What they do in Katroo

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The morning of May 20th always meant one thing as a kid: my parents bursting into my room and exclaiming…

I wish we could do what they do in Katroo
They sure know how to say “Happy Birthday to You!”
In Katroo, every year, on the day you were born
They start the day right in the bright early morn
When the Birthday Honk-Honker hikes high up Mr. Zorn
And let’s loose a big blast on the big Birthday Horn.
And the voice of the horn calls out loud as it plays:
“Wake Up! For today is your Day of all Days!”

The tradition lasted even after I moved to college; they still managed to call me on speakerphone early in the morning on my birthday and recite the familiar lines. By then, Dr. Seuss, one of the most beloved and recognizable author-illustrators of children’s books, of course, had even more meaning: we shared an alma mater. Theodore Geisel actually became Dr. Seuss at Dartmouth College: he started writing under the pen name after getting caught drinking (this was Prohibition-era). He was told he couldn’t participate in any extracurricular activities as punishment, and so started signing his articles in the humor magazine “Seuss” so the administration wouldn’t know it was him.

Dartmouth now uses the Seussian connection to the fullest extent. Freshmen are served green eggs and ham during orientation Trips. And, just a few weeks ago, Dartmouth’s med school switched its name to the the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine. (A friend who attends the newly christened “Dr. Seuss School of Medicine” came up with some new book titles: “Polyp on Pop,” “The Larynx,” and “Horton Hears a Heart Murmur”).

Every year on my birthday I feel just a little sad that we don’t do what they do in Katroo–no Birthday Honk-Honker, no Mt. Zorn. But, of course, Dr. Seuss includes almost profound truths in his silly tales. As he reminds us, there’s no need to be jealous of the Katroosians:

 Today you are you! That is truer than true!

 There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

 Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!

 Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham 

Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam! 

I am what I am! That’s a great thing to be!

 If I say so myself, 


More of Dr. Seuss’s wise messages

Controversial curation

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I had a dream last night that I was part of a select group of Dartmouth students chosen to curate an art show. Only when we began discussing what to include in the show did I realize that I was way out of my league: several of the other students were opinionated art history majors. Two boys began a heated debate about the merits of including art that was “important” versus art that generated an emotional response. One girl wanted us to create a show that summarized the entire history of art, and started showing slides of Native American textiles. Too exhausted to remain a part of the debate, I woke up.

Curation is an art and a science, one that I profess to know almost nothing about besides what one of my best friends–an opinionated Dartmouth art history major–has told me. There are obvious ways to group paintings–by country, by time period, by artist. This all makes sense: a well-curated show should create some conversation between the works, some tension or resolution.

I was very impressed with the show that my art historian friend, M, curated as her senior project. The show was just five paintings, but they were linked by the theme of the femme fatale, and placed a seventeenth century Italian depiction of Salome at John the Baptist’s beheading next to a twentieth century Caribbean painting of Eve with the serpent. Hearing M talk about the prevalent themes that united such disparate works made me consider these paintings much more fully than if I’d been walking by them in a gallery.

Sean Scully in front of two of his stripe paintings

Just a few months earlier, I had gone to one of M’s gallery tours when the Hood, Dartmouth’s art museum, had an exhibition of painter Sean Scully’s stripes. Whenever the Hood had a new exhibition there was always an opening gala with music, appetizers, and tours. Thrilled with the prospect of free wine and cheese and jazz piano in the gallery (what is it with me and music in art galleries?) I was more than happy to go look at stripes. And, on M’s tour, I found that the stripe paintings were actually interesting. While literally every single painting was some combination of stripes, each was different; some provoked joy, others nostalgia, and others I found myself really liking.

The exhibition that came after “The Art of the Stripe” was titled “Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body.” As senior intern, M was in charge of much of the publicity for the exhibition and especially the opening night gala. She and another friend held several focus groups to figure out the best way to attract attention while staying true to the goal of the show, which was to problematize the way black women have been portrayed over time and juxtapose many art forms by and about African and African American women. Similarly, they hired a DJ to play hip-hop music at the event, alternating between mainstream misogynist and feminist hip-hop. The opening gala was called “Hip-hop in the Hood.”

The slam poetry group at Dartmouth, Soul Scribes, performed at the event and I remember some latent tension bubbling over. But I also remember M’s highly thoughtful tour, asking viewers how we felt when confronted with difficult images, what we thought of certain symbolism. Attendance for the event was at least 3 times larger than it had been for the stripe gala.

