Tag Archive: college

  1. Flying

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    Jamie wrote me a song once. He only came up with the chorus, though, so I don’t know if that counts. The song was a guitar and a voice. It went like:

    Girl, you’re like a rainbow

    And I just wanna see all the colors of that rainbow

    It was a good song, even if he rhymed rainbow with rainbow. The tune was catchy. You have to hear it, I think, to really get that it was good.

    Jamie is in a band called Fuckleberry Hinn. Like the Mark Twain book. Fuckleberry Hinn used to be Jamie and Max and Stella, but Max moved to Vermont and Stella just sort of stopped showing up, so now it’s a one-man band.

    Some people wouldn’t want to be in a band by themselves, but not Jamie. He is kind of a lone wolf type. He came in third at this year’s Battle of the Bands, just him and his guitar. Some people say he’s like a young Steven Daiber. Steven Daiber is a guy who went to our high school a few years ago and came in first at the Battle of the Bands, and now he works at the Arby’s in the mall food court.

    Jamie first played the song for me in August. We were in our usual spots: me on the small couch with the big rip on the side and him on the ugly yellow armchair.

    “This one’s called ‘Renée,’” he said.

    “Like my name?”

    “Uh huh.”

    He started playing. Even though one of the strings on his guitar was missing, it sounded awesome. I felt very lucky to be sitting there with him, listening to the song he made for me.

    Then my left foot lifted off the carpet. At first I thought that I was just getting into the song or something. But then it was like I couldn’t control it, the foot just kept rising, higher and higher, and then the right one followed and then I was floating. I was about eye level with this poster of Michael Jordan that Jamie has in his basement. It’s a life-size poster, for reference.

    “Whoa,” said Jamie. He put down the guitar.

    “No! Don’t stop playing!” But I kept on floating. I was trying my best to think of heavy things like elephants and paperweights, like maybe I could will myself back onto the ground. After a few seconds it worked, and I drifted back to the orange shag carpeting.

    “Are you okay?” Jamie asked. I nodded. “That hasn’t happened before, has it?” I shook my head. “So, does that mean you liked the song?”

    “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.” I asked him if he was planning to finish “Renée,” since it was so beautiful and could probably be a hit if he recorded it. He said he would work on it, but why was I always trying to pressure him to work on stuff, and I said I just believed in him was all, and he said something about how hard it was to think of words that rhyme with Renée and it turned into this whole big thing.

    But anyways, that’s when I realized I could fly.

    * * *

    Mom made me go to the doctor, just to make sure.



    Dr. Vraiman looked confused. He asked if I could show him what I meant by that.

    I hovered a bit, like I had at Jamie’s house. I was able to move around the doctor’s office on my own. I’d been practicing in front of the mirror for a few days by that point.

    “It definitely seems like flying,” said Dr. Vraiman. He frowned. “There’s not really a space for that on the form, though.”

    “Do you have any advice for how I should fly?” I asked. “I don’t want it to be dangerous.”

    “Don’t go too fast, I guess. There aren’t too many specifics on that.” He paused and looked down at the form. “Are you sexually active? Because, if so, there’s a whole checklist.”

    I told my lunch table about the flying thing a few days later. Monday seemed too soon and Tuesday was Danielle’s birthday. I didn’t want her to think I was trying to steal the spotlight or anything. So I waited for a lull in the conversation on Wednesday.

    “Seriously? That’s frickin’ awesome.” said Annie.

    “So close to my birthday,” said Danielle.

    “Damn,” said Nora. “That’s gonna make a killer college essay.”

    * * *

    Jamie wrote me a poem once. The poem was an acrostic, but still. It went like:

    Really beautiful smile

    English is her favorite subject

    Never forgets anyone’s birthday

    Éggplant pants (that one’s an inside joke)

    Everything about her makes me happy

    I taped the poem to the inside of my locker, next to my class schedule, so that I could see it at least seven times a day. Jamie would walk up behind me and say “Eggplant pants!” and we would laugh, every time.

    * * *

    My dad is always talking about long-term and short-term goals. My long-term goal is to be a writer who writes about music. My short-term goal is to go to college. My shortest-term goal is to write the essay that gets me into college.

    I met with the college counselor a few weeks into the school year. Her name is Ms. Dreyfus. She swears in front of students, which is cool. Other than that she’s just okay.

    “Here’s my essay,” I said, sliding the paper across her desk. “I wrote it a few days ago. It’s called ‘How Flying Helped Me Come to Terms with the Death of My Grandfather.’”

    “Renée,” she said. She didn’t look happy. “My God, Renée. You turned this into a dead grandpa cliché?”

    “It’s just that we were really close so —”

    “Jesus, Renee, it’s not about that. I’m sorry for your loss. But do you know how many essays about dead grandpas those admissions officers have read? It’s old news, Renée. It’s old hat.”

    “Maybe if I wrote about something else then? Maybe something other than my grandpa or flying?”

    “No, Renée, of course not. The flying is gold. Fucking gold. Maybe if you turned the flying into some sort of metaphor?”

    “I don’t think —”

    “Turn it into a metaphor and get back to me.”

    * * *

    Lots of days I did homework in Jamie’s basement while he messed around with his guitar. Sometimes that involved more tuning than playing. Jamie is pretty meticulous.

    “Why did you get to leave Mr. Konetsky’s class early?” he asked, turning one of the knobs a little too far to the right, then too far to the left.

    “They had me go to some physics class for a demonstration. About resistance or something, I don’t know.”



    We didn’t say anything for a few minutes while he tweaked an uncooperative string.

    “It’s like you’re a celebrity or something,” Jamie said.

    He strummed the guitar. It sounded terrible.

    * * *

    “Do you think the flying is psychological?” Annie asked me one day in homeroom. The thing about Annie is that she is always trying to diagnose everybody. So I usually take what she says with a grain of salt or whatever.

