November 19, 2017

WANG | Time to Take a Step Back

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I feel like the semester has keeled over and fallen into the abyss. Recently my Chinese history professor pitched a 20-25 page essay as a final project. It had taken a full semester for me to realize why this class was 4 credits. We had spent the majority of it pleasantly reading quaint Chinese scholars ruminate about the difficulty in Chinese bureaucracy while holding far-ranging discussions in class that always concluded with some kind of zany anecdote about our experiences in China.

In the back of my head, I knew it was too good to true. I was right, and now, I’m currently stuck trying to piece together excerpts from around 10 books to form a coherent thesis. My hands are shaking from all the typing. I don’t think I’ve ever had to write this much in my life. I hope I don’t ever have to write this much again in my life.

We all have ways of coping with the stress of a busy semester. One of my friends from Caltech visited this weekend. To him, Caltech is a pressure cooker where the best of the best are constantly laser focused on their homework. Its notoriety as an academic hellhole is well earned. To cope with the deadening glaze of the school, he started to play video games. Hours of them. In more than one way, he needed an escape from the real world before his head combusted.

Perhaps you could exercise. To get away from a cesspool of labs, homework and team projects my CS friend went for a daily jog in the morning around Beebe lake for half an hour to clear her head of all the nonsense. Then she went to the gym to shoot hoops, lift weights and as she delicately put it: “Kick ass before homework kicks mine.”

Or maybe you throw that all out of the window and just be sensational like my engineering friend Div who takes 25 credits, sleeps at 11, wakes up at 6 and doesn’t seem to be the least bit bothered about his gruesome workload. What’s remarkable is I’ve only seen him smiles from him. Well — except, once. One night, he came back to his dorm, slightly tired and almost frowning. It was such an astonishing event, I had him to ask him on the spot what happened.

“Just a bad score on my test.”

Oh, really?

“Yeah, only got an A.”

God. Damnit. Div.

But for all the non-super geniuses out there, de-stressing and taking a step back from the semester is a necessity. You could play games like my Caltech friend, or you could run like my CS friend. It didn’t really matter. For me, it’s a slow burner of many things. It’s one part David Bowie songs (“Let’s Dance,” “Young Americans” and “Beauty and the Beast” are the highlights, if anyone’s curious), and one part Simpsons reruns. Which, is to say, I like living in the past more than in the future.

The Simpsons has a quality key to keeping me leveled. The Simpsons family — Homer, the father; Marge, the mother; Bart, the son; and Lisa, the daughter — are innovative yet typically cartoonish. For one, the characters are obscenely ugly. Marge’s hair is the aesthetic of frozen lips — puffy, and blue. Homer is enthusiastically inappropriate  He drinks and curses, strangles his son and has a plainly silly temperament. It’s wholly stupid, yet wildly entertaining. Bart is the crack-up — he makes fake phone calls, engages in pranks, and thumbs his nose at authorities. Lisa is your typical egghead. As singular entities, they can be boringly one-sided. Together, they form a show that keeps me distracted just enough to remain sane, where the humor is a slight knife — sharp, and aiming for the jugular.

At one point during a particularly quirky exchange, Bart and Lisa are lying gloomily on their beds on a particularly horrendous summer camp experience run by a group of nasty camp counselors. The wind is pounding their cabin doors, the temperature hovering below the freezing limit, their meals a mess of sludge and grovel. They’ve just been forced to a day of sweatshop labor, making Gucci wallets for the vendors of Hong Kong and death marches around camp. It’s miserable.

A traumatized Lisa, shivering from the weather, can’t take it any longer. She says:

“I feel like I’m going to die Bart.”

Bart, a little sagely and coolly, replies, “We’re all going to die Lisa.”

“I mean soon,” she clarifies.

He sighs.

“So did I.”

If that exchange doesn’t sum up my life at this point, then I’m not sure what does.
William Wang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. WIllpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.