Student Survival Guide: Words of wisdom

Advice to stimulate your mind, body, and soul. And maybe get you laid
By PHILIP EIL  |  September 25, 2013

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"GET LOST in the library," Arnold says. [Photos by Richard McCaffrey]

Here’s a word of advice, college students: don’t play darts with drunk people.

Here’s a follow-up word of advice: if you do play darts with drunk people — say, on the morning of a friend’s wedding in Chicago in April of 2012, and the drunken dartsman accidentally tosses a dirt-and-grime-encrusted dart that gets lodged half an inch deep in your knee — you’re going to want to stay up to date on your tetanus shots.

But I, your humble Phoenix news editor, am not the man you want to hear dispensing worldly wisdom, which is why for this year’s “Student Survival Guide,” we’ve enlisted five local professionals to offer raw, real-life, hard-earned words to stimulate your mind, body, and soul. And to help you safely calculate an appropriate alcohol-to-weed ratio for the upcoming weekend.

But, come to think of it, I’m actually not going to let you off the hook without a couple notes from the world of reporting, writing, and editing.

First, if you have any aspirations whatsoever to be a freelance reporter, never show up to a meeting with, or send an email to, the editor of a publication you’d like to write for (a blog, a magazine, a newspaper) without plenty of story ideas that you’d like to write for that publication. In order to do this properly, you must frequently read that publication. This sounds basic, but plenty of inquiring freelancers don’t do it.

Secondly, when you actually sit down to write — whether it’s a term paper, a cover letter, or a please-take-me-back email to an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend — remember the ageless wisdom of George Orwell, from his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Finally — and this has less to do with writing and more to do with basic survival, and it’s directed specifically at the guy with the “Brown University” backpack seen crossing Meeting Street in front of Ben and Jerry’s in Providence without even the quickest glance at oncoming traffic two weeks ago — please, for your parents’ sake, look both ways when you cross the street.

Now, let’s hear from those experts, shall we?

MARY-KIM ARNOLD, GRANT PROGRAMS OFFICER, RHODE ISLAND FOUNDATION. On the first day of orientation, I walked across the quad wearing boxer shorts and tights, as was the fashion at that time. (It was. I am not making this up.) Someone leaned out his dorm room window and yelled: “Nice boxers.”

Here is some advice: Don’t wear boxers with tights on the first day of orientation.

At some point before arriving at college, I decided that sitting by myself, in a corner, looking very intense and serious (possibly scowling?) would make me appear mysterious and that people would want to get to know me. To my considerable surprise and dismay, this turned out not to be an effective strategy during any of the freshman orientation activities. Nor did it work in the dining halls or in study groups. Not in the library. Or at parties.

Advice: Be approachable. Approach people. Maybe smile?

Related to above: there will likely be occasions at which you will be given a name tag and you will not want to wear the name tag.

Advice: Wear the name tag.

But seriously: protect your time to work, to study, to grow into who you are. Yes, your friends are important. Yes, going to parties and concerts and staying out too late with your new crush from your art history class is important. But try to remember that this time that you have to work, to expand your intellectual and creative capacities — you will likely never have it in exactly this same way again.

Giving yourself this time is an investment in your future self and if you nurture it, it will sustain you. Allow yourself to obsess about what interests you. Read about the traditions of shadow puppetry in Southeast Asia. Make your own pinhole camera. Recreate the lab experiment on simple harmonic motion in your dorm room at night while your roommate sleeps.

Get lost in the library. Pore through the archives of National Geographic and memorize the scientific names of all the deadliest snakes. Read all the love letters Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett and copy them down in your own hand. Close the place down. Walk home in the dark, dizzy with new ideas.

Expose yourself to as many ways of thinking as you can. What did the Situationists have to say about alienation? Learn the origins of the modern American legal system. What is cultural relativism and do you embrace it?

Argue respectfully with other people. Engage. Be interested and interesting. Silence (like scowling) is not intriguing. It limits who you allow yourself to be.