    “It’s definitely physical flying. I go up in the air. I move really fast. I don’t think it’s a dream or anything.”

    “No, I mean like maybe it has a psychological cause. Have you been unusually sad lately?”


    “Unusually happy?”

    “Not really.”

    “How are things with Jamie?”

    “They’re good.” I was staring at my desk and chewing on my thumb. “Did I tell you he wrote me a song?”

    “Yeah.” she said. “Multiple times.”

    I looked up. It seemed like a good moment to make meaningful eye contact with her, to have my eyes say “figure me out” or “what’s the next move” or something, but it didn’t matter because Annie was looking away. I followed her gaze to a boy by the door. The boy wasn’t staring back at her. He just kept turning the pencil sharpener, even though there wasn’t a pencil in it. Annie shook her head.


    * * *

    Sometimes when Jamie and I were sitting in his basement, I would just look at him. There are some people you can look at forever and their faces stay interesting. That’s how my mom feels about Dennis Quaid. It’s also how I feel about Jamie.

    He has good hair — brown and longish, so that it curls up from the sides of his neck. He opens the left side of his mouth wider than the right. He has movie-star teeth.

    I wonder if Jamie ever thought about me like that. Not that I have an especially interesting face. But maybe he thinks my eyes are shaped like big grocery-store almonds, or that my ears are a good size for my head. I don’t know. It’s probably self-centered for me to think about that.

    It didn’t seem like Jamie liked the fact that I could fly. Maybe he didn’t like that I was getting attention instead of him. He never said that, outright. He isn’t really an outright person. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, obviously, just something I’ve noticed. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you realize things about them that even they don’t know.

    * * *

    One of the neat things about being able to fly is that you get to be interviewed on the 6 o’clock news. My segment was third, after an exposé on some brand of 2% milk actually having an extra percent and the announcement of the Wisconsin State Lottery numbers.

    The interview questions were easy to answer, especially since the redheaded anchor lady spoke very slowly.

    “When did you first learn you could fly?”

    “A few months ago.”

    “What a surprise that must have been!”

    “Yeah. Well, at first I didn’t know what was going on, so I was sort of calm I think.”

    “And how does it feel when you’re up there, Renée?” the redheaded anchor lady asked. She didn’t seem to be blinking enough. I wondered if maybe her eyes would dry up and fall out of their sockets, and then the eye-raisins would roll off the desk and over to the weatherman, and he would pick them up and say something like “Looks like a dry one today!”

    “Renée?” the redheaded anchor lady repeated. Her eyes were still socketed. “How does it feel?”

    “It feels…” I couldn’t think of anything good to say. “Like I’m flying.”

    “What a sense of humor, Renée!” But she didn’t laugh.

    There were a few more questions and then it was over, since they had to reveal more lottery numbers. We could hear the announcement from across the studio.


    “Shit,” said the redheaded anchor lady, ripping a Million-Dollar Win-sconsin Lotto card in two.

    * * *

    “I figured it out!” Annie told me a few days later.

    “Figured what out?”

    “The flying! It’s a metaphor!”

    “A metaphor for what?”

    She wrinkled her nose. “I dunno. Life?”

    * * *

    Jamie and I broke up last week. Well, he broke up with me. But I don’t have to tell people that.

    We were in his basement, as usual.

    “Is this because of the flying?” I asked.

    “It’s not unrelated.”

    “Is this about how I got to be on the news? I know you were jealous of that.”

    “Of course not,” he said, but I could tell he was lying. I can always tell when Jamie is lying. “Mostly I think I just need time to myself, to focus on my music.”

    “But you’re already focusing on your music. You spend all your time down here, working on the band.”

    “That’s the thing,” Jamie said. “I don’t know if Fuckleberry Hinn is working out. It’s kind of weird being the only one in the band. And it’s not even that funny a name.”

    “It is if you’ve heard of the book,” I said. By this point I was definitely crying, mostly because I couldn’t help it but also because I knew it would make him feel bad.

    I thought about the poem, which was still taped to my locker, and how I would have to take it down, and how the paper would rip. I thought about snapping one of his guitar strings, or at least twisting one of the knobs really far in one direction so that it would take hours for him to re-tune. But what I really wanted was to get out of that stupid basement.

    “Oh, and by the way,” I said as I stood up, “it’s not that hard to think of words that rhyme with Renée.”

    “Oh yeah?”


    “Like what?’

    If I had happened to have a rhyming dictionary with me, I could have told him parfait or display or soufflé. I could have said valet or survey or fillet. I could have made him feel really dumb.

    But I guess it’s impossible to plan for these sorts of things, so I just gathered up my stuff and flew home.

    * * *

    The second draft of my essay took a lot longer than the first. For one thing, I had a lot of stuff on my mind. For another, I couldn’t think of any good metaphors. But eventually I thought of something to say.

    I had a follow-up meeting with Ms. Dreyfus to show her the draft of my new essay. She had me read it out loud.


    By Renée DuFrain

    Lots of kids dream about flying. They jump off of couches and diving boards into pillows and pools. They want to be pilots and astronauts and butterflies. When I was little I wanted to be a pirate, or possibly a mermaid. I had no interest in soaring through the air or touching the clouds. And the funny thing is: I’m the only person I know who can actually fly.

    Most people think that being able to fly would be great. They think it would be really peaceful to be all alone, up in the sky. The population density of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I live, is 6,214.3 people per square mile. In the sky it’s just me. And birds. But birds won’t throw you a surprise party or come to your little sister’s baptism or write you a song. People don’t realize that it can be lonely up there.

    Everyone says flying is some kind of metaphor, but for what? I don’t think it has to mean anything. Maybe one day I’ll want to be alone, speeding through the air like some kind of superhero. Right now I would rather be on the ground. Flying didn’t make me more adventurous. It just made me confused. I’m still the same person, I think. So here’s a metaphor for you: Flying is like not flying. It’s just higher.

    Ms. Dreyfus looked at me.