The controversy on campus was immediate and almost unanimous. People who had not attended the event were outraged by the title, organizations that had participated in the focus groups and thus contributed their ideas condemned the gala, the many Dartmouth newspapers published a steady stream of editorials for two weeks. My friend was more than crushed. She was labeled a racist, a misogynist, culturally insensitive. And yet over the course of the three months that the Black Womanhood exhibit was up at the Hood, more students attended than for any other exhibit in the course of the museum’s history. It was this fact that M clung to–she had helped get people into the art museum who wouldn’t otherwise have gone, people who were primarily interested in knowing what all the fuss was about but then were riveted by the artwork (interestingly, no one was upset about the exhibit itself; if you paid an iota of attention to the art you would realize that it was trying to make the same point as all those self-righteous editorials). After all, what is art worth if it doesn’t provoke an emotional response?

Time to go back to sleep and resolve that debate.

Carrie Mae Weems's piece "From here I saw what happened and I cried"

Beer mash

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I never knew I’d have so much to say about beer. Usually after I write Monday’s post I brainstorm a few other ideas that could work for that topic, and I’m lucky if I come up with four. But, just like a good fermented beer keeps feeding on itself, my list of potential topics kept growing and growing…

So here are many of the thoughts that I couldn’t develop more fully:

1. I’ll drink to that

My parents have a set of drinking glasses with words for “cheers” in different languages on the side of them. Here are the words I’ve used to toast, and why: Cheers (English–all the time); Salud (Spanish–while living in Mexico & Spain); A votre sante (French–while in Paris and to sound cultured); Nazdrave (Bulgarian–because I lived for a summer in Provincetown, MA with a bunch of Bulgarian seasonal workers); Slainte (Irish–in Dublin and while drinking with Irish writers); Prost (German–in German class); L’chaim (Hebrew–at Jewish gatherings and at the after-party for “Fiddler on the Roof”); Skål (Scandanavian–I’m a Viking, remember?)

2. Best-sellers

On the multicultural note, it’s interesting–and perhaps somewhat embarrassing–to see which beers are the best-sellers around the world. In the United States we buy Bud Lite more than any other beer. So much for microbrews.

3. How to repurpose an old brewery

Where do breweries go to die? Hopefully, they don’t. Here’s a story of a smart urban planner who found a new use for a wonderful abandoned brewery. (oh yeah, and one of my friends works for this guy).

4. Milwaukee brews

My boyfriend drinks PBR. Pabst Blue Ribbon is the drink of hipsters. Since my boyfriend also wears a lot of plaid shirts, listens to obscure music (he’s a music writer, for goodness sake!), and bikes any time he can, some go so far as to label him a hipster. He counters with the fact that he’s from a town near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and locals always drink local beer. This was known and reported on by the New Yorker in 1960 (it’s free if you’re a subscriber, and I highly recommend it as it’s surprisingly hilarious). Some things never change.

5. Drinking time

My college’s unofficial mascot is Keggy the Keg. Our official mascot is “the big green.” That’s right, a color. Only “big.” No wonder Keggy makes such frequent appearances around campus, like at this tour for prospective students:

Oh yeah, Dartmouth was also the college that inspired this:

I’m planning to add more to this beer list in the coming days, so check back soon!

Doctoring without borders

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This title is taken, of course, from the very fine organization Médecins Sans Frontières, known as Doctors Without Borders in English. It, like the Red Cross, has made its mission to serve those who would not otherwise have access to medical care. And though these are two of the largest health-based organizations, there are certainly many hundreds more than do just as important work. Medicine has the capacity to bring out the incredibly philanthropic nature of humans, such in the case of two brothers, Milton and Fred Ochieng. They were raised in a small village in Kenya, and were sent to Dartmouth by their community. Their dream was to return equipped to make their village of Lwala a better place.

I won’t ruin the rest. Check out their amazing story on this ABC news special or at their website lwalacommunityalliance.org:


Reason 3: The location

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After touring a few dozen colleges and browsing the brochures of a few hundred more, the campuses began to blend together. I remember that my decision to apply to Dartmouth hinged a on a few unique attributes. I liked that there was a jewelry studio and a pottery studio. I liked that the sailing team practiced on a gorgeous nearby lake, the crew teams practiced on the Connecticut River that borders the west side of campus, and the equestrian team had a farm of their own (I imagined I would join at least one of these).