And speaking of exposure, here is
the advice my husband tells me that his own father gave to him as he left for college. I endorse this, too: “Keep your pants on, son.”

VANPHOUTHON SOUVANNASANE, DIRECTOR, YELLOW PERIL GALLERY IN PROVIDENCE. Now I know most of you artsy hipster types are too busy experimenting with colors and each other to leave College Hill and its multi-tiered Ivory Towers, but the ones who get the most respect from an active player in the art scene are those who make the effort to engage with the local art community and visit a gallery or two. Gallery Night Providence [gallerynight.org] makes it easiest. Hop on a yellow bus and kill several birds with one stone every Thursday of the month and see the amazing (and not so amazing) art being shown in the city where you’re honing your life skills.

Most importantly, get the hell out of the East Side and make it out to a far away place like Olneyville, where many serious artists live and work. There are about half a dozen art galleries and collectives that call this gritty place home, and you might end up here too if you’re enamored by the neighborhood’s artistic heritage and potential to be the next big arts destination (unless Pawtucket is more your speed).

Discover how a two-way conversation about art can give you a “real world” insight into what it means to be an artist after you graduate from College Hill and the playing field is more leveled. Mentor up with a mid-career or established artist who is living and working in the area to find out firsthand what their challenges are and explore how you can overcome these obstacles when you both inevitably cross paths.

Sure, you can continue to create art for art’s sake after you graduate, but only those of you with trust funds can keep up this charade. Everyone else will have to apply for endless grants, fellowships, and residencies to feel relevant and continue a nomadic lifestyle. . . or. . . God forbid, become an active participant by exhibiting your work at galleries that match your career ambitions and know what they’re doing. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get to work with an art gallery that doesn’t fear being commercial and actually wants to promote your career outside the Ocean State. Stranger things have happened here in Providence. . . .

At the end of the day, no matter what you end up doing after you graduate (serving coffee, selling T-shirts, commodities trading, stealing), you have to pay your rent — that’s the bottom line. Your parents can’t bail you out anymore, especially when you’ve got a piece of paper worth six figures meant to present you with multiple doors to your desired future. Which knob will you decide to turn? That’s the $200,000 question that you have to answer for yourself.

LEO DESFORGES, OWNER AND HEAD TRAINER, THE FORGE PERSONAL TRAINING STUDIO IN PAWTUCKET. College is the best possible time to get in the greatest shape of your life. Think about it:

1. You’re in the physical prime of your life. Progress in fitness will never come as easily as it does now. Putting some gym time in now will pay huge dividends for the rest of your life. Getting wasted every night. . . not so much.

2. You have tons of free time! There’s plenty of time for a few parties, a job, lots of studying, and some playing/competing/working out with friends. (Exercise is an underappreciated social activity. Go to the gym with the same girl/guy for eight semesters and tell me you don’t remember them forever. Shoutout to Eric and Greg, my gym partners throughout college.) You will probably never again have this much time to invest in physical fitness, so make the most of it.

3. You really want to get laid. Looking healthier, having a cool hobby (working out, of course), and being better in bed will all help. Need I say more?

4. Rhode Island is an excellent place to get in great shape! Yeah, we’ve got good restaurants, some cool cities, and a bunch of awesome colleges, but we’ve also got:

• Some awesome woods, like Lincoln Woods State Park, Arcadia Management Area, and Big River Management area. Think: hiking, swimming, mountain biking, horseback riding, and tons of fields and campsites.

• Some of the best beaches on the East Coast, with opportunities for great swimming, surfing, sailing, SCUBA diving, paddleboarding, and sunbathing.

• Tons of gyms, health clubs and sports leagues. Of course, you’ll probably have all this stuff on campus, but if you want to explore a bit, Rhode Island gives you tons of options that are only minutes away. Whether its Crossfit, Zumba, tennis, powerlifting, or a cool new class you’ve never even heard of, the state probably has five different options in each category to keep you happy.

5. Did I mention getting laid?

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