    “Renée,” she said. “That’s a fucking simile.”

  2. Music at the Heart of New Haven, the Fringes of Yale

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    On an evening in February of 2012, Chris Cappello ’17 had his very first gig.

    He was 15 years old, billed as the second performer in a four-act lineup. The show was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., but, wanting to give himself enough time to “load in,” he showed up to the venue at six.

    The “venue” was a college student’s two-room apartment on Chapel Street, and his “equipment” was just an acoustic guitar, which he stashed in a bedroom that doubled for the night as a performance space. He and his friends decided to leave for a while, and when he came back, people had started to arrive. José Oyola, the college-age resident of the apartment, greeted them. The pair had met two years before at a concert in an antique shop.

    Forgetting the singer-songwriter’s age, Oyola offered him a beer, which he accepted. He needed it, he says, to calm his nerves before playing his “teenage-boy-feelings songs”: heartbroken and very simple, because of his still-crude guitar playing skill.

    “In retrospect, it was very clear that this was not really the atmosphere for that kind of music,” he says of the crowd of twenty-somethings, who were drinking beer and hanging out at a friend’s apartment. “But I’m glad it was allowed to happen.”

    Raised in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood, Cappello is now a sophomore at Yale, where he works as programming director for the University’s undergraduate radio station and edits their zine. But he keeps up friendships with the fellow Connecticut natives with whom he performed for three years as a solo artist, and with whom he toured as part of the band Loner Chic. He has released two albums and his next full-length release will come out this spring.

    But “it” has not been allowed to happen to everybody: his success sets him apart. Few Yale students have found such visibility and variety in their effort to perform their music.

    Musicians David Toppelberg ’18 and Tommy Bazarian ’15 are two cases in point.

    Toppelberg, a freshman, is new to Yale, but an experienced performer, having played drums since the fifth grade. During his first semester, he joined the band Young Republicans and played two shows — one at Yale, one at Harvard. But Toppelberg expresses frustration with the attention he says is paid almost exclusively to classical and a cappella music, which, in his opinion, do not capture the range of musical diversity. He wonders whether Yale has failed in encouraging a broader cross-section of musical art and activity.

    “There are few student bands that are well known across campus,” Toppelberg said. “There are few, if any, small jazz trios or rock groups performing regularly.”

    Bazarian, who led the band The Teaspoons and now does solo work, also feels that some types of music are marginalized. His band almost always practiced at his house, occasionally using the Morse-Stiles recording studio when their drummer needed to use a full drum set.

    But while they were not desperate for better practice space, Bazarian does see one major need: more venues for undergraduate bands to play in, apart from college theaters.

    * * *

    Will Bazarian get his wish? Perhaps. Last week, the reopening of a historic music venue was announced — one that borders on Yale’s campus and looks to put New Haven on the touring map. Formerly the Palace, the rebranded, renovated College Street Music Hall will open this spring. However, its capacity to give Yale musicians their much-needed space is no sure thing.

    The building’s new life is the fruit of a decade-long negotiation between the New Haven Center for Performing Arts, the nonprofit that has owned the building since its closing in 2002, and Keith Mahler, the biggest independent concert promoter in Connecticut and the financial backer of the project.

    Mahler says he was approached with the project in 2005, but was tight-lipped about the 10-year delay in opening the hall. “Good things sometimes take a long time to gel,” is all he said. But a deal was reached in the fall of 2014, and now, his company Premier Concerts is taking on responsibility for the venue’s operation. The most exciting bit of news for many Elm City residents is the new face at Mahler’s offices: Mark Nussbaum of Manic Productions, a New Haven booking and promotions business whose self-described mission is to “bring the finest underground music talent to Connecticut.”

    “This is going to be the music room in town,” Mahler said. “Number one in New Haven, number two in the state.”

    College Street will emphasize indie, folk, classic rock, country, Americana and bluegrass music. Mahler expects the hall’s target demographic to be the 17–45-year-old set, with occasional classic rock performances extending the age range upward.

    For now, the building is getting surface renovations: it needs paint, floor treatments, bathroom tiles, fixtures, and sound and light systems.

    Nussbaum and Mahler are clear on the point that the new venue will not crowd out beloved New Haven institutions. They say they will continue to book their regular shows, and that College Street will attract acts that formerly would have skipped over New Haven.

    “We’re still going to do everything we’ve always done,” Nussbaum says.

    For Nussbaum’s firm, that means booking touring bands for venues like Cafe 9 or Bar, and pairing them with like-minded local acts. If sales are strong, he arranges for them to play larger venues, such as The Space. He describes College Street, with its flexible capacity, as another, higher platform for developing acts.

    “This is the next level,” Nussbaum said. “There’s a lot of room for growth.”

    After it closed, the music hall’s floor seating was removed: when it opens, the standing area’s capacity will be close to 1,000, and balcony seating will expand possible crowd numbers to 2,000. The facility’s production manager is working to fulfill staffing requirements before the anticipated early May opening.

    * * *

    Cappello worries there aren’t enough visible bridges between the worlds of New Haven and Yale.

    “In terms of actually getting involved in the creative process, it often just doesn’t get off the ground,” Cappello said. “And I would put some of the blame for that on Yale for not providing the kinds of facilities that they could be providing.”

    Cappello suggests “actual practice rooms,” with drums and amplifiers, as a feasible addition to campus. He described his own band’s struggle to get access to the Silliman recording studio, because it was the only site on their area of campus with a drum kit. They ended up relying on a friend who worked in the studio, but now that the friend is gone, their options are limited.

    Many members of the radio station are in bands, according to Cappello, but are stymied by the lack of places to practice, and their projects fail to result in serious work, despite their best efforts.

    “If I didn’t have a friend who lived nearby, who had a house that I could practice at, I just wouldn’t be in a band,” Cappello said. “There’s no way that I could be doing that.”

