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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Returning to campus: call a spade a spade

<e we all are, back at Carleton, for another ten weeks. Words like “comps” and “so-an” now mean something again. There are windmills on the horizon. There are girl-punk shows at the Cave and cookies at Dacie Moses. Our first midterms may be barely over a week away. Everything that we were allowed to forget about – and everything we never wanted to leave – is back all around us again.

And with fresh immersion into Carleton comes forgetting about the rest of your life.  That road trip you took is now over. You won’t have time to watch very much Sherlock anymore.

You might not be able to keep up with the news about the Persian Gulf or Beyoncé’s baby. Your high school friends have vanished into the dim passages of Facebook. Carleton is real now; everything else is imaginary.

We cutely call this phenomenon the Bubble. Now, “bubble” is an adorable word. It has velvety plosive consonants and a cozy lateral liquid at the end. It makes anything it describes sound friendly and unthreatening. But I’d argue that the phenomenon it describes in this particular instance is really pretty insidious. The Carleton bubble isn’t so much a nice, velvety embrace as a chemical solution that pervades our entire collective mind.

Calling it a bubble makes it sound like it’s some kind of dome that floats somewhere out beyond us, restrictive but basically benign, a border beyond which sound is a little muffled and images are a little hazy, but still basically distinguishable. The implication is that, inside that border, life goes on more or less normally, minus the input from the outside world.

But that’s not the case. Carleton isn’t a bio-dome. It’s not removed from us – it is us. Living in the bubble doesn’t just mean being cut off from the outside world; it means being wired into the Carleton consciousness, with everything that goes along with that. This place gets its tendrils in our heads and it doesn’t let go for ten weeks, and as long as those tendrils are in its heads, or as long as the chemical solution is sloshing in and out of our ears, whichever metaphor you prefer, we’re a different group of people.

Some aspects of that aren’t so bad. I happen to think that learning about mineralogy or Chaucer is a much better use of one’s time than watching Sherlock. I invariably come away from a term at Carleton feeling like I’ve learned one or two very important, potentially life-changing things, that I’ve had what stuffy 19th-century types might have described as an “edifying experience.”

But other aspects are terrible. The culture of stress, the desperate pursuit of sparse internships and job opportunities, the sleep deprivation and the corn forks are all major problems, but they’re much, much worse when you imagine what they’re replacing. Your family and friends have been devoured, swallowed by stacks of paper and the all-consuming fear of missing an assignment.

What we lose by coming back here is, more often than not, a much more well-rounded, much less frantic way of existing. What we gain is a life that might be more intense, more edifying, but is also more circumscribed and single-minded. And that kind of change doesn’t just come from the sheltering walls of a bubble. A change in consciousness like that doesn’t happen in a cute little bubble – it happens in a monastery.

We should be honest, as the long winter sets in, about the fact that we live in a monastery, and about the fact that a monastery isn’t just the set of walls that denotes its boundaries – it’s a set of behaviors like obsession, devotion, and narrow-mindedness. We shouldn’t gloss over those behaviors by lumping them in with a cute word like “bubble.”

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