“I really just caught up on sleep and watched TV,” my roommate said a few days ago when I asked her how her winter break was.
“I just slept and slept,” my coworkers responded when I asked them the same question.
“No, seriously, Sidney, I just wouldn’t stop sleeping,” my friend insisted.
Since getting back on campus, nearly every exchange of “back from break” pleasantries I have had with my friends and peers emphasized how necessary the break was, how exhausted we were in the fall as we crawled to the finish line and how throughout the past 5 weeks, we primarily hibernated.
Now, of course, the majority of Cornell students spend time every break catching up on the much needed (and much deserved) sleep that we lose from the rigor (read: torture) from the semester before.
But something felt different about this past break. I needed it more than I needed any other break throughout every year of school I have labored through thus far. The destabilizing nature of the past two years has been intense, and my goal since the onset of the pandemic was just to stay afloat. But as each grim ramification of the pandemic came like a rip current, it became increasingly difficult to tread water and keep my head up.
And so, finally, the exhaustion caught up to me.
When I was home over the summer, my brother and I stood in the kitchen talking about the effects of accumulating emotions and anxieties instead of expressing them. At some point in our conversation, we began using a red cup on our counter as an example of our overburdened minds. Letting the water represent our emotional baggage, we filled it all the way up with water from the sink. We used it to play around with the idea that communicating some of your emotions actually helps to release tension from your body and mind, just as pouring out a little bit of the water from the cup will make it lighter.
The point we were trying to make to each other was how it can be burdensome to keep things inside, and how it’s important to get things off your chest — or pour things out of your cup — so as to make room for other worries that you will undoubtedly have to deal with next. Inverting the idiom “one’s cup runneth over,”, our sardonic take in that moment was that our cups were overflowing with problems.
The red cup scenario reminds me of the necessity of a break. Weekends are like pouring out a few drops from my red cup, but by Tuesday, the cup is full again, and on Wednesday, the contents of the cup are dribbling down the sides. Thursday comes, and the cup is wishing it was a bottomless bowl. Again, the cup is me, and my bottomless bowl would be longer weekends, more time in the day or being more capable than I am.
That is why I am so grateful for this past holiday break. More time to decompress meant I actually had a chance to tilt my cup a bit further and empty out more of its contents. Because for me, the past couple of years have been like an ongoing faucet, positioned directly above my cup, furiously gushing water, as my cup bubbled over and leaked. But during this winter break? I really was relaxing. That is what has always made me so fond of winter break, because unlike summer break, which is usually teeming with the stress of internships, opportunities and needing money, winter break is different. The faucet turns off during this time and it is almost purely a time of rest.
Or at least, it was.
I am graduating this May and leaving the world of Academia , so this past break was my last guaranteed month off to recover from the various trials of existence. I am already mourning the past few weeks, wishing I did even more to savor the sweet taste of “unproductivity.” I am looking forward to graduation, but as I think about the infinite nature of work in our society, I wonder when I am going to find time to tilt that red cup.
Sidney Malia Waite is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Waite, What? runs every other Tuesday this semester.