As the semester draws to a close, students hunker down to write final papers and prepare for exams. We look forward to leaving campus — perhaps because we are heading home or simply to another place, anywhere that is not here. Snow is starting to fall, and stick, and the tension that comes with exam season feels somewhat mediated by the faith that the holidays will soon arrive. In so many ways, the campus feels situated on an edge of an annual turn. Viewing the space that opens ahead of us gives rise to many different feelings. Now is the moment many realize how little time is left in the semester. We are both eager to finish, but think of the friends and spaces we will miss during our time away. In this moment of perhaps overwrought and dramatic nostalgia for a time that has not yet even been lost, we turn to each other to talk.
While perhaps not a representative statement (certainly, the Editorial Board enjoys an an isolated dinner in the corner of Val every now and then), there is something special about the talks we share in college. For each person, these particular talks will emerge at different and unexpected times. But most people can call to mind intimate moments they have shared with someone — or a few someones — in this place. In “Look Homeward, Angel” Thomas Wolfe writes of college and how students “talked — always they talked, under the trees, against the ivied walls, assembled in their rooms, they talked-in limp sprawls — incessant, charming.” There is a specific calm and fullness that comes with good talks. It is worth reminding ourselves of the value of the act alone — the speaking irrespective of the exact words spoken. In fact, perhaps forgetting about what we said or didn’t say, just for a moment, is important and critical to sanity. Our choice of words are critical and have real consequences, but in casual conversation, there is also a danger to granting them too much import. There’s a way in which the best talks are those in which we forget what was said. Because they allowed us to forget ourselves, and to forget to worry about making ourselves sound articulate or smart.
Though there is beauty in late-night, roof-top or memorial hill talks, we should also be cautious to romanticize the act of speaking. Conversation, especially at this particular political moment, can also be a source of stress as we engage with family and friends from home with whom we might disagree. Even separated from politics, talking is not always an easy task, as we attempt to reach other people whom we have not reached in a long time. Perhaps we also need to remind ourselves of the simple fact that words mean different things to different people and the ways in which we communicate can be more varied than we might expect. Sometimes the difference in our interpretations of language gives rise to unintended misunderstanding. Sometimes the difference in our opinions leads to emotional harm. It is hard when people fail to understand an experience you are trying to explain, or fail to respect your identities in their language. Feeling hurt is warranted because there is no excuse for disrespect.
But at least talks help reveal both the good and bad. Hopefully, most of your holiday conversations are good, and give rise to better understandings of friends and family members. Toni Morrison writes of her late father, and the way he expressed love to her and her siblings through the way he talked to each “in language cut to our different understandings.” We can all aspire to speak to each other “in language cut to our different understandings.” Perhaps we can then reach those people with whom we feel distant. Though it is worth saying that there are some distances that are too far to broach, and for our own safety and self-care it is better to remain silent. The decision to engage, as always, is yours and yours alone.
When we do choose to engage, however, we should take pride in the fact of speaking up for values and beliefs. We should also feel able to speak angrily at those times when anger feels warranted. When talk and dialogue move into the realm of protest and advocacy, there will always be pushback from the outside. Too often we hear the voices that question: why are you so angry? At these moments, it is worth reminding ourselves of the validity of our emotions and voice. Those who minimize your emotions both inadvertently and intentionally cloud the reality of your experience with their nonchalance. We all own our stories, and we all deserve the opportunity to tell the truth. When you choose to is up to you, but the opportunity should at least exist.
In our final weeks and beyond, take risks: tell that someone you love them, tell the other someone you were hurt by them or speak outside of your comfort zone and advocate for others. Talk. The Editorial Board wishes you a happy-almost-holidays. We wish for you the best of long talks with friends and family.