So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

And so, this is End Of Term, and what have we done? Well, it’s issue 5 of the Iron Warrior, so I say we’ve done quite a lot. I just want to begin by saying thank you to everyone who has helped me through this term. To everyone who has provided tech support or given up their weekend to help me edit, layout and generally stay sane, to those who have provided much-needed moral support at the rougher patches, to my mum and sister who are usually a phone call away and always have a few welcome words along the lines of “stop taking everything so seriously”. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.

It’s been a long difficult term, and even though it is almost over it feels like it won’t ever stop. I’ve started to joke that this term has made me forget what weekends are because the week just keeps going and going until all of a sudden, it’s Monday again. But I know it’s not healthy, and I know that the way I do things is not the right way. Trust me, I am surrounded by some very grounded people and in situations that make me lose my hair, they are constantly calm. How do they do it? Honestly, I don’t know, I’ve been trying to make myself more level-headed for years now. Yoga, articles about staying detached from situations outside my control, quiet nights at home with a mug of peppermint – none of it has helped so far.

What I find really helps the best is talking about the things in my life that bother me, or writing them down. Putting into words the way I feel is a really great way to get some perspective. Whether that’s with friends at a bar, sitting on my roommate’s bed chatting until 1am, or writing in a journal (which I admit I have not done at all this term due to “lack of time”). It helps to analyse the situation and see if maybe you’re being a bit too dramatic or overthinking the situation. And it helps you to see a way out of it.

The feeling of being helplessly overwhelmed by the factors in life beyond control is something I have seen over and over again at this university, especially in the last few weeks. This is when exams start looming their hideous shadows over our restless sleeps and five hundred projects are due all at once. It feels like life moves from 20 to 100 in the space of a few days and suddenly you’re drowning. Group projects fall to pieces and you’re left putting them together at 2 AM like it’s some kind of jigsaw puzzle from hell. It was after a particularly distressing encounter I had in a hallway late at night that I realized how much stress everyone around me is going through as well.

Taking on the entire group project, especially one that is cumulative between all your classes, is not the right way to do things. I realize it can seem like you have no choice; it’s your name on the front page of the report too, but getting a crappy group is not your fault. Profs may seem unwilling to see your distress, but if it is causing multiple late nights, and trips to the sacred crying place: the bathroom, you have to let them know. Your mental health is more important than this degree and if your prof can’t see that the next higher up will. If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone about it, chat to a MATE or heck, ask me and I’ll come with you! Send iwarrior@uwaterloo.ca a quick email and I’ll try to get back to you pronto if you want to talk. You have so many options that taking the entire project on your own back should not even be considered. However, if this is the route you absolutely feel you have to take, I hope that you’re including that in your letter of submittal because no one deserves grades for ruining your sanity in the most stressful weeks of the term.

I’d like to talk finally about the importance of Nothing. In a world where it feels like we must be constantly on the go with projects or Something Important, doing nothing sounds like blasphemy. I personally have felt the pressure to always be doing something; my agenda is filled to bursting with Events, Projects, Meetings, Deadlines, and Fun. I’m always busy and I’m always moving but I’ve started feeling lonelier, more cut-off than ever before. My fun consists of snatched moments watching YouTube videos between calculus practice problems – something that has been detrimental to my productivity and makes me feel like I have to work even harder to compensate.

But have you ever noticed how well you can concentrate on something after a good night’s sleep, especially if all you did the evening before was relax or read a good book? Or have you ever noticed your productivity go up, contrary to what you might think, after a night out with friends at a party? It’s because you need to do a little Nothing sometimes in order to continue being successful at your Somethings. “Taking a walk to clear your thoughts” is a saying for a reason (it is a saying, right?); people need some time to do or think or feel nothing. Even sitting down with a piece of blank paper and no expectations is a form of doing nothing.

It was always an anomaly I noticed on co-op. Without the whirlwind of things that I have to do on campus, I start out my co-op term terrified of being bored out of my mind. Yet somehow, the things that I do schedule in mean a lot more. I spend a few hours at an art gallery and get more out of it than I do organizing events for the same amount of time. That’s because on co-op you feel free to do exactly as much with your time as you want, and apart from work there are no deadlines to meet, no stresses outside your nine-to-five. Unless you work overtime, which should really be your own choice. Emptying your schedule is not a bad thing, it’s something I am trying to teach myself to do and I think more people would be happy if they tried it as well.

I think many people associate having free time with failure or impotence (and not in that way, of course). The North American go-go-go culture set out by our parents as technology became bigger and better and capable of “doing more for us” to “free up more time”. I’ve started wondering if maybe some of our improvements haven’t been detrimental after all. I met a woman last year who told me in her native Norway, they just put sand on top of the ice and snow and it compacts and there’s no harmful salt or even a need to plough. Life just slows down in the winter, which when you think about it isn’t really a bad thing is it? When you keep up the same pace year-round something has to give. Even the Aussies, in a land untouched by snow, are known for how laid-back they are. They manage to take it easy consistently throughout the year. I feel like on this continent everything is taken way too seriously, and no one is benefiting from it.

So, with those last words I would like to end by saying: stay sane this exam season and into the holidays. Take care of yourself first, and cheesy as it may sound, the rest will follow. If you’re working this winter, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to always have a good time or over-exert yourself either at work or in your spare time. Choose things that interest you. If you don’t have a job, please don’t worry about it too much and maybe talk to CECA about helping you look, I’ve heard they can be quite helpful if you ask them for it. Lastly, if you’re back in school next semester, try to schedule yourself some Nothing time and see how it works out. If it doesn’t work, change the nothing that you’re doing.

So long everyone, and to quote some very intelligent beings “Thanks for all the fish”.


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