Sometimes I feel like my columns are about the most mundane things — getting off campus, talking about what classes you like, getting a meal. But actually, as my time as a columnist slowly draws to a close, I’ve come to be pretty glad about that. The reason I use my bi-weekly opportunity to mouth off to a captive audience about these impossibly small-scale topics is because if I’ve learned anything over the past three years, it’s that those are the first things to go while we’re at school.
Everything at Yale seems so lofty, so long-term and so impossibly important that sometimes it becomes hard to get a reality check, or to deal with the day-to-day tasks that face us every moment. Agonizing about our homework for 10 days is an easier, more commonplace thing to deal with than getting a good night of sleep. I can wrap my mind around writing a 50-page thesis, applying to law school and going to job interviews; yet I will go three weeks without doing my laundry or taking out my common room’s recycling. (Sorry, mom.)
I’m saying that from personal experience: My thesis is due next Monday, and it sometimes feels like my normal existence has been put utterly on hold. But recently, I was reminded of something that I think more Yalies would do well to recall: the power of taking the logistics of your life back into your hands.
I returned to school from Spring Break with a list of things I needed to get done, according to my mother, in the upcoming weeks. I had gotten a number of things in the mail that needed attending to, had a few doctor’s appointments to schedule — all mundane and relatively simple. But when I got back to campus that first Sunday, did I do them? Absolutely not. I got to my room, threw down my suitcase and headed straight to Bass, where I churned out 11 pages of my thesis in about five hours. Something about getting on the phone to call my pediatrician to get an immunization record seemed simultaneously trivial and yet insurmountably challenging in a way that reading Dostoevsky did not. The stack of envelopes that I needed to deal with remained on my desk.
Last week, however, I found myself at an odd juncture: I turned in a draft of my thesis, leaving me with no other pressing work I could use to justify putting the more ordinary workings of my life on hold. And so … I didn’t. When I woke up, I went to the gym. I came back and actually had breakfast. I took the pieces of mail that I had brought from home and, one by one, actually attended to them. I renewed my driver’s license. (Look out world!) I picked up packages from my P.O. Box and mailed out a form that had been languishing on my bookshelf. I refilled a prescription.
In times of high levels of school stress, I get into something of a pattern. For a few days leading up to the big push, I essentially put my life on hold. My room becomes a monstrosity (sorry again, mom), my meals irregular and the emails in my inbox unanswered. But then, once the work is finally behind me, the way I celebrate my freedom from stress isn’t by sleeping or watching an episode of TV. It’s by methodically attending to those things that I knew I should have been doing the whole time. Nothing is more therapeutic after a horrible week of midterms than to sit down and do four loads of laundry; it’s like the clean, warm sheets are rewarding you for finally taking your life back into your own hands.
I did that last week, not because I had a particularly challenging week, but rather because I didn’t have anything real to do that took priority over it. I couldn’t keep my tangible (and therefore less important) tasks at bay with seemingly eternal “work” justifications, and so I just sat down and did them. And you know what? I felt pretty amazing afterwards. And it makes me wonder — what if we all lived our lives here like normal humans? A healthy combination of dedication to our long-term intellectual or extracurricular projects and to the equally important day-to-day things might actually help us feel more in control of our week. Just because we’re at Yale and chronically overworked doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes have to vacuum the common room, and accomplishing one minor feat each day is a good reminder that life goes on, even outside the confines of Bass.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .