You know the flip saying, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” I’m here to tell you that you don’t find people using this cliché metaphor for debating useless subjects here at Marlboro. Okay, maybe we’re just not into clichés in general, but I think it’s because we are willing to debate just about anything. Despite this penchant for dialectical reasoning, nobody questioned it when we asked, once again, “How many college community members can you fit on the hill below the library?” As always, the answer was “all of them.”
The community photo is as much a tradition at Marlboro as broomball, the cookie drawer, Apple Days and midnight breakfast. It’s sort of a yearly rite of passage, a visual confirmation that we all made it through the long winter together and we’re going to be fine, a 10-minute vision quest with 300 other giggling people jockeying for position on a sunny slope. For a magical instant everyone is quiet, which is saying a lot with this chatty crowd, waving and smiling like loons at the camera on the top floor of Dalrymple. It really was a beautiful spring day, and the temptation was to freeze that frame, just stay on that slope, lounging on the dandelions like a herd of Holsteins. All too soon it was time to move onto another rite of passage, this time a much noisier one, known as Work Day.
So, maybe it was no match for the Civil War, but the invention of America’s first commercially produced yeast in the 1860s was also a turning point in history. Before that, people relied on home-brewed sourdough starters and lived in caves. And sliced bread was not yet “the greatest thing since…” I learned this and many more things at a rootin’ tootin’, flour kneadin’, dough braidin’, bread-bakin’ jamboree in the dining hall today, part of history professor Adam Franklin-Lyons class called “History of Food & Cuisine.”
Led by food service director Gene Sanders, a group of half a dozen students and Adam made a pile of plump loaves of challah, I mean easily enough to feed a small college. In case you didn’t know, like yours truly, challah is the traditional Jewish holiday bread symbolizing the yummy manna that fell from heaven during their memorable exodus from Egypt. Applying years of research and experience with Play-Doh, the students nimbly braided strands of dough into pleasing loaves, painted them with egg white and sprinkled them with seeds in biblical proportions. Then they baked the loaves until they were golden brown and had the distinctive hollow (or challah?) sound when you rap on the crust with your finger. Okay, so these guys had not walked across any deserts for 40 years or anything, but the warm bread still tasted pretty darn good.
Ah, spring: when the daffodils bloom and the robins sing and there are so many events going on at Marlboro it is difficult to find time to eat or sleep. Seriously. This past weekend alone, there was a solo performance by former Daily Show correspondent Lauren Weedman, a live variety radio show exploring the tensions of motherhood, an epic seven-hour celebration of historian Howard Zinn, a live action role-playing (LARP) game dramatizing a nuclear terrorism crisis, the opening reception of a photography exhibit by senior Lucy DeLaurentis and, ironically, a concert of devotional flute music for whirling dervishes. That’s not even mentioning the many impromptu jam sessions, four-square games, watermelon seed-spitting contests and iconoclastic banter that is the life blood of campus. It’s enough to make mortal soul wonder if there is any place better to be, unless they need to eat or sleep.
My favorite event was the Howard Zinn celebration, honoring the life of the influential author and activist who died in January. It included an amazing production of The People Speak, dramatic readings inspired by Howard’s seminal book, A People’s History of the United States, performed by Marlboro students and faculty and directed by junior Branden Grant. Junior Nate Hohl made a convincingly pissed John Brown, junior Devin Green (above) recited Allen Ginsberg’s poetry like it was his very own edginess and sophomore Grace Leathrum (right) kicked some hawkish butt as antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. Sophomores Gina Ruth and Ellie Roark gave everyone chills down their Kent State spines with an a capella version of Neil Young’s “Ohio.” Howard would have been proud.
For more about the event, or other events in April, check out the events calendar. You can also find Howard Zinn’s talk at Marlboro College in 2004, titled “Terrorism and War: a Historical Perspective,” as well as lots of other cool stuff, on our YouTube channel.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t philosophize my way out of a wet paper bag, but I listened to two people yesterday who made me feel downright dim in this area. In these last countdown weeks to commencement, several seniors are giving presentations about their final work during “dedicated hour,” offering a front row seat to the thrills and chills of the roller coaster rite-of-passage called the Plan. I was fortunate enough to learn from the talks by Ariella Miller and Noah Burke, two students who could clearly philosophize their way out of a paper bag, even a paper bag full of other philosophy students.
Did you know, for instance, that the conceptual art movement led to a progressive “dematerialization” of art objects and a rise in the importance of artistic intention? For me, most conceptual art fell under the very large category of “art I don’t understand and as interesting to look at as venetian blinds,” until I went to Ariella’s talk about her Plan in philosophy and art history. With articulate insights, and building on her junior year experience in Berlin, Ariella navigated the deep waters of artistic intention, dematerialization and repetition so that even a Neanderthal like myself could make some sense of it.
I was not so successful with Noah’s talk about Immanuel Kant and his observations on “the sublime.” This was no fault of Noah’s, who was as knowledgeable and articulate as Ariella; honestly, most of what I previously knew about Kant I learned from Monty Python. I could follow Noah as far as his definition of the sublime: something so overwhelmingly pleasurable that you recognize yourself as separate from nature. Like a thunderstorm, or an earthquake, or a hot fudge sundae. But when Noah got into the details of “moral will” and the difference between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, explaining how he perceived that a paper cup was indeed a paper cup, that’s when I could feel the wet paper bag closing in around me. I am not discouraged, and will keep going back to Plan presentations by mind-bending Marlboro students until I get it right.