When I was at Wellesley, I used to call it the “gilded cage.” I, along with my partners-in-crime, would stand outside McAfee, and later Claflin, smoking our cigarettes, bitching about the amount of stress and the mundane this, that, and the other. In one sense I was excited to leave Wellesley. The bane of my existence was the damn requirements that we all “just had to do.” It was for our “benefit” to get a better understanding of the world and have a general knowledge of how to approach it. It was meant to raise awareness of what is out there and ensure that we could talk about anything to anyone if we needed to, even if for the sheer purpose of shifting topics. However, at the stubborn age of twenty-two, what started as, “Geology sounds fascinating!” turned into, “Professor, I’m an artist, when will I really need to differentiate between rocks and minerals?” These lines were embedded in my negotiation with my geology professor, Professor Hawkins, of making a movie about the twenty different minerals instead of taking the written exam. Needless to say, I had to take the exam like everyone else even if I didn’t like it. “Like many things in life,” he added.
The other side of Wellesley, the side that saved me, was the Art Department. I didn’t know what to expect from my first Art History class, which actually was a requirement too, but after the first lecture in the auditorium, I was hooked. To look at an image, take in what you can for yourself, and then be told a story that encompasses the history, culture, geography, economic trend, gossip… even pillow talk! Who needs requirements when we have art? I would spend days and nights between the drawing rooms, the editing suites and the media lab jumping from one project to the next; it was a time of inspiration. I was given the green light by all my professors and was constantly told by Professor Olsen, “just keep making art.” And I did. I didn’t know what was happening to me at the time, but looking back I realize that art was giving my soul the chance to breath.
I’m writing this review as a public service announcement. This book came out in 2000, but none of the overly friendly people on the subway who all insist they “LOVE Sarah Vowell” have heard of it. And while I responded diplomatically with, “Well, clearly you don’t love her like I do,” it seems a general announcement could be helpful.
For those of you unfamiliar with the “straight out of second grade” voice of Ms. Vowell, she’s usually spinning a yarn about being the sole AARP-less member of obscure American historic tours. She gets competitive with other tour attendees, and often expects docents to provide insight into why so many of our forefathers were assholes.
The use of the term “Community” in this piece is in reference to a Wellesley Alumnae Facebook group.
During my time at Wellesley, I gained and maintained a certain level of notoriety for my involvement in the improv group and shutting it down on the reg on First Class. I was witness to many epic First Class threads. I took on Wellesley’s defenders and deniers of white privilege and people who said incomprehensible things like “I don’t even see race.” I gave advice to my struggling peers about their boyfriends who didn’t know where their clitoris was. My private inbox would flood with messages of encouragement and further criticism. As the forums of First Class moved onto Facebook and other platforms after my graduation, these threads began to reappear and my participation continued.
As Wellesley alumnae, we are constantly striving to forge connections with our Wellesley siblings and support their lives, projects, and passions. Unfortunately, when it comes to discussions about race, that all goes out the window.
And I’m tired.
"How could a 27-year-old teacher’s pet resist the lure of prestige, pantsuits in summer, a six-figure salary?"
My cat would not shut up. Pacing, mewing, pacing and mewing. To be fair, Bianca Marcel was a city cat, a purebred Siamese who came to me with a folder of papers documenting her lineage. And I had dragged her from Brooklyn to Nantucket that September, all told a six hour drive that also included two hours on a ferry.
Also to her credit, the tiny one bedroom bungalow we were staying in smelled nothing like our fifth floor walk-up in Clinton Hill. Built in the 1800s, the house was relocated from the center of town to ‘Sconset in order to accommodate larger, more attractive homes. Wooden grating covered the roof and supported flowering vines that had all but gone by. The door handles were rudimentary and ancient, painted over several times so that their surfaces, while shiny black, were textured and splotchy.
September is Nantucket’s off season, but no less my favorite. Not just because people in large groups make me nervous, or because I’d loved Moby Dick more than any tenth grader reasonably should, but because the water bears the violence of the weather changing from summer to fall. The slow, sad death of summer puts being alive in relief, makes the ache of the waves more devastating. I had also come to Nantucket because I didn’t know what else to do. I left my job as a lawyer at a small firm, only six months after leaving my job as a lawyer at a large firm. The large firm gave me my mentor and my boyfriend, but the small firm gave me the peace of mind to know that while I had the capacity to be a lawyer, I didn’t have the desire.
When it comes to shopping, I’ve been trying to “Buy Female” for the past few months. I’ve chosen deck chairs and a leather tote because a women-owned companies made them. It may seem small, but I’m realizing that dollars might bring women closer to economic equality. Money may not buy happiness, but it just might purchase equality. I’ve long puzzled over the equation women + x = equality—and just realized that the dollar sign might be x. Money might actually jumpstart our stalled progress.
Thanks to E.B. Bartels (@eb_bartels) ‘10 for this month’s submission!
Usually people only are applauded after they’ve accomplished an achievement, but I think it’s important to also acknowledge those who are working hard towards dreams and goals, even if they’re still far from their hopeful end result. With that in mind, I would like to nominate Virginia Cary Ritter ‘10 for August 2014’s YAOTM because she is currently in the middle of hell.
Cary decided in fall 2013 to go back to school at Columbia University for a post-bac to prepare to apply for medical school, and I could not admire her more for this decision. She realized she wasn’t happy on the paralegal/lawyer track she set off on after Wellesley, and bit the bullet to do something very scary and very brave instead. Not only did Cary commit to going back to school at Columbia for two years to take the proper pre-med requirements, but she is signing up for another four years of medical school, plus however many years of rounds and residencies follow that. I hope she is not having a panic attack as she reads these words, because I know that sometimes she is overwhelmed by the task she has taken on and how many more years of schooling loom in her future, but I know, without a doubt, that she is going to take the medical world by storm one day. It’s a lot of work in the meantime, but she will get there, I know it. For being bold and taking such a challenging plunge, Virginia Cary Ritter deserves to be August 2014’s YAOTM.
Keep up the good work, Cary! I can’t wait to say that I knew Dr. Virginia Cary Ritter back during our Claflin Hall days.
Know an awesome Wellesley alumna/alum? Nominate her or him for YAOTM here.