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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Why Life Always Gets Complicated Three Days Into the Term

<e is something blissful about those first few days of term. They remind me of the feeling of just waking up in the morning—those first short moments when all I know is that I am awake and that the sun is shining through my window, but otherwise the rest of the world is forgotten. My assignments won’t get hard for at least another week, the new term offers a fresh start with friends, and for the first couple of days at least it’s easy to forget about all the drama that may have happened in the fall. Life is very simple in the beginning.

But by the time I get to the shower that simplicity begins to wear off and reality settles in. Some big project begins to loom over me; my problem sets prove harder than I expected them to be; a tricky social situation from last term rears its head again; the girl I like is giving ambiguous signals. Usually less than one week goes by before my initial tranquility has given way to some degree of stress and/or confusion.

That is when I know I am back at Carleton.

Why is it that the term gets so complicated so quickly? Is it something I bring upon myself? Is it something inherent in Carleton’s culture? I have been thinking about these questions since last week when those blissfully simple feelings first started to slip away. The culprit, I have decided, is desire. I am a creature of desire, so they say. My life is guided by my wants, but often what I want is something I cannot have, and therein lies the conflict.

In the first few days of the term, I have are big, general desires: I want to excel in my class work, and I want meaningful relationships. I think these two categories comprise most of the wants we have at Carleton. (We have other wants as well like financial, sexual, and spiritual wants, but these seem to fold into the broader categories of excelling and relating.) But as soon as the term gets underway my wants become more specific, and it is harder to avoid disappointment.

Excelling in my studies turns into doing well on this test, for instance, and wanting meaningful relationships turns into wanting to date that girl. As soon as I admit what my specific desire is, specific obstacles makes their presence sharply felt. The test is harder than I thought it would be, and the girl just might not be that interested. The specificity of our desires is what causes our frustration. Academically when my wants encounter obstacles it causes stress, and socially my deflected desires cause sadness, or at least confusion.

We talk a lot about stress at Carleton but not so much about sadness or confusion (though we think much more about our relationships than we do about our studies). We delight in talking about how miserable we all feel during tenth week, but I have never heard anyone talk about the feeling we all know when you find yourself sitting alone in your dorm room Friday night of third week realizing that all your friends are off doing other things and you have nowhere to go. You sit, and stew, and fiddle stupidly with your cell phone. And then a sudden and unexpected sadness comes and seizes you and tells you you are alone. It is a bizarre feeling, because it even comes to those of us who are otherwise happy and well-adjusted. It is also, I am convinced, a feeling everyone at Carleton has shared—though it does not seem so common when you’re in it because the experience is characterized by its loneliness.

It is interesting that whenever I set my Friday apart as a work night, I never feel that same bought of sadness. I only feel that twinge when I want to see friends but am not able to. This is critical, because it means that feeling of loneliness is not as a result of having no true friends; it simply comes because I have a desire which is not currently being fulfilled.

Sometimes when dealing with situations that cause stress, sadness, or confusion, I take action to change the situation, like calling a friend so I won’t be lonely, or talking to that girl, so I won’t be confused. Other times, however, I decide to let go of my want to be with friends that night and content myself with other things, or I drop it with the girl once I’ve learned her mind and start looking further. To relinquish desire is not easy, but even the attempt of giving up my wants gives me greater peace and tranquility. Letting go of my wants helps me acknowledge what my wants are, creating clarity out of confusion and helping direct my future actions.

Life will always be complicated at Carleton. The academics are challenging here I have had to work hard, and in a social community as small as ours I have found it important to tread lightly in among many affections. My experience here has been tumultuous and adventuresome, but I enjoy this adventure most when my mind is clear and my wants are simple.

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