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Email housecorp-www at mit dot edu with what pika means to you.
pika means "home" to me. Every time I went through the doors of pika, from the first time at rush through my senior year, I knew that I was home. It's a big crazy home with dozens of rooms, a labyrinth of hallways, roof decks, porches, and who knows what else, but the heart of the home is a living room, dining room, and kitchen that are so much more comfortable than an impersonal lounge or cafeteria. I always enjoyed the walk past the sports fields and through an actual neighborhood to my home.
Robert Fulghum wrote a book called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". I like to say, "All I really need to know about society I learned at pika".
I can't think of a better way of learning -- really learning -- about social contracts than by immersing yourself intimately in one. "How much should society spend on defense?" is an
almost impossibly abstract and incalculable question. On the other hand, "How much should the house spend on chocolate chips, when half of them are getting baked into cookies at 1 am that
are only consumed by the 10% of the house that is awake then?" is a much, much more approachable question -- and yet, the form of the arguments and counterarguments for both questions is
remarkably similar. So one question can pretty usefully inform the other.
Where else can you learn consensus building, carpentry, cooking and quantum mechanics all under one roof?
I love meeting new, interesting people. At pika, I'm pretty sure that I could sit on the couch (or the off-broadway-starring bathtub in the living room), eat delicious homemade* food, pet one of our cats**, and have fascinating conversations for my every waking hour. Functional programming, the British approach to math(s), or a hilarious story of pikans past - you never know what you're going to get, but you know how good it will be***.
*Vegetarian or vegan, if you'd like. Or something else. Never go hungry because of your dietary restriction again!
**Lilah or Desi
Living at pika was as formative an experience as I've had in my life. After 3 years of lengthy house meetings, overflowing toilets, vegan pancakes, late night conversations, and snowy retreats, I emerged simultaneously more confident, more competent, and perhaps more cynical than my pre-pikan self. I haven't lived within 300 miles of pika since 2007, yet pika alums still account for one of my housemates, one of my partners, and many of my closest friends. I may have moved out, but I'll never move on.
pika saved my life. I had a pretty sheltered upbringing, and the idea that people my age could take responsibility for ourselves and our home, without supervision, was crucially important for my ability to function as an adult in the world. That responsibility gave me the freedom to make my own way, and without that freedom I'm sure I would not have survived.
To me pika was first a group of dormitory residents discussing what we would like in a living group, and then going out and making it happen. We and following pikans left enough "unstructure" so each new wave of pikans could mold the group into what they wanted (yes, with a lot of long discussions well into the night).
I used to be scared of vegetarians, ever since a roving band of them ate my family. At pika, I learned that most vegetarians get 100% of their protein through delicious
home cooked meals, and only attack when threatened. Remember - they're more scared of you than you are of them!
—Anonymous, Course 6
The first time my mom came to pika she said it was like what she imagined it would be like to walk around inside my head. At the time I did not agree at all, it was plainly much gooier inside my head, and I was at the age when ‘nothing’ seemed to wildly overstate exactly what it was that mothers knew. As time passed I came to realize that while my mother could not tell her left from her right, she could tell up from down, and so did I come to increasingly come to identify pika as not just ‘like’ my psyche, but as its actual incarnation. Many a night I would sit in a room in my own mind, and think with my mind about how my mind was sitting in a room in my own mind thinking about sitting in a room in my own mind, etc., - a young man happily ensconced inside his own portal. Moving out and away and the passage of more time has strengthened what was previously a correspondence into a substitution, and I no longer experience myself as myself, but rather I experience pika as myself. Thus as each year brings new pikans I become progressively more self-alienated, and every time a room is re-done or a major renovation is undertaken I scream in ceaseless pain and terror.
When my mom came to move me in to pika, she cried all the way home (2 days' drive) because she had so clearly left me in a pit of destruction and despair. (years later she said that I had turned out nothing like she had expected, but better.)
What does pika mean to me? We always try to see things from another viewpoint. So, perhaps pika is a verb. When you pika, you simultaneously notice how your 8.01 physics doesn't quite describe the motion of oily scum in the sink when soap hits it while you scrub dishes for 45 and converse with your cleanup pals about the optimum dose of garlic in mole-chip cookies, which could disprove the fundamental garlic-chocolate gustatory disparity theorem, which states that no food goes together well with both. Or you paint the front staircase balusters pastel colors in the middle of the night, anonymously, on Drop Date Eve. Or sit through an hours-long meeting because it's that important to work out a thorny group issue. Or play a quick game of Rail Baron. Or go contra dancing without any idea what that might be. Or spontaneously drive to New Jersey with 4 friends to see Repo Man (don't forget your plate of fish). Or simultaneously get and give a backrub. Or rebuild the roofdeck and porch system to look even more like the Black Pearl. Or hang out with the first crowd that actually seems to "get" you.
pika was my home, and more than that it was a place I was - and still am - very proud to be from. pika is messy because it's a very real place. (Also, people don't put their stuff away. But that's small beans.) People are real about who they are and who their housemates are. pikans take the time to ask hard questions about themselves, their values, and how they should live out those values. This can be chaotic, time consuming, and frankly, sometimes it's miserable. I think it's brave to live in a community that considers its choices so deeply, and I believed in it even when I sat through 8-hour meetings the night before an exam. pika was a place where I was supported as I found out what I really cared about in life. It was also smart, weird, adventurous and open-hearted. At pika, I came to believe that with dedication and open-mindedness, we all really can get along. I also learned to cook for 40, home wiring, carpentry, extremely shoddy plumbing, how bread dough displays viscoelastic properties, the value of clear and calm communication, and many other very useful things. I made some of my dearest friends. I think that I left pika and MIT with a good engineering education (from the Institvte) and a good human education (from pika).
