I’m at home hanging out with my parents for a few days, which means the following things:
I went to bed at 10 p.m. after 3 hours of Netflix. I woke up at 7:30 a.m., meaning I ran out of internet to lurk by approximately 9:30. My dog still smells like rotting everything. My car refused to let me turn the key in the ignition. Peet’s was out of tables, and for some reason the only free WiFi I can pick up from Starbucks is from the Wendy’s across the parking lot.
But I can make out the topography of the Channel Islands from my deck today. It’s 60 degrees and the clearest of clear.
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.
Now that temperatures are off-the-charts hot, it actually seems like 8,000 people might go here! I didn’t see more than 4 people on a walk from my dorm to Evanston all of Winter Quarter. Now, suddenly, everyone is out in full force. The warm weather whimsy is palpable. The sunbathing? The beach runs? People walking around in bathing suits? Sunglasses? This is ridiculous! I practically had to elbow my way to CVS to buy some shampoo, there were so many people wandering around Evanston. And you can recognize friends from further away — no more “why is that large bundle of clothes waving at me?” or hiding in the anonymity of head to toe black. I’ve seen more skin in the last two days than all year. Still, let’s not get carried away. No need to pull a Britney, and please, that swooshy mini skirt is way cuter when I don’t see it trying to ride a bike.
I feel so guilty staying inside, now, even if the wind is too gusty to do homework outside, and as nice as the grass is, there are no outlets to plug in my laptop there. It’s such a shame to be studying inside while the trees are starting to bud outside my window, and the sunlight shines through the windows to both distract me and superheat my room. But when I have to sit on the train for an hours this weekend trying to hunt down people to interview, at least I’ll come back with all my toes, which is more than I can say for my winter reporting adventures.
Extra bonus: that sunscreen I bought during orientation week that I immediately realized I would never need and stuck in a drawer has suddenly become useful. The downside? It’s become useful because I’m going to get sunburned.