The Dartmouth green with mountains beyond

While I didn’t end up using either of the studios or joining any of those teams, there were plenty of other unique places that I loved at Dartmouth. On Monday I talked about the DOC trips that go out into the surrounding mountains and end up at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. Dartmouth actually owns 27,000 acres of land in northern New Hampshire, all of which is protected against development and vehicle traffic (except to those affiliated with Dartmouth). Dartmouth students regularly maintain trails and cabins on the Appalachian trail, which runs straight through town.

Dartmouth also has its own skiway, just a half-hour from campus. In the winter of my senior year I took a snowboarding class Tuesday and Thursday mornings and was able to get back in time for afternoon classes. We have an organic farm, a climbing gym, a golf course, and a cabin on an island in the middle of the Connecticut (I spent the night of my 21st birthday in that cabin).

So, while not every Dartmouth student is outdoorsy, the school sure does make it easy to enjoy the out-of-doors. Classes were canceled on Valentine’s Day of my junior year due to an enormous blizzard the night before, and everyone I knew either made for the sledding hill on the golf course or the green for a snowball fight. There are a million other reasons to love the school–the intelligent student body, the wonderful professors, the study abroad programs, the alumni network–but if you were to take the Big Green out of the White Mountains, Dartmouth would lose its true spirit.

Reason 2: The traditions

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Dartmouth's homecoming bonfire

Usually I like to coordinate my weekly themes with pertinent events in the real world, like NFL week leading up to the Superbowl, wedding cake week leading up to my cousin’s wedding. So I had to smack my forehead when I realized that I was two weeks off from the best week to talk about Dartmouth.

Exactly two weeks from tonight is Dartmouth Night, aka the start of Homecoming weekend. The most important thing that happens during Homecoming weekend (let’s face it, the football team is rarely something to get excited about) is the bonfire. Freshmen march from their dorms to the middle of the green where a gigantic wooden structure is set ablaze. And then they run laps around the fire for the number of years in their graduating class (108 for an ’08 like me) while upperclassmen yell “Worst class ever” and “Touch the fire.” If any ambitious youngster does indeed try to touch the fire he either gets arrested or finds his face quickly melting off. Because, let me tell you, a 100-foot high flame is hot. Painfully hot. Doesn’t this sound like fun? Between the bonfires, boot-n-rally mentality, and frequent all-nighters, you might say that Dartmouth kids can be a little masochistic. You’d be right.

A pirate ship made of snow for Winter Carnival '05

Other traditions are softer, like the Winter Carnival snow sculpture or the library bells playing the alma mater every night at 6 pm to which some students–this one included–sing along. I loved being a part of the Glee Club, for which I had to learn all of Dartmouth’s songs: Dear Old Dartmouth, The Hanover Winter Song, Dartmouth Undying, The Twilight Song, The Ivy League Medley (this last one is about fifteen minutes long). We’d perform these songs at Dartmouth Night, at the lighting of the Holiday Tree, at convocation and graduation.

Beyond the school-wide traditions, every group and society has plenty of its own secret traditions. National fraternities and sororities follow the rules of their societies while locals make up their own. Each house has its own songs, oaths, and meetings. Part of my job as House Guru was to make up new songs for my sorority, which I eagerly did. Turns out, though, it’s hard to make new traditions last. I don’t think I remembered even my own songs by the end of my Guru reign. When my secret society began in 1975 they adopted the names and traditions of Norse mythology–these did last.

Common to every single group on campus is the tradition of bequests: the handing down of random old items that once belonged to some early member of that particular group. I inherited spangly dresses, old jackets, barbie dolls, butterfly wing costumes, stuffed animals, and books, all of which I joyfully passed along in my senior spring. The one thing that seems to unite all Dartmouth students is the desire to know you were part of this school with its long history, a school so much bigger than yourself, yet one that you come to know personally.

And, as they say, traditions help us keep our balance:

Reason 1: The music

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The Dartmouth Aires perform on The Sing Off

The real reason I wanted to talk about Dartmouth this week was because I recently tuned in to my favorite reality series–NBC’s The Sing Off–to find my old a cappella heartthrobs, the Dartmouth Aires, singing their hearts out.

Just as at many universities these days, a cappella is a big deal at Dartmouth. And no one is a bigger deal than the all-male group the Aires.

During orientation week I saw them perform several times and swooned with the rest of campus at their adorable choreography and awesome renditions of pop songs. Some of them I recognized as Dartmouth Trip leaders or crew members, and the others I quickly came to recognize. Thus, one morning at the end of orientation week when I was walking past a rehearsal room in the basement of the music building, I knew at once that the Aires were the boys practicing inside.

