For those of you who don’t know me yet, Hi, my name is Ruby. I’ve spent the past 7 months in Hawaii, on the Big Island. This article is about 7 of the most important months of my life, and, whoever you are, whether you’re a student, staff, faculty, alumni, martian, I’m truly honored that you’re reading it, and I hope you find it interesting.
I came to the Big Island in early June. A family friend of mine, Samantha Smith, world’s best chef and Queen of Jank, is running a non-profit in downtown Kailua-Kona called The Edible, and I wanted to be her side-kick. The Edible is a huge, jankily and beautifully remodeled cooper- tire warehouse. It has a stage with a drum-set, an industrial-sized kitchen, local art covering most of the walls, a bar, and a small outdoor area with a garden full of basil and a 2-ton wood- fire oven for making badass pizza. I lived in a loft behind the stage. The Edible has no windows, and at the time all the lights turned on from circuit breakers. At night when I had to pee, the dark reality of climbing down from the rickety ladder and across the maze of tables, chairs, boxes, construction tools, and the occasional cockroach or centipede just so I could piss in a toilet was incomprehensible. I used a chamber-pot.
The Edible is a beautiful place with a beautiful dream, but unfortunately it turned out Samantha and I work horribly together. I ended up mostly being the resident bum, doing dishes and sweeping a lot in an attempt to offset my guilt. The human condition pressed me to do something useful with my time, and after a couple weeks of searching I found a local welding job that didn’t conflict too much with my ethics. I spent 3 months as a welder on a construction crew, building transitional housing units out of shipping containers. 8 hours a day 4 days a week in full-welding gear, in 98 ̊ weather inside or on top of shipping containers. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done, and not just physically. I was the only female on the crew, and the smallest person by about 150 pounds. I had very little in common with any of them, but, finding absurdity and humor in our differences, we found common ground in the universal language of laughter. I scolded them for eating fast-food and drinking out of disposable plastic water bottles, and they teased me for asking them to carry my welder up the ladder.
Welding is not easy as a woman, especially on the Big Island, where the population of women is small and mostly regarded as unskilled. It was difficult to find adequate clothing and boots (I found sturdy pants in the boys section at target, the local boot shop had 50 options for men and none for women). Surprise was the least irritating response I got when telling people I was a welder. One man said “Oh, well, welding isn’t that hard.”
Until I came to the Big Island, I had never experienced significant sexual discrimination, harassment, or inappropriate behavior from men. On the Big Island, it happened a lot. And I’m not talking about strangers telling you you’re beautiful, or cat-calls, or bad pick-up lines (that happened a lot too, but I don’t mind that kind of stuff, and sometimes it’s even fun). Against my consent, I’ve had liquids slowly drizzled into my open mouth at a bar, been squeezed and kissed sloppily on both cheeks by an alcoholic with too much saliva, and been asked by a 50- something-year-old man standing over my bed if he could please sleep with me, he missed his wife, he was lonely, and I was hot. I learned how to say ‘no’, a deceivingly simple word that becomes very hard to say when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Meanwhile at The Edible we were holding open mic/jam sessions every Sunday in the hopes of cultivating a house band. For the most part these sessions attracted mediocre guitarists looking for a place to butcher covers, but a few interesting people came too. I befriended a grizzled saxophone-playing intellectual hippie farmer named John Biloon, and through him I met a lot of other farmers and farm workers who lived south of Kailua-Kona. When my welding job ended, I said goodbye to The Edible, bought a $1200 blue van named Venus the Voyager (yeah, I just found out Venus isn’t blue) and moved to an off-the-grid shack in the jungle near John Biloon’s farm. There I picked coffee, harvested micro-greens, lulo, jack-friut, roulinia, soursop, bananas, and pineapples, and happily lived out the rest of my days in Hawaii sans electricity, potable water, and guilt. The End.
But wait, what about lessons? Aren’t there supposed to be lessons from LOAs? Go learn your own lessons, human. No matter where you go and what you do there will always be lessons. Don’t fall prey to the common belief that the best lessons to be learned are found in schools and jobs. You absolutely do not need to have an engineering internship every summer while you’re at Olin, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s a whole universe of skills, insights, mistakes, adventures, and discoveries to be made outside the tiny world of engineering, and I highly encourage you to fuck the risks and try it out. And I’m not alone in this encouragement: there are a multitude of Olin students, alumni, and professors who’ve travelled, worked outside their field, or moved away from engineering entirely. Not because they failed, or because of unfortunate situations, but by thoughtful choice.
As for myself, I bought a one-way ticket to the land of rainbows and rain with not much of a plan but to see what would happen. A lot happened and I’ve changed a lot. I care much less about engineering and technology. I value independence more and socializing less. I’ve developed a fondness for head-lamps and candles. Equality lies in appreciating difference, not seeking similarity. Plants are way cooler than they used to be, and plastic is still the ultimate enemy. No, maybe money is. Whatever. I’m done writing this article. If you have any questions, wanna talk about technology, art, music, relationship anarchy, welding, anything else, or simply wanna meet me, my door’s always open and I care much more about talking to you than doing my school assignments.