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This past winter term I interned at Ambulante, an annual nonprofit, documentary film festival held in Mexico City. Mexican actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna founded the organization in 2005 as a way to showcase documentary film and feature documentaries from across Mexico. Every year the festival accepts over 100 films from around the world that focus on the theme of the festival. This year the festival’s theme was justice, and the accepted documentaries spoke to the complexities of what justice means and how it manifests itself through films that aim to document the lives of people, a moment or a memory. One of Ambulante’s main goals is to make documentary film accessible to everyone without economic, geographic or educational restraints. This is why most of their screenings are free and take place in community centers and national landmarks around the country.
I wrote and directed “Feminist Shakespeare (or, Unsex Me Here),” which ran in the Bentley Theater on April 29 and 30 after three weeks of exciting and chaotic rehearsals.
I’m the kind of person who has eight different desktop screens for my laptop, each with its own distinct wallpaper that inspires me to perform certain tasks or match my specific mood. But that Type A level organization fades away when I’m working with the wallpaper whose orange, blossoming rose lights my brain afire with the heat of summer suns and the rouge of a cheek just tenderly kissed. As a creative writer, everything seems to speak a lyric or hum a poetic line, whether a tree standing starkly under a white sky of snow or a crushed can of keystone outside of Rauner. You find the deepest meanings, the most intricate puzzles tucked away in the details of our haphazardly busy, iPhone-inculcated lives. Even on laptop screens.
Winters at Dartmouth are my favorite terms. Winters in general are my favorite time — there is something magical in the beginning of the year, the promise of something new and the hope for many snow days. I have been on campus every winter, and I have come to appreciate this hated term for slightly shorter lines at the Collis Center and a general acceptance of not going out on Friday nights. I have also come to appreciate how much my winters here have taught me about Dartmouth’s mythical community.
I started @curvedandcontoured as an Instagram account dedicated to makeup, feminism and body positivity, which is a feminist movement focused on improving self-esteem and body image. In particular, I do so by addressing issues like fat shaming. I have always been interested in body image, largely because I have had an eating disorder for most of my life. In high school, I lost 35 pounds and was praised by friends, teachers and family for working hard to become “healthy,” even though these eating habits were incredibly harmful to my health. Because of my eating disorder, I spent almost every moment of my life obsessing over thinness, an ideal I could never seem to achieve. I eventually started eating again, so I naturally gained a lot of weight. Right now, I weigh about 90 pounds more than I did at the height of my eating disorder, and for the first time in my life, I don’t hate my body.
A unicorn in the tech world is defined as a start-up company that is currently valued at over $1 billion. Unicorns are named as such because they are extremely rare. Here’s a number even more rare: 50 percent. On average, women make up about 15.6 percent of technical employees. That is a pretty insane statistic, and one that I hope to change.
Here’s the thing: being a woman of color was never something I thought about really being until I came to Dartmouth. Politically I identified with it, but it wasn’t until I arrived in this frankly toxic white, male, heteronormative space that I absorbed the full extent of how much being a woman of color would dictate my experience here. Although Dartmouth has many more people of color than the incredibly white town in which I grew up, its rhetoric of diversity and inclusivity only masks an apathetic at best, though often actively hostile, attitude towards those who by their mere existence challenge the rigid norms of this place.
In Tomas Tranströmmer’s poem “The Blue House” (1997), a man stands in the woods outside of his home and sees with new eyes. It is as though he were dead and suddenly flooded with sight. Before him, the house transforms into a child’s drawing. The timber is heavy with sorrow and joy. The garden is a new world awash with weeds. The walls and ceilings tell a story different than he remembers. At the end of the poem, everything falls away except for a single image: a battered ship setting sail on raging seas. Each of our lives is trailed by a phantom life, he asserts, “a sister vessel which plows an entirely different route.”
Orientation week, a random smattering of the class of 2016 piled into Alumni Gymnasium Hall for some official-sounding “Welcome to Dartmouth” event. I say “random smattering” because I’m pretty sure half of us didn’t go — like that “Strange as This Weather Has Been” class book lecture that was supposed to bind us all together over summer reading. I think the only thing I remember from that book was that a main character got splinters on her butt from having sex in a shed.
I was “that kid” who loved politics as a child. I received my first civic education around my grandparents’ dining room table, discussing local and national politics with my parents, grandparents and cousins, which required me to keep up with the news if I wanted to be able to participate in the discussions. I remember staying up long past my bedtime to watch the returns of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and asking my mother what would happen if the election was a tie, a question that was probably a tactic to delay sleep, but one that is humorous and ironic in retrospect. In third grade, I developed an interest in labor history and in middle school, the feminist movement, attempting to understand history to understand the world around me. In short, even as a child, you could call me a political nerd.
