When I returned to Fairfield University in January from having been gone for 8 months, I instinctively expected the campus to feel younger. I thought I’d see younger and more innocent faces, hopeful that after a semester of core courses and freshman orientating, they would move on to the more exciting world of tax preparation (or whatever it is that those business school students do exactly). But my interpretation of these new Fairfielders was no different. They appeared to me as though they were my own age, which made me wonder what goes into age calculation? Are there unseen physical characteristics of dominance reading (at least between males) that the conscious mind doesn’t pick up on? Or maybe eating Barone food just inhibits some kind of aging neuro-chemical or something like that. There is an unquenchable rumor that Sodexo puts laxatives in their food, though I suspect this has more to do with the constant problem of failing to adequately clean the plates of soap…
Anyway, my point is that this year they finally all look like little high schoolers. A major difference between my first and second semesters last year was that I spent most of my time with people exactly my age in the former (20-21 years old) and with people of varying ages throughout the latter. I began to notice the way that the 18-19 year olds are more comfortable slandering each other behind one another’s backs. It isn’t that this isn’t pervasive in all age groups, but the elder groups have a particular style by which they justify expressing their dislike. There is generally a defined reason, something which can permit the lack of mercy. With the younger groups, dislike is enough to justify dislike. Maybe it is child-like honesty; some are too young to have been bogged down in enough moral and intellectual confusions to make sense of the world just enough to suit themselves.
This may all sound very negative (“no hope for humanity” etc. etc.) but another perspective is that we all have a remarkable way of working together despite our dislikes and judgements of one another, and likewise have mental shields we can use to keep ourselves healthy and sane. Naturally there are ways to keep stress down and strengthen such mental shields, and one of them is exercise.
The first rowing practice was this morning, and the teams have definitely grown, at least for now. No especially intense workout yet, but there will be plenty of time for that. One particular familiar space that looks over onto the river has become overgrown with plants, which makes the view nicer. It wasn’t as warm as I’d expected, but it’s still much better than it ever was in the spring. Apparently the reason the river never froze last time was because it had been so windy, which probably helps explain why most of my rowing memories are mostly just dark blue blurs of shivering. It’s like riding a bike, albeit a very difficult bike that wobbles because you only control one eighth of it while waves barrage you. But somehow riding a bike cannot be any more relaxing, because how on Earth are you going to ride a bike on a river out into a channel?
My required reading of Lewis Sinclair’s Babbitt for American Modernism accompanies my increasing awareness of my criticisms of modernity. I sympathize greatly with the author’s desire to satirize American culture, but in a sense I feel as though I don’t need to read the book because I already notice what he notices. Do I really need to subject myself to more examples of modernity, only now purposefully exaggerated so that it is ridiculous? The truth of “modernity” as seen through my eyes is the stifling and belittling of youth so that one can more quickly move on to the long slow decline into old age during which he spends his time and energy trying to manipulate events precisely so that he is able to experience a desired level of physical and emotional comfort precisely up to the point of his death.
Something the professor said to us today was: “When you’re not part of the crowd, you have a very keen eye for what the crowd is doing.”
He was referring to Sinclair’s inability to fit in with the other students at Yale who came from money and had been groomed for success in private high schools. For a nation or community not to have people fit in causes problems, as the 1920’s satire suggests. The Spartans understood it, allowing the weak to die often at birth on the mountainside or in the Agoge. You get the idea.
I wonder if exercise, meditation, art, and other outlets that help us build our ‘shield’ against rigorous conformity are exactly what the crowd itself does? Do we all just have our own outlets? If I mimic the behavior of someone who is a respected part of a crowd, will I suddenly feel at ease? Will all the old and scary faces suddenly take on a more innocent and childish look?
So much of my experiences of my previous 5 semesters at Fairfield are untranslatable to anyone, and it’s less a lonely than solitary feeling. A few friends and I might hear a song and think “this was our freshman year”. But it wasn’t mine, and I’m quite glad about that. While rowing away from the condominiums and noises of Connecticut into the river, many of my thoughts are my own, despite the company of 8 or so others. But maybe that’s true of everyone in the crowd, in the crew, on the boat, and on land…
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
- From a speech to environmentalists in Missoula, Montana, and in Colorado, which was published in High Country News, (24 September 1976), under the title “Joy, Shipmates, Joy!”, as quoted in Saving Nature’s Legacy : Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity (1994) by Reed F. Noss, Allen Y. Cooperrider, and Rodger Schlickeisen, p. 338