Not just monkey business

There’s a good chance that at least once during your Williams career you’ve woken up in a monkey carrel. Late at night, nestling in with a lamentably colossal stack of reading or suffering through a paper’s last 500 words seems inevitably to induce nap-time in the glowing fluorescent light. However, if you are able to stay awake and pull yourself away from your work, you will likely experience that remarkable, anonymous free exchange of ideas and monumental ode to procrastination that is monkey carrel graffiti. This illustrious forum in which we commemorate our errant endeavors occupies a distinctive place at Williams. Here can be found everything from tag-team completion of Rilo Kiley lyrics to Vonnegut quotes to anatomically correct self-portraits.

In the surfeit of material scrawled around the carrels some fairly prevalent themes emerge, namely the confession, the death wish and the declaration of sexual repression. Confessions in the carrels usually run along the lines of divulging some true love such as “I love Erin,” or heart-encircled initials, though they also often extend to professions of love for alternate things like math, boobies, Williamstown and weed.

The death wish, though not to be taken seriously, is nevertheless widespread. It stems from pure frustration and typically includes some pronouncement of hatred for Williams followed by a particular course (organic chemistry and philosophy take a fair amount of hits), and lastly there is the polite request for the writer to be put out of his or her misery. These are also often accompanied with questions of existential crisis regarding course or school choice. This is perhaps best expressed by one carrel poet in a haiku entitled “A Haiku” which states “I am at Williams/it’s ridiculously whack,/please murder me now.” Another author posits that she would “be kicking serious ass at a state college right now.” Despite all this, there have been carrel polls conducted on those same walls that offer some more promising statistics. The result of one, for example, shows the number of students happy at Williams far outweighing the number of those who aren’t.

The declaration of sexual repression or the pronouncement of our basal impulses can be found multiple times, in almost every carrel. For instance, one enterprising young pollster took it upon him or herself to inquire as to how many young women would wish to seek out his or her services. Results show the number reaching 34 before it was blacked out in Sharpie some time last week with a general apology to all females for its presence. The ubiquity alone of phallic symbols rendered in the carrels suggests that we are either repressing some seriously Freudian urges, or we’re simply not getting any – or otherwise we’re getting too much – though I am informed by a carrel author that there is no such thing.

Carrel graffiti is constantly being edited. A dialogue in procrastination, these are the moments when the boundaries of tolerance are contended. A particularly inflammatory statement can incite either censure or the proliferation of comments in bad taste; the outcome is usually the latter. How many times can the N-word be written before someone takes offense? Three, apparently. The descriptions of intimate encounters had in the carrels themselves equally seem to be quickly removed. However, not all editing is done contentiously. Some is purely constructive. For instance, “A Haiku for You” by carrel poet “PF” was a syllable short, as pointed out by one carrel editor. It subsequently reads, “Reading what you wrote/ Is more than PF can do/ Should have gone to Schow.”

We seem to feel the need to claim these spaces as our confessionals, exercising the freedom anonymity brings, at times, to subvert the climate of political correctness and, in most cases, simply to be vulgar, honest and obtuse in a place where those qualities are clearly not championed. Despite one writer’s charge to “Go deface Williams property outside,” for the most part, vandalism has remained in the basement of Sawyer quietly contained alongside the videos and viewing rooms. For all the poetics and cries of distress, somehow someone wants to keep our priorities straight: If you are in the right spot and find yourself getting distracted by four walls of chatter, look up to the carrel ceiling and listen when you read the message promptly telling you to “stop looking up at the ceiling and get back to work!”

Chelsea Church ’12 is from Stony Brook, N.Y. She lives in Pratt.