Things to Know, Do or Not Do at a Small Liberal Arts College, #11-53
11. If your high-school friends come to visit you, take care of them. They may run afoul of campus PD, angry drunks, or get wasted themselves and flirt unpleasantly with someone. Small campuses tend to be in a delicate balance, and your fellow students' proximity to you and one another enables you all to fairly well know one another’s sensibilities. Outside friends may not be as comfortable with, say, lesbianism as you (hopefully) will become, and thus they might say something epically stupid.
12. Don't try to sell a "personality" too much. If you get topless or do movie monologues every time you drink, you may wind up spending four years as the "naked girl" or "actor guy." On one hand, people may want to spend time with you because of it. On the other hand, people may find you boring unless you are exclusively "on" or "in-character." Moreover, it may drive people away, as the intimacy of the school can lead people to falsely believe that they fully know one another by outside signs and a few repeated gestures. Your character might then become you, and it's a bitch to get yourself back.
13. Three things about school-sanctioned gatherings with school PA/stereo systems:
a. Put the equipment away. There's nothing more pathetic than the sort of people who organize protests and serious gatherings abandoning communal equipment, only to have it taken care of, at five a.m., by two people who have been drinking since lunch. I lost count of the number of times fellow drunks and I ran across thousand-dollar school speakers in the dead of night, left out by the sort of people who had previously exhibited no shortage of energy for things like suggesting that they were the moral vanguards of the community and that I should be arrested.14. If you perform anything in public—especially with a musical instrument—change your routine. People admire talents not their own, but offer something more than a steady diet of "Wish You Were Here" and "Blister in the Sun." If you can't mix it up, remember this: there are few things more admirable than students being creative, except, of course, students being creative only occasionally in public and more often somewhere else.
b. As a liberal arts student, you have diverse interests. Others do not share all yours. If you're going to have a gathering, stick to music that is danceable or entertaining. So you like goth music: the vast majority of human beings on earth enthusiastically and rightfully do not, and they do not have the time to wait until you're 25 and realize that it's life-draining dirge-like shit. Meanwhile, there are Chinese laborers in the Quinghai province who think that Cyndi Lauper had three great singles. These people probably made everything you're wearing right now. Show them and your fellow students some respect and have fun.
c. You got the thrill of putting on a bash for people, now be a goddamned adult and clean up after yourself. Your backyard belongs to a thousand other people.
14.a. Corollary: There are very few credible reasons to wear an ethnic badge while publicly performing. The Pogues are awesome, and I'm sure that your great-great grandparents who were the last members of your family to live in Ireland might have loved them. That said, you don't have to sing "Thousands Are Sailing" again, and if you get weepy, someone should punch you. I know it sucks that Castro is still in charge of Cuba, and I'm sure what's happening in your imagination to the country you can only imagine is really terrible, but you don't always have to sing "Guantanamera." I doubt anybody who went to a small American college with a few Englishmen can remember their getting loaded and singing "Heart of Oak" like they were Lucky Jack Aubrey, and I'm pretty sure you're never going to see a couple American kids shout out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Everybody's glad that you love your culture, but all cultures are special, which perversely means that all of them aren't really that special, which includes yours. Either book a special performance for a night of cultural nationalism or just do a goddamn medley and occasionally skip whatever musical totem people have come to expect from you.
15. If you are convinced that anything you think to say in class is stupid, relax. Most of your fellow students feel self-conscious. Like snakes and other small predators, they're just as scared of you as you are of them, and both of you are scared shitless about sounding dumb. (Be assured that the professor has heard more dumb than can be dreamt of in your philosophy.) What you mistake in others for cool self-assurance when venturing opinions is probably just a good cover. (In very rare cases, it can be an example of someone who's made mistakes, realized they don't matter, wants to get the most from their time and just doesn't sweat it anymore). However, if you’re convinced fully of the rectitude of your point and that proposing it could not possibly be stupid, it probably is — whether in spite of, or because of, you. It's easy to spot the two or three people in every seminar who have mistaken being an asshole for confidence, unless one of them is you.
16. Don’t talk in the library, or even within a few feet of the door; you can't imagine how much your voice carries. Nobody cares about your conversation, especially not thesis students or those with exams who are probably tense enough to turn sand to glass just by walking on it.
17. If you must cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend, be bold or cunning. It is very rare to not be found out. The only way you can do it is if you can orchestrate unseen entrances and exits or if you just don't give a damn about the consequences. The three-person rule stands on all small campuses: if three know about what you've done, everyone does.
