This post is the second installment of my “Where are they now?” series, a collection of conversations with former Oberlin bloggers about their first years as Oberlin alumni. See my first post with alum Kira here.
In my second conversation in this series, I chatted with friend Teague Harvey, whose work I read when I was a wee high school student dreaming of becoming an Obie. Teague (he/him) hails originally from New Plymouth, New Zealand, although he moved around a lot during his childhood (you can read more about that on his archived blog here). While at Oberlin, Teague was a Dance and Computer Science double major and was heavily involved in the circus and dance scenes, even teaching a Tumbling and Tricking ExCo (which I took!). After spending some time in Seattle, Washington, and then Santa Fe, New Mexico, Teague now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is training to become an Alexander Technique educator while doing coding work for a small online sports merchandise company. He still goes to parks to practice flips.
R: Hello! So, how are you in this crazy, crazy world we live in?
T: Hmmm… (pauses). I don’t know. It’s a weird time to come to adulthood and try to find personal meaning. I think the people that are our age that are going out into the world, class of 2019, class of 2020, your class--we have a lot on our plate. Somehow the challenges feel bigger… I had this wonderful phone Alexander lesson yesterday, where basically the idea was that if we can better regulate our nervous systems, we can have more access to information, and we’ll have the “aha” moments about what we’re supposed to do in moments like these.
I think the answer lies somewhere in that reflection… I’m trying to continually reframe my perspective in my life right now. If I’m being selfish for a minute, this is the hardest period of my life, maybe ever. I moved to Portland intentionally seeking some things that I didn’t have in Santa Fe, or Seattle… graduation is enough of a discombobulation, so I let myself be discombobulated for like 6 months and just go wherever seemed to make the most sense, but then I chose to take action and put roots down… I wanted to answer all of these personal questions, which I thought moving would solve. That led to being in a brand new place during a pandemic, and now this civil unrest/huge protest movement… so yeah, it sucks sometimes, but I’m trying to view that as an opportunity. If I can regulate myself right now, my meaning will become apparent, maybe. Basically if I can handle this moment with intention, I’m going to live a great life, I can handle anything. It’s a big challenge, it’s a big opportunity.
R: Yeah, I was going to say that. If you can make it through this, you’ll be fine!
T: I do have support systems, but not in the way I did at Oberlin… It’s kind of truly in the deep end. But as the challenges rise, so does my ability to deal with them, I think.
T: How are you doing?
R: I’m actually fine? I’ve been pretty focused this week … It’s really hard not to fall into the trap of “I feel good about myself because I was productive today,” but I also have a pretty substantial project I have to do for this German class… That’s pretty much been my week, just doing research for this project and watching Avatar [The Last Airbender] with my sister, which has been pretty great (laughs).
T: Yeah, I just started mine as well! (laughs)
R: I sort of have a routine now, not in a way that I feel restrained by it.
T: Structure can be SO valuable, which I get through my job: bugs are always thrown at me and I have all these projects I have to build, problems to solve.
R: Is that for the sports merchandise website?
T: Yeah, the company sells coasters and merchandise with sports plays on them. What gives me satisfaction is that it’s a small, family-owned business… Some of the reviews are like “This was the last game I watched with my dad before he died.” So, you know, I might have a relationship with these objects that is very functional…but I get it, they’re meaningful to some people. Mainly what’s good enough right now is that I have a job that I can rely on and that is flexible and pays the bills. I just want to get through COVID.
R: There it is, folks (laughs).
T: Yeah, survival is the most important thing.
R: Are you still doing Alexander [Technique] stuff right now?
T: Yeah, our trainings went online. I’ve been taking lessons when I can. We were supposed to have our next training this coming week, which is like: Oh. I’ve been a different person and lived in different places for all those trainings…instead of semesters, they’re that broad picture for me right now, since they happen every 3-4 months. I still want that medium chunk of time to be demarcated somehow. I kind of miss that, semesters were an easy way to do it.
R: Oh yeah, semesters are good for that. It’s so weird to think about going back to Oberlin, because I’m excited, but I know it’s going to be so different. I know that so many of the things I love about the school aren’t going to be happening. I’m not going to be going to contra dances, or concerts… it’s a weird thing. And with everything that’s happening in our country right now...
T: I think it’s a period of everyone’s lives where…it’s a huge belief-recentering, especially for someone with privilege: not only is the status quo unreliable, it’s not even a good thing, it’s got its problems that we’ve gotta improve upon, somehow.
It’s one thing to know that the sun will explode in a couple million years and wipe out human civilization… but generally it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the Western society that I grew up in has done its job, I will probably get to do some of the things my parents did... but I don’t believe that anymore… the pandemic shows up, we’re fighting for Black lives… and climate change on the horizon? It’s not a logical assumption that things will be the way they are, i.e. safe and comfortable, because that’s the way they’ve been for some people. And that’s a scary and painful realization, but also kind of freeing. If things are going to change, then I can change too. Or things can change for good. Or, if the sea level rises and we all drown and the world goes to shit, at least then maybe we can have a little perspective and enjoy breakfast a little more.
R: Yeah, that makes sense.
T: If things were always the same and predictable, and you were just a capitalist drone…That’s not how we evolved to live!
T: You know what’s crazy, is to see people I know who aren’t Obies posting conservative propaganda… it’s just, ugh! Not only is “maybe there are problems in our society” the empathic answer, it’s also just the one that makes the most sense. There are riots: people are angry. Oh, there’s a problem! (laughs) Maybe we should acknowledge that instead of saying “the problem is the people rioting.” Like, our starting point should be - these emotions came from somewhere, let’s talk about it as a society - not ignoring the problem.
