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Saying Goodbye

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The summer I was eleven I got a hand-me-down dress from my cousin. The dress was perfect. It was pale green with little orange flowers and it fit exactly right. It wasn’t frilly. It was simple and wonderful. Wearing it made me feel quietly special, like Mary Lennox and Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls all rolled into one. I wore my green dress often that summer and into the fall, while the leaves were still on the trees and most days were warm. But the next June it didn’t fit right anymore. It pinched my shoulders and didn’t even reach the top of my knees. I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to give up that quiet specialness.

When I run through the Crum there’s a particular spot that makes me feel like I’m wearing that dress again. Past the water tower there is a trail where spicebush and witch-hazel flank either side of the path and bend towards each other, creating an archway. When leaves are just starting to appear on the trees the entire trail turns a pale yellow-green. There is never anyone there at 5:00 in the afternoon and it’s as if it exists for me alone. Shadows dance on the ground ahead of me as I run through my own light-filled tunnel—quietly special.

More often than not, goodbyes have been something that have happened to me and not something I have chosen for myself. In some ways graduation is no exception. I have been working towards graduation for four years now, and also its imminent approach is beyond my control.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Swarthmore I will not miss. I will not miss the stress of living in a community that uses overwork as its predominant coping mechanism. I will not miss the mentality that academia is the be-all-end-all of knowing. I will not miss the desperation of  trying to simultaneously understand a scientific paper and comfort a panicked friend at 2 am.

And there are many things at Swarthmore that I don’t feel quite ready to leave behind — my professors, my friends, the Crum. The lesson in that dress though, I think, is that saying goodbye is nuanced. I am saying goodbye to the Swarthmore community and to the Crum Woods. But I’m not saying goodbye to how these things have made me feel. I am not saying goodbye to stress, or desperation, or awe, or gratitude.

The summer I was twelve, when I finally did concede defeat and put my green dress in the pile of clothes that no longer fit, I had no idea that seven years down the road a trail in a small Pennsylvanian woods would make me feel just as quietly special. I’m trying to hold onto that now as we take on our last week of classes as undergraduates, tumbling closer to the inevitable end that is graduation. I am going to feel stress and desperation and gratitude and awe again, in new communities and new relationships and in many situations I would never expect to feel them. For me, there is comfort in knowing that I found quiet specialness both in a well-worn dress and years later on an early-spring woods trail. It means this is probably not the last time I will find it.  

An Expert’s Guide to Eating Alone in Sharples

in Campus Journal by

There’s a magical hour every day when Sharples is almost empty, but still serving food. During this time, a small group of upperclassmen appears, each individually laying claim to a coveted date or circle table. They know each other, but they only rarely say hi. They choose their side of the table carefully so that they don’t have to look at each other as they dissect their grapefruits. This strange act is called “eating alone” — and it’s wonderful.

The beauty of being alone in Sharples is, of course, that you’re not actually alone. There are people to watch or greet if you’re so inclined, and the comforts of coffee and tea are readily available. The bright, open space is a welcome venue for reflection and daydreaming, compared to the bleak, often anxiety-inducing dorm room setting. With a little low-key music in your headphones, would-be wallowing is transformed into a mix of melancholy and bemusement. Also, sometimes you get to see somebody trip or drop something.

 

But if you’re an underclassman — especially a first-semester freshman — heading to the dining hall can be intimidating. Sure, you’d love to have the confidence to just sit down somewhere and stare off into space emotionlessly as hundreds of your peers look on. But for those of you who aren’t quite there yet, it’s okay: we broke down how to handle it when you don’t have (or want) any friends. Trust us: stepping up to the challenge will be way better than that Clif Bar you bought in Sci Commons yesterday.

The trick to eating alone without feeling like a loser or being approached by well-meaning classmates is often the timing. The subtle influx of students, determined by class and team schedules, creates a regular flow. To get the most out of your alone-time, you should plan accordingly.

