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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Life is a mashup, not a cover

< farce, the great actors, the great poets...

The first thing I learned in school was how to pass someone in the hall. We received explicit instructions from our first grade teacher, a man named Mr. D. I liked Mr. D, but I didn’t like what he said. Do not say hi. Do not hug, high five or ask where they’re going. “Just smile and wave.”

I understood the discipline part of it, but why smile? We weren’t happy. We were in school, being shepherded from recess to class. There was nothing to smile about.

the great statesmen, the great painters, the great composers,

It’s freshman year. I keep having this nightmare where I’m trapped in a lab experiment. If my side of the formula wins, they’ll let me live.

They ask me to write about the meaning of Eden in Hamlet. Done. As I leave the exam room, something behind me detonates.

I leap the hurdles of Ka, Kb and pH. Their pens scribble furiously. High scores. I hope it is enough.  But finally I have reached my last test. I am blindfolded and escorted to the perimeter. If I pass this, they say, I am free to go. I can feel the sunlight on my skin.

There is one simple question.

What would you rather be doing?

I fumble. Er, sleeping. Hanging out with friends. But these answers are inadequate.

What makes you happy? they ask.

I don’t know.

I’m going to die.

 the great loves,
it’s a farce, a farce, a farce,

Rural Minnesota was supposed to be a place I laughed at while watching “Fargo” with my boyfriend the night before I left for Carleton. It was fiction. Nowhere was really that desolate, and no people were really that bland. Anyway, it didn’t matter. I was headed for a little oasis called Northfield, where fresh East and West Coast blood would cut through the vast white nothingness.

Two years pass. I meet someone new. It turns out he grew up here, on a Minnesota farm, on one of those dots you pity from airplanes. I find out these dot-people are not helpless. They think originally, love deeply. They choose to smile because that’s what you do when it’s negative ten degrees outside and you see another living thing. Whenever I see an open sky, or a field stretching forever, I start to remember the simple calm in his eyes.

history and the recording of it,
forget it, forget it.

My new friend makes me feel like Forrest Gump. He’s on our national championship Quiz Bowl team, a History major and a delightful conversationalist, always a step ahead but trying to take you there. He claims to be socially inept. I know it’s true because he was the first person at Carleton to tell me exactly what I needed to hear.

“You’re a good writer. You know that, right?”

I didn’t.

Now we’re both seniors. One day, he spots me in Sayles. He’s spent the last five hours in the libe, working on his History COMPS proposal. I have no idea. I’m distracted, staring blankly at my computer screen, trying to forgive my reflection for her stress-acne.

Out of nowhere, a backpack slams down on my table.

“Hannah, academics are a lie!”

you must begin all over again.

I show up to Postmodern American Fiction ten minutes early. I’m supposed to be an English major, and this is my first chance to prove it. We start talking about a Hemingway short story. Within thirty minutes, I’m completely lost. People are speaking in riddles. I’m afraid to say anything. Suddenly, this curly-haired kid in the corner, a sleepy senior who’s been quiet the whole time, sticks up his hand.

“I don’t mean to ruin our discussion, but… Hemingway was a great writer, but he shot himself in the head. Why should I listen to him about anything?”

throw all that out.
all of them out

A Declaration of Major Form has been sitting on my desk for the past three months. I spilled milk on it at some point, but I’m too proud to get a new one. One night, I come home from a party, and tape it to the wall. A new game is born. Pin-the-tail-on-the-future! I don’t need a blindfold or a friend. The room is already spinning.

you are alone with now.

I like Biology. I get to do things with my hands. It’s concrete, it’s fair and it will never make me insane. Yesterday, we learned about expressed genetic traits. Every dominant allele was written across my body, as if in plain black font:  “I…am…normal.” I feel triumphant.

look at your fingernails.
touch your nose.

I keep forgetting to wear long sleeves to Art History. The paintings give me goose bumps sometimes, and it’s not like anyone has noticed, but it’s still embarrassing. They’d think I was… what? A hopeless romantic? A junkie? A coward?


I’m a CAMS major. I am trying to traffic in goose bumps. I am trying to smile at strangers. I’m six years old. I’m about to graduate. I have so much to learn.

the day flings itself upon

– Charles Bukowski

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