18. Everyone is watching you. TV is just TV, but you're entertainment.
19. If you feel as if the classes offered don't cover what you want to do, ask to take tutorials or Independent Research Projects. That's why you're at a liberal arts college, for the chance to bend rules or create new curricula. It's ambitious and unwise to try in your first semester, because it can seem disrespectful to the instructors and their offerings, but it's silly not to pursue the idea after a semester or two of not jumping into topics that you think you can do something with. Just ask your advisor before importuning a random prof and suggesting they spend an extra hour per week meeting with you to discuss a topic you think they should be willing to walk through with you.
20. Every small campus in the nation — and even large ones — have one geographical feature that provides something like an unofficial romantic focal point. Maybe it's the beach, or a bayfront. Maybe it's a botanical garden, a scenic footpath, a roof you can sneak onto or a widow's walk around an old building. You need to figure out where this place is for your campus, because there are people there with whom walking to it is tantamount to engagement. Don't go unless you want to do something, lay the groundwork for doing something, or get talked about. If you go with someone who is not known to be a friend of yours, people will assume something's up. Also, there's nothing worse than inviting someone to walk to one of these places and then getting shot down by them when you weren't even making a pass — unless it's inviting someone to one of these places and then crushing their doomed surprise attempt to move in for an embrace.
21. Almost every guy is going to cheat on his girlfriend from back home, except for the ones who feel a lawyerly impulse and call to break up with them right before a hook-up would constitute cheating — or the rare confident soul who just ditches that albatross before hitting the road. But girls, you are going to break up with your boyfriend from back home. Stop wasting everyone's time. There are people near you who are witnessing the changes you go through, who share those changes, and who (in a few months) will have more in common with you than anyone from back home. Some of them are quite attractive. You will break.
22. Everyone has already heard all the jokes about how bad the cafeteria food is. If you have not stopped to consider how inessential your joke is, or if you have considered it and told it anyway, you are not funny. Anyone you see doing the same is not funny. It's the "whaaaat is the deeeaaaaal with airline food???" of college comedy. It should tell you immediately who not to spend time with or why people don't want to spend time with you.
23. Activism is homogeneously diverse and diversely homogeneous. It’s also inactive. By March you will know what this means.
24. You've probably spent a lot of time being edgy online, but hate speech isn't funny. There's a 1-in-100 chance to make it so, but you'll miss the window. Also, if you've just discovered that mocking white people and Christians is acceptable and mocking minorities and other religions is not, congrats: you've stumbled onto the total bummer downside to 500 years of unprecedented global prosperity and exploitation. People can make fun of Presbyterians and bowties, and the "n-word" is still a social third-rail. If you even begin to think of the words "reverse racism," just plunge a stapler repeatedly into your face. Too bad. Now shut the fuck up, because nobody fucking cares.
25. Don’t joke about rape. Don’t joke about rape. Don’t joke about rape. I know you grew up on the internet and "lol surprise sex" and "raep time," and far be it from me to divest you of touchstones of comedy like that, but you aren't funny; the topic isn't; and chances are you will probably not be able to go a full year of college without knowing someone who was raped. If you still think stupid shit like "omg raep is teh surprise sex0r" is funny after looking into the eyes of someone you know who was violated about as profoundly as possible, you're human garbage. Then again, you're probably also the sort of person featured in item #24, who's just bummed that you can't throw a fried drumstick at "your black friend" and then hold your fist out for some mega-daps from your bro.
26. IB don't mean shit. SAT don't mean shit. AP don't mean shit. Debate, drama, newspaper, GPA, Latin Club — don't mean shit.
27. I can drink more than you. Don't mean shit.
28. People have heard Tori Amos at student dance performances before.
29. Diplomacy is the better part of valor at a small college. You will probably learn this the hard way. As with any place, it is harder to convert enemies than to make friends of strangers. When a situation becomes especially frustrating, or if tempers get heated quickly and unexpectedly, back off. You will have many opportunities for revenge or rectification later.
29.a. Corollary: Liberal arts students are on the whole very good about apologizing, at least in part because many of them are cowards.30. Don’t be too ambitious, academically, in your first year. The amount of work that you have to do for classes is only going to increase. These first semesters are the time when you determine how much work you are capable of doing. Don't swamp yourself (that's what grad school's for) and risk having a shitty time or getting kicked out.
29.b. Corollary: Campus cops are your friends and can clear up problems.
29.c. Corollary: RAs are not nearly as ineffectual about handling disputes as they are about, say, having their keys or beepers when they’re supposed to.
29.d. Corollary: Student judicial bodies can be effective and a polite means of keeping everyone's names off permanent law enforcement books, if it comes to that.
