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May 12, 2021

LU | Exhaustion, 4 Exhibitions and Pleasure Reading

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When I told my friend I was getting the second dose of the vaccine, he responded, “Oh. It’s been 4 weeks already?” Spring semesters have always had a rapid cadence but this year, March slipped straight to May and April was an immaterial haze. Perhaps my April was also marked by the exhaustion of four nearly back-to-back exhibitions in the Johnson Museum. 

Like the logistical convenience of Zoom classes, student exhibitions in the Johnson were one of the weird and unanticipated upsides of a COVID-semester. Getting to have my first solo exhibition at a museum is not something I expected from my junior year of college. As April began with my show — a jarring transition for two months of labor to be condensed into a week of display — I thought that my semester would be coasting after that. 

In actuality, there were three more weeks just like that first one. The week following was my studio partner’s exhibition. Two weeks later, I performed in another friend’s exhibition. Then, finally, my pre-thesis class had our group show. I think I’ve spent more time in the Johnson than at the Temple of Zeus this semester — whatever that says. 

Needless to say, I’m running on empty. For weeks I’ve been behind on assignments, answering texts, doing laundry and the list goes on. Rest and respite have been scraped from corners of the day, squeezing out space for a cup of tea and reading a book. Perhaps one good thing that has resulted from this exhibition-induced frenzy is my realization that pleasure-reading is my favorite form of escape. In the one week of April without a show, I finally sat down and read Kindred by Octavia Butler, which had been resting on my desk since the semester began. I was enveloped into Butler’s cinematic storytelling, of time travel and questions of inheritance, of finding out your origin story and also having to take part in it. Though it was a story so far from my own, it was somehow grounding to read — reminding me of the ongoing, constantly resurrecting traumas of slavery, and the weight of our personal and collective histories. 

Pleasure-reading became so pleasurable that I decided to fold a friend in. We formed a 2-person book club and griped about how not enough of our friends read for fun. It started as a casual, mutual complaint. But the question continued to haunt me: Why don’t people at Cornell read for fun? Out of the dozens of friends, acquaintances and peers that I’d bring the subject up to, I knew of maybe two people who read for fun. Perhaps the obvious answer is the lack of time. When coursework is already so pressing, who has the mental space for finding extra intellectual stimulation? It’s a sad realization, though, how easily coursework and Cornell teach us to become assignment-completing robots, rather than creating an environment of self-led thought and exploration. But I guess that’s all in the name of exhaustion and a near-continuous spring semester — forcing some to turn to reading for pleasure while others turn from it as a burden.

Cecilia Lu is a junior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. She can be reached at [email protected] Breathing Room runs alternate Thursdays this semester.