 

Best Quiet Times

Perks / Warnings

Breakfast

after the early birds leave for 8:30 class until the lunch rush at 11:20

Perks: Sunshine through windows, grapefruits and melon, sometimes donuts

Warnings: no hot food until 10:30

Lunch

the tail end of breakfast, or after about 1:15

Warnings: People are most likely to try to come talk to you during this window

Dinner

grandma-style at 4:30, or between 6:45 and 7:15, before the in-season athletes arrive

Perks: Get there early for your best chance of snagging a booth.

Warnings: You may have to sit uncomfortably close to other people.

 

Once you’ve selected your time frame, it’s time to choose your seat. For fans of the Big Room, the most coveted spots are the sunlit date tables or the circle tables, which offer optimal people watching as fellow students come in and out of the dining hall. In the side rooms, the booths offer the most privacy.

Another crucial factor here is making sure you’re not awkwardly face to face with someone at another table. Take, for instance, our breakfast seniors: they all sit on the same side at their date tables, facing the same direction. That way, there’s no risk that they’ll have to spend a potentially hours-long Sharples session trying not to make eye contact with someone as they bite into their bagel.

The final step? Take out some fake work. If your reason for eating alone is because you couldn’t manage to find someone to eat with, taking out work will help you avoid any unwanted attention for flying solo. If you’re one of the confident few who actually wants to be left alone, an open book almost always gets across the hint. Don’t worry, though — you don’t actually have to read it.

 

Swarthmore Reflections, Ruth Talbot

in Campus Journal by

Z.L Zhou/The PhoenixI have four clear memories of my first day at Swarthmore — more feelings at this point. The acute humiliation of a cool frat bro helping me carry a literal arms’ worth of tampons from Ben West to my dorm. The panic when I first stepped into my empty, ugly Willets double and thought, “How can this be home?” The social anxiety of coming up with something witty but offhand for the devil’s party game: icebreakers. And lastly, several emotions, jumbled and stacked, loud and strong, as I sat beneath a large tree and said goodbye to my crying father.

I don’t remember the subtleties of that girl, the girl who wanted to be an English or History major. Who was definitely going to run track and probably going to write for the Phoenix. Who had no idea what programming was or how to plan a trip through Spain without her parents’ help.

As this is a reflection on my time here, it seems fitting that I would reflect on all the progress I’ve made. After all, people tell you that college changes you. You’ll grow, mature, and hardly recognize yourself at the end. True, I do psych and computer science now. I’ve lived abroad and gone almost an entire year without going home to California. Next year I’m moving, not to San Francisco, as I always planned, but to Chicago, an even hellier weather hell than Philadelphia.

But here’s the deal. When I was little, my older brother was precocious. My mom would sometimes have him do math problems for friends. She’d turn to little six-year-old Steven and say, “Steven — if a train is going 60 miles an hour for 500 miles, how long will it take to get to its destination?” And the adorable cyborg would promptly reply, “Eight and one-third hours.” Then she’d turn to me and say, “Ruth, can you make an odd face?” And I’d scrunch up my face into the bizarrest look I could muster.

When I was in high school, my AP Euro teacher caught me doing the macarena in an empty hallway. By myself. With no music. I’d really like to be able to say there was a reason, but I don’t remember one.

At least it’s all in the past, right?

Last week I walked into a pole, apologized to the pole, and then muttered at myself about how idiotic that was. That’s right, when I’m feeling really embarrassed, I do the coolest thing one could possibly do: I talk to myself about how embarassing I am.

My primary form of communication remains making faces at people. I’m still bad enough at basic math that I’ll never be 100 percent sure the example problem I used above is correct. I recently spent hours drawing the artwork for my brother’s wedding invitation, only to forget to seal the envelope when I mailed it to him. The envelope made it to California. The drawing did not. My ideal night still involves at least a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. If crying in public was a sport, I’d get more medals in it than I ever did in track. Despite what I tell people, I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

When I set foot at Swarthmore, I assumed that the only sure thing to change would be that in four years, none of the idiotic shit I did before college would still be happening. Truth be told, it’s the only thing that’s held constant. I’m lost, and I’m awkward, and based on 18 year-old Ruth’s expectations, I know I didn’t figure it all out in college. But that’s okay, because I know whatever happens, I’ll have myself to talk to about it.

