The Other Times

Every kid, at some point, wishes that they could just eat ice cream for dinner. Food is food, and ice cream just happens to be one of the more delicious options. As pointed out by my friend KevBaum, my peers and I at that age where we can make our decisions but aren’t responsible enough to make consistently good ones. So for dinner a few night ago, I ate ice cream. It was delicious. And that’s a sign that our lives are great right now.

Classes ended 2 weeks ago, my finals a week after that, and my total freedom also as I’m already a half week into my summer job. The summer brings along exciting things to look forward to, but I think it’s my time to reflect on another year gone.

I learned that communication is a joint activity. I learned the lyrics to “Hey, Soul Sister.” I learned how to clean battery contacts with vinegar. I learned about what we do and don’t know about receptive field changes in neurons in visual areas. I learned about how schools are selected for bowl games. I learned that Hewlett 200 is not a good room for a comedy show. I learned about legitimately putting together a theme for a blog. I learned how to kayak. I learned how to play “contact.” I learned about how machine learning techniques can improve speed dating techniques. I learned how to put together a syllabus for a class. I learned about Merlinpeen. I learned how to integrate sensory details into nonfiction work.

It seems like I’ve themed my past year end entries around some big lesson of the year. Freshmen year of college was about seeing a bigger world. Sophomore year was actually figuring out why I liked what I was learning about. I think this year was about realizing that I have fun like a normal person, which kind of has two parts.

First, I can be a dork and not reinforce it with my every action. I’m not denying anything. Note several facts from the other day:

  • I made at least 2 Star Wars jokes
  • I lamented to my friend Ben, “Why can’t we have Starcraft 2 right now?”
  • I spent a good chunk of time this afternoon reading about cilantro/coriander

I feel blessed to be at college where this type of behavior isn’t cause for concern. I’m not beyond having long, late night conversations with friends about Starcraft 2, but among my regular group of friends, I think we’re far more likely to be talking about sports, movies, and burritos. I think I’ve been fighting my curiosity and fascination with pop culture for a long time. Thanks to the influence of my hallmates, I think I’ve listened to far more Ke$ha and Gaga than Canadian Brass and Gene Pokorny this year, and I might be better at 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon than chess.

It’s not fair to say that I have a curiosity with pop culture. Said like that, I watch pop culture unravel as an academic analysis of societal trends and preferences. And that’s pretty dorky. After all these years of eschewing pop culture as mindless and unproductive, I’m beginning to see what the appeal is. It’s fun. And I think that’s something I was missing for awhile there.

As much fun as sophomore year was, junior year has been a huge bounce back for me. Particularly, my entire floor in Robinson is coming off a huge high that we had all of spring quarter. At first, we were just excited to be entirely reunited after a few people left for the winter to study abroad, but as the school year started to feel long, we never let up on the distractions. Whether it was a sleepover on the balcony or a continuous conversation in the hallway from after dinner to bedtime as people cycled in and out, I’m glad we found activities not centered around our N64 or YTMND.

Second, there shouldn’t be any guilt with having fun. The great news about summer is that there are firm boundaries and expectations about investment in work. Most jobs are 9 to 5, and when the clock strikes 5, it’s permissible to drop everything and move on with the rest of life. In essence, there’s no guilt about not working long hours for most jobs. In many ways, school is a job, but one very big difference is that the school day is never really over. During the school year, literally every moment is a potentially study moment, and with each tick, you’re either making it or wasting it.

Which is the worst possible way to think about it. Because we’re irresponsible college students, we spend time doing all sorts of random things, from watching Lakers-Celtics games to visiting Buddhist monasteries. Many extracurricular activities are done strictly for fun and relaxation, and those are moments spent not studying. I realized that as soon as I thought about that fact, I ruined the movie I was watching or the game of racquetball I was playing. Instead of enjoying and relaxing, I was worrying about my opportunity costs. It would be the worst possible use of my time: not studying and not having fun.

Having heard my lessons, you shouldn’t worry that I’ve lived some hedonistic lifestyle and forsaken my studies for fun alternatives. Although it’s cliche, this all boils down to me finding some sort of balance in my life. The classic divide is between work and pleasure, but my situation can be summarized as work guilt. Too little, and I might never get around to doing what I need to. Too much, and I’m stuck worrying without being any more productive.

Although there are always ups and downs, I feel like I had it all this past year. I’m proud of what I accomplished, I’m so pleased with the random experiences that paved the path, and I’m grateful for the people around me who laughed when I laughed, distracted me when I was tense, and supported me when I went into the tank. Life wasn’t a year-long Hawaiian vacation, but that’s not really how you have ice cream for dinner anyways.

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