“Innumerable Kenyons”: A Resident Advisor for Young Writers Reflects on Time Passing

Liam Horsman
July 31, 2017
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Up by the observatory the other night, we heard an owl. Dusk had fallen, and we were beginning to gather the students to return to campus when one of the other RAs first noticed it. We leaned against the pasture fence and listened, watching fireflies thrown into relief against the darkening woods. The owl never made itself visible, and we could hardly hear it over the nearby kids singing “Fireflies” by Owl City. Nevertheless, we lingered there without speaking for several minutes, anticipating each subsequent call.

That moment returned to mind a few days later, when I visited one of the student workshops. We were discussing the difficulty of representing the passage of time, especially in relation to places we know well. Perhaps, the instructor speculated, that is why we find reassurance in the steadfastness of a place like Gambier. I thought back to the owl, envisioning it as a permanent fixture on the observatory hill. That image resonates with particular power in a season when political news cycles accelerate and I returned to Kenyon for the first time as an alumnus. As personal and global histories enter unprecedented eras, there exists undeniable comfort in the prospect of Kenyon enduring unaltered.

Nevertheless, change arrives. Our phones notify us of North Korean missile tests, Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, and Kevin Durant signing a new contract with the Warriors. Here in the village, the old market closes, the new market opens, the new bookstore temporarily moves into the old market, the old bookstore gets renovated.

For me, this session of Young Writers appears as a coda, a brief addendum to my four years at Kenyon. For almost all of my high school students, this program serves as their introduction to Gambier and the intimate bonds of college life. Some of them, just beginning their relationship with Kenyon, will return as undergraduates. Others may spend only these two weeks here—Ohio merely a way station toward other experiences.

Many lives converge on this hilltop, run adjacent briefly, then flow apart again. There is not, I think, one singular, immutable Kenyon. Rather, there are innumerable Kenyons, different for every year and for every individual who travels through. In one of his novels, Mohsin Hamid writes, “Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes.” For all of us sharing a space together for so short an occasion, it is indeed an inconvenience—or at least a challenge—that time passes.

I do not have a solution, but I can encapsulate for you the Kenyon that exists during Session One of the 2017 Young Writers Program. Lorde’s new album is on repeat, though we frequently intersperse some Kendrick Lamar. The students write poetry in the graveyard and read novels on the bank of the Kokosing. On warmer days, the dormitory stairwell releases that smell distinct to older buildings—the buildup of years of residents, rainy days, and cleaning supplies. The students struggle to simultaneously roast marshmallows and take Snapchats. We decorate our golf cart with rainbow streamers and red, white, and blue balloons and lead it through the Fourth of July parade. With more than a hundred Young Writers in the procession, the number of marchers likely surpasses the number of spectators.

Gambier in 2017 is different from the Gambier where I first arrived in 2013, and Kenyon in the summer is not the same Kenyon as during the school year. It’s a Kenyon smaller and sleepier and a bit sweatier than the college that exists between September and May. It’s a Kenyon that is restorative and preparative, even if it’s already passing by.

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