The smell of ignored space follows me as I wind my way through the twists of the Johnson art building. Every floor, a maze of cryptic architecture, has accumulated dust in the angular corners—in each hallway and annex. Paint and glue fumes waft from the cracks under each studio art door. Students shuffle quietly between strips of deteriorating carpet and linoleum shimmer.

No matter how well the college cleaning staff attacks the dark building, Johnson will always feel brittle, eroding, and embedded with moist mold. Its imperfections breed loyalty.

Johnson’s illogical staircases, worn and shredded, remind me of nothing other than the first-semester haze of unpredictability. Gobs of oil paint on my canvas overalls, hands dry and irritated, I prepare to use my brain creatively as I walk up the first detour: the stairs. And then I walk down to get to the second floor. I am still processing the last sequence of activities as the next events unfold.

Attractive Middlebury students, comfortable, focused, older, are painting. More experience, more ease. To them, Johnson is not a maze. They know which way to turn around the next brown wall. They know the cracks and loopholes of this place—of this school. Time teaches familiarity and ease.


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