My freshman fall in 2012, Dartmouth seemed like an unreal experience to me. Even though I knew that the utopia Dartmouth presented to me was not for people like me, I wanted to believe in the dream. It was easier to tell my friends and family back home that Dartmouth was great than to tell them I would rather sleep on the floor next to my mother, grandmother and brother in our studio apartment again than to have my own room and my own bed while living in a space where I felt hyper-invisible and unwanted. I wanted to tell them that I felt more broken and hopeless at this institution then I ever had before. But, I didn’t want to disappoint them because I knew my story, a story of a Black girl from the Southside of Chicago who had gone to Dartmouth, is one that they took immense pride in. So, even though I knew Dartmouth’s utopia didn’t include people like me, I thought that I was going to have the opportunity to make it include people like me. I was wrong.
I am a foreigner. Yes, I may be a citizen and may have been born in the United States, but I am still foreign all the same. I don’t fit the cultural norms of an American society that has constantly tried to shape the person I am, to shape me into a passively obedient, productive member of American capitalism. Yet, for most of my life I have tried. I have tried being quiet, being obedient. I have tried dating women. I have tried maintaining a low profile. And I have tried presenting in a masculine way. None of it helped. I was still a fish out of water, a person floundering in a society not made for them.
It was my last night in Paris. I wanted to stay out all night, walking the streets I’d learned, trusting the kindness I’d found, refusing the morning’s impending arrival.
In July 2014, I was spending my third straight summer in Hanover. I was working as a teaching assistant for “Classics 4,” helping with a digital mapping project in the art history department, editing an educational website’s mythology curriculum, kicking off research on my thesis and avoiding the contemplation of the spectre of adulthood which had by this point fully sunk its teeth into my unrelenting existence.
For ’16s, this is the first time we’re all — more or less — on campus together since the 2012-2013 school year. My first night back this fall, fresh off the Dartmouth Coach and still lugging my duffels, I had dinner at Molly’s to celebrate a friend’s birthday. As a closet socially anxious person, this was the perfect way to start the term. I maybe not-so-secretly have the constant niggling worry that nobody likes me, and I should just go eat some worms. So having plans for a social gathering the minute I got here was comforting. After three years, I feel like I have networks — plural — of people to turn to and be with, and that’s a beautiful thing. Surprisingly, though, it’s not togetherness that’s fueled my happiness — it’s separation. It’s the D-Plan.
15F. September. DHMC. I crossed my legs, my laptop precariously balancing on one knee as I frantically scrolled through the form with checkboxes ranging from “depression” to “paying bills.” I had to find the box for “anxiety” before the woman sitting next to me listed another symptom of dementia.
I came to Dartmouth from Taos, a small town in New Mexico, not knowing anyone or what to expect. How could an hour-long campus tour possibly prepare me for such a massive transition? I was moving across the country, living away from home for the first time. I was a mess of nervous excitement. How was I supposed to find my way around campus? Was I going to make friends? How could my small-town public school possibly compare to the prestigious prep and boarding schools of some of my peers? But I was excited too — excited to test myself and try new things, to be able to take control of my life for the first time, to choose my classes based on my real interests, to choose my activities, my friends and what I was going to eat for dinner that night.
To be honest, I thought I had it all figured it out. Being dropped off by my parents in the middle of New Hampshire was definitely nerve-wracking, but every one was in the same boat, right? I had a plan, and it was simple — school, friends, sleep and repeat. That was definitely doable. But I write this from a place of preciously secured wisdom that has been bestowed upon me as a member of the next graduating class. From this vantage point, I see how completely out-of-touch this so-called plan actually was. It did not factor in any kind of living — and by living I mean the sometimes dirty, messy, beautiful, ridiculous life events that occur without warning. At the time, the plan was all I had. I thought college was a neat little formula I could plug myself into and complete within the allotted four years. That first day I was excited about who I was, and I knew exactly where I was going. I saw four years ahead of me, four years and the opportunity to make of them whatever I decided.
I never thought I would be involved in religious life anywhere — much less in college. Growing up as a Conservative Jew while attending a Christian high school, I hated displays of organized religion. Even though chapel services tried to be inclusive, recognizing the various Jewish (and other faiths’) holidays, I still felt out of place. At religious school, I never felt intellectually engaged and felt ostracized by my peers, who attended different schools. While I still maintained a set of Jewish values fostered by my parents, I did not find a group of Jewish peers to whom I could relate.
I avoid going home because I can’t avoid mealtimes. The scene plays out almost exactly the same way each time. My father complains about bills, my mother gossips about her immigrant friends’ children and my 10-year-old brother spills food onto his comic books, ignoring everyone present. I remain silent, not sure which parts of my current life I can share with a family that lives in an entirely different world.