I know what I’m studying, know what I’m doing, and know how to ask the right kind of questions, which is a true marker of progress in a discipline, in my mind. 

My increased involvement in the psych department isn’t to say that I’ve neglected my other major. This semester I’m only taking classes in my two majors: German and Psychology. I’ve finally made it to the 300 level in German, which means this semester I’m taking a literature course in German (GERM 312: Early Germany to Modernism) as well as a course taught by the German writer-in-residence, who this year is the MEGA KÜHL poet Nora Gomringer. Once a week on Thursday nights, I head to Peters Hall and sit in a room with fifteen other German students and listen to Nora share her work, tell us stories, and just be generally amazing. Nora does not merely read poetry, she performs it. As a child I read this fairytale story about a girl who receives a blessing/curse from a fairy godmother figure where every time she speaks, precious gems fall from her mouth. When Nora speaks, precious jewels tumble forth. This past Thursday was her public reading, and I just feel lucky to be in the same room as her. I wish my German were better than it is, so I could understand every treasure she produces, but that will come. Last night I dreamt in German, for the first time. It will happen. 

So. I am student: psychology and German and language and thought, this is me.  I feel secure in the things I am learning, the things I am doing, and the communities I am a part of. Even though things are moving quickly, I am looking forward to them, and the timing of things just feels right. I’m going to Berlin for 6 months. I signed a lease with three dear friends for a house we will inhabit next school year. My life has become a process of making homes, one after the other. I have two homes now. Soon I will make more, and even more shortly after that. And even though my surroundings change, and will continue to do so, I feel good about this. In high school I had a Latin professor who once said, “Take solace in the crystalline unchanging beauty of Latin.” I can understand this. I love languages because of their rules, their structure, their innumerable intricacies—these reasons are partly why German is so alluring to me—but I don’t know if this sentiment applies in every situation. I find that I have become someone who, more than ever before, takes comfort in certain types of change, like the shifting of the seasons. Nothing around me is the same for very long, and I am not the same within those spaces, but one thing I can always count on: I will always feel a sparkle of being-ness when I walk in the snow and cold, air turning cheeks and nose pink, breath creating clouds, bundled in a scarf, taking on the bright, frigid world. 

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