On Sunday Nov. 7 I ate a whole bag of Sour Patch Kids and as I did, I began to digest a reality that is sour and then sweet. I sat at my desk as my phone buzzed with CornellALERTS. Luckily, I was able to avoid the evacuations that occurred on the parts of central campus which received bomb threats. I can’t imagine the fear that my peers in those circumstances experienced.
There’s a sentiment on our campus that seems more pervasive now than ever — the idea that we are aboard the academic titanic. Our obligations come in sets of crashing waves and the stakes seem high — prelims, pre-enroll, projects and the pandemic that we continue to tread. The events of Sunday, Nov. 7 and Tuesday, Nov. 9 were the iceberg, leaving students floating on spiral notebooks and iPad Pros, rowing through a semester with pencils for oars and unable to breach the surrounding waves. We turn to our friends, our family, our professors and our administration to melt our icebergs. Though in some ways they prove to be insurmountable.
What do you do when you are not powerful enough to change a situation? What do you do when you can turn back the clocks, but you cannot change the times in which you live? Twenty-seven grams of sugar later and I still couldn’t answer either question. I ate the red ones first.
In college, syllabi become our academic constitutions. They lay out expectations, course plans, prelim dates and codes of academic integrity. Whenever I think of a constitution, I think of the phrase we apply to our national one, “a living, breathing document.” As students, we ask that our syllabi live and breathe with us throughout a semester that has inhaled too much of our oxygen. The masks that we wear seem to hide more than our smiles these days. They capture our breaths behind their sterile blue filters. They withhold “normal” from us by reminding us that we still need to wear them. At this point, it’s time to tear the word normal out of the dictionary and pretend that there is no such thing as normal.
I made my way halfway through the bag of candy, I was up to orange now. I was studying for an economics prelim, which was interrupted by the constant urge to figure out what was going on. I went from Reddit, to Instagram, to iMessage where the messages were plentiful and the CornellALERTS punctuated a never-ending sentence of uncertainty. Little did I know the economics prelim would be postponed by the events of Tuesday, Nov. 9. However, economics provided some applicable insights; the supply of mental health resources at Cornell are never enough to meet the demand. The opportunity cost of missing class to recover from illness is too high, leaving my lectures a chorale of coughing fits. At times, competition seems to overcome collaboration. The market graphs piled up around me, a testament to productivity that drives the culture here — productivity that comes at the cost of overall well-being, productivity fueled by exhaustion. Supply and demand intersect to create an unreachable equilibrium point; equilibrium is just as real as normal. It only exists on paper.
My supply of Sour Patch Kids was dwindling. I start to eat the blue ones. These past few days have left us all shaken. They have left us feeling blue. Unlike the Titanic’s Jack and Rose, we can keep each other afloat. The only thing that will sink us is rugged individualism in a time when we are in dire need of collective action.
There is a poem by Adrienne Rich called Into the Wreck that offers a different intuition. The narrator explores a metaphorical shipwreck in order to uncover how the past informs the society in which they live. The narrator intends to understand “the wreck and not the story of the wreck/the thing itself and not the myth,” conveying the importance of prioritizing the truth over established stories of the wreck. As students, we can dive into the wreck of the “academic titanic” in order to uncover the myths that are intertwined in our college lives. At times we accept burnout and over-productivity as normal facets of life, when we have the choice to decide whether these ideas should prevail. As we turn back the clocks and descend into dark chilly nights reminiscent of a deep sea wreck, we can continue to explore the myths we hold to be true.
The times of our prelims change more quickly than the political and social circumstances we find ourselves tangled in, but we are not powerless to change the times. There will come a time when we long for a normal that precedes this crazy world, the world before there were bomb threats and shelter in place procedures. There comes a time when Sour Patch Kids grow up and leave us, real kids, to a world that is sour then sweet; so very sour and sweet.
Rebecca Sparacio is a sophomore in the Dyson School. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Space Between runs every other Wednesday this semester.