Second Time Around: Community

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Hello! My name’s Dolan, and I’m in my second semester at Brown, having transferred in as a sophomore last fall. I’m happy to offer insights gathered from my time here in Second Time Around, in the form of stories of varying degrees of coherence. So, if you please, read ahead!

You sit at your desk, your room abuzz with the sound of Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, or some other band whose harmonies complement the snow outside your window as well as wine does cheese.Having separated the marshmallows from those brown pieces of solidified disappointment in your bowl of Lucky Charms, you take to munching on the former at a pace of three or four at a time. Your stomach filling with diabetes-inducing goodness, you realize the pointlessness of the “What Kind of Bae are You” quiz you’ve been taking on Buzzfeed, and yearn for something as stimulating to the mind as the concert of flavors in your mouth.

There is a rapping on your sunroof. “But I don’t have a sunroof!” you stammer. Resistance is futile: the rule of reason falls like the collective IQ of any group of which Sarah Palin is a part. With a shattering of glass and a deluge of ice, I drop into your room. You think to scream, but to no avail. Upon hearing my assertion that I’m a writer for the Bruin Club Blog, the sound sticks in your throat like that extra marshmallow that you knew was too big to swallow. After all, as a prospective transfer student, you’ve already entrusted the next two to three years of your life to a bunch of strangers in the form of an admissions board, so what’s the harm in giving an extra fifteen minutes to a second person narrator with a distaste for the laws of space and time? This young chap may very well be of assistance in getting you into your dream school!

“Regrettably not,” I apologize. “However, I did hope to drop in to offer a few points about the Brown community!”

“Community?” you ask.

“Why, of course! Now, I realize that such is a term whose meaning is about as broad as Freddy Mercury’s sexual tastes, and that you’re doubtlessly wondering whether I speak of the hit NBC comedy, a group of nudists cultivating kale somewhere in the Deep South, or the sense of camaraderie that your high school guidance counselor threatened was in jeopardy after Michael from chemistry stole the cash from your class bake sale in order to get baked himself.”

You sit, contemplating the hole in your roof, while eating a spoonful of Lucky Charms.

“Well, if this were a multiple choice test, you’d have failed, because the ‘community’ that I’m referring to can, in my opinion, best be described as ‘optimal closeness.’” You see, borrowing from the story of Hansel and Gretel, some schools, like the tiny bear’s bed, are so small that it’s as though they’ve been plucked from an alternate reality where high school never ended, and everyone remembers who you hooked up with. We’ll call these schools ‘The Ninth Circle of Dante’s Inferno,’ because that’s the one with the frozen lake where people are all packed in together and gnawing on each other and stuff. Too close for comfort, Sammy Davis, Jr.”

“Um, Hansel and Gretel wasn’t the one with the bears,“ you protest, but are silenced with a “here comes the plane”-style forced-feeding of Lucky Charms.

“Now, on the other end of the spectrum is the papa bear’s bed: those universities that are so big that even your friends refer to you as B1657809. We’ll call these schools “The University of Central Florida.” Anyways, if you catch my drift, Brown is the happy medium between both opposites: the kind of place where you can expect to share a mutual friend with practically anyone that you run into, yet still be able to avoid, say, that used napkin of a guy who broke your sunroof, if you so desire.

“Exhibit A: Last night, I’m at a party, waiting in line for the single bathroom available to service about a hundred guests. A couple of bros to my right had drunk a bit too much, and took to slamming on the walls adjacent to the bathroom, as if doing one’s best impersonation of a Great Revivalist preacher would squeeze the urine any quicker from the bladder of the kid inside. I anxiously await the peer reviews of their study. Anyways, I turn around, and crack a joke about the performance going down in front of us to the girl behind me, who responds with a laugh and an ‘Oh, wait, you’re Dolan, right?’

“’Why yes!’ I reply. Having completely forgotten her name and where I know her from, I’ve no choice but to play the chat equivalent of the Hail Mary pass: an ‘and you’re…?,’ followed by a second or two of pause in which I hope she makes the reception and offers her name.

“’Megan,’ she responds. Touchdown.

“’Ah, of course! From economics, right?’

“A mismatch of stern eyes and crooked smile lands on her face like a guillotine to the neck of our conversation. ‘No, actually. From anthropology, international politics, and history…’ Standing in the end zone, the player I’m using to personify the abstract concept of thought fumbles the ball. I almost hear the stadium roar with cries of ‘What the hell!’ and ‘It’s too damn hot in here!’ Never mind: the shouts belong to a friend of mine, come to tell me that he plans on heading out. Interception. Okay, enough of these football metaphors; I don’t even like football. I’m from Florida, where our options as far as teams go are the Dolphins and the Bucks, which is like being asked whether you want to be shot in the right knee or the left.”

“What does any of this have to do with community?” you press, spitting cereal from your mouth like an anthropomorphic llama.

“Truth is given to us all in our time, in our turn!” I retort, donning my best Jean Val Jean, albeit despite a glaring lack of sideburns. “Where were we? Oh yes, my friend, come to save me from the heat of embarrassment and of one hundred bodies sardined into a room. Turning to Megan, he smiled, and the two began chatting about each other’s evening; as it seems, they also knew one another from classes. So, as you can see, prospective student, the closeness of the Brown community is such that both my friend and I shared a common acquaintance in this girl– a fact unknown to either of us until then– and were able to recognize (or, well, be recognized by) her at some random party. And this wasn’t a unique case: I could offer you a handful of other similar events; however, I’ve begun to run out of cool allusions.”

“But being able to run into familiar faces is something that’s true about literally any liberal arts college or other small school,” you assert.

“Ah, but you see, not-yet-whistling-pot-of-tea, the beauty of Brown’s position at the sweet spot of the Doctrine of the Mean is the ability to avoid people with whom one has shared awkward experiences– or not. Ours as Brown students is the choice to be as close or as far to one another as we’d like, and I think that’s pretty swell.

“Moreover, this may very well be a Providence-in-general thing: upon learning that I was studying Japanese at Brown, the chefs with whom I was chatting at a local Japanese restaurant asked if I was familiar with a regular customer of theirs and professor in the University’s East Asian Studies department. As it turns out, he’s teaching my class this semester. So, you see? It’s little things like this that really make me feel as if I’m part of something larger than myself here at Brown. Something bigger than a TV show or a nudist colony: a community of people from all over the world who are as ecstatic to be here as they are that you’re here with them.”

“Are you quite finished?” you ask. That hole in the roof is really creating a draft, and you’d prefer heading to another room.

“Um, yeah, I think that’s about it. Any questions?”

“Could you really not think of a better way to finish your preaching other than invoking the touchy-feely cliché of friendship?” you chide.

“Hmpf,” I sneer. “Well, I am about to end with an unanswered question– you can’t get much more avant garde than that, am I right?”

 For more about what makes Brown unique or to find out how much cereal was consumed in the making of this post, please feel free to direct emails to dolan_bortner@brown.edu or leave a comment below!

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