Budding Writer, 1979: ‘Brothers and Sisters’ and Deltas, oh my!

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Fire and ice at sunset over Lake Champlain, January 16, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

My journals of my first year as a writer have brought me to the weekend of Dartmouth Winter Carnival, February 9 and 10, 1979. Winter Carnival is the granddaddy of all college winter festivals and the highlight of the winter campus social scene.

Traditionally, it was also the time of our co-ed fraternity’s annual Changeover Dinner, when the incoming house officers roast the outgoing ones. It was a formal evening of dinner and dancing — and dates. Mine wouldn’t arrive until Saturday, which made an already cold winter weekend seem even colder.

Today was cold. Damned cold. Cold enough to freeze my camera shutter — twice! … Yet in some ways it was warm. … Warm enough to enjoy a hearty Changeover Dinner. … Warm enough to appreciate the real concern of brothers who noticed I was lonely, depressed, or just plain bored. And warm enough to get some good reactions about tonight’s ‘Brothers and Sisters’ episode. People I talked to are beginning to believe I’m a writer and not a perpetual undergrad. I’m even beginning to believe, too!

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 9 February 1979

That camera freeze-up happened when I was trying to take pictures that morning on the Hanover Green during a protest for equal access. That was our shorthand for equal admissions slots for women and for men. Dartmouth was still admitting three men for every woman at that time. The campus didn’t reach a 50-50 ratio until about 20 years later.

Today there are more women than men simply because more of the top candidates are female; the admissions office has trouble finding men of the same caliber. This is distressing, and raises an interesting question. Should highly competitive schools lower admission standards to achieve a more equitable gender balance?

On Saturday, I met my “date” — a close friend from undergraduate days — at the bus stop on the Green. We did dinner and rounded up some friends to watch “Delta House” in the fraternity tube room. I was on assignment for TV Guide, after all:

But I also had the opportunity to … fish people for Delta House (a cleverly written script, but employing a blatant Mission Impossible rip-off.) All in all, a good day, but when I put away my car in the lot instead of the barn (which was stuck) I had a premonition of disastrous consequences. It was fulfilled.

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 10 February 1979

If that cliffhanger isn’t enough to get you to tune in tomorrow, I don’t know what is. See you then!

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