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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

On the treadmill

<urrently sitting at my desk in my room in Evans. As I write this, I still have a page-long assignment to finish before 8:15 tomorrow morning and four pages left to write of a five-page paper. Ten minutes ago I finished a 700-word op-ed for another campus publication; before that I sent in an internship application that I had worked on for a few hours; before that I was at a Manuscript staff meeting; before that I emailed my professor an assignment for a French class. Tomorrow I have to go to my 8:15, then finish my paper, eat lunch, go to work, turn in my paper, do what I estimate is around a hundred pages of reading, go to a budget committee meeting, practice piano for an hour, and go to bed. If I fell asleep right now, I would get five hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I am Griffin Johnson, and I am typical.

There are times when my workload coalesces like this, when everything happens at once, when I have a long lab or a long research paper to do, that I start to realize how a Carleton student’s schedule really is a 24-hour schedule. Since Monday night, when I realized that I was going to have to wait until the next morning to finish shooting a CAMS project, I’ve been planning things not just a few hours in advance, but several days in advance, and sleep has stopped being a void bookending my experiences and become just another item on my agenda:

1. Class (2 hours); 2. Finish shooting (4 hours); 3. Work (2 hours); 4. Dinner (1 hour)(?) 5. Editing (2 hours); 6. Piano (1 hour); 7. Reading (3 hours); 8. Sleep (5 hours).

Normally, going to bed feels like the finish line; this week, sleep has, at best, felt like a breath between sprints, and the finish line has moved up to some indistinct point between 10 PM and 1 AM on Thursday night. I’ve temporarily stopped thinking of time in terms of 16-hour blocks with 8 hours of blackness on either side and switched to thinking of it terms of 72-hour blocks, which can include stints of blackness if I feel like I deserve it.

This kind of schedule is pretty extreme, I’ll admit, but it’s not totally abnormal. It happens to me a couple of times a term; I imagine a student with better grades probably has proportionally more weeks like this, but it happens to just about every Carleton student, and really every American college student, from time to time. Our schedules are so fragmented, so hectic and wild, that it’s almost a law of nature that from time to time we find ourselves looking at our schedule for the next few hours and realizing that we’re not going to get meaningful time to relax for the next few days, that just about every slot is full of something, whether or not that something is related in any way to anything before or after it. A Carleton student is a lot like Mario in Donkey Kong: there are barrels rolling towards you, and you have to jump over them. You just have to do it, because that’s what you do. You are a plumber, so you jump over barrels; you are a student, so you do reading.

This happens most obviously during finals, when just about everyone is crabby, sleep-deprived, stressed, and panicked, but sometimes – maybe more frighteningly – it just happens. We wake up one morning and run through our list of things to do, and it just doesn’t end, like we’ve angered a vengeful god of busywork, and we realize that this god is going to make us work until some blurry point in the future, and we wish we could sacrifice a ram to appease him.

It’s crazy, but it’s what we signed up for. Unlike a lot of the things that I truly dislike about Carleton – the brutal, apocalyptic cold; the preoccupation with quirkiness; the terrifying radiator in my room – I feel like this experience, insane as it is, can be manageable as long it’s dealt with in a healthy way. And in many ways I think Carleton students are good at dealing with it. All flaws aside, this school is extremely sympathetic to the mental damage done by its own workload. I’ve been coping with this week largely by drinking lots of coffee and listening to lots of Blondie, but there are people around me who I know would help me out if I happened to crack, and I know I would do the same for them.

However, this kind of collective campus-wide safety net is always in danger of tearing if people start to get too casual about their workload. It’s always easy to retreat to platitudes like “I have a lot of work” when you might need to defend your mental health, and this kind of abstraction is dangerous.

What I’m saying, basically, is this: rely on the safety net, make sure nobody you know falls through, and always remember that you don’t just “have a lot of work.” Nothing that changes the way you look at time so drastically should be reduced to such a boring cliché.

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