"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The End of the Beginning of the Second Year. Or, Why do we call them Reading Days?

Tenth week is upon us.
The week where everything comes to its whirlwind finish. The week where, to maintain the maelstrom analogy, the chaos builds to the breaking point, and the water finally closes in... and all is still.

We haven't quite gotten to the stillness part though. We're still in that mad frenzy that comes with the end of classes. But to think- in a matter of days it'll all be over and I shall be back home. Crazy.

At this moment-

Ah, beautiful! My roommate and I just had an awesome exchange.

*A is sitting at her desk, typing whilst contemplating the impending doom which comes with the end of a Carleton term. Suddenly-*
B: "Why does t go by so fast?"
A: "...What?" *Is perplexed. Mental images of spacetime diagrams flash to mind. Questions begin to surface- what does it mean for t to "go by so fast"? Does she mean she can't believe we're getting old and the term is coming to a crashing end and- ?*
B: "T. Why does it go by so fast?"
A: "Ugh... well..." *Whilst scrambling to concoct some eloquent, philosophical discourse on the passing of time and the nature of the universe, she turns to face B, who is working very hard at draining her cup of apparently delicious and swiftly-vanishing dining hall chai. Suddenly it all makes sense.*
*A has moment of epiphany and explains her moment of confusion to B before accusing B of foolishly throwing around terms that have very specific designated meanings.*
Joint Conclusion: Too much math/physics. Also, A needs to drink more tea.

But anyway. (And, no, you didn't need to appreciate that last tangent. It was much more amusing in person.)
I would like to take a brief moment to expound upon the senselessness of what are termed "Reading Days" here at Carleton.

Carleton runs on a very tight schedule. Three ten-week terms of intense study. We get one day off (midterm break), and believe in no such thing as holidays. With the winter come extreme snow conditions- and we venture forth through the blizzard in pursuit of the light (and warmth?) of knowledge. Classes end one day, and you are given two measly days to brace yourself before finals come crashing down in cacophonic splendor.
Now what I do not understand is the reasoning behind terming those two interim days "Reading days."

Reading days. Picture it...

Mugs of delicious hot chocolate; a comfy, plush couch covered in fluffy pillows and cozy blankets; the gentle swoop of falling snowflakes (or the melodic pattering of raindrops, if you prefer); old, well-worn, beloved books welcoming you home in the familiar manner of those friends who are family without need of kinship.
Reader preference may dictate the addition of such elements as a well-loved cat or dog curled up lovingly at your feet, or a crackling fireplace providing a warm, homey glow. I rather like the idea, and am myself partial to the notion of a Beloved Other pouring over his own studies nearby, in a separate world, but near enough for the exchange of smiling glances in those pauses where we each return to our own real world for a moment.

How delicious! How delightful! It seems to me an image of perfect, quiet happiness- cozy and warm and happy.

Now contrast this with the two-day period before finals, which is sadly lacking in the elements of coziness and warmth. Sure, you get to sleep in a bit, which is nice, but upon waking up you become painfully aware of the millions of pressing items on your to-do list. In fact, when you write up your to-do list for the pre-finals period and jot down an estimate-for-the-amount-of-time-required-to-complete-this-task, even very crude arithmetic makes it overwhelmingly evident that the sum of the required times amounts to more than 48 hours. This is a problem.
Cue stress and anxiety. Cue questions as to how to prioritize activities that seem equally important in determining your fate. Cue concerns as to how to fit in such mundane and irritatingly necessary things as eating, taking bathroom breaks, drinking water, and maybe having a conversation with another human at some point. And can't I have a bit of fun and go to that movie night tonight?
Inevitably, unaffordable study breaks are taken and creative forms of procrastination creep into what was supposed to be an fruitful, pre-apocalyptic preparatory schedule- all in an effort to preserve a measure of sanity and health. Yes, this is good, but it hardly helps when one realizes the discrepancies between "What-I-planned-to-have-done" and "What-I-in-fact-have-done," "What-I-need-to-do" and "What-I-have-time-to-do," and "What-I-should-do," and "What-I-want-to-do" (namely- have a real Reading Day).

In short, terming those two pre-finals days "Reading Days" is not only deceptive and disillusive, it is senseless and borders upon some form of sacrilege. It would be best to be blunt and name it like it is (To quote Oscar Wilde's Cecily- 'When I see a spade, I call it a spade!').
"Work Days." "Chaos Days." "Days of Frenzy." These are all acceptable, straight-forward names. We could even go some sort of neutral path- "Preparation Days," perhaps.
But why must we taint the image of happy, cozy bliss with the brusque ugliness of work and stress and anti-coziness?

I don't understand. But I shall hold tight to my dream of having actual, happy reading days. Though when that will happen while I still stand on Carletonian land seems woefully unclear. It seems I will have to designate my own happy reading day and push aside all pragmatic concerns for that one, blissful microcosm of perfection.
I can't wait.

But, for now, I must turn away from this unaffordable study break and immerse myself once more in the worlds of substitution reactions and eigen values.

Au revoir, dear Reader!

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