31. If you're going to bomb a semester, don't stop going to classes. Downplay your commitment to the hardest class or the least crucial and do your best in what remains. When you go before a student-review committee, those few good performances in remaining classes might be the reason why you don't get booted out. If you stop acting like a student, demonstrate a total unconcern or completely fail to demonstrate aptitude, you may end up screwing yourself. Stick around, take less the next time, drink less the next time, and work harder.
32. Don't sleep with your roommate's lover. Don't sleep with your friends' lovers. If you must date them, wait a few weeks after the break-up before you charge in, genitals a-blazing. You'll fuck this one up, though. Trust me.
33. Don't found your own publication before checking out the competition. Most 'zines or blogs on campus are stark failures. The contributors change every year, but the topics are all the same. The names and logos change, but the Hunter Thompson-knockoff ideas, ranting tone and unconcern with visual style or unique material make older students' eyes glaze over. Find a voice, a purpose, some contributors, some talent and a desire to be different not for difference's sake, and only then go for it. Or be ballsy and stylish, with good layout. It's better to do both.
34. Do not bother to write your name down for the student newspaper staffers when they interview you. They will not spell it correctly no matter what you do.
35. Almost all on-campus (especially underage) parties feature a noxious punch made from grain alcohol and kool aid. It's like Jonestown, except it contains booze. Your pockets should contain antacid.
36. Nobody likes a beer or cigarette snob. There's a chance you may wow Missy H. Kitten from Hinterlandville in the State of Nowhere, and she will think you sophisticated for having discovered million-dollar global brands that aren't billion-dollar global brands. But most people who are 18 will know what Galouises are: they're the smelly cigarettes kids who want to seem like Camus smoke. They also have had Guinness. Remember, however, that there is a reason why R.J. Reynolds keeps making money, and that is because Camels are good. Also — you bastard — you can buy four pints of Guinness for $9.50. But you can also buy a twelve-pack of High Life for $7.50. Sixty-four ounces of beer for nearly ten bucks, or 144 ounces for seven and change. Fuck you. By the fourth one, nobody working a twelver gives a shit what the beer tastes like anyway.
37. Yes, I've read Foucault. We've all read Foucault. (This girl read Foucault.) Have you? Yes, you have. Shut up.
38. Speaking cleverly and speaking with a lot of words or television quotations aren't the same thing. Take swearing: probably everything you've come to associate with it and cleverness from the internet is horribly wrong. The right word, in the right place, with the right beat will have more impact than all the hyphenated drivel you can imagine. A person who is a jackass is rightly a jackass. I know, I know: you want to say, "Jesus Tapdancing Christ on a Pogo Stick, that guy is like a ROBOT jackass!" because that has lots of words, and it's very random. You are very random. Many people who know you would say that you are very random. You have used the word random on Facebook to describe yourself, in the part about your interests, in which you also wrote, "Cranial Spelunking, Killing Zombies, Brand Revolution and Being Random." You kissed a girl once who called you a Randominatrix. You have used this word in self-description without proper attribution. Anyway, the point here is that someone who interrupted your various descriptions of the dance techniques of the Christ and deadpanned, "You are a poo man," would probably win more friends and laughs because he would not be a tedious butthole who's mistaken putting as many words as possible between a first and last name for funny. For some of you, the hardest thing about college will be coming to grips with the antithesis of everything your smart-kid outsider high school experience taught you and accepting that in some cases "smarter"/"wordier"/"more abstruse" does not equal "better than."
39. Noise in computer labs: don't make it. People will believe you when you say that your latest RPG dude is the best ever. People will trust that you have just found the coolest website. They, however, might writing a thesis; and unless any of your bullshit gimcrack is actually going to help them with their baccalaureates, you need to keep quiet. Voices carry. Smell in the computer labs is pretty bad, too. If you haven't showered in a couple days, you will turn the labs into a giant snifter of your own foulness. Get out.
40. If you meet a thesis student, please for the love of God, do not ask them what their thesis is about. They have to explain it almost every day. Moreover, their parents can’t even remember what they're about, so they have to explain them repeatedly, sometimes weekly. Do you know the indignity of this? Why do you need to know? Are you going to help them?
41. Get out: see the town. If you have a car, drive around for an hour or so, deliberately get lost, then find your way back again. Do this a couple of times. Learn the town you're in intimately. This not only makes you feel more connected, more at "home," but a good drive alone can be a therapeutic, almost zen-like experience. Once out, meet people. Cultivate super-secret non-college off-campus friends. Townies are not bad people, and their fundamental separation from college can help you put a perspective on the importance of what you do there. The great thing about them is that they won't be able to keep a straight face when you try to express to them the sovereign importance of some minor social inconvenience that only makes sense within the context of your school. As soon as they start smirking, you have to stop taking yourself as seriously, and sometimes that's going to be the most important thing you can do. Besides, they give you the chance to learn outside of books; that's probably part of your college's schtick, anyway.