    Beyond questions of infrastructure, though, Cappello sees a deeper divide.

    “It’s weird having this dichotomous experience,” Cappello said. “When I’m in New Haven, I view it totally differently depending on who I’m with, or what time of year it is.”

    In response to the town-gown split, Cappello tries to stage events that bring both halves together. As he sees it, Yale and New Haven people are not of a different mentality. Instead, they do not have the chance to interact productively.

    Last semester, Cappello organized a show at an off-campus house with his band, as well as a local band called Ten Thousand Blades. Out of about 100 people, 40 percent were New Haven residents and the rest were Yale students. No one could tell the difference, except for him, and he was happy with the mix.

    The merging of Manic Productions with Premier Concerts signals an important success for Nussbaum, the Guilford native who, over 13 years, has turned a passion for music into a rebirth of New Haven as a touring stop for indie artists.

    Before the spread of social media, Nussbaum relied on fliers. He and friends spent years constantly attending local shows and distributing fliers advertising their upcoming bookings. (Having spent hundreds of nights at Toad’s, he has in some ways lived out every Yalie’s dream.)

    After one high-profile booking of Dinosaur Jr. — at the time, the biggest show he had ever done — sold out in advance, he recalls having a realization.

    “Once you can start making money and booking acts you genuinely enjoy, consistently, then that’s kind of the turning point,” Nussbaum said. He spent the entire day unloading equipment and helping to prepare for the show.

    “After that point,” Nussbaum says, “I could see it as being a career.”

    Both Mahler and Nussbaum have been promoting rock shows since adolescence — Nussbaum since 16, and Mahler since 15 and a half, when he helped inaugurate another Palace Theater in Waterbury, Conn. In the decade that followed, he promoted artists such as The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen. Even after a career in real estate and finance, he makes time for music.

    Manic has worked with WYBC to co-present events, and WYBC has sponsored Manic events. But Yalies hoping that College Street will provide new chances for Yale bands to shine, may soon discover reasons to temper their optimism.

    Gideon Broshy ’17, who plays in the band Black is the Color, was skeptical of College Street’s potential impact.

    “There probably won’t be much direct interaction between Yale students and the acts coming to play there,” Broshy said. “I don’t see it influencing Yale’s ‘music scene’ much.”

    “It doesn’t necessarily make sense for a promoter who, at this point, is as big as Manic Productions to take a risk on a student band,” Cappello says. “Manic Productions’ prerogative ultimately is to make their shows successful.”

    While local bands can attract crowds, he guesses Manic Productions will continue to target local residents, most of whom have cars and are better able to come out to shows.

    But students won’t need cars to visit College Street. Adjacent to Old Campus, the venture will make the top echelon of touring acts available to Yale, even if their music dreams stay unfulfilled.

    Correction: an earlier version of this article, which appeared in print, incorrectly stated that Mark Nussbaum is a Hamden native. He is from Guilford. The article has also been revised to reflect the projected standing capacity of the College Street Music Hall.

  3. For Varga College

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    As Yale’s upper administration deliberates on the names for our new residential colleges, I strongly encourage they consider our unstoppable force of nature on the football field, Tyler Varga ’15.

    Sure, President Salovey may have quite clearly said that we would not name our college after a living donor. But Varga isn’t a donor, unless you count touchdowns as donations. And since when has a little opposition ever been an issue to Varga? He’s unstoppable.

    Varga brought Yale through some of its harshest hours on the field, unified the student body in devotion to Yale’s success, and gave our friends in Cambridge a run for their money last Saturday. We may not have won this year, but Varga gave us hope.

    Then we get to the question of the progressive potential for the college name – how can we improve the diversity of the people we recognize in such a profound manner? Well, Varga College would break down almost as many barriers as Tylar Varga breaks down Princeton men who stand in his way.

    In the past, our residential colleges have been named after either locations or regular human beings. We don’t have a single college named after quasi-human beasts made of distilled thumotic rage. These beings have faced harsh discrimination ever since Achilles was forced to give up his spoils of war to Agamemnon. We can’t expect to end this mistreatment with a simple gesture, a name, but we can create a safer space for beasts with the capacity to tear men’s heads off.

    And Varga College would also be one step by the university to stop all the colleges being named after dead white people. Varga isn’t a dead white man – he’s still filled with explosive vitality. Varga College would send the message that life is for the living, that we at Yale value excellence as a lifelong pursuit, and that a true Yale Man can establish his place in history through service to the school, not through profit margins.

    I’ll leave you with one final question to consider as you think about the perfect college name: could Grace Hopper rack up 26 touchdowns and over 1,400 yards in one season?

  4. “Window” Reflects on Something Familiar

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    With its opening set as a college dorm’s common room, “Window Full of Moths” made me feel at home right from the first act. Deglamorizing “college life” and highlighting the irritants that most college students are too accustomed to to bother with, “Moths,” written by Brin Solomon ’14 and directed by Thomas Stilwell ’16, attempts to sensitize its audience members to their own lives.

    The set invokes a sense of familiarity with its sofa, pillows and quintessential scattered pile of books, which belong to Susan (Lily Shoretz ’16), a college girl in her junior year. Clad in a pair of comfortable-looking pajamas, Susan immediately strikes a cord with the tired and overworked college student. An ambitious physics major, with lofty goals of changing the world, she tells her audience her story with a brutal honesty. She sings to them the tale of her mediocre high school and her desire to become a competent scientist. Susan’s story doesn’t seem unique, built around the expected hallmarks of unpopularity in high school and great expectations for college. Still, her delivery is, at once, both charming and unembellished. Shoretz’s performance is fluid enough to assume the character of any Junior with a tendency towards quarter-life crises, and Susan’s character could serve as prototype — reminding the audience members of either themselves or someone they know.