R: Wow, that’s really real.
T: When I was on Oberlin’s campus, I felt like I wasn’t radical, or not very active, at least compared to the most radical and active… I hadn’t figured out for myself what my meaning was, I chose to listen more. I went to every commencement… and all the commencement speakers say some version of, “you go out and you make change in the world... this is an institution that imbues these values," and you hear that as a student and think, whatever dude, I just go to class and do shit I think is important or cool, but you don’t really get it. I mean, for crying out loud our slogan is ‘think one person can change the world?’ Sounds exhausting.
And then you go out in the world, and it’s like…oh my god! I mean, _____ [Teague’s old roommate and close friend] is even less of an activist type than me… he believed in all these things at Oberlin, but he felt similarly to how I felt, and we had conversations about how people sometimes guilt or shame others into action in a way that isn’t super productive… but even he has texted me a lot recently like “Wow dude, we really do gotta change this system. Fuck Capitalism!” (laughs).
R: I totally relate to everything you’re saying! I think when you leave Oberlin there’s a moment of “Oh WOW, my values and the way I think about stuff really is different from how it used to be!”
T: Yeah, but it’s not indoctrination, which is really important.
R: Yes, totally. It’s all good things. I think I started to notice that when I went to Germany and I was with students who weren’t Obies. It was like, woah, the Oberlin liberal arts education is so different…(laughs)…and so is the way I am in the classroom and the way I think about things… And now being home and seeing how everything is playing out with the pandemic, and recently with all the action against police violence and racism…I feel like since I’m isolated from Oberlin the ways in which the Oberlin education has affected me are more apparent. And I think so much of that isn’t even necessarily “I took this class and it changed the way I think.” I think a lot of it is that I’m just around people and students who talk about things in a different way. It’s a result of knowing people and having conversations, not as much taking a class in a specific department.
T: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Before I graduated, I tried to do some sort of reflection, because I remember one of my first classes was about what makes a liberal arts education a liberal arts education. And even though we had those requirements, like two humanities classes or whatever, that doesn’t do it somehow… Maybe critics of liberal arts are right: maybe not everyone at Oberlin goes on to be someone who tries to change the world or gets this “well rounded education,” but I still think it works... It’s not that we’re indoctrinated, it’s more like it’s a petri dish where people care so much about so many things! Everything I’ve been learning right now about myself and how to be effective in the world…it’s because I care. And I’m really not saying that for woke points. That happens at Oberlin for sure, but we really do care, and I choose to believe that’s better than the alternative…and it can be totally overwhelming…because lots of people don’t seem to care as much, and that hurts…if we get the tools to take care of ourselves…then it leads to meaning and purpose and feeling…there’s more to life than just sitting out. And Obies don’t sit out.
R: No, they sure don’t (laughs).
T: When we think about creating change, if I had any advice…it’s to ask ourselves “what if this thing I’m trying to change so much never changed?” …I think we delude ourselves into thinking, oh, if I could just change myself, it’ll all be good…but what if that never changed? Then there’s an after to the realization that there’s always going to be injustice in the world or the realization that I have this quality about myself or this pattern that I recognize that I don’t like in some way...it’s a hard question to say…and I’m talking on a very individual level here…what is your relationship to it?
I’ve had to figure out last weekend [nationwide riots and protests had just started] my relationship to the idea “there will always be injustice.” What do I do about that? … I have to find a way to live with that sustainably and morally…that is fulfilling and significant…and those aren’t questions you ask of others, they’re things you ask of yourself…
Ok, I feel like I covered my bases there. I know you just listened for a minute, but if there’s something in this blog…it’s something about how the personal questions never end and we have to live with our answers (which might be ever changing), and that sometimes it will be really painful, but you have to do that shit to find meaning…
R: …We’ve talked about this before, these big existential questions (laughs)… Lots to think about… I think I know what the important pieces here are… You’re being represented here as much as I am, but that felt authentic to me. I feel like when we actually became friends, which was your last semester at Oberlin, I feel like we didn’t have these types of conversations. I feel like the first extended conversation we had was in Mudd [the library] and I wanted to say goodbye to you, and we talked for an hour and a half or something. It was a good model for conversations since then (laughs)… I feel like in this conversation we had just now you were more serious. Not in a bad way!
T: Things are serious right now.
R: I do think the tone of the conversation today has to do with the fact that the world is a flaming dumpster fire right now.
T: Shit! (laughs) We can’t avoid it! We didn’t even get out of COVID before this other stuff happened!
R: …It’s such a different world… I remember someone saying it was the first March in ten years or something that there hadn’t been a school shooting, because none of the kids were in school. And so now as things lighten up, the fact that even with the reduced amount of human contact this [police violence] is still happening makes it feel stronger.
T: My dad, who’s a psychologist, told me about this idea Freud had [disclaimer that Freud’s ideas are not uniformly accurate or scientific but are still important to modern psychology]…after growing up during WWI and was trying to explain what he saw…and what he came up with was a dichotomy of the human spirit: there’s Eros, which is sex/passion/joy/love stuff…and the other one is Thanatos, which is the destructive energy…and we’re very much in a Thanatos stage. So, I feel that in myself too right now, a bit, and maybe some of that is necessary…and that’s just the way it is… But we’re gonna have to find our way back to some Eros as well. There’s still an after, an after COVID, an after the riots, and an after November… So, we’re in for a ride. Whatever it is. I hope that next time we talk…maybe we’ll bring some Eros back into the world.
R: Well, I still enjoyed our conversation, even if it wasn’t the same as it always is, but neither is the world we’re living in right now, so it makes sense. Thank you for chatting and hang in there!
T: I’ll be fine! Bye, Ruth!
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