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Words With Friends

January 25, 2012 at 10:39 pm

On Monday, I dealt with words a lot; I was in the Language and Dining Center three separate times, and not once was I there for dining. But between trying to get my pronunciation correct for the poem I’m working on for my French class and leaving the world of sound behind for American Sign Language, I started to wonder about the role words play in my college experience. This has only been compounded by a discussion in my Philosophy of Religion class today about whether we can use analogy to talk about God, and my metaphysics reading for tomorrow, which is about whether universals correspond to meaningful predicates.

In high school, my days were a lot more varied in terms of thought material. I worked with my hands a lot more, dealt with more equations, did more silent sports, and got a lot more sleep. I had more time to listen to Spanish radio, and spent a great deal of time with a dog who didn’t have that throat machine they have in Up. No one was awake in my house at one in the morning, much less singing in the shower or talking. I certainly remember amazing conversations from high school (some of which I think propelled me towards Carleton), but the sheer magnitude of language in my life now is kind of ridiculous.

I read something last year from an essayist who said what she remembered most about college was just constantly talking. It seems clear at this point that conversation has been a defining part of my college experience, and I would say that’s probably been for the better. A lot of that has been very much of my own choosing: I major in the humanities, run two discussion groups, debate, and have a job that pays me to read articles on how college students can read better (among other things, of course). Of my own accord, I often staying up way later than I expect with a myriad of people sprinkled around the Carleton campus because we are just talking. But while I really want to remember the conversations I have in college, I know there’s more too, like dancing, cereal, the snow, watching birds. My memory, though formed mainly of words, is filled with images and sound and maybe some small glimpses of said possible universals.

Being in college is a unique experience, to be sure, not least because it is a complete luxury to have the time and space and community to just figure it all out. For now, all I know is that we seem to have a lot of ideas; about ourselves, about the world, about things beyond the things we see, about how we can change things, about the future, and we express a lot of those through words. It’s really great to be somewhere with a lot of interesting people who are thinking, and comfortable talking about thinking too.  

This term, through the ACE (Academic Civic Engagement), my friend Simone and I are TA-ing a class of Northfield High School students who are taking an ethics class online. It’s been incredibly fun; the kids are great, and it’s really cool to watch (and hopefully help) them grapple with philosophical problems for the first time. Last week, the students read a chapter on Plato, and while I was thinking about trying to explain the world of Forms, I started thinking about the scene from Harry Potter where the adults all cast protective spells over Hogwarts. Remember? OK, now sorry but this example really doesn’t work in the context of the movie, so put aside your thoughts of Molly Weasley kicking butt.

The idea I’m going for is this: I think we spend most of our time in sort of this bubble (cave?) and once in a while get to crack through the surface and realize it’s pretty amazing. It seems like maybe words are what we need to function inside the bubble, to communicate with each other and express some small part of what’s out there.  Don’t get me wrong; language is definitely important, but I think words are sometimes just the currency for ideas. They’re definitely the preferred medium in academia, and the most convenient for communication with other people, usually.  But there are other options out there; for my roommate, dance seems to break through some of the barriers that separate us, for my friend Tabatha, art seems to have a lot of answers. I know math majors who find truth and beauty in proofs they can’t express in words, musicians who find something else in song. So college is fun because there’s all this talking all the time, but I really want to remember something else about some of the discussions I have here. I’ve started ice-skating again, and I kind of suck, but sometimes I start going fast, faster than I ever thought I could go across frozen water. Once in a while I reach the other side and I have no idea where I’ve been; the words in my thoughts just haven’t existed in whatever just passed. And oddly, the best conversations I’ve had are kind of like that too.


  • January 27 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Rachel, this is fantastic! It's true for me as well that discussions are a large part of my college experience, but I never really thought about different things such as art, music, and dance being other outlets of expression in the same way. I think I'm going to go find my (non-talking) niche...

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