    Susan is joined by her friends, Darryn (Charlie Bardey ’17) and Seth (David McPeek ’16), who support her in her late-night academic (mis)adventures. Darryn and Seth, a couple in love, themselves struggle through assignments and other scholarly commitments while balancing the desire to spend quality time together. The three characters navigate their lives in college together, collectively whining away their worries.

    But despite their ostensibly mundane and often miserable college lives, these students regularly break out into extraordinary soul stirring songs, which describe their everyday struggles. Problem sets, readings, arguments with friends and romantic ‘chases’ suddenly take on the complexity of Herculean tasks, which burden the 20-something-year-old characters enough to make them oscillate between regular college students and seeming professional opera singers. In one song, Darryn complains about how tired he feels every day. It’s a common enough complaint, but with Bardey’s vocal talent, the song turns into a heartfelt plea for recognition.

    The play mixes casual conversations, jaded late-night heart-to-hearts, prolonged all-nighters and everyday romantic encounters with the more complicated themes of identity, self-worth and sexuality. And its conclusion leaves the audience with the urge to rethink their lives; it encourages them to reevaluate the seriousness of their own troubles, and identify the somewhat darker undertones they often overlook. The play, however, also hints of a rather sarcastic mockery of college struggles; the characters may sometimes come off as making a mountain of a molehill. Baskin’s writing, then, wants us to balance both the superficial and the more important deeper connections. The performers carry out these best through song, each actor displaying a remarkable ability to find meaning in a tune.

    The play’s most beautiful message is to remind the audience members of the importance of making the most of their lives by finding happiness in the small things. Making clear music’s ability to add magic to otherwise common lives, the play is a successful combination of a musical and a skit. It left me with a deep empathy, and with a desire to elevate my own ‘normal’ college life to a higher emotional plane, full of heavy words and nuanced expressions. Run-of-the-mill activities are portrayed with a heartwarming integrity, which the characters employ to silently reassure the audience: “We’ve been there.” Simple, relatable and melodious, “Window Full of Moths” is worth a watch, especially for the worn out!

    Update, Jan. 3: This article has been updated to reflect Brin Solomon’s correct name and pronouns.

  5. Sex, Sin, Scandal in ‘The System’

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    When I told friends or family I was currently engrossed in a book about college football, the reaction I always received was: “Really?” Yeah, I’ll admit it; I’m less than even a casual college football fan. I’ll root for Yale over anyone else and I’ll support the University of Pittsburgh out of hometown pride, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a single player or coach. My ability to follow a sports team begins and ends with the Steelers.

    And yet, I was utterly captivated by — and thoroughly enjoyed — “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. In fact, I may have enjoyed it all the more because many of the stories that would have been familiar to college fans were completely new to me, and thus surprising. Benedict, an acclaimed and prolific investigative reporter, and Keteyian, chief investigative correspondent for CBS News, do an excellent job making the topic digestible even for someone like me.

    College football is, according to the authors, “the biggest game in the United States, in terms of overall impact.” While the NBA or MLB or NFL may have higher salaries and better coverage on ESPN, they have fewer teams, which cover less area, than college football; the only television program more watched than the 2013 BCS College Football National Championship was the Super Bowl. College football “is everywhere.” It is a glorious, monstrous, nearly religious system that is as widespread geographically as it is in its fan base.

    And, for all the excitement, college football exists within a highly flawed system. Sex, sin, scandal, and billions of shady dollars stuff its hidden underbelly.

    With the rigor of professional journalists, Benedict and Keteyian demonstrate how student athletes are working full-time jobs in a system that does not pay them. College athletes are far more likely than non-athletes to commit crimes, including and especially sexual assault, but much of this misconduct is covered up by team “janitors” (highly paid fixers) or even the police. Injuries — especially head injuries — are everywhere and nearly inevitable. A staggeringly high percentage of players who never go pro also don’t graduate college, and a black player is far more likely than a white player not to receive a diploma. Top-tier high school recruits — 17-year-olds — are sometimes offered illegal recruitment packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they are frequently seduced by “hostesses” — leggy college girls who are explicitly directed to flirt (or more) with the boys in order to recruit them. Many teams have budgets over $100 million, and many coaches are the highest paid public employees in the state. Yet for all the money flooding the game, 90 percent of major athletic departments operate at a loss.

    It’s crazy. And it’s also highly entertaining. The authors create a gripping narrative through a series of profiles — of coaches, players, recruits, NCAA investigators, agents, strippers and more. We meet Ricky Seals-Jones, the most sought-after recruit in the country, who is being stalked, bribed and threatened by big-name schools. We see Mike Leach, one of the most controversial and successful coaches in the game, who took a nothing team at Texas Tech, made it into a powerhouse, and then was forced to resign in disgrace. We learn about Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, a Mormon from Africa who, after walking on to the BYU team (never having played the game) and starting for just a half a season, is catapulted into the NFL as the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. We hear the tales of donors who make Charles Johnson look tight-fisted and players who make Patrick Witt look like a choirboy. And the money, oh the money.

    Benedict and Keteyian, who have both written for Sports Illustrated and numerous other publications covering athletics, make good use of their contacts, gaining unprecedented access to the 2012 season. At times hyperbolic, at times self-congratulatory, their coverage is nonetheless fresh and eye opening.

    “The System” is ultimately more of an indictment than a celebration. It dwells more on the scandal than on the glory. Its authors do not, however, provide many concrete policy suggestions. The system of tutoring college athletes, recruiting college athletes, paying administrators and funding teams is a little scary, but, even after reading “The System,” I wouldn’t know where to begin trying to fix things. Hopefully, “The System” will serve to start a more productive conversation among a wider audience.

  6. Losing Track

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    It turns out that the mnemonically pachydermic Interweb still has its trunk wrapped tightly around records of a self I have long since discarded. I know this to be so because I Googled myself — the celebration and singing of oneself retooled for the modern age, no? In all likelihood you are now going to want to Google me too, so I’ll save you the trouble and simply confess: I was a runner. A trackie, the captain of my high school team, too XC for my shirt, seven miles in the snow. The girls who sweated together, stretched together; who barfed together, belched together. This was literally no walk in the park and anyway, suffering builds character. My senior year, I wrote my experience into a Real College Essay That Worked.

