And here, again, I find myself in the middle of the night writing something I never planned to write, apropos of nothing.
I feel I should mention that I am currently listening to Radiohead’s “True Love Waits” – the Moon Shaped Pool version, which I didn’t know existed till just now. I first heard a rough upload of the then-uncollected song on the World Wide Web, such as it was, in my dorm room back in 2000, which has relevance to the rest of this post.
I went to Sweet Briar College, y’all, in the summer of 2000, and stayed there for four years (and visited regularly for a fifth). It remains one of the strangest symphonic movements of my life. I won’t spend too much time on all the old stereotypes, as you probably know them well. I made my high school classmates question my sexuality and went off to SBC, not as a wealthy debutante, not as a strapping equestrian sportswoman, not as an ardent Christian in a long denim jumper, nor as a connoisseur of VMI cadets… but as an aimless, mercurial kid who wanted more than anything to minimize the world’s assault on her nervous system and be mostly left alone (and free of parental oversight).
And, not gonna lie, SBC of the early 2000s was great for all that. I just perused photos of daily life on campus in the 1960s, and honestly, the Sweet Briar of then was remarkably similar to the one I experienced. My era still (mostly) predated the renovations that would mark a modernization tipping point.
The flickering, selectively-lit lower stacks with their musty study nooks, rickety fixtures and ominous non-exits still thrilling nightmare fuel; the cramped landing where some effortlessly cool media studies girl would be tending a display stand of LaserDiscs: A Clockwork Orange, Brazil, Naked Lunch, that you could shuttle up to the top floor conference room to play on the AV system; the browsing room, with its leather-bound collections and yellowed relics under glass, giving off whiffs of stale aristocracy; the furthest corners of the campus’ expansive acreage, where mysterious forests bordered rippling fields, that blaze sun-drenched in my memory but back to which I couldn’t navigate if I tried; the ever-present backdrop of ghost stories and malfunctioning elevators; the basement meeting room with the ghoulish, towering self-portrait of a student everyone said had hanged herself years before, in which the subject loomed melancholy and pallid on a disproportionately small chair; the dairy loop, moist after summer rain, in the otherworldly glow of dusk; the bubble-Mac lab where I’d bash out papers solitarily till dawn, propelled by prog rock on Internet radio; my chunky 13″ televideo spottily picking up late-night SCTV in the months after losing my first roommate: a paranoid schizophrenic (she thought the professor she envied and idolized, and who posed the biggest challenge to her limited midwestern worldview, had installed bugs behind our wall art).
Such was my SBC. Of course the latter years brought friends, finally (though only after I spent the aftermath of 9/11 alternating between tearful empathy and numb detachment in a deep, narrow, air condition-less single room), and eventually even a robust, ill-fated romance. But it’s an SBC I’m not sure many other people share. That’s why, when it teetered on obsolescence amid accusations of mismanagement in 2015, I didn’t say much. The school I knew was a relic reflected in the eyes of a recluse, and I didn’t think my contributions would be useful or relatable. Not to mention that, though I felt badly for the students there faced with incomplete or devalued degrees, I strongly considered whether the institution was truly one best left in the past.
Thinking back on it tonight, for some reason, it struck me that though I have long been skeptical about the wider-world practicality of (pre-2015) Sweet Briar, and I never was all-in for the single-sex education, in a strange way SBC did suit year-2000 me – haunted, queer, avoidant, and, to quote Todd Haynes’ Carol, “flung out of space” – better than any other school could have.
Vintage Everyday – 46 Fascinating Photos That Capture Daily Life of Students at Sweet Briar College, Virginia in the 1960s https://www.vintag.es/2018/07/1960s-students-of-sweet-briar-college.html