the johnnie chair

{a student-run blog about life at st. john's college, santa fe and annapolis}

Hello and Welcome, Annapolis!

Posted on November 12, 2014

I’m excited to announce that Johnnietalk, the former student-blog of Annapolis, has officially joined forces with The Johnnie Chair, to form a super-student-blog. We’ll now be displaying posts from both campuses, and are working on a way to make it easy to recognize which campus content is from. I think it will be a fun way for students from both campuses to see what life is like at the other, and to give viewers who aren’t St. John’s students a way to explore without immediately picking which campus they’re interested in. Three cheers for liberal education!

Pulling Up the Sun

Posted on November 21, 2014

Wrested from the ice cream cone I had vividly been enjoying in a dream, I roll over and swipe off the alarm on my phone.  It’s 5:30 am.  The wind is blowing coldly through my open window, and I wonder if this had been the source of my dream.  Thoughts of that rich cookies & cream delight combined with the luxurious contrast my quilt is giving to the breeze almost succeed in carrying me off to sleep again, but willfully I swing my legs over the side of my bed.  After ten minutes of fumbling around in the dark for scattered pieces of Under Armour, and fighting the lion’s mane on my head into a pony tail, I finally head out the door.

Crew Picture 300x225 Pulling Up the SunIt is the part of the morning that has not quite extracted itself from night.  I can feel the breath of the Earth, like the calm respiration’s of all the people around me still asleep in their dorms, in the intermittent breeze tousling my hair.  The full moon overhead illuminates my path, and each step I take toward back campus carries me further from the dream land I have only recently left.   Small and unassuming, my destination quickly comes into view: the boathouse.

This is where I begin the majority of my mornings.  Together with twenty others who have made the moonlit excursion in varying states of grogginess, I begin the process of getting in the water.  Sixteen hands grab onto the boat and, listening only to the commands of our coxswain, carefully extricate it from the rack, walk it down to the water, and roll it over heads down to the creek.  We each find our oars and slide them into the riggers, making sure to screw the oar locks tight.  On further commands from Jarvis, we each place first one, then two feet in the boat.  We strap our feet into the (often too large) shoes and push off from the dock.

My favorite things about crew can be condensed into three simple categories: the synchronicity, setting, and physical power.  Following the stroke of the stern-most rower, eight seats slide up to the catch, eight oars drop into the water, eight pairs of legs push against the boat, eight bodies lay back, eight pairs of arms pull the oar through eight identical strokes, and eight pairs of hands deftly feather the oar parallel to the water to be carried back to the catch again.  This intricate compounded motion is repeated ten, twenty, thirty times.  Each stroke is robotic in its motion, yet exact in its execution.  The fifty foot shell, which only minutes before bumbled clumsily in our hands on land, slices through the velvety black water.

We maneuver the boat under three bridges and out onto the Severn.  Heading up river, the rowers are made the face the brightening horizon, feeling as though the Sun is sent higher into the sky with each driving push of our oars.  We are rewarded for our efforts each morning with sunrises like celestial fire.

Three kilometers up the river and all eight of us are still pushing, leaning, pulling, and feathering simultaneously.  My mind is hypnotized into this motion, and despite the cold air searing my lungs, sweat pouring down my face, and burning in each of the strained muscles of my body, I push through.  Tied to seven other determined rowers, I feed off of their momentum and am motivated to keep fighting.  Suddenly, the monotony of our sliding seats and watery oars is broken, “WEIGH ENOUGH!”  We have reached our terminus.

Crew Picture 2 300x225 Pulling Up the SunMore awkwardly than craftily, we turn our boat to face back down the way we just came. Half an hour later, we find ourselves pulling up to the dock again, now wet with the morning dew, and follow another set of commands from Jarvis to get the shell out of the water and into the boathouse.  With each boat now safely nestled back on the rack, twenty hands reach toward each other, and we throw them up in a unanimous cheer, “SJC CREW!”  We tumble out of the boathouse, now fully awake from our vigorous row, and head toward the tantalizing smell of bacon wafting toward us from Randall Hall.

The Unexpected Beauty of Staying Up All Night

Posted on November 18, 2014

It was five in the morning when I finished reading excerpts of Driesch, looked at the clock and realized that I stayed up all night. The day was slowly dawning, turning the sky from black to indigo. While aimlessly looking out the window, I suddenly felt that I should walk up to the hill and see the sky change its colors.

I packed my camera and tripod, and got out of the dorm. It was still dark and silent outside. Everything seemed to be covered with the gleam of sleepiness. I moved my feet swiftly and silently as possible toward the hill. I passed the swing and the dried stream, until I reached a flat area to place my tripod.

Annapolis in the Fall

Posted on November 14, 2014

Fall has sprung at St. John’s College in Annapolis!  Amidst reading Plato, Plotinus, and preceptorial texts, students have been surrounded by crunchy and crisp leaves.  Johnnies find themselves bundled in increasingly thicker jackets, enjoying the colors and the last remaining days of outdoor reading.

