End of the quarter blues

This happens at the end of almost every quarter. I leave a few extra days of buffer to kick around Evanston without any work. The problem is, I don’t know what to do with myself here without work. I can have great intentions of relaxing by the lake or heading into Chicago, but I never get around to it. Other people have left, or are busy studying, and busyness has been so engrained in my experience here that I have trouble remembering that I just don’t have much to do.

It always gives me a bit of an existential crisis. I sit in my house, knowing I’m not doing anything but unable to think of a reason to leave. An endless cycle: Facebook Twitter email other email Facebook Twitter news Facebook. Sometimes I try to turn on the television, only to remember that the only thing that’s ever watchable on our cable plan is Friends, and after two quarters of access to 24/7 Friends, it’s no longer watchable either.

Sitting on my floor yesterday trying to sit through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I finally broke out of the stupor. I dug around for my sweatpants, which I’ve worn so few times in the last six months that I didn’t remember where I’d put them when I moved in. I took my bike, which I haven’t seen since fall, and blindly headed north. I ended up in a park I’d never been to, admiring the choppy lake waves against the rocks and basking in the total lack of students. There were kids there, maybe 8 years old at most, and I felt oddly peaceful in the realization that fallen tree branches will always, always be an invitation to stab each other. Some things are universal.

Unwilling to return home, I stopped for coffee at a small cafe that had no tables when I arrived. But by the time my cup had finished brewing, people were trickling out. 5 p.m. on a finals Friday, and all the students were leaving. Soon it was just me, reading my book, and a family in the other room. It felt good just to be unencumbered by my computer. Northwestern has created an unbreakable bond between me and my laptop. It’s an addiction. I feel disconnected from social interaction when I don’t have access to Gchat. I feel antsy without the ability to cycle through email, Twitter, Facebook, news. A few days staring at my constantly updating Twitter feed means I know a wealth of facts about random subjects and world events, but as useful as that knowledge can be, I get stuck. It wears me down. I forget how to just exist in the non-WiFi world. There are relaxing activities outside of Netflix, but I find it hard to seek them out.

I didn’t leave my phone at home, and I was far from completely disconnected. I could still check my email, even though I knew no one was emailing me. And I took breaks from my reading to text friends, but that too felt healthy, strangely. It’s easier to share unimportant 160-character banter across a thousand miles than to admit that sometimes words must be shared simply because we haven’t done that in a while, and that’s how friendships just fade away. The pastor/barista was talking parenting strategies with a suburban mom — can you let your kids take the train alone? Can you let them wander Evanston without adult supervision? I wonder how I would have turned out if I hadn’t been allowed to tramp through orchards tripping in drainage pipes, if I had been prohibited from riding my horse into back hills and isolated valleys, if I wasn’t able to go to the mall with my friends and fail at taking Ventura’s less than useful public transportation. I’ve been a student in a college town for long enough that it’s rare to overhear the problems of the 40-year-old-with-kids set.

Though there are still stories to write and essays to research, taking an open-ended amount of time off —  dictated only by how long my book took to read and how long my legs could keep moving my bike forward — was a necessary recharge period. I hope my trip home this weekend will be the same.

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