Letters From An MBI Student – From the PO Box

PREFACE:

Dear Family,

So, I wrote you some letters. Quite a while ago, actually. In varying states of finished, but all “unsent” or whatever the internet equivalent is. But you know that PO Box we had, that we’d remember every few months and go open up and bring home a treasure trove of 95% junk mail and 5% something important that we would have liked to have had before? Think of this post as that equivalent. Welcome to a PO Box post and a few postcards of life, just a few months late.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

 

*******

10/5

Dear Family,

Today I decided that ChiTown is beautiful and I am happy. Please don’t freak out; I’m still a country girl in heart. There are a thousand-and-one things I miss about my beloved Midwest countryside, but I’m finding many things to love about this city God has placed me in. If I don’t compare them, I will be happy.

Here are five of the latest:

  1. The Nighttime. When it is night here, the streetlights shine as fierce and yellow as fireflies, and the buildings stay lit at all hours, and it is so, so beautiful. At night, there are fewer taillights to chase on Interstate, and Lakeshore Drive is glittering and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road.
  2. The Fog. A city in fog is a stunning thing. The buildings are all suddenly equal in height, stunted by the fog that eats the tops of them all and I love it. At night the fog turns yellow and orange and gray and it’s even more spectacular. It makes the city seem a little smaller and cozier, wrapped up in blankets.
  3. The Sears Tower. Ahhh, need I say more? I could stare all day, and all I would need is a bucket for my drool.
  4. The buildings. They’re eccentric and bold and dirty and pristine and have every color you could want. It’s a perk of being downtown: if you don’t like your view, just look at a different corner.
  5. Little things: The Montgomery Ward building has what I call the Peter Pan statue, and it’s a perfect silhouette in the sunset. There’s a funny lighting shop with a giant white horse statue on the roof-terrace-thingy; it’s actually a lamp and the horse head with the lampshade over it looks down over the street from two stories up and still makes me laugh. I can get a pretty good view of the sunset from the top of the parking garage, and going to work in the winter means seeing the sun come up over Lake Michigan from one of the tallest places in the city. I realized the other day that our freshman t-shirts from Moody have a crane in the city silhouette printed on it, because of course the Chicago skyline would not be complete without that.
  6. I could fill this space with things that are individually underwhelming but collectively take your breath away because who knew that you had so many things to enjoy?

I can’t make a list of things I miss about the country right now, because that’s a long list and I’d like to enjoy this one for a while. I used to think that “choose joy” was just a kitschy thing on a plaque, but I think it may be…ahh, that’s another post for another time. Just know that today I chose it and the result was some pretty cool things (and this list).

Maybe missing you, and the country,

~Rae

 

********

12/16

Dear Family,

Well, once upon a time I thought I was smart. Or good at taking tests. Or even a generally well-behaved, genial, uncompromising sort of person. Ha. Welcome to Finals Week, where you feel either clumsy, dull, crabby, or frantic–or all of the above.

I only had four finals. Six, if you counted the two papers that were also due. So no big deal, until I met the girl who had NONE. Lucky [insert designation of your choice].

But I learned a few important things! New things, the sort of things I didn’t learn at community college where I could have skipped the finals and still passed the classes.

  1. SLEEP. ALL THE TIMES. Except during the actual final. Otherwise, truly, honestly, you will feel like the stupidest person alive, and that will be true if you don’t sleep.
  2. Study before finals weekend. I know everybody says you should do this, but, guess what? They’re right. Memorizing Spanish vocabulary is so much easier when you’re not trying to review 9 vocabulary lists the day before the 2 hour final.
  3. Sometimes the finals aren’t actually terrible. Truly! We had a trivial pursuit final for my ed class, and basically everyone ended up getting an ‘A’, but only because we worked together and learned the terms. It helped that I memorized nearly all 90 of them the day before, but getting the first ‘A’ was only good for my ego.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time. I only had one final on Monday, and I was going to work the rest of the day, because what was I going to do with my time? I decided not to work and was able to study for Tuesday’s finals. Another bonus: the extra time allowed me to realize that I’d written my research paper twice as long as it actually needed to be. Just a small detail. Ha.
  5. If the prof suggests a way to study, do it. Like, when he says to review his notes from previous assignments so we don’t make the same mistakes, it’s probably a good idea. Then you probably won’t get that note from your prof telling you to add periods, for the third time.

There are plenty of things I think I learned, but I’m going to take my own advice and sleep. For a week, preferably. Because right now my brain is drifting into the stupid category and I’m going to pretend it’s lack of sleep and not reality.

Maybe missing you (but missing my sleep more, sorry),

~Rae

 

*******

12/22 [warning: sappy sentiment to follow]

Dear Family,

Campus is a funny place at Christmas. It becomes this paradox of attributes, a weird mix of dark and bright, cold and warm, lonely and lovely. After finals week campus becomes a big empty place with Christmas lights and dark places. Locked doors usually mean secrets and warmth at Christmas, places where presents are stashed and surprises are lurking. Moody after finals week means those locked doors just hide dust and emptiness.

But they still have Christmas lights. They have all these beautiful Christmas trees in every color, and the lights in Joe’s are always glittering even when no one is allowed there. So it’s this faraway Christmas, that makes you more homesick for the Christmas you can touch and taste and feel.

And the city is beautiful. I visited the Christkindlmarket and got swallowed up in a place of spiced cider, hot pretzels, glass ornaments, and cuckoo clocks. My favorite ornaments were the ones we already have: little sledding men and the wee man who does jumping jacks when you pull the string and tiny stoic nutcrackers. I found some new favorites, particularly the painted glass globes, but even those that I loved best were the ones that looked a little like a place I used to call home.

How do we make new, lovely Christmases when everything we enjoy is a poor copy of what we actually want? I got to see huge, astonishing Christmas trees, but I ranked them based on what it felt like standing next to them. Because when I was a kid and we turned off all the lights in our living room, the sense of color and Christmas was as distinct as the first sip of hot cider in the fall.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Comparing things? At some point I think I’ll enjoy Chicago and Moody and their Christmas just for what it is. But I’m not very good at this thing yet. Right now I enjoy their Christmas because it satisfies the part of me that wants to be home for Christmas, with my own fireplace and that droopy fake tree that I wouldn’t trade for a million blue spruces, even if they are 63 feet tall.

So here I am, keys in hand, and a playlist ready for that drive home this afternoon. First up, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

~Rae

 *******

3/29

Dear Family,

I think I’m going crazy. Or maybe I just need to come home. Or maybe I just need to be reminded that some things are not A Big Deal. Here’s the thing about Moody: they have these things that are A Big Deal, and there aren’t any nice billboards that remind me that, in life outside the Moody bubble, they are Not A Big Deal.

Examples? Here are two:

  1. Classes. Registration opens this week, and you get to sign up for your class based on how many credits you have. Seniors have first pick, juniors next, etc., and you have an exact time of day given to you and you can’t sign up before that time. This is what is known on campus as A Big Deal, because if you do not get the class you want or the schedule you want or the whatever then there are many problems. I did not realize this was A Big Deal, so last semester I just, meh, picked a few classes a few minutes before my time slot opened up, and managed to get a schedule that worked for me. Afterwards I found out that I should have been stressing out all semester about getting my classes. Oh.
  2. Rooms. Also A Big Deal (many things are). Because you will have a very bad semester if you do not get the right dorm floor. Or room. Or roommate. This is apparently very stressful.

The thing about these is that…well, they’re A Big Deal if you make them A Big Deal? There are a lot of things that could make the list of Things That Are A Big Deal: Meal plans, 8:00 classes, the right professor, the wrong room, the terrible roommate, the ability to work…they can make college easy or hard. But I don’t think that should make them A Big Deal, let alone A Very Big Deal. Why do we look at everything difficult and say, “Oh, you must be worth stressing out.” and then stress out about it?

Acknowledgement: things can be really stressful. It can be really stressful to not be able to get your classes in and wonder if you’ll graduate on time. It can be really stressful to have a class schedule that doesn’t let you work and pay for school. It can be really stressful to have early-morning classes and late-night jobs. It can be really stressful to have back-to-back-to-back classes and a roommate who hates you or a dorm floor that doesn’t believe in quiet hours. They are all difficult things. But not impossible.

I guess I feel really, really, extraordinarily fortunate to be at school, in school, doing school, getting to have this. I don’t like 8:00 classes or not getting lunch until 14:00 on Wednesdays. I don’t like studying until midnight on Thursdays or wearing work clothes to Chorale or writing papers on Sundays. I don’t like being tired or feeling sick or wondering what the haystacks I’m going to eat this week. I don’t like getting a weird prof and a difficult class. I don’t like having loans or bills or facing the cost of living in Chicago with food allergies that complicate everything.

But none of the things I don’t like are A Big Deal. What is A Big Deal? Today: this lovely gift of Today that I have been given. A Big Deal this week was that I fell asleep during my quiet time last night and today is different because I missed that. Everything else that could be A Big Deal is really just A Thing To Do.

Whew. That’s easier. And vastly less stressful.

Maybe not going crazy,

~Rae

 

*******

5/14

Dear Family,

I SURVIVED…

[Freshman year (and all the glories of being the old newbie on campus), finals week (again, but now it’s old hat. Almost.), and graduation (for other people, without squirming). But’s that’s all secondary to…]

…ROOM CHECKS.

Ha. Who knew that the weirdest part of all things end-of-semester would be Moody’s insane [batty, preposterous, deranged, irrational, cuckoo, loony, bonkers, bats-in-the-belfry] dorm policy? Okay, so the thesaurus expansion might be a little overboard, but hear me out here. It’s finals week, okay? You’ve signed up a week or two in advance for a room check: your own, for the night before you leave. It may or may not be different than your roommate’s room check. You pack and clean everything, move your stuff out, do a room inspection, and leave campus. Normal procedure, right? Let me break it down a little more.

  1. It must be the night before you leave. If that’s different than your roomie, tough luck. Get ready to pack up way early or be left with cleaning duties you didn’t want.
  2. Pack up everything. All the things. No paperclip left behind. Everything – as in, box it up and put it in the hallway as a fire hazard for the evening your room check occurs, and put the room back to the way it was when you entered in August.
  3. Clean everything. And in the process, find out how badly the room was cleaned before you as you scrub down more than just two semesters of living. Also, don’t forget to wipe down the mattresses and the air vents and the blinds and then go hunt down the floor vacuum that a dozen other people are waiting to use.
  4. By 22:00, the hallway will be filled with whoever else is leaving the next day, which may be everyone on your hall, which may leave six inches of space to crawl between boxes as everyone’s lives are teetered precariously outside their doors. Wait until your room check comes, which may not be until 23:30 and prepare to have to clean some more things, get marked down for a fine because you nicked the edge of the desk, and want to crawl away and disappear by the time the RA has run a finger around the inside of every empty desk drawer.
  5. Then move all your things back into your room and flip a coin to decide how important it is to put sheets back on the mattress. Feel guilty taking a shower, breathing, or generally sneezing a speck of dust back on any surface in the room.
  6. The next day, wait in line with DL in hand to check out a cart that you can use for two hours, which is just enough time to move yourself (maybe). Try doing that with five people, and end up spending all (yes, all) afternoon moving too much stuff from one place to another. Oh, and turn in your room keys by 17:00 or get fined.

Okay, so maybe I’m ranting a little bit. The whole move-out-but-stay-another-night procedure was just so bizarre to me, and it made for a very exhausting evening. Part of that was my fault, for packing everything up in one day and having room checks that same night. Also, I should probably have made the effort to take my blankets out again so the night after room checks wouldn’t have been sans sleep because I was so cold. And move-out day wasn’t terrible because I loved the work of it and the people were fantastic. We all just dug in and plowed through and cracked jokes about the insane amount of stuff and it was okay. It was hard to move into an apartment late because the owner wasn’t gone yet, it was hard to move into an apartment where every space in the kitchen needed a bucket of bleach, it was hard to see the pile of five people’s things overwhelm an apartment. But the irony and sweat and cheer of working together to move all the things was fantastic.

So I survived. I know the /why/ of some of the dorm check policies, and I shouldn’t complain just because I was expected to clean up after myself (and other people). And I can’t complain about poor inspections because we passed ours and all was well. Yes, it was way weird and yes, there are now many things I intend to do differently next year [possibly involving a dumpster or living out of my car; I haven’t decided yet].

I just know what to expect a little better, and it’s like everything at Moody: it may not be great, but you’re doing it with great people.

Maybe done with my rant,

~Rae

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