Thursday, November 4, 2010

Amanda Koellner's Inside Place Essay

As my heavy eyelids slowly let the light in, my dream-like state led me to wonder if I was in a cloud. The blinds were closed, but there was space between each one, like someone had forgotten to twist the hard beige rod to keep the outside world from revealing itself. I pulled my fleece blanket over my head for a minute; its warmth was lovely compared to the cold dorm room. When I removed it, I smiled while looking at my alarm clock and pushed the “off” button just as it began to buzz. As I sat up, I realized I was not in a cloud but that the area of campus surrounding my eighth-floor dorm room was covered in a blanket of bright white snow. I climbed to my knees and pressed my forehead through the blinds, onto the cold glass and watched as each huge flake descended below me. It was then that I decided class simply was not an option. It was then I decided I would spend the day lying in my bed with Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas album transcending through my speakers and a book I had checked out the previous week from the Columbia Public Library in my hands. It was a Monday morning and my roommate still wasn’t back from her weekend at home, so I was all alone in my “little corner of the world” with nothing to do but enjoy the simple pleasures of a solitary day in my bedroom (Bachelard 4).
When thinking back to my time in the dorm in which I lived my freshman year at Mizzou, I can laugh at the many, many drunken shenanigans, shudder at the thought of eating Ramen Noodles far too often and nostalgically think of the fun times with my roommate, Angela (who I was immensely lucky to have been randomly placed with). So much happened in the room, that when my friends and I are telling stories from that crazy first year of college, I don’t often bring up the day I finished an entire book while peacefully watching the snow fall. But¬¬ it might actually be what I cherish most about living in a tiny space on the eighth floor of an old dormitory.
Hubbard defined a place as “a distinctive location defined by the lived experiences of people” (Hubbard 41) and equated it with security and enclosure. That room is one of my most cherished places. Consequently, it was the first place that was really my own. I’ve always had my own room at my parents’ house, even a room that I would consider “mine” at both of my grandparents’ homes. There is just something about being all on your own that fosters an unthinkable connection to the place in which you live. The linoleum floors were unpleasant, the light brown dresser and desk made my interior design-loving mother shudder and the closet space was far from ample. However, none of these things really mattered. Bachelard wrote that “over-picturesqueness in a house can conceal its intimacy” and this has rang true for me in not only my dorm room, but also both of the shabby East Campus apartments I’ve occupied here in Columbia (Bachelard 12). The perfect room or the perfect apartment isn’t fostered through pristine hard-word floors or granite countertops, but through the memories made in each place.
Bachelard wrote that “real houses of memory… do not readily lend themselves to description” and I could not help but think of this when attempting to define my dorm room with descriptive language. While I can write all of the physical characteristics of the room, it is literally just like any other dorm room in the country, or the world for that matter and probably carries little meaning to others. We have all either lived in one or visited one, and on the surface there is truly nothing special about such spaces. It is the memories and the feeling of the room that make it a place to me but maybe just a space to others. Bachelard explained that although we can attempt to mentally put a person in our own places, “the values of intimacy are so absorbing” that the person will cease to see the room we are describing, but see their own again. I know I am not the only person to feel nostalgia and love for their first dorm room, however, in describing both the physical characteristics and the emotional attachments, I’m sure I could take any reader back to their version of my experience, in a state of “suspended reading” (Bachelard 14).
I do think it’s interesting, then, to think about the few months over the summer when my former dorm room doesn’t belong to anyone. I believe it can be seen by those who have never lived in it as a space. I was filled with a strange sense of sadness sophomore year when I thought about a new freshman occupying my former home. I knew that not only would someone else occupy it, but someone else would begin to feel the same attachment to it as I felt and begin to fill it with their own thoughts and dreams. Although I agree with Bachelard when he says the house is “one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind,” I can’t help but question what happens when a house’s occupants are forced to move on and relocate. Specifically, what happens when the group of students who have created a home for themselves dismantle their posters, empty their closets of the shoes and party dresses and stack up the books that have carried them through the year? Perhaps this is because I’m a senior and nostalgia is heavily setting in, but the empty dorm room is such a sad concept for me, and certainly an interesting merge of space and place.
With all of this being said, I do believe I could walk into 802 Lathrop Hall and see someone else’s posters on the wall, a different bedspread strewn across the mattress and perhaps bunked beds instead of the layout Angela and I chose and still smile, feeling the warmth of memory overcome me. “Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality of those of the home,” and I believe despite changes in occupants and the physical characteristics, it is the memories we create in interior spaces that make them places (Bachelard 6). Those memories, although concrete and fleeting, can never be taken away from us; therefore, the place will always remain a place. That dorm room will always remind me of the careless fun I had and the peacefulness of solitude within the room I felt on that snowy Monday in 2007.

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