(When my mom came to pika for the first time, two pikans - Aron Walker and Mariela Perignon - greeted her at the door. When she told them she was my mother, they enthusiastically said "Oh, Lissa? We LOVE Lissa!". My mom told me it was the moment when she stopped worrying about me and knew I'd be supported.)
"pika isn't really a place. It's a state of mind. It's a little like not being sure whether you've had too much to eat or too little. Is that a state of mind? Is quasi-hunger as state of mind? Who knows. That's what makes pika so great."
Among other things, pika is where I start when people ask me why I think a certain way or behave a certain way. "Well, in college, I lived in this co-op where we …"
I think I'm still learning what pika means to me, because now that I've left, I keep noticing things I took for granted at pika, or things I knew were special about pika but I just didn't realize how rare they were in the world. I have no idea yet what pika means to me, because I'm still realizing how pika meant to me - intensely, lovingly, happily, rebelliously, thoughtfully, provokingly, messily, open-mindedly, heartily, and healthily. I wish everyone had a pika in their life.
—Danbee "Tauntaun" Kim
To me pika was the eye of the hurricane. You know the storm isn't over, but you get a moment of calm to collect yourself and prepare for the next onslaught. Also, you're actually more likely to be electrocuted there than out in the storm.
I appreciate this thread very much. When Sam said "eye of the hurricane" my first thought was being in the roof deck during the eye of a hurricane- Bob I think in summer of 1991. So many things bring me back to my stay at pika.
Now, many a non-pikan the world over will say THEIR four years of college/undergrad/military service was the defining stage of their identity development, but that usually refers to a confirming or a commonality as opposed to pika's fascinating universal individualism. Truly the only place I can think of where such diversity and acceptance has flourished among adults.
pika is not so much a place as a group of people. As such it changes over time but enough of the DNA sticks that the core values of the place inhabits each new
generation. A lot of what has been said so far bears that out. I knew it was home when I sat in the bagel shop in the Student Center during R/O Week and tried to make a decision about
where to live. In walks Irv Englander who I did not know and gets me to start talking about what places I have been to and what I felt. It only took about a 10 minute conversation to realize that
pika was a community of people that I felt comfortable with and where I really wanted to live. He then let me know he came from there and offered to drive me back. I never looked
The community inhabits all the places and spaces in the house, none more so than the Murph. House meetings, late night conversations and song fests, and chances to share who we all are and what we care about. Hard times as well, but shared through common purpose and deliberate thought. Cooking for 30+, managing a kitchen for 30+, building, rebuilding, and building again. None of that ethos has changed over 30+ years. We embrace all points of view with the key understanding that while we may disagree, we respect each other and care for each other.
—Daniel A Nolet
When I was a kid I drew elaborate dream houses that featured water slides, robots, floating pirate ships, secret rooms, and all of the science experiments that my mom would never let me do in the house.
As a kid, I couldn't install the water slide for obvious reasons. As an adult, I can't install the water slide for other obvious reasons.
When I lived at pika, the only reason I couldn't install the water slide was because I was too busy with classes to make it happen. I'm pretty sure that if I had really wanted to build it, the house would have enthusiastically approved it. If you think I'm joking, look at the three-story fire pole, the tree house, the chicken run, or any of the other awesome things that other undergraduates built.
pika is the community that we wished we had when we were kids: it a place where we all had total license to mutate into whatever the hell we wanted to become. At pika I met a woman who is equal parts Captain Jack Sparrow and Richard Feynman (yes, I'm talking about you, YZ), another woman who hunts for asteroids and seems to live a non-stop life of scientific excitement, a nudist gay army guy who made jokes so geeky that they could make a math teacher cringe, a honest-to-god Mexican man of mystery, a former runway model and current roboticist who I see on CNN occasionally (hi Heather), an Iranian bootlegger who escaped the regime, and several other real-life superheroes. We all lived under the same roof, and when we have reunions we talk about our jobs sending probes to Mars or our adventures building machines that make 500-meter-tall windmills or we share stories about surviving near-death experiences involving dehydration, snakes, and boiling heat.
pikans live interesting lives, and I don't think it is a coincidence. For many of us, choosing pika was the first time we chose creativity and adventure over predictability and conventionality. And ever since we lived at pika we've been making that same choice: to choose adventure, to press send (even though we know it is a bad idea), to move to a foreign country, to climb the mountain and walk past the menacing wild dogs on the path, to build the fusion reactor our basement -- we make these sorts of choices over and over again and have awesome stories to tell as a result. (And every pikan I've met also still has both eyes!)
Oh, and living at pika I learned how to be a good leader, how to cook for 30, how to weld, and how to hang drywall. Those are all really useful things to know.
But I think the most important thing I learned while living at pika is that those dream house sketches I made as a kid with the robots and the flying monkeys don't have to be a fantasy: all that stands between me and living out my childhood dreams is building those robots and genetically engineering those flying monkeys. That sounds far-fetched and unrealistic. But when I lived at pika I knew that there was always a living room full of people who were ready to read up on genetics or mechanical engineering to help me make those flying monkeys or robots a reality.
pika: confusing advertising for confusing times!