    Track was a big deal. As a runner, whether for better or for worse, I was not a big deal. There were three captaining positions my senior year, and a bizarre slew of defections in 2009 had left just three rising seniors, so in a way my appointment was by default. I like to think that I deserved it for all my painful diligence, but on the talent front I was only ever reliably mediocre. I still maintain that it was the most physically harrowing thing I have ever done or ever will do. And occasionally I didn’t even do it at all, incapacitated by both no sleep and my coach’s stern, paternal insistence that I please go home so my parents wouldn’t sue. In retrospect, it was a sound strategy: work so hard that people feel uncomfortable pointing out how little you’ve actually achieved. And if I never made my times, I at least reaped the physical benefits in full: toned gams, a preternatural ability to hold my breath for ages, the flexibility, finally, to touch my toes. I thought I was in love.

    If I really had been in love, I had a funny way of showing it. Post-graduation, suddenly the thought of running made me want to hurl almost as much as actual running. The day I entered the purgatory between twelfth grade and college, I severed all ties to the sport and spent the summer on the couch. I had the misfortune of living near the park where my former teammates worked out, so I hid from them in the velveteen folds of our upholstery. I dreaded Olympics broadcasts. I spent many a guilty day carb-loading at the future home of the cronut. It was summertime, and the livin’ was finally easy. Through my sugarcoated haze, I realized in shame that the pain to which I had willfully, obsequiously subjected myself for the past three years was no longer something I wanted to feel. It occurred to me that running, perhaps, was something I actually hated.

    That summer I didn’t quit running, because running quit me instead. When you stop or stall in your pursuit of an athletic goal, your sense of self inevitably changes after a while because you are physically not the same person capable of doing the same things. Worst of all is that you feel and look different, but the only person who can see what’s changed is you. One day you wake up and find your abs, though never prominent, are officially a thing of the past. What once was firm, now is fat — not that you were ever fat, but you were definitely once fit. The squishiness you disdained in your peers has introduced itself to your thighs with great aplomb. How is it that now you do one hundred crunches, but take breaks in between? No sense in talking about it, since you alone understand what it’s like to watch your times climb into what are the rafters for you, what is the ground floor for the untrained. You forget how you used to be good. You are trying to be done with your sport, but your body refuses to let you forget that you were once an athlete. You are softening. When Lucille Roberts commercials come on, the grating announcer is now talking to you when they mention $ummer $aving$! The media starts throwing you a housewarming party for your move-in to the American body, and all you want to do is sit and eat the consolation cake they have baked in your dubious honor.

    During the fall break of my first college semester, I visited my borough championship cross-country meet, where the sight of my uniformed team made me irrepressibly sad. Track had become more meaningful to them than it had ever been to me; they actually did love running, whereas I was just an ambitious masochist. Watching them tear across the finish line, though, I recalled some droplet of what it had been like to be drenched in the glory of personal victory, whether first place or last.

    But I did not want to run, nor did I think I had to any longer. I had run to be impressive, and finally I had impressed. Now, being neither coached nor captained, nor captain of anyone but myself, meant I was free. I could do what I wanted, and what I really wanted was to get my high school body back.

    I tried Pilates. A woman by the name of Cassey Ho runs a YouTube series called Blogilates, and what she lacks in intelligible conversation she makes up for in workout difficulty. I watched her bend her legs over her head, extend her hands in airplane position like a conductor cueing an orchestra. I fumed at the loss of my ability to touch my toes. Soon enough it became clear that Pilates was not a safe alternative to running, but an aching reminder of how unfit I’d become. Through it all, she never ceased to exclaim that I really could do whatever move she was doing, even as I lay there exhausted, incapable and shamefully still, or that there were only fifteen more repetitions to go — or did she say fifty? — or that all my hard work would pay off if I just followed her workout calendar to the last, sweaty T. On especially lonesome days I positioned my laptop on a chair beside my bed, curled up under my covers, and just watched her contort in self-loathing awe.

    Yoga was next. Unaware that yoga is something you work at, not a skill with which you are born, I became immediately frustrated when I realized I lacked the patience and skill to put my feet behind my ears.

    These experiments, alas, were short-lived, all too reminiscent of the mindless pain I had experienced in my former sport. Whatever had once motivated me had completely dissipated, and I was beginning to feel unconscionably lazy. To boot, it seemed like all my classes were confirming that I had also become a blockhead overnight. In public I felt I had vanished before I had even materialized, but in my dorm room mirror I saw every stretch of my skin in ugly, unflattering clarity.

    Humans are really nothing like butterflies, no matter what the Hallmark poets say, because chrysalises shed their skin and humans have to live with what they’ve got. I didn’t want to be an athlete anymore. But with an athlete’s body, maybe I’d fool myself, which is what I craved — proof that I hadn’t changed (for the worse, I was sure) as much as I’d thought. Becoming a person you like is difficult enough the first time around, and now I was confronting the possibility of having to do it all over again.

    It’s been a process, but explainable thusly: I am trying to figure what I like. Speaking of which, late this August, on a friend’s bequest, I missed the finale of Chopped All-Stars for a run, but a slow one, more of a jog. For once I hadn’t wanted to keel over when I finished. My body had done just what I’d asked of it, and for the meantime that was enough.

    Running and I, we’re going to take a break. I need my soul for other things, and this lapse in my athletic career has as of late been nothing short of thrilling.

    Last weekend I was crossing the street in the drizzle when I came across some people warming up for a road race. I beamed at them, genuinely happy to see their devotion to running persist despite the inclement weather. And then I walked on, rejoicing that I was not, and genuinely had no desire to be, among them.


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    It’s shopping period, but not just for classes — extracurriculars too. With the Extracurricular Bazaar, auditions, rushing and general meetings all happening all at once, you need to be aware that what you do will change your life. In four years, you might be someone different. Someone you hate. Someone you love. Someone you’re ashamed of. Someone you’re proud of. They say your major doesn’t mean anything, but no one said anything about your activities. WEEKEND is here to show you what you might become.

    [showcase slug=”flash-forward”]

  8. Dreamsicle Summer

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    The summer after I turned 20, I spent every day in mud-caked Ked sneakers, the same pair of blue jeans, and T-shirts stained brown and pink by darkroom chemicals and juice of an unidentifiable flavor. This was how I welcomed my first few months of adulthood: in a dense patch of pines in the North Country, where I worked as a photography instructor at an all-boys’ summer camp.

    By midsummer, when the tops of my feet had browned to the color of plums and the mosquito bites on my legs had faded from red sores to blackberry bruises, the days had fallen into a glorious rhythm. On afternoons too sultry for anyone to move, a group of us would sit for hours on a screened porch, the floor fan rustling the pages of the novels open before us. We drifted on the lake in kayaks watching for the first stars to appear, while a trumpet song in the distance signaled bedtime for campers. At meals in the rec hall we played games with the boys and put away plates of tater tots filmy with grease. We sat on red plastic chairs at the Dairy Queen eating Hawaiian Blizzards and Dilly Bars. We watched the locals and chatted of nothing.

    The hours I wasn’t outdoors I passed inside the cool recesses of the camp darkroom. I had started out the summer wanting to encourage the boys to make photographs that contained some element of tension or conflict, rather than of merely pretty things. But I soon found myself genuinely praising their photographs of the same potted plants and waterfalls, or proudly gazing at the same dirt paths and sunsets. Our darkroom sessions often devolved into spontaneous dance parties (there were always the same five pop songs on the local radio station), and my intentions were quickly forgotten.

    Endless numbered days: the only way to describe it. True, there was fear, and doubt, and conflict of all sizes. But as a whole the pulse of the summer was slow and uniform and sweet.

    The cadence drew to a close, and now we’re back at school. In a way, it’s a relief to return to student groups that debate semantics, to poetry classes where we’d spend half an hour identifying the conflicting forces within a single stanza. It feels familiar to return to a world that, each minute, slams you with the notion that ideas are powerful and complex and have stakes worthy of our measured examination.  So often we’re taught to pinpoint the drama and conflict in what we see, read and do. I, too, had hoped that by the time I returned as an upperclassman, I would’ve developed this sense of understanding.

    There’s this “mature adult” image of myself I’ve been fleshing out in my mind since I was nine years old, and I kept refining this image up until the end of my sophomore year of college. I would wistfully borrow attributes I admired from the intriguing upperclassmen I noticed in classrooms and libraries—added to my future adult image a pair of quizzical and discerning eyes, a confident and authoritative voice unafraid to argue. This woman reflected all the good things that I thought would come of experience, of knowledge, and of time.

    But perhaps, this time around, my senses have dulled from too many lazy evenings spent reading out on the fishing dock. Or maybe, somewhere in the process of learning Four Square and attempting to master Magic the Gathering, a bit of the ease of childhood rubbed off me. It’s possible that when the heat lifts from New Haven and my memory of the pines begins to dim, the urgency that I used to feel will be restored—the urgency to ask too much of myself. I’d grown up believing that, for everything valuable and worth having, we had to struggle. I had learned so much in the past two years of school that I came to believe that this was the only kind of life worth living. I felt good, and noble, for deciding to never settle for stasis. My life this summer, then, was easy to swallow but difficult to digest.

    The darkroom has been locked up for the winter, but I imagine I won’t be there next summer. The semester has just begun but already I’m beginning to hear that ever-growing voice telling me to see new frontiers and face new hardships. By next summer, the months that just passed may remain as only a strange utopia. I’m lucky, though. On the walls of my room this year are new additions: a collage of black and white photographic prints, of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

  9. A willful amnesia

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    A funny thing happens the last few weeks of spring semester. One morning, magically, the grass on Old Campus turns green again and soft. The sun emerges exuberantly and all at once, anxious, perhaps, to forget a half-year of forced hibernation and relentless cat-and-mouse. The light teal of the clock face on Harkness Tower begins, finally, to approximate the color of the sky.

    It’s a strange sort of trick Yale plays on us. Brief, intense moments of sun and warmth bookend the school year, from Camp Yale to mid-October and then again near Spring Fling. In fleeting pockets of blue sky and welcome humidity, we experience college the way it’s advertised online and in the brochures. We toss Frisbees on Cross Campus and then feast on Ashley’s before sunbathing on a friend’s roof at the top of Morse Tower. We wear sunglasses and sundresses. Time seems almost within our control; it slows for us, heightening the sensations of each moment and deluding us into thinking that these, the days we’re happy and carefree and wild, might last forever.

    Of course in a way they do. That’s the thing about memory: We remember beginnings and endings but not so much what happens in between. It’s almost as though Yale intentionally places its best days at the start and finish so that, upon graduation, we remember Spring Fling and Myrtle Beach and Senior Week instead of final exams, midterm papers and the harsh, biting cold.

    Today, finishing my last class of the year, I sat on Old Campus as light refracted off the High Street Gate and a pair of students played the fiddle. I was thinking that I don’t mind this willful amnesia, that what I want to remember about Yale after all are days like today, days of brilliant sunlight and cool breeze, of walking the longer route to class and lounging, after, in a choice spot of shade. It’s the Yale of the song: bright, happy, golden and — soon — bygone. Can that be all there is? I can’t help thinking we live so little of our time in beginnings and endings, that we live, by definition, mostly in the middle — and wouldn’t I be missing that?