42. Don’t stop showing up to student government meetings. Really. You're going to be turned off by the first one and want to skip the rest for the next four years, but the fact that 2% of the idiots you personally know can exert influence on the personal lives of the remaining 98% of idiots should gall you. It's an easy venue, and it's often unintentionally hilarious. Be active in it; otherwise, participatory democracy is more of a farce than it already is. Besides, you might get some free shit out of it, and if you have anything like a personality and a functional affect display, you'll probably get elected to something without much effort.
43. Try to do things with your roommate. This sounds hard, but the fact of the matter is that the differences in your personalities may enrich both of your experiences. Some roommates may be totally execrable and thus do not apply here. But a lot of your friends may be the people you least suspect to be interesting. Don't pass up weird invitations. A torturous dinner for two hours is the worst it can get: on the other hand, you may wind up meeting four perfectly bizarre people, do perfectly bizarre things with them and live through an experience that will become a wonderful anecdote.
44. Call your parents at least once a week. If you demonstrate a personal unaffected desire to keep up intimately with them, it can save headaches when you screw up. Also, if you call them regularly, they can't guess when you're calling for money. Don't be a stranger: people don't give money to strangers. Also, they can give you some pretty damn good advice. As much as you're still loath to admit it, your parents are probably much wiser than you, and you are probably not going to realize this for another half-decade at least.
45. Don't date on-campus; by that I mean, "Don't make your social-romantic focal point whatever the de facto campus gathering place is." When you were dating in high school, you didn't spend most of your romantic time hanging out on school grounds. College grounds are little better. Going to a quad party is a poor excuse for a date, unless of course you did something off-campus earlier. And for God's sake, try to avoid lingering around each other's rooms all the time. You had separate homes in high school, and you need them now, too. Familiarity breeds contempt.
46. Don't show me your tattoo unless it's a picture of me.
47. Don't lie about how many drinks or how much of a drug you've had in a given night. Someone has been accidentally or idly counting, and you're going to look bad (in part because you're going to expose yourself as the sort of person for whom this shit matters). For example, there are few drunks out there who won't be on the way to getting laid-out by seventeen beers. Claiming to them that you have had twelve on your third night is going to piss them off; they will make you drink; they will make you vomit; or they'll just give you shit in front of whomever it was you were flirting with. You're going to wake up, hungover, after six beers, and they're going to wake up with the person you were hitting on.
48. Get off the computer and go the fuck outside. Every time you sit down to the computer, you should ask yourself if it's for schoolwork, to contact family or to write an academically necessary email. You have the rest of your life to game, to post on message boards and to watch TV or movies. This, however, is the only time of your life when you can walk outside and instantly be able to hang out. You can step out your front door and find people willing to get drunk or high, play all kinds of sports, go for walks or runs or swims or rides, work on an acting project, jam on some instruments, build something stupid or just bust on shit. Unless you are wildly successful and very lucky, you will never have this much free time or this many people surrounding you with similar interests again. If you find yourself using Facebook, IM or texts to keep up with people you know in real life and whose bedrooms you can reach by a quick brisk walk, you're wasting luxuries of time, space and youth. Throw away your television and game system. If you didn't need them for school or safety, you could throw away your computer and phone too and be immeasurably better off. People lead electronic lives to compensate for the shortcomings of their real lives. You are currently surrounded by the most real life that you will probably ever experience. As soon as you're done reading this and ignoring 90% of it, look at the door to your room and leave, just fucking leave.
49. One out of every four rapes on college campuses occur within the first two weeks. College is not above some things, and you should be wary about getting too terribly shit-faced. (UPDATE: Obviously the blame for rape does not fall on the victim. The solution to campus rape is, of course, for people to not be goddamn rapists. In an ideal world, you could walk into any strange place, pass out and wake up secure in your person and possessions. You shouldn't have to be careful. But, until we live in that world, please be careful. Give it some time navigate your way around and get your sea legs with your drug of choice before going fully ripshit.)
50. If someone asks if you've read a book, and you haven't, just say no. You're going to get fucked in the worst way if you try to bluff most people, and there's something attractive and refreshing about someone who answers, "Have you heard about ____?" with, "No, tell me!" People like to share things. Let them.
51. I’ve seen that type of piercing before. You see that guy over there? He has, too.
52. College is not a utopia, no matter how much we wish it to be. You will be disappointed with things that happen, but try not to take it too hard. Rather, focus on the inimitable foibles and find comfort and bemusement in them. Your school is irreplacable, not irreproachable.
53. Keep this list. It will make more sense with every passing month.