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Archive for the 'CovCol' Category

The Ghost of Christmas (Hall Decorating) Past

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Per usual, my semester ended with me collapsed on the couch, soul-sucking seminar papers turned in, exam blue books thoroughly scribbled upon, piles of books and essays covering the dining room table, and very, very little done in preparation for Christmas. I was absurdly proud of myself for decorating our tree 6 days before Christmas and designing Christmas cards and writing our Christmas letter 5 days prior to go-day. Sure, no one will actually get said Christmas cards or letters by Christmas, but I’m not ashamed to lower my standards to attainable levels at this point.

And then I remembered the two weeks leading up to Christmas break at good ol’ Cov Col. Surely calling upon some wisdom too lofty for mere undergrads, the powers-that-be ordained that the weekend prior to finals week was Time to Clean Your Rooms. Bathrooms were doused in bleach, bunkbeds had to be re-stacked, everything needed to come off the walls, and all earthly belongings were shuttled to storage or stuffed inside our minuscule closets. This was character-building and all, but also directly counter to our professors’ admonitions to study for our imminent exams.

But then, since — clearly — cleaning and studying for exams wasn’t enough for our over-active undergraduate bodies, our dorm also declared the Wednesday before finals to be the annual Hall Decorating Contest. Because, really, the best use of time would be to decide that the hall theme should be Narnia, corral freshmen into cutting down assorted pine branches from around campus, string said branches along the entire length of the hall, craft an ingenious lamppost out of a cheap Wal-mart floor light, create huge brown craft paper “wardrobe” doors for visitors to walk through, and then spread cotton batting and spray snow everywhere.

So we did.

And then, because no one had papers to write or projects to finish, of course, we all assumed a character to fit the Narnia narrative…

…Tricia labeled everyone in order to prevent confusion…

…and I got to sit swathed in a white sheet (wearing Betsy’s tiara) and offer passersby Turkish delight. I think I threw flour — er, magical freezing dust — at people who refused me.

Frankly, even as I can feel myself becoming the bitter old professor who is aghast at how students spend the last weeks of the semester, I am still ridiculously proud of this feat. I have romanticized it to the point of utter brilliance in my mind.

I am also incredibly grateful that I never have to do that ever again. Amen.

The Fun We Forget

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

I married off two siblings this summer, resulting in more people that I love becoming permanent fixtures in my life. While each of their weddings were lovely, I was most excited — not about the flowers, fanciness, or even the family gathering — but about everything that would happen after those six hours of vows, photographs, and other assorted trappings.

Paigey, Corinne, and I all grew up in Christian homes. We were all taught from the time we were little that marriage is a solemn endeavor. By the time we were in junior high and high school, a kind of healthy fear had been instilled in us of romantic relationships. We were acutely aware that marriage, mirroring the bond of Christ and the church, was hard work. That it would reveal our sin. That it would hurt us. That it would involve more tough “hanging on” than easy “being in love.” It’s a strange and somber state of mind that, I think, usually only occurs in those of us who have been raised in the church.

And I’m glad I was taught well. But, as I told each of my sweet sisters prior to their wedding days, these sober truths are far from the whole story. Sometimes, in the midst of our cautious ponderings, we forget a rather key aspect of marriage.

It’s also a lot of fun. Delightful, joyful fun.

Even the part where you’re hanging on.

I’m Here, Feeling Awkward

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

As April and Bets have already chronicled, we indeed all got our new piercings. Because I’m a nerd and a weanie, I just got another hole in my ear…

…and consequently my tale of The Moment of Piercing itself is rather unremarkable. What no one else has commented on, however, is the general atmosphere of the piercing-and-tattooing establishment we patronized. We went to Iron Age on the Loop, which came highly recommended. We also went on a Monday afternoon. And…the place was packed. On a Monday afternoon.

I arrived first. A man with a frizzy beard divided into two ponytails and assorted metal accessories protruding from his face was ushering a client into the back, curtained-off chairs. The woman at the counter — dressed in skinny black with various facial piercings and a purple bow in her ponytail — was surrounded by several concentric rings of clients. Because it was so busy, I quietly took a seat in the waiting area, decided that trying to read “Skater Times” wasn’t going to help anyone and pulled out a journal article instead. Nothing like reading a little Asian American visual culture theory in a tattoo parlor. April called shortly and I announced, “I’m here. Feeling awkward.”

Given the state of anxiety I’ve just described, you may be wondering: “Well, what did the clientele look like, Elissa?”

And I would tell you — and you may be disbelieving — that they were largely middle aged women.

Intermarriage

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Back in our CovCol days, Noel and I lived on halls in the same dorm that had (helpfully, for our purposes) proclaimed themselves to be “brother and sister halls.” This was a nice idea. Under the guise of spirituality-glazed affection, it gave some members of each hall their most regular and sustained contact with folks of the opposite sex. Occasionally, Second South would grow distracted by the bright young things on Third South or Third Central would saucily invite Sutherland to dinner. But, in a rather impressive commitment to hall-to-hall fidelity, Second South and Third Central managed, overall, to maintain this purported “brother-sister” relationship.

