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2012 Spring Issue 8 (May 25, 2012)

Johnson: Signing Off for Now, Poised to Return Next Year

May 25, 2012
By Griffin Johnson

I’m not going to be here in the fall. I’m going to be thousands of miles away, in Rome, and as much as I like the idea of doing a Feigenbaum and writing long-distance for the ‘Tonian, I think in practice it’s pretty unlikely. Sitting down in my bunker in Evans and cranking out 800-1000 words every Wednesday night is pretty grim even when I’m expecting to be overworked; sitting down in a dark room in Trastevere while Mediterranean sunlight slants through the window and  the scent of carbonara wafts up from the street below is basically unthinkable. So this is my signoff for the time being. I won’t be with you in the autumn.

And to be honest, I’m happy about that. In many ways I’ve enjoyed this year; I think I’ve grown a lot or whatever other platitudes you’d like. But here’s the thing: last night I went to sleep at dawn, Swim Fit has made my limbs smell permanently like chlorine, my comments in class are increasingly difficult to differentiate from babble, and I skip breakfast so regularly now that my ribs make me look like a stray dog. As much as I like whatever tiny degree of celebrity this column nets me—and in a larger sense, as much as I enjoy whatever identity I have while I’m here at Carleton—there are so many things at Carleton like that, things that run you down physically and mentally, that I think it’s clearly time to take a break.

This column is about hatred. A girl with pink hair and Doc Martens told me once that hatred was just the inverse reflection of love, but I think that’s pretty facile. I would have to dig pretty deep before I found any part of my psyche that loves the feeling of dry, cracking skin that I get every time I walk out of West Gym after Swim Fit. I’m willing to accept, however, the proposition that there’s a part of me that loves Carleton, or at least my own weird Platonic vision of Carleton, and so when I talk about things that I hate about this school, it’s ultimately rooted in some kind of civic responsibility, some kind of grand belief in the merits of this school on an abstract level, in the Nobility of this Institution that I’d like to bring to life by systematically attacking what I dislike about it.

That’s not quite it, though, because I don’t think that Carleton, or any institution, has any inherent goodness. Carleton, as an illustrative example, is set up to produce the kind of stress that I hate. The obsession with grades and productivity that makes me so angry is an essential component of any elite liberal arts school, but I hate it. I don’t have any loyalty to some personified demiurge of Carletonhood. I do have some loyalty, however, to the people I’ve met here over two years. Over two years here, I’ve encountered a lot of exceptional people; Carleton has made most of them semi-permanently miserable.

So this is why I decided to write a column about hating Carleton: because there are people here who deserve better. I’ll affirm it only briefly, because you’d probably think I was going soft, but there is so much talent and ability at this school that it kills me to see it funneled into grim dead ends like the housing application process. The institutional and cultural inertia on campus is always annoying and often appalling, and agitating against in some ways seems less like a task than like a compulsion, something I do because I want to see my friends happier and less dead-eyed by ninth week.

But as I’ve said, I think it’s clearly time to take a break, especially before I get too dour. After all, there’s only so much critiquing of institutions you can do before you turn into an institution yourself, and not a single person wants that.

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