 

Film and Media Studies majors showcase senior theses

in Arts by

On Monday evening, students from this year’s Film and Media Studies Capstone course unreeled their semester’s work to an eager audience. This year’s films and research projects demonstrate a wide array of talents and interests across the board.

“Educated,” a short film by Jay Stephens ’14, is a satirical yet eerie portrait of a graduating woman of color searching for a job. The short’s main character is played by Reem Abdou ’14 who, as Stephens’ puts it, “is so engaging and real as an actress, but not overly emotional.” Stephens approached this project as an experimental critique of receiving higher education from an elite liberal arts institution. The film confronts the conflict between how we are taught to think and how we truly engage with our environment.

Senior Anna Russell’s short film “Extracted Enemies” follows the story of a kidnapping and the relationship that develops between kidnapper and kidnappee. The film stars Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15 and Aaron Matis ’16. The project touches on traditional gender roles in how we understand crime. “In a genre that usually depicts men as perpetrators and women as victims, I’ve chosen to turn these tropes on their heads,” explains Russell.

In senior Anjali Cadambi’s “Signs,” we witness the myth of the takeover of urban spaces by homeless people. Following the death of a homeless man on a street corner, a friend uses orange spray paint to outline the spot at which the man perished. The spray paint becomes a national indicator of safe shelter.

Sasha Rojavin ’14 explored how we signify meaning in his presentation “Digital Theatre: The Internet Meme as Psychological Gesture.” Rojavin marked the similarities between the internet meme and the classic anecdote. His overall thesis is that memes, rather than a thing, are a performance, an action. They allow us to play out fragments of our identity that are representative of the entire culture.

Three students focused on the implementation of gender roles in media for their final projects. Leah Foster ’14 presented a paper that examines how treatment of gender roles in fan pornography has changed across fifty years. Her presentation focused on the main “Star Trek” characters Captain Kirk and Spock. She explained how feminine descriptions of male characters can be viewed as a response to patriarchal objectification of the female body. However, she believes that these projects are destructive because of their consistent objectification of the gay male body.

Cristina Matamoros ’14 gave a presentation about gender roles in Spanish national cinema. Using the example of Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, Matamoros demonstrated how patriarchy in Spanish society was depicted through film. In her paper, Matamoros argues that cinema has been the primary medium for illustrating in detail changes in Spanish society. “Almodovar’s work is both a reflection and subversion of the mechanisms that hold women in subordinate positions to men,” she said. Matamoros’ research goes on to demonstrate that Almodovar’s films are a direct response to General Francisco Franco’s sexist policies.

In his presentation “Continuity with the Past: Holly Golightly and the Endless Pursuit of Self-Actualization,” Zac Wunrow ’14 examines how a classic American romantic-comedy conveys a young woman’s inability to escape the confines of a male-dominated society and achieve her own independence. He asks if when Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) and Paul Varjak (George Peppard) share a rain-drenched kiss in the final scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), we are really supposed to be filled with the wonderfully-romantic sense that “love conquers all.”

Students would like to thank Professors Bob Rehak and Erica Cho, Mike Jones, ITS staff and library staff for their help and support.

Personal Tidbits: Sex Advice for the Road

in Campus Journal/Columns by

As I sit on my windowsill listening to the animated chatter from Parrish Beach echo throughout campus, I realize that this Swattie behavior signifies the beginning of the end. For most of you, it’s just the end of the semester. You’ll be back in the fall to endure another round of Swat roulette — the only version of roulette played with a fully loaded chamber. But for me, it’s THE end. The end of long, unnecessary readings that don’t get discussed in class. The end of multiple consecutive all-nighters. The end of soul-crushing exams that force you to re-evaluate your worth as a person. And, of course, the end of my column.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this column — mostly because I’ve really enjoyed talking to other Swatties about sex. The way Swatties can articulate those specifics is truly sexy — I’d take a big vocabulary over a big dick any day. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with so many people about their so many different sexual proclivities. And, let me just say, Swatties like it freaky.