    In the end I want to remember more than the beginning, more than the happy and sunny and warm. I want to remember that time I opened my apartment door to find New Haven bathed in a sea of white. I want to remember the frigid nights my roommate and I ordered Alpha Delta and danced to keep ourselves from falling asleep. I want to remember the papers and the deadlines. I want to remember those crisp, fall days I sat on my Swing Space window ledge, watching the leaves redden and fall and talking to friends about things meaningful and inane.

    It’s not possible, but I’ll say it anyway: I want to remember everything.

  10. On limits and self-respect

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    At a particularly low moment at the end of fall semester junior year, I sat on my housemate’s bed as she read aloud from Joan Didion’s “On Self-Respect.”

    “Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself,” she began.

    I cradled a mug of tea as she recited the instance of Didion’s first failure and its more brutal admission: the recognition that things would not always go according to plan.

    It was the evening before my last final, one for which I no longer had the energy to study, a reality for which I no longer had the stamina to care, and my housemate had orchestrated this reading to help justify why this was not only okay, but right.

    “The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without,” she continued. “To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening.”

    I decided not to study that night, content with the fact that, in doing so, I was making a decision to respect myself. I went to bed early and did a light review over coffee and cereal the next morning before heading to my exam. It went just fine. Perhaps it would have gone (just a little bit) better if I’d done just a little more studying, uncertain as that outcome seems. But I wouldn’t have been better. As small of a concession as that might seem, it is the pattern of such small concessions that can lead to the feeling of powerlessness.

    Over the course of the next semester and the year following it, I didn’t always respect my limits. Pushing them drove me more times than once beyond comfort and exhaustion, into a place of physical and emotional defeat. What’s more, it brought me to resent myself and to resent the external circumstances that I felt were propelling me into this state.

    Perhaps I should have been more stringent with the limits that I set. But — what’s more important — in choosing to defy them, I needed to be making an active choice, instead of passively submitting to perceived pressures.

    I don’t know anymore about conquering everything. I’ve felt too conquered in the past four years — by stress, by too-long workdays, by feelings of inadequacy and failed academic/social/extracurricular attempts, by unsatisfactory campus regulations and the persistence of unkindness and abuse — to maintain notions of total possibility, which now seem arrogant. I believe this is just the sort of loss of innocence that Didion wrote about. What I hope for now, though, is something brighter and more challenging in its own quiet way: I hope to exhibit confidence in my efforts, commitment in my endeavors and self-awareness in my resignations.

    I think that this is especially important in a time of transition, because adjusting to new circumstances and reflecting on the old means re-evaluating your limits. Right now I am facing a big transition in my life, but I’ve faced big transitions in one form or another around this same time in each of the past three years, something that I think is true of everyone in their college years.

    Self-respect is less grandiose than triumph or unending praise; it requires more of you and guarantees less from your environment. It matters deeply and truly only to you, and only you can assess whether you have it or not. But in the end, respecting yourself means facing your No. 1 person on equal terms. And that is something bigger than any external measure can bring.

  11. Carried away

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    In my days of post-senior essay reverie, I’ve become the sort of TV-consuming monster I only dreamed of being back when I had real responsibility. I’d worked my way through countless current sitcoms when one day, I walked in on a housemate watching “Sex and the City” on his laptop, and walked out six hours later with the entire first season under my belt. I watched the earliest stages of courtship between Carrie and Mr. Big, saw the frank sex scenes and the chronicles of weekly brunch. I felt like I was home again.

    Though I’ve probably seen every episode at least thrice already (and that’s not counting the edited reruns on TBS), watching the show again as a grown lady has been an entirely different experience. It seems so much more relevant this time around, as if the vignettes were speaking to something true in my life. For example, I spent one whole day wondering if I was a slut, before returning home just in time to catch my crew watching the episode “Are We Sluts?” (The answer, in case anyone was wondering, was: No, sluts don’t exist, and we are awesome.) I’ve had some sexual experiences (and some social experiences) that mirror what I see on the screen now; what was once general laughter has been supplemented by the cathartic twinge of identification.

    It’s like I’m watching SATC with new eyes, and those eyes have brought with them an important realization: I’m fairly invested in the lives of all four women, but it’s Carrie’s plotlines that leave me screaming at the computer screen. I am a Carrie.

    Carrie narrates the show, and though she is undoubtedly the protagonist, she is also the most erratic, absurd and whimsical character. Most people really hate her or think she’s a childish excuse for a grown woman. But I just love her. We have plenty of things in common: She writes about her personal life for a wide audience; she’s messy and a poor financial planner; she wears her emotions on her sleeves. She believes in love deeply, but she’s also a lustful serial dater. It obviously takes a lot of hubris to identify primarily with the main character, but Carrie is a freaking narcissist, and so am I.

    Obviously, SATC character identifications are a meme so asinine they were mocked in the first episode of another HBO zeitgeist-hound, “Girls,” but even that scene established the debt that TV shows about women — and the 21st century popular female consciousness in general — owe to the show. The sexual rules that I follow, even if they frustrate me (in order of importance: have sex, fall in love occasionally), were brought to the mainstream largely thanks to Carrie and the gals.

    Because of that, the final scene of SATC will always stick with me. After a giddy brunch with all of her friends, Carrie is walking down the street in a ridiculous fur coat, when she gets a phone call from Big. It’s simple, but she just seems so happy. And I think those are the stakes of identifying with Carrie (or Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte for that matter); we know she gets a happy ending. I guess I really want one of those, and watching Carrie’s road to it, pratfalls and all, makes us feel assured that we’ll get them too.

    Rewatching SATC as graduation draws near has reminded me that some happy endings are possible. I’ve gone through four yearlong “seasons” of my own in college, and I think the pratfalls were worth it, more or less. I’ve been frustrated and lost myself a few times, and had enough intellectual, emotional and physical dalliances. Now I’m ready to make like Carrie and move on, take some risks, live out some cliches, and find my fur coat and Mr. Big (whatever form those will take). In true Carrie fashion, I will probably overshare my feelings about it on the Internet.