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February 12, 2010

Tess Yanisch ’13

I've been back at Oberlin for about a week and a half and it already feels like a long time. That's because things get started fast around here and just keep going.

I got back early last week to meet up with my fellow improvisers in the Sunshine Scouts. As you might remember from one of my previous posts, we won the Midwest regional competition for the Chicago College Improv Tournament, meaning we advanced to the national competition. That competition took place last Saturday. It was an exciting, fun-filled adventure that I shall make the subject of my next blog. For now, suffice it to say that, while we did not win, we played well, and we had lots of fun outside of the tournament.

For this week's blog, I'll take a wider view of things, and describe to you my first week of classes.

I've been very lucky with my schedule this whole year--I've gotten into almost all of the classes I wanted. Actually, that's a lie; if I'd gotten into all the classes I wanted, I would be taking at least twenty right now and would need a Time-Turner because many of them are at the same time. A plague upon credit-hour limits and the strict nature of time! But I haven't had any trouble registering for the four or five classes I actually can take. This semester, that means French, Contemporary American Fiction, Introduction to Psychology, and Introduction to Neuroscience.

However, to portray this as the entirety of my schedule would be the basest falsehood. Last Sunday, there was a lifeguards' meeting, during which we all signed up for shifts. I had four or so last semester--this semester, we have more lifeguards and (with the end of the swim season and its swim team practices) fewer shifts to divide between us. As of now, I only have two.

My first French class went very well. The professor seems funny--always important, I think, especially in language classes--helpful, and kind. We are going to use the same textbook as last semester but also read a novel, L'immoraliste.

Finding my English class was an adventure! We were very briefly scheduled to be in three different rooms. Now, however, it has settled down and I think we're staying put. The class itself is AMAZING. It promises to be quite intensive--a novel every week--but I think it'll be worth it. The first book we read was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, an Oberlin alum. It's actually nonfiction, a memoir in graphic-novel form about the relationship between Alison and her father. Shortly after she came out to her parents as a lesbian, she learned that her father had been having sex with teenage boys for years. A few weeks later, he died, hit by a truck--she suspects it was suicide.

It's an interesting, sad, very powerful story of a family trying to look like something it's not, a story and a life driven by metaphors and connections to literature. This is why it's in a fiction course--everything in their lives she compares to the great works of literature she and her father both read and loved. (They were sincere with each other when discussing Hemingway, even if they weren't anytime else.) In a way, I think they tried to live like characters in a novel. Also, she seems to be seeking some pattern, some catharsis and resolution in this relationship, that would be easier to find in fiction than in real life. Someone in the class today said something to the effect of, "The way they lived blurred the lines between reality and fiction." I'm not explaining this very well, but it's difficult to explain. I urge all of you to go out and read it--it's really good.

Neuroscience looks like it's going to be intense. It's my first hard-science class, and already I've been a little unclear about something in the reading (some details of cell anatomy). Fortunately, many of my friends are biochemistry majors, so I can always go ask them. ("Tell me what a ribosome is--short words, please.") It's a big class, for Oberlin: probably 100 people.

Psychology is just as big, if not bigger, but that's fine. Three different professors are teaching the course, each doing a unit on their particular specialties. Basic cognitive psychology comes first, then social psychology (which I'm particularly excited about), and finally a unit on more clinical aspects--the interplay of nature and nurture, phobias, and psychotherapy. The professors are all funny and the textbook is easy to read. It's not a particularly challenging course, I don't think, but it'll be a good, solid foundation. My favorite part is the S.A.s, Supplemental Activities. The lecture is really only worth 3 credits, but it's a four-credit course. The final credit comes from outside activities. You can go to lectures, do additional readings, or take part in experiments to fulfill this requirement. Basically, it's an excuse--nay, a requirement!--to be an overachiever. My social science geek side keeps squealing, "This is gonna be so much fuuuuun!"

Then I'm taking a self-defense class, which I can't write about because it hasn't started yet, and two ExCos.

I signed up for many ExCos--everyone does--but I am actually going to take two this semester, and I think they're going to be more intense than Superheroes was last semester. That met for an hour and a half once a week and had a few outside readings.

This semester, I'm taking fencing, something I wanted to do last semester but couldn't because of scheduling reasons. (See above re: the necessity of Time Turners in daily life.) That's two practices a week, which I am really looking forward to.

The other ExCo is a Genre Fiction Workshop. I attended the first meeting last night and I can tell I'm going to love it. It'll be a fair amount of work for an ExCo, though, since it's basically a mini-Creative Writing class. Apparently, Oberlin's CW department focuses on realistic fiction, which is fine, except that it leaves a gap crying out to be filled. This class is going to teach us to be better science fiction/fantasy/western/horror/steampunk/erotica/noir/magical realism writers. (From last night's lecture: What is "genre"? All the stuff that isn't on the "Fiction/Literature" shelf.) We have required readings and lectures once a week, plus workshopping each other's writing. I'm really looking forward to this one.

That is my Schedule of Doom: four classes (at least two with lots of reading), two ExCos (one with lots of reading, writing, and commenting), two lifeguard shifts (one at six in the morning), one PE class, and Sunshine Scouts practices three times a week. I have chosen to stop writing for the Oberlin Review this semester so that I have time to breathe.

That said, I love all of what I'm doing and I'm going to keep on doing it. My life is wonderfully complicated right now, but it's also breathtakingly simple. A week ago I was arriving in Chicago and didn't know any of this. Oberlin, as I said, starts up quickly.

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