255,350 Miles Between the Planets

As winter quarter 2016 and El Nino roll into Yellow Springs and Antioch College this Buffalo is about to start what is probably his 150th or so term at Antioch. It depends on whether you count the years we had three academic terms and a summer “un-term” and a two and half year co-op in LA at the LA Free Clinic. During these first days of this warmish winter the Olive Kettering library has seen tons of people coming and going. Some folks are just returning after a break from their last study quarter and some are returning from places as exotic as Kathmandu. It was great to see to Myrcka Del Rio ’17 and Spencer Glazer ’17. I told Spencer, “I know you have mountains of pictures and pictures of mountains to share.” Myrcka and Spencer went to document the aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal. They did much of their own fundraising to get there. They also managed to find other Antiochians while there; Prajwol Shakya ’10 who lives there, and Barbara Winslow ’68 who was passing through on a “world-wind” tour. They bonded like Antiochians can do. Amazing what fun and excitement happens when like-minded Antiochians bump into each other.

I am waiting to see Austin Miller ’17 return from Minneapolis where he has been working with Chad Johnston ’01 at St. Paul Neighborhood Network (local grassroots access TV) and has also been deeply involved in the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter Movement. He has a sharp rapscallion-like and wickedly fun creative mind. He once sat down with me and wanted to total the miles I had driven since moving to the hood in Northwest Dayton around some twenty years ago. It seems that I have driven around 255,000 miles back and forth and includes some seven-day weeks at the College Revival Fund when we were all in exile during closure. Well, when one thinks about it, in a way it IS almost like driving to another planet. It seems more and more that way in some unfortunate senses. Yellow Springs is a quirky, vibrant place where people seem to be fueled by their dreams and so much is imaginable. On that other planet, Dayton, to which I have been commuting the dreams are different and maybe there are as many nightmares as dreams. Some people think still that I reside in Yellow Springs and are surprised that I might go home to a “hood”. I actually moved from Yellow Springs to Dayton when a local realtor suddenly tripled the rent and a friend made me an offer I could not refuse! Although YS is not Bushwick, the Bay Area or Seattle (where co-ops have a hard time finding affordable rent; if anyone has good housing leads please contact Rick Kraince, Director of Cooperative education!), Yellow Springs is a prized area bedroom community and has felt great pressures in rents and home prices. I wonder how younger faculty members with giant grad school student loans can be able to afford to settle in to this village. In Yellow Springs, if I see a house come down, very soon after a larger house built on the same lot. In Dayton, if a house comes down, well it becomes urban pasture. On the block where we live in Dayton, houses have come down on both sides of the street and for a pittance that land can be scooped up. So we have three lots and gardens, with a temporary summer fence of 100 or so Sunflowers for privacy.

During some quiet moments in between studies students and I might talk about past or future co-ops or things in general in between library things. Sometimes we will look at Zillow, a fun real estate website that sort of tells the truth about the two Americas. As Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month activities in YS and the College will gear up, the College-affiliated World House Choir (check them out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XugGFr7b5Co) will perform both in YS, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and at three area prisons, Dayton Correctional Institute or DCI (a women’s prison) and two men’s prisons in Warren and Madison County respectively. Faculty member Emily Steinmetz is taking a class to DCI, so both Antioch and its “Village People” will be doing some pretty uplifting work through choral music and other things. There will be speakers at all these prison events.

Emily Steinmetz has a “Prison Education Practicum Class” and works also with the Director of the World House Choir, Cathy Roma. Emily also teaches a class “Reading/Writing Workshop: Women, Incarceration and Social justice.” And she has a class “Inside-Out:Race Gender and Citizenship.” The class is half Antioch Students and half incarcerated students. For me, Martin Luther King’s birthday week also comes with a family mile marker. On January 15, 2004 (MLK’s actual birthday) my nephew Benny seemed to run into a bullet at 2:45 in the morning out in the street in the hood a block from home. I often wonder how after eighteen months and two judges the shooter’s sentence was sixty days and pay your child support. When all guns disappear and plea-bargaining happens it is hard to find what seems like resolution or justice. I also wonder if that experience enables me to understand things when folks here especially are talking in a high conceptual level about justice and race and class issues. I did come directly to work that day in 2004 without sleep because Antioch has always been that Transient Mode “Home” and a place where people care to take care of each other. (And denial and holding on to a normal rhythm is that first stage of grief.) After some folks here gave me some much need emotional support, I was able to return to the hood and deal with what seemed like a terrible “surr-eality”. Someone I had known and bonded with since they were six weeks old was gone at age 17 with a bullet directly to the heart through a car window that wasn’t even rolled down.

Sometimes I will engage in a moment of psychotherapy by telling some current students the story. And course, you find out that Antiochians still have that caring and understanding heart even underneath all that intellect and multi-syllable words.

I have a great and diverse staff of students at the desk this term. I might have every base covered but the straight, white male demographic. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love them too. Antioch College is just humming along on its old natural rhythms. In this day there are some funny peculiarities. You might see someone coming in the door and they seem to be talking to themselves but in reality under the scarf are headphones to a cell phone and they are actually talking to their mom. When you hear “Mommy” you know the deal.

It was also good to see Louise Lybrook ‘16 who went to the Big Apple and told me how she took many odd jobs and did some writing and soul searching. Also as a nanny (at times) she taught some of her charges about gentrification and gender roles. What a super nanny! There are many other stories but there is never enough space for them. Many of them are delicious in the same way that many of your co-ops were. Wishing everyone a great winter from this special place in Southwest Ohio! From one of the two planets I travel to almost every day. Dreams abound here and papers and endless readings labs and deep multi-syllabic conversations.