The Aires serenading someone else...they're a promiscuous bunch

They saw me passing by the room. An Aire ran out, grabbed my hand, and pulled me back inside the room. They sat me down in a chair in their midst. And then the cutest one, backed up by all the rest, began serenading me with “Kiss the Girl.” At one point I think they even lifted the chair and started dancing around me, but my heart had been stopped for a few minutes by then, so I was probably too blacked out to remember.

I ended up joining the Dartmouth Glee Club and enjoyed many years of singing Handel, Rachmaninoff, Bach, Mozart, and Gilbert & Sullivan (clearly my Glee Club was nothing like the TV version). We had a great conductor, great singers–some of them were also Aires–great performances…but every time I passed by that same rehearsal room I would remember that the best five minutes of my musical life had nothing to do with my own voice. Check out the video of the Aires on The Sing Off and you’ll see why.

How to be a Dartmouth tour guide

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What you’ll need: pep, the ability to walk backwards

SonglistThe Salty Dog Rag by Red Foley, Twilight SongBig Green Fight SongBlame it on the Boogie

Further readingThe Aegis
I was sitting in a coffee shop last week when Jackson 5’s “Blame it on the Boogie” came on. At that moment, I missed Dartmouth terribly.

I’ve talked about Dartmouth many times over the past 10 months of this blog, and it’s this time of year that I become most nostalgic. The leaves turn so gorgeously red and gold around Hanover, New Hampshire, that tourists drive through the area “leaf peeping.” Upperclassmen are reunited after study abroad terms or internships at Goldman Sachs. And freshmen arrive on campus for their DOC Trips, full of energy and anxiety.

The Dartmouth Outing Club Trips are pretty much the best thing ever created. Two upperclassmen take a group of six to eight freshmen into the surrounding woods to hike, kayak, rock climb, canoe, or do nature painting. Yeah, yeah, a lot of American colleges are doing this nowadays. But Dartmouth was the first. And Dartmouth, a school that loves tradition above all else, does it the best.

Mmmm...Cabot cheese

On day one you learn how to salty dog rag and you learn how to blame it on the boogie (which was mortifying to dance in front of my parents, who were still looking on with pained expressions, not quite ready to leave their youngest child at college).

You stay with your group for three nights alone in the woods, you eat a whole lot of Cabot cheese, you get told a lot of lies by your trip leaders (I was lucky enough to be a trip leader for 3 years running), and then you get together with a few hundred other freshmen at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for the best dinner of your life. And then you return to campus to start orientation and you realize that coming to Dartmouth was the best decision yet of your young life.

I’m pretty enthusiastic about Dartmouth, probably more now–3.5 years after graduating–than when I was actually there. I know it has faults, some that seriously bothered me at the time. But now I can only remember the wonderful parts: that dozens of my closest friends lived within 5 minutes walking distance, many of them in the same house; that all you’re required to do is learn and grow and have incredible experiences; that everyone is still in the same phase of life (this has struck me especially now that friends are starting to get married and have babies while I still feel like a kid).

The first trip I led watches a sunset together

I was so enthusiastic about Dartmouth that I applied to be a tour guide…my junior year. Unfortunately, the admissions office was mainly looking for uninitiated freshmen who had only unbridled enthusiasm for the school–my enthusiasm was bridled by that point. In my interview I said that I would be able to give prospective students the full picture, which was not the picture that Admissions wanted to give. I also didn’t know enough about the sports teams.

But even though I was rejected as a tour guide, I still think I would make a great one. This week I’ll tell you the rest of the reasons why I love my alma mater. I bleed green, after all.

How to be a librarian

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What you’ll need: thousands of books, organizational skills

Songlist: Wrapped Up In Books by Belle and Sebastian, Marian the Librarian from The Music Man

Further reading: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland

Last weekend I went to see my friend star in a production of The Music Man, which happens to be my favorite musical. When I was a kid, I watched this movie approximately 1,402,927 times at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather would sing the ridiculous number “Shipoopi” poolside, and we would all chime in on “Trouble, which starts with a T, that rhymes with P, and that stands for pool!” But my favorite character, the one that my friend played last weekend, was always Marian. Marian the librarian.

I don’t know if my desire to be a librarian was prior to seeing Marian waltz through her library or not, but I do remember “playing librarian” at a very young age. This included putting on a pair of my mother’s dizzying glasses, gathering all my books, and running a pen (capped, of course) across the back of my books as I’d seen my local librarians do. I longed desperately for a special pen like they had that could scan barcodes, and I longed for my books to sport those barcodes.

