I have two papers and a problem set due today. I’m feeling whelmed, I tell myself. Whelmed. Not over, not under, just whelmed. I realize that “whelm” has a perfectly usable dictionary definition — it is an archaic verb that means “submerge” — however, I’d like to take some linguistic liberties. I’m trying to use it as an escape from the vocabulary of stressed and busy and tired that often seem to be the only options given a situation in which my to-do list runs onto a second page.
Whelmed is my attempt to give myself a way to say a lot but not too much, more than usual but not catastrophic, at the speed limit but not over. It’s a reminder that adding more of the things I enjoy doing to the things I have to do should, at the very least, not make me less happy and hopefully will make me more fulfilled, more satisfied, more whelmed.
This past weekend, a number of things I’d approached with commitment and excitement happened all at once. And I realized that as the weekend neared, rather than feel those great things, I felt more and more like I was anticipating some massive oncoming explosion or inescapable disaster. With half a dozen commitments in the balance, my dedication morphed into a fear of unavoidable collapse. And of course, minor catastrophes did indeed come to pass and deadlines flew by, yet by Sunday night, fast asleep at 11:30 with three full-to-bursting days behind me, I was content. I was whelmed. And I was determined to carry that feeling into the week ahead of me. Because even on the verge of vacation, good busy is the ideal mode of existence, and I’d nearly forgotten that.
So on Monday I got up early to cram for my Intro to Programming midterm, joyfully bombed the midterm before attending a Master’s Tea and then a lecture. I’ve spent the remainder of this week in a similar pattern, waking up an hour before my alarm because my body just knows there is so much to do, and prioritizing the things that make me feel whelmed — the pitch meetings and the poetry readings and the final project planning — over, well, midterms.
It’s a long walk from my apartment to my Wednesday morning class, so I had a while to chat with a classmate who joined me on this journey. As it stands, there’s definitely one paper on my list that I just need to get through straightforwardly and with little feeling. “Think of it like a job,” she said, “it’s just a job and you just have to sit down, and you have to do it because it’s your job.” This advice surprised me because this woman is one of the most passionate and dedicated people I know, so these words were unexpected coming from her mouth. And yet I knew that I had to resign myself to what she was saying, at least in part in order to make it through the assignment (which I am most certainly working on while you read this, probably on my flight home).
But even midterm essays can be whelming when I let myself spend time with illustrations at the Beinecke, when I talk through an outline with a friend, when I savor re-reading a favorite passage. Perhaps then, it isn’t fair to so quickly dismiss the given definition of whelmed. When faced with the deluge, I’m not destined to drown, but to submerge myself, to allow it to wash over me, to be whelmed.
Caroline Sydney is a junior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.