thoughts on a semester

This semester is quietly sucking out my insides… just like every other semester of my life. It may be time to face a bitter, bitter truth: I love school, but school does not love me. I certainly get off on Going to Class, Taking Notes, Learning, Academic Conversing, Gathering of Questionably Great Ideas, and Canoodling With Literary Celebs, but school also sends me into a perfectionist tizzy. I read Penelope Trunk’s article last night and was fairly horrified.

Try having an opinion that is wrong. Tell a story that is stupid. Wear clothes that don’t match. Turn in a project that you can’t fully explain. People will not think you’re stupid. People will think you spent your time and energy doing something else — something that meant more to you.


Anyway, I started to think about my pair of classes this semester. I have two most excellent professors who are both teaching highly inaccessible topics. Going to class is not difficult, but doing my homework is.

For one class, I get to digest stacks of articles on how to properly formulate and conduct research experiments that measure library use. Eight weeks in, I still have no idea what it means to “operationalize my terms.” I rewrote the problem statement for my semester-long mock-research project for a better grade, put some legitimate thought into it, made some changes, and got an extra .5 points. A pity .5 points.

For the other, I get to read once popular, now obscure, (always 600 pages…) children’s literature titles from the 19th century. Common plotlines so far include “I love my mother more than God! Waahh!”, “My father is punishing me for loving God more than him! Waahh!” and “Why can’t I read novels on the Sabbath? Waaaaaaahhh!!!” Finding anything to say in my papers other than “Wow, that book was bizarre” is surprisingly difficult.

But I’m still getting, largely, A-minuses. No, this former valedictorian is not an A student, she is an A-minus student. Thank you, sub-par public secondary education! However, despite my 18-years-and-counting proclivity for the A-minus, I always have this feeling that if only I could [fill in the blank with some random self-improvement], then I could get A’s.

I always enter each semester with the inarticulate goal to “Stay On Top of My Schoolwork,” but I have really no idea what that means on a practical level. Theoretically, “Staying on Top,” means “Maintaining Some Semblance of Control Over My Life,” but every semester, no matter how I play my cards, I end up partaking in the following behaviors that drive me out of my skin, send my muscles into recurrent migraine territory, send my energy levels to the ground:

– Starting papers the day before they are due.

– Coming home after work or school and collapsing onto the couch until I fall asleep.

– The Incredible Disappearing Weekend

– Coming to class without having completed the required reading and feeling like an idiot.

All of which have been regular behaviors this semester, no matter how much they induce the mania. Urgh.

But what bothers me most of all is that somewhere behind the mess of working and classes and vegging out on the couch, I don’t actually have time to do ANYTHING AT ALL. Nothing.  Not my reading, not the kind of work that will get me that coveted A, and not anything at all that I typically find useful or entertaining or enlightening.

So I’m going out of my way to carve out chunks of time out of my day to just… be. I’m hoping this will a) improve personal morale b) increase productivity c) contribute to a sense of control over not just my day to day life, but my larger destiny.

In June, when I had 20 hours of work, 16 hours of internship, and 6 hours of class every week, I started waking up with Lance and having him drop me off at Starbucks in Brookline, or at the T so I could hop on the train and go to the Starbucks in Somerville. It was an act of desperation: the papers had to get written, and I discovered that I was more likely to work on them with two shots of espresso in hand, even if I had to hold them at 6:30 a.m. The habit followed me to this fall semester – before every large paper, it seems I’ve procrastinated enough to send me into desperation, and into Starbucks before the sun comes up.

But I’ve decided to reclaim the Early Morning at the Coffeeshop Habit for the forces of personal good. Instead of staying up until midnight with a paper only to revisit it six hours later, I’m launching a pre-emptive strike. On Wednesdays, when I only work 10:30 to 4:00, I can haul ass out of bed early enough to hitch a ride and then I can have a morning to myself to

a) Tackle that homework before it tackles back

b) Do something I don’t typically have time for, like spend an entire hour writing a really long, self-involved blog post!

So at least for a few hours a week, life is good.

And although I do miss my summer Somerville Starbucks, the Brookline Village location sure has more than its share of colorful clientele.

Today, I grasp at the edges of my manic life with help from a guardian angel.


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