Clearly, this racket worked out well for us.

When Noel and I got married, I was ushered into a sub-coterie of Second South: Manville. The Manville boys were a big part of our lives in Chattanooga. We ate Sunday suppers and watched soccer together. Noel and I counseled several of them through relationship beginnings, endings, and false starts.

Noel, meanwhile, became privy to the energetic, and generally loud emotional lives of some of my Roomates in the Lord. On occasion, he was asked to speak in defense of his entire gender. He remained unperturbed when Rachel and I would dissolve into tearful messes on his couch. He didn’t understand the girls, per se, or why the decibel level needed to be so high, but he loved them because of what they meant to me.

This weekend is the third Second South + Third Central marriage in the last four years and the second Manville + Roommates in the Lord wedding. Brien and Kelly’s wedding weekend extravaganza in Ft. Lauderdale is bringing together some of the people who know me best and who are dearest to my heart. It’s a family reunion, of sorts: two unrelated but tightly bound groups of friends who have history, traditions, and plans for the future.

In our card for Kel and Brien, we’ll tell them how precious this group of friends have been and how delightful it is to have them joined together, again.

Because, like your mother-in-law told you, you don’t marry a person.

You marry the family.

An All-Over Hue

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Dr. Paul Morton ranks among my favorite professors at Covenant. Besides being a tremendous history teacher, speaking in eminently quotable phrases, and dealing with college politics exclusively through the lens of sarcasm, Dr. Morton also had a remarkably specific code of dress.

On the days when he wasn’t wearing a sweater vest, he would stride into class clad entirely in a single color. He wore black, of course, like the erudite intellectual that he is. A black turtleneck, slightly faded black pants, a black belt, black socks, and black shoes. Sometimes he chose brown as the color of the day: a chocolate button-down, brown trousers, and coordinating belt and shoes. He wore a cream-and-khaki ensemble, too, and that one played with texture; the cable knit of the ivory sweater vest playing off of the khaki twill and cream jersey turtleneck.

Not that the man was afraid of color. He owned forest green pants around which he built a truly amazing outfit. He had kidney-bean colored pants, too. And while I occasionally cringed when his shades of olive green inhabited the shadowlands of neither-matching-nor-contrasting, I admired his commitment. Not everyone can pull off 6’4″ of eggplant.

But today I read a New York Magazine profile on New Yorkers who wear a single color — and not black — exclusively. My favorite was Elizabeth Sweetheart, a fabric designer who is deeply, passionately dedicated to kelly green.

elizabeth sweetheart

I guess Dr. Morton has a ways to go before he can count himself among the truly color-committed.

Chex Mix and a Paean to Dr. Wildeman

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

The cumulative products of my first year of grad school can reasonably be compared to a bag of Chex Mix (the sweet ‘n’ salty caramel variety, to be precise). There are shorter, sweeter papers on an early twentieth century French poet and Baroque paintings of women painting. My paper on nineteenth century Native Hawaiian resistance through landscape painting is chock full of clustery goodness. The paper on Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the internment — and the agency of her subjects in actively limiting her choices as a documentarian — is a pretzel and the paper on Eva Leitolf’s post-wall photographs of marginal violence in middle class neighborhoods is surely a bagel chip. And the seminar-paper-turned-thesis-topic on Lynne Yamamoto? Caramel popcorn, I hope.

As written products, the papers are hardly spectacular. I was told I write “elegantly,” but I think that my mini collection of cool ballet flats may have influenced the professor’s word choice. What excites me, though, is that I’ve found the rhythm of making writing work for me. In the one-two whammy of Advanced Writing and Modern Literary Criticism — both with my favorite, lovable grump, Dr. Wildeman — I began to understand the attraction of writing to learn. My paper-writing has grown increasingly messy since then.

It starts with a couple of files heedlessly named things like “leitolf paper ideas.doc” and “leitolf ideas 2.doc.” Close descriptions of the images in question, mixed with spurts of inspired, ellipse cushioned musings, trickle down the page. I am loathe to delete anything, even when it becomes clear that the paper will not be going down this or that promising path. By the time “leitolf paper draft 2.doc” becomes a reality, I’ve cycled through several theses, despaired over ever writing an introduction, and started throwing in bold text notes like “Benjamin should go here” or “I think Bhabba says this.” Dr. Wildeman’s injunction to always write what you know first and then frame it in scholarship still strikes me as somewhat profound and eminently useful for preserving your own voice. Somewhere in there I may even cut up twenty pages worth of ideas and rearrange them on the living room rug.
In writing and reorganizing and self-contradicting I figure out what I wanted to say in the first place. And while I’ve finally learned to delimit a seminar paper and just turn the durn thing in, I’m nerd-ishly excited about the opportunity to go back and revise it later. For a lowercase type-a personality like myself, the ability to see graded papers as ‘idea investments’ rather than completed, self-contained products is a significant shift.

Also, let’s be frank. Thinking about seminar papers as Chex Mix rather than, say, perfectly crafted, enduring artworks helps relieve some of the pressure — real and imagined — that accompanies this academic moment. Is it a problem that grad school is teaching me to lower my expectations?