As the Proctor community swings back to in-person learning this week, as the dorm pods loosen and disperse, the interconnectedness of all that is Proctor, the mycelium underneath, reveals itself. Coming back to in-person gets the network humming. Yes, we can do a lot remotely, but we get to the “it “ of learning by being in the landscape, not simply observing it from the outside.
It’s part of who we are, part of our history, part of what we move forward. Scraps of the history can be found in the woods behind the football field, a wheel nailed to a maple tree signals the old rope tow. Stories swirl of slope improvement that involve students, dynamite, and a granite stater do-it-yourself mentality. Every institution has legacy, tradition, and it’s important in the current hustle to evolve and to become the new next, legacy is not forgotten. And yet sometimes legacy has to justify itself, and sometimes in the exploration of legacy institutional values are revealed. And that can be a steadying.
Walking to assembly Thursday morning, Wednesday night was still very much with me. The images from Washington, Capitol Hill, jarring: the confederate flag in the capitol, the images of doors being barricaded, guns drawn, members of congress crouching under desks. As Nicolas Kristof wrote in an editorial for the New York Times, “I’ve covered attempted coups in many countries around the world, and now I’m finally covering one in the United States.” How to find context for hope in all of this?
On the cusp of exam week, students will be looking back to reflect and collect the knowledge accrued over the term. There will be final projects, final fall performances, and final exams. The library will bustle. Review sessions will be packed. The stairs to Learning Skills will continually creak as students transit up and down. All of this is part of a normal term, part of an opportunity for students to put forth their best work, to celebrate excellence. These are the expected takeaways from a term. But what about the unexpected?
Sometimes a good, sensible essay can settle the mind. Well-crafted sentences with their musicality, their soothing rhythms, and their carefully selected words are almost akin to deep breathing exercises - or baseball games. Meditative. Centering. Moving at their own, requisite pace. This week, as we seem to hurtle towards next week’s presidential elections, I have found it helpful to turn to EB White now that the MLB season is over. His pieces are measured, precise in their totality. Sane. As the Dodgers vanquished the Rays this week, it was not hard to imagine EB White appreciating the games. Today, two volumes of his collected works sit on my desk, so much linguistic sanity. A double header’s worth of pieces.
We like to be right. It’s affirming, pumps us up, and boosts confidence. We crave it, moving from one island of affirmation to the next, hopscotching the confidence squares. We can be talking about sports, politics, religion, race, or the best way to fix a lawnmower. We feel good when we get it right, when we “win,” when we get that chemical hit of dopamine. Gradually, however, with perspective, we realize that being right isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes being wrong can be a good thing.
Every time language is spoken or written, every time a work of art is created and displayed, it sits within some kind of larger context. My interest this week is in words, how they hang in the air or on the page and how the air is charged around them and depending on the context and who is saying them, the meaning changes. No word, written or spoken, gets to simply float in a vacuum, in a weightless state and the absence of pull. Every word carries with it a definition, or several definitions, and it carries with it a certain connotation that might be relatively neutral and light in weight, but might also be significantly heavy within a context and setting, which leads me to the question, who gets to say what when?