Meeting Matthew Crawford, Reading Marx, and Sleeping atop Santa Fe

Posted on October 19, 2014

Well, it’s starting to feel like seminar-paper season again. I spent most of my weekend alternating between writing at my makeshift standing desk, reading at the kitchen table next to a kettle of PG Tips, and occasionally running up to campus for the Liberal Arts Conference. I’m trying to work out the fetishism of commodities in Marx’s Das Kapital, but more on that to come. The real excitement of the weekend for me was to listen to Matthew Crawford’s lecture, Attention as a Cultural Problem. I read his book Shop Class as Soulcraft last fall, after I started doing a little work on my 1981 Tercel. Reading it, I was thrilled by the way he mixed anecdotes and intuition with Heidegger and Aristotle. I’ve always loved problem solving, especially if it involves dirt under my fingernails and sweat on my brow, and his book somehow wrapped up all that passion into something rigorous and (mostly) intellectually cohesive.  I know there are some who will have been a little frustrated with the Q&A at the lecture, but I find his honesty pretty refreshing. There were a few times when he responded with nothing more than, “Yeah, that’s a good point. I’m not sure.” But I’m still working to convince myself that his thinking doesn’t require an appeal to nostalgia. To anyone else who was there: what are your thoughts on the form of his argument? Does it stand without some sort of romanticism? I’m especially interested in the attempt to distinguish video games from traditional, physical games.

After the lecture, I made a quick jaunt up the mountains behind the school to test out some new backpacking gear. We slept overlooking Santa Fe, and hiked out the next morning to a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito at Downtown Sub. How’s that for roughing it?

Clouds over the Bosque

Posted on September 23, 2014

As is often the case on late summer afternoons in Santa Fe, I could see the dark rain clouds rolling down from the North, big and bold and pregnant with lightning. They enveloped the aspen trees up by the ski basin and I could only imagine the great tumult and confusion they caused for the birds and late-blooming alpine flowers. But down in the valley, it was still warm from the strong desert sun and rain seemed far away. Sometimes the clouds rush down the mountains, colliding with the warm earth in a sudden burst. But today they seemed to inch their way down, nothing was sudden. They were a reminder of the refreshing rain that we had to look forward to later that day, but there was still time to enjoy the sun.

Galisteo is a little village thirty minutes south of Santa Fe. It sits in a valley, along the bosque, a gallery forest that grows along a small river. It is an oasis with birds, bugs and plants of all kinds. The community is small and tight-knit, filled with artists, doctors, makers, thinkers, gardeners and many dreamers.

Some friends of mine live there, on a piece of land that runs right down to the bosque. Ancient cottonwood trees line the river and creep up to the house. Like most houses in Galisteo, it is an old adobe, with low ceilings and a gentle, warm simplicity that invites deep thought and creativity.

On Friday afternoon, I hopped into my little blue 1984 Subaru and rattled down the Old Pecos Trail, headed for Galisteo. I needed a moment alone, to make art, to pick vegetables in the garden, to listen to the bugs buzz and to enjoy the light of Galisteo. My friends were out-of-town and had offered me their house for moments like this. My box of art supplies was on the back seat, the dark clouds were behind me and I was off.

As I turned off the dirt road into the driveway, I saw two strangers walking down the curvy path along the bosque. They were holding notebooks and their little dog barked when he saw me. They waved and then sat on a bench under the Cottonwood trees and wrote quietly to the sound of the wind.

I let myself into the house. My friend had left me a container of fresh, homemade maple pecan ice cream. I served myself a bowl and stepped out into the sun. I could already smell the rain but it was still hidden behind the trees and the desert plateau. Sitting with my ice cream, I worked on my art, paper cutting and enjoyed the silence.

After a while, I needed to move so I went to the garden to harvest. The perfume of plants saturated in sun is a smell that evokes a deep feeling of contentment. It rolls through me, reminding me of home, of the beauty of hard work, of caring hands, of idealism and of nourishment. I picked and picked-basil, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, carrots, zucchini. Soon the neighbor came out and we laughed with joy about the overabundance of this garden. Then he told me about his work and his childhood. Another neighbor came over looking for a tomato and a bunch of basil for that night’s dinner. He told me the Latin names of the plants and about the different kinds of tarragon.

Galisteo 300x225 Clouds over the Bosque

Finally, the clouds were above the trees, reminding me that it was time to head back to school for the Dean’s lecture. With two big bags of vegetable in my arms, I was reluctant to go, but happy to have been there even for such a short time. As I pulled out of the driveway I waved goodbye to the neighbors. The petrichor was heavy in the air. I had dodged the rain but I could see it blowing over the plane towards Stanley, New Mexico. The plants and dry soil had been renewed by the rain, and so had I.