If you’re like me and you plan to spend the next week pretending that Fall Term isn’t ending soon, then you’ve probably realized it’s not going to be possible. This part of the term is inevitably dedicated to stress about finals, the realization that term is ending and discussing how long the upcoming break is going to feel. We’re reaching the end of term, whether you’d like to admit it or not.
But Fall Term isn’t over yet, and I want to talk about when we started saying it’s ending. We spend too much time focused on the beginnings and ends of the academic year, and not enough recognizing that this is college. It’s not about the beginning or end: it’s about the middle, all of those days in between moving into your dorm and finals, and we spend very little time in that space.
I will argue that the beginning of the end of term is the middle of week six. I have no logical basis for that, and I won’t pretend to: my theory is that there isn’t any factual basis for that, but we all seem to agree on it. Most readers will disagree, because week six is only just barely after halfway into the term, but it’s during week six that the conversations begin, most of which can be summarized: “I can’t believe it’s almost week seven, it feels like we just got here.” The part where week seven is late in the term, is almost the end, is implied.
Once we get to week seven, any hope of believing it’s still not that late in term feels impossible. Upcoming course registration means that we all start thinking about next term, beginning to look forward to or worry about classes for next term. Maybe that’s when the focus shifts from how interesting classes are to how much work we have for them. Maybe that’s when we forget that we’re here for a reason, we chose these classes for a reason and we should want to try to enjoy them. But instead, we start thinking about what’s next, despite having over a third of the term left.
And time doesn’t come up infrequently: starting during week six, a significant portion of conversations either revolve around or at least discuss the end of term. It’s casual conversations beginning with a lighthearted exchange about how surprisingly late in the term it is, it’s talking over dinner about how that one essay just needs to write itself at this point because it’s just not happening and it’s the realization that somehow every conversation seems to include something about how far into term we are and how much homework we all have. By week six, time becomes a key subject of all conversations.
Once these conversations start, they don’t end. At that point, nothing matters except where in the term we are. Are midterms over? Are you ready for finals? Are you stressed about finals yet? Do you have any plans for winter break? Have you started thinking about course registration yet? These questions pepper conversations, constantly reminding us of how few weeks we’re on campus.
Carleton academic terms feel short. They feel like they’re ending as soon as we get here, and I’m convinced that it’s, in part, a result of how we count weeks. If I were to divide the Carleton academic terms into sections, this is how I would do so:
Week 1: the beginning
Week 2: I will argue this is still part of the middle, but I’ll accept that my opinion is controversial
Week 3: the middle, but we all still think it’s the beginning
Week 4: the middle, but we’re just starting to realize it’s no longer the start of term
Week 5: the middle
Week 6: the middle, but we’re all starting to think about how late in the term it is
Week 7-8: still the middle, but we all start to think term is ending
Week 9: Same as week two
Week 10: actually the end of term
Based on this list, eight (possibly six, if you disagree with me about weeks two and nine), of the weeks of term should be considered the middle. So why do we spend so much time discussing how close we are to the end of term? I don’t feel the need to discuss the beginning of the term because I don’t think people talk about the beginning of a term the way they talk about the end, and I think the start of term is probably genuinely worth differentiating. What I would like to focus on here, is the fact that we spent essentially the last month of each term discussing how the term is ending. With a ten week term, that represents more than a third of the time we spend here.
And it’s funny, because as much as I’m saying we should talk about the end of term less, we do have very very short academic terms. But I think we shorten them by calling attention to them so much.
Sometimes it feels like the way we talk about each week and getting homework done shortens time too: how much time do we spend focusing on how it’s almost whatever day, when whichever assignment we’ve decided to worry about will finally be over, so we can finally relax, or how it’s nearly the weekend, we just need to get through the next few days? I wonder, sometimes, how much time we spend wishing away that way.
It’s like we all collectively develop temporal tunnel vision in which the only thing we can think about is stress and time, constantly caught in a cycle of worrying about the next thing. Everything ceases to matter except for the things we need to do. This is when days of the week lose their meaning: we spend so much time thinking about time and to do lists that time passes strangely, seemingly warped around due dates and deadlines.
The problem that I keep running into is what a solution would be. The truth is, Carleton academic terms are short, and there isn’t a way of looking at things that will change that. And so my advice there is that I have a theory that as much as I enjoy our constant knowledge of exactly what week number it is, as much as I like being able to label my class notes neatly (ish) at the top of the page “Class 21, Week 8 – Monday, October 31” or whatever the day happens to be, I’m not certain it’s ultimately a good thing. I like being able to know where exactly in the term we are, and being able to say it’s week whatever, of course we’re all stressed, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that the stress of this term is the same as the stress from the last and we will get through it. But is that knowledge worth it, given that it is also, I would argue, a significant source of the feeling that the term is almost over. I’d be curious to know where our system of counting weeks comes from, and there are things I like about it, but I wonder if it isn’t ultimately harmful.
And so, for the last few weeks of the term (because they are, admittedly, the last), I want to focus on enjoying the days that we have rather than focusing on the end. There are days when it feels like Carleton is a bubble, and as a result, I think it’s easy to focus on homework and stress and forget that Carleton is the real world, in some ways. As college students, our lives are at Carleton, and I think it would help to slow down the term if we remember that more, if we remember that not everything has to be about getting things done. If you’ve ever walked across campus with me, you’ve probably noticed that I spend way too much time interrupting conversations to point out a rabbit, a squirrel, the cloud pattern of the sky. Those little things that happen, completely unrelated to classes, that make campus feel happy.
As the term gets busier, it feels natural for me to dedicate a significant portion of my free time to working on homework, and a decent portion of the rest of it to thinking about, planning, and generally stressing myself out about that homework. That isn’t, obviously, my goal — I want to spend time with my friends — but somehow it always feels like classes are in the back of my mind. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think it is. I think we need to get better at setting aside time to focus on the fact that we are here — many of us voted here on this Tuesday, the vast majority of our social lives are here and, for the majority of the year, we live here. Being at Carleton is real life, and I don’t want it to feel like a constant countdown to whatever is next.
As this term ends, I want to spend more time looking at the sky. I want to wake up and watch the sunrise with friends even though it’s early and we’ll be a little bit tired later, I want to take time out of my evening to watch the sunset, and I want to pause while walking across campus to look at the clouds. Rather than constantly worrying about the next thing, for as long as we’re here, for the ten short weeks that we get this fall, I want to focus on being here.
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