Dartmouth Library's front desk, where I worked

When I went to college, my dream finally came true. I got a job, during freshman orientation, at the circulation desk of Baker/Berry Library. It was my first real job, which is to say, the first job which supplied me with W-2 forms. And I loved being a librarian just as much as I’d always thought I would. I loved checking in vast stacks of books and organizing them on shelves. I loved helping fellow students find their way around the library (my favorite question came from a friend of mine in the spring of our freshman year–he approached tentatively then said, “Um, like, where are the books?” A more legitimate question than you might think, since Dartmouth’s stacks are somewhat strangely organized). And I loved that all of my friends were completely jealous of this job–when I wasn’t checking books in or out, I could just do my homework. A nice perk.

A year and a half after graduating, I found myself working at a library once more. This was an Americorps job, for which I organized activities in the children’s section for young visiting guests. The point was to connect literacy with games and crafts so the kids would associate reading with fun. And my co-corps members and I came with some pretty awesome ideas: a pirate-themed day complete with a scavenger hunt for the letters P-I-R-A-T-E and pirate books, reading books about masks and making our own from paper plates and tissue paper, writing stories about seahorses (I don’t remember what this was related to), and on and on.

Marian, cutting a rug in her library

There’s a conception of the librarian as a stodgy elderly lady who are sticklers for quiet studiousness. This is not necessarily a misconception, as it certainly is a career that draws women in greater numbers that men, and sometimes attracts odd characters (a St. Paul woman and library employee was recently charged with theft of almost $40,000 in library materials…her life story is rather sad).

Yet, historically, libraries have been some of the greatest treasures of civilization, creating centers of knowledge for which learned people would travel great distances to reach. Before Gutenberg came up with a way to print books efficiently, scholars would have to memorize the contents of the books they read in libraries and carry this information with them. So, if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t appreciate libraries, let me tell you: libraries are damn cool. And I am clearly very cool for having always idolized Marian, and having made my librarian dreams come true, if only for a few years.

As Harold Hill sings, “What can I say, my dear, to make it clear, I need you badly, badly, Madam Librarian…Marian.”

How to be a comedian

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What you’ll need: funny bone, nerves of steel

Songlist: My Funny Valentine, They’re All Gonna Laugh @ You by Atmosphere

Further reading: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

When I graduated from Dartmouth three years ago, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was tapped to share with us the wisdom she’d gained as the first female president of an African nation. Instead, for her commencement address, she decided to share with us wisdom we’d heard a million times before: she quoted Mother Teresa, MLK Jr., Gandhi.

Yesterday, the Dartmouth Class of 2011 received their commencement address from Conan O’Brien; George H. W. Bush received an honorary degree at the same ceremony. Conan started his speech by saying,

Before I begin, I must point out that behind me sits a highly admired President of the United States and decorated war hero while I, a cable television talk show host, has been chosen to stand here and impart wisdom. I pray I never witness a more damning example of what is wrong with America today.”

The rest of Conan’s address was in turns hilarious and serious, the kind of speech that would not, unlike Sirleaf Johnson’s address, put a person to sleep (it was hot, ok? And I was wearing black!) When it comes to imparting wisdom, a very funny person is always more adept than a Very Distinguished Person.

In seventh grade I took a improv theater class. We had a great teacher who seemed to live as if in a continuous sketch (he brought his cordless phone to school and kept checking for reception, impervious to our objections that cordless phones do not act like cell phones). What’s more, he thought I was funny. My friends and family knew me to be funny, but his judgment seemed like real validation.

Thinking that I’d found a new outlet for my creativity, I continued with improv theater in eighth grade. The old teacher was gone, though, on paternity leave (he’d carried his cordless phone around when his wife was close to her due date), and we had a new teacher and a huge class. This new teacher had a method of mentally narrowing down the class: boys had the potential to be funny, while girls did not. It’s hard to get noticed in a group of forty when you’ve already been cancelled out.

I never tried improv comedy again, but I have the utmost respect for those who are able to make a living out of humor. No matter the situation, I can always think of an appropriate Mitch Hedberg joke. No matter how bad the latest political scandal, I can always turn to Jon Stewart to make me feel better. And no matter how jealous I am that the Dartmouth ’11s got Conan as their speaker, I’m also intensely proud that he came to Dartmouth at all. His “Conan Doctrine” is the best wisdom I’ve heard in a long time:

All bachelor degrees will be upgraded to master’s degrees. All master’s degrees will be upgraded to PhDs. And all MBA students will be immediately transferred to a white collar prison.”

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