By GRAY WHITSETT – COLUMNIST
It’s that time of year again. It is cold. It is difficult. It is nearing finals. It is Centre in November, the onset of winter. It is time to buckle down, time to make our offerings to the caffeine gods, time to stop denying the existence of research papers, seminar presentations, and internship evaluations.
It’s that time of year again. And unfortunately for all of us, it’s time to say goodbye to our friends.
Winter break is fast approaching and with it we wish happy holidays, send our cards, and say sayonara to our college buddies. But when I speak of saying goodbye to our friends, I don’t mean parting for the cessation.
In fact, this process starts long before any dreams of mistletoe or hot chocolate dance in our heads. For some, it’s started already. For others, it’s right around the corner. It’s a little condition I call “student asceticism”.
As Centre students, I’d be willing to wager we all have a little bit of this in our systems. I know I sure do. And certainly, we all know at least someone with it. It’s the uncanny need to lock ourselves away when we realize just how deep of a GPA hole we’ve dug for ourselves.
We shut off nearly all contact with our friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; tie ourselves to a desk: solder a pen to our carpal tunnel ridden hand; and immerse ourselves in academic ecstasy.
Average showers per week drop, five o’clock shadows become mainstream, headbands make us presentable, jeans and yoga pants are reused far more than we care to acknowledge, and glasses are adorned to shave off those ten precious seconds it takes to equip contacts.
Any semblance of a balanced diet self-destructs, with some meals completely disappearing. The outside world becomes entirely irrelevant (a typhoon in the Philippines? You mean my tears?), and the Centre bubble becomes the Berlin Wall.
As these intellectual renunciates make the dark, dreary, and depressing departure from the depths of Young and Crounse (or god forbid Olin) to their dorms, they collect the pathetic three hours of sleep they’ve battled for against organic chemistry. And then, the sunrises, and the cycle repeats itself.
What I describe is hyperbole, obviously. But it’s scarily true for a number of students, the monks of the Centre community. There are a lot of things I could say about educational policy, time management, and the American lifestyle, but none of them are really useful for this point, nor are they very appropriate.
All I really care to share is that much of this we do to ourselves. We build up our workload either literally, so we physically must begin studying in order to avoid transferring to a state school, or mentally, so we stress ourselves out enough to take the academic plunge into pre-colonial African history.
And for some reason, we think this necessarily entails cutting ourselves off from any and all contact, slowly withering away until we narrowly pass our last final, vomit with excitement, and drive home for the holidays. I, respectfully, disagree with this approach.
Clearly, there is a level of discipline we must impose on ourselves during these stressful times. This is not the time for partying and road-trips. But I don’t believe this is the time to become an ascetic student.
In fact, I think this is arguably the worst time to do such a thing. Centre is hard, winter sucks, and everyone here works extremely hard just to tread water. The stress, while perhaps self-induced, is very a real thing. But if we seriously think that going through all this alone, and in turn inflating our oh-so-high view of our situation, is useful, effective, or healthy, then I think we’ve all gone a bit crazy.
Social connections, that is to say our social support system like friends, family, and professors, enhance happy times to be sure. But more importantly, they’re there to help us through times like these.
These are the moments we need friendship, laughter, and good conversation the most. Let the friends in our lives be those refreshing sips. It doesn’t have to be sentimental butterflies and hearts – sometimes it’s just tangibly seeing that someone else is going through stress as well.
As much as misery loves company, it needs company. We need company. And yet we think it’s the bane of productivity. It’s been my experience that stress, fear, and despair are the gridlock of writing, studying, and test taking. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sure don’t think so.
During these winter months, lean a little on your friends, professors, and family.
Set aside 30 minutes to call your mom and freak out about your poor class schedule. Give yourself the extra 20 minutes to Cowan-sit with your friends and make fun of the crappy banners. Go into your professor’s office and talk about something that actually interests you, something that has nothing to do with Vedic traditions or polyatomic ions.
Humans are social creatures. So take the time to be a human, because humans do well with new challenges, difficult concepts, and rigorous course loads. Ascetics, the social renouncers, the study slaves, simply do not.