Being able to share with you all has been one of the most meaningful experiences in the development of my sexual self. It’s given me a lot of confidence and comfort in my own sexuality. So, in my parting column, I want to recapture that personal element of one-on-one conversation by sharing with you my random tidbits of personal sex “wisdom”:

 

Don’t overthink it: I know that we’re all trained critical thinkers. But, unless Geertz’s essays on cocks (instead of cockfighting) are published posthumously, keep that analytical bullshit in your soc/anth class. Never forget that sex is natural and that it will come naturally to you. Practice, of course, helps, but once you’re engaged in intimacy, you just need to trust your body to react. That’s not to say that absentminded sex is tops. In fact, it’s bottoms — bad bottoms, not to be confused with the luscious Greek passive crowd. You should always be aware of your partner’s needs/their reception of the sex and be willing to change what you’re doing. Just don’t let thoughts overwhelm the experience.

 

No one has it figured out: People our age, especially Swatties, are very good at preserving a façade of total confidence. In reality, everyone is a bit insecure about how they are in bed. Never feel intimidated by anyone sexually — at this age, we’re all basically amateurs anyways.  On that note…

 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Asking questions in bed is not a demonstration of your sexual naiveté. It is a demonstration of personal preservation and concern for your partner’s needs. One uncomfortable question in bed is much less awkward than a lifetime of furtive public groin scratching or post-bad-sex pillow talk.

 

Never judge a book by its cover: Lots of people have a tendency to assume an individual will have certain sexual habits, interests, or morals based on very superficial knowledge of that person. Hobbies, religious backgrounds, personalities, physical appearance, senses of style, etc. give absolutely no indication of what someone is like in bed. You know that painfully awkward, seemingly asexual kid that smells like soup in your math class? The only thing he likes more than polynomial functions is polyamorous sex and he’s the biggest freak in bed. Trust me; he’s told me all about it.

 

Non-penetrative sex is really amazing: “Sex” is not synonymous with “penetration” or “oral sex,” though many people believe this.  The problem is that, in American culture, any reference to ‘sex’ is usually a (heteronormative) reference to penetration or oral sex. In this way, intercourse takes the title of ‘sex’ and subordinates all forms of outercourse. However, there are tons of ways to be sexually satisfied without the exchange of bodily fluids. Rubbing fuzzies, manual manipulation, mutual fantasizing, and good-ol’ fashioned-groping are perfectly satisfying ways to get your jollies.

 

Nothing is wrong with you: No matter what you’re into sexually, it’s not dirty or wrong or bad. I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever someone talks about what is ‘normal’. So, it’s ‘normal’ for people to eroticize lacy panties, but not leather panties? It’s ‘normal’ for people to be turned on by a pair of nice legs, but not a nice pair of feet? It’s ‘normal’ to play sexy doctor, but not sexy hobbit? Guh, the distinction just seems so arbitrary … sometimes. Everyone eroticizes something. Just because your fantasy or fetish may be different than what most people are into doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that your erotic wiring is a bit different. And different can be very sexy.

 

Use protection: Use it. Five minutes of pleasure is not worth an infestation of microscopic creepy-crawlers. Just imagine them swarming inside of you. Gross, right? Find that condom.

 

Treat your lovers with respect: Whether you’re interested in spending a night with someone or a lifetime, you should respect them. Sex is a very emotional and intimate experience. Responsible lovers have the maturity to understand this and treat their partners with civility and grace, regardless of the experience. As I’ve said a million times (and will probably say a million more times), if you know what someone’s junk tastes like, you know them too well to disrespect them.

 

Expect things: The most important advice I can give you is that you should expect things from your lover — respect, satisfying sex, emotional support, or whatever else you feel like you need in a relationship. There is something interesting about you. I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure there are someones (not someone but someones) in the world who will fucking love that thing about you. They’ll think it’s so great that they’ll give you all the things you need to keep you and that special thing about you in their life. So, don’t entertain the losers who don’t treat you the way you’d like to be treated.

 

Anyways, guys, it’s been real. I hope that your life will be full of sexclamations! I’m already looking forward to that variety of post-Swat excitement.

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