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All I Needed to Know About Life (and am still in the process of learning) I Learned from Collins LLC

It hit me one afternoon — right square in the forehead. No, not a Frisbee in Dunn Meadow, but a revelation; a confirmation if you will. There, in the humid third shower stall in the Brown 2 bathroom, the answer made itself known. I had just finished lunch in the Dining Hall (complete with waffles from the waffle iron). After getting my mail and talking to Joyce and Edna, after checking on a project with Iris, after joking around with Marsh, after talking about soaps with Wren, I was still having a bad day. The wet, warm, 80-degree weather didn't help much either. Was coming to IU the best choice? Should I have come to Collins, or would I have been better off at, say, Eigenmann or an apartment? On that particular day, the fact that at Collins there are only 500 people — 500 freaks more specifically — and that all 500 live intermittently in a giant, familial community had gotten the best of me. One more poster protesting meat, one more indignant resident complaining about the Bible, and one more gossipy freshman would have sent me packing. On that day, the idyllic Collins that I had so carefully scrutinized over from its Web page, pamphlets, and stories from my friends didn't seem to matter much. There were indeed speckles of homophobia in Collins, fragments of elitism in the air, and sometimes a sense that the thing Collinsites abhor most — selling out — is exactly what goes on in the hallowed halls of the former Men's Residence Center. My hopes about Collins — and my visions of how I would fit in — were bursting as quickly as the suds were going down the drain in the shower.

When the water stopped panging down on me, I began drying off. But not only was I drying off my body, but also the bad mood that had succumbed over me. At that moment, I realized that Collins defies descriptions. No matter how hard a Web site or a brochure or a phone call or a personalized letter from Carl might try, the enigma that is Collins can't be summarized or neatly packaged. There's a motif in many horror movies that a building itself — a home, a mansion, a castle, etc. — is actually alive and the spirit of the structure sends out vibes and feelings to its inhabitants. The idea that Collins is greater than the sum of its parts is very real and alive. No other residence center, no other campus, no other location has a microcosm of an independent community smack dab in the center of a large university in a Midwestern town.

In this magical land, there are as many unique places just as in Middle-Earth. Edmondson Hall is the capital of our kingdom. Smith and Cravens flank the capital as suburbs, housing many of the citizens of Collinsland. Nearby provinces on the Hill — the rural lands of Brown and Greene — have their own life and contribute their own "Hill culture" to the rest of our community. Further down the path, Hillcrest has its own exclusive way of life, providing the "vacation land" for us, the Collins tourists. Other notable locations include the Clubhouse on the distant border and the Annex as well. Rather than being a drab, imposing skyscraper of a dorm, the LLC is a colorful village with colorful villagers — a Brigadoon of the Bloomington scene. Carl, Iris, and Catherine — proponents of the human soul in the highest regard, help guide and offer wise support to us. Jim, Terry, Duncan, and the rest of the Dining Hall crew all comfort our spirits along with their food after a long day of work and study. Joyce, Sara, Renay, and Edna help make our lives interesting by giving us real-world examples of real-world problems. From missing mail to lock changes, from broken toilets to meal contracts, the red tape is indeed wrapped around our fair village, but not as tightly as in other places on campus. The nooks and crannies in the LLC are meant to be explored and visited with passion. In the unfolding drama that is Collins, we are left each night at the edge of our seats waiting to see what will happen the next day. Will Collinsfest get rained out? Why did the RAs get fired? Who wrote that editorial in the Columns? Who are the new residents in Smith? Where will the next party be? Will the Clubhouse get shut down? Will more graffiti be painted outside of Brown? Will the ideas and attitudes in Collins ever change so as not to reflect as many creeds, visions, and beliefs that the human condition conjures?

It was a glorious day in August when my parents helped me move all of my stuff into my shoebox of a room in Brown. This small, funny-looking guy named Kevin came bumbling down the stairs off to get breakfast. In a few minutes he would be back helping me take the last of my boxes of books into my room — in a few days he would be one of my good pals. Over the course of the year, I've done a lot of things at Collins. I've laughed, I've cried, I've laughed some more, I've cursed, I've cheered, I've pouted, I've witnessed, I've worked, I've messed up, I've had some of the best experiences of my life. I've learned a lot of things in my short time here in this strange, perplexing place. I don't have all of the answers. I don't even have all of the questions. I don't hurriedly anticipate tomorrow nor fret in the past, but I relish the present. I enjoy every step I take in the Courtyard, every smile I get on the Veranda, every song Jim sings after dinner, every package Erik complains about giving me, every course proposal I debate with BOEP, every heated argument I hear in a Q-class about abortion, and — most of all — every shower I take. It's that five minutes of time that you have by yourself when you're at your most vulnerable and exposed. You're naked — no one is stopped from barging on in and seeing you at your most natural state. The walls of Collins see you. They've seen lots of people since the time that Ralph and Dottie lived here. The walls have seen America fight in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. They've seen the TV sets in students' rooms on the day that man stepped on the moon, the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the day that the Soviet Union fell apart, and the day that the World Trade Centers fell apart. Beyond the veganism, beyond the transgender apparel, beyond the quest to squelch sweat shops lies a much bigger mission, a much bigger project to complete: becoming human.

Most of us think of gnomes as short, dwarfish creatures that live in mines and guard gold and other treasures and often play tricks on wayward and brash travelers in faraway lands. The word "gnome" has its etymological roots in the word "gnosis" — "to know," since they are in the know of their treasures. The gnomes at Collins are very much in the know. They know that the treasure they are guarding is us — the people that live in their special land. It's sometimes very difficult to find their magic amidst the sea of papers, bad grades, uncaring professors, loud traffic jams, late bursar bills, crumbling relationships, and piles of stress higher than your dirty laundry. Add the fact that these scant four years are the only time society allows us to "find ourselves," and it makes the stay in Collinsland all the more fleeting. But the magic's there. The gnomes that stand guard outside the bathroom in Edmondson make sure it's there. You have to find it. You can't let your ill-conceived notions about those girls who dress like guys, or those people who clamor to free Tibet, or those residents who walk barefooted blur your vision of this special place. When you are given citizenship to Collins, you sign more than a housing contract — you are signing your sacred agreement to uphold the values and mores of the Collins community and to strive to grow as a person. The next time you have a bad day, and you're fuming in the shower about something, go have a cup of coffee in the Cheshire Café or sit in the sun on the Veranda or say howdy to Sharon as she works to make Edmondson look nice. Or walk over to the Annex to say hi to Mike VanVooren and pet Maxine — Carl's dog. When you do that, the gnomes will be smiling, Ralph will be happy, and the rustling wind of Collins' history will be louder now that it has your voice in it.

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