The dumpster fire that is spring semester 2021

How are we all doing? Everybody okay? Didn’t think so.

Peretz Partensky, Wikimedia | Photo Courtesy
An accurate representation of this school year.

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that classes, newspapers and social interactions have been littered with encouragements of how the world seems to be turning around, ‘10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day’ or reminders that if you frame a situation negatively, you’re more likely to feel negative about it. 

And not to crap on the toxic positivity parade, but I think now is a perfectly acceptable time to admit that, for a lot of us, things aren’t going too hot, and no amount of positive thinking, wellness habits or Target runs is going to fix that. 

Listen, we’re going on over a year, a YEAR, of pandemic-age schooling. Dare I say: I miss walking to class in the freezing cold, with my nose running, fingers frozen and constant fear of eating asphalt at any second. I miss students asking professors complicated questions one minute before class ends. I even miss quizzes I forget to prepare for, at least the adrenaline rush of impending doom had me really feeling something. 

At this point, it seems like many students have burnout from their burnout, their Zoom fatigue is more like a Zoom coma and if it wasn’t obvious based on the fact that many students can’t keep track of the month—or worse, the two people I’ve encountered in the last week who couldn’t remember when exactly they last showered—the effort to care is just gone. 

So I want to take a moment here, let’s call it an indulgence, to appreciate the dumpster fire that is this time for many students. 

If you want to go back to your self-help meditation and productivity apps after reading this, more power to you, but for a minute, appreciate the fact that life is allowed to be hard right now. The capitalist mantra for breaking your soul in the pursuit of work will always be waiting there for you, that precocious bastard, but for right now, you can tell yourself “this shit sucks,” and leave it at that.

Not that grades really signified a whole heck of a lot about a person’s intelligence before the pandemic, but they seem really meaningless now. There’s something daunting about handing a paper to your professor in person, the permanency of it. Then, before you get your grade back, you come to class nervously waiting, like a kid right before getting called into the hallway by his teacher. There’s no fear quite like it.

Now, turning in assignments, tests or papers is just clicking a few buttons while the crumbs from the sandwich you’re eating get all over your keyboard. There’s nothing final or satisfying about it. And if you don’t turn something in? Well, you’re just withholding a few 1s and 0s from the internet’s greedy hands. I don’t want to give the billionaires monitoring my computer habits any more information anyways. 

And if grades are bad, classes are worse. It’s not the fault of the professors, every class the only weapon they have in their arsenal is a lecture about theory or a 200-year-old reading, but they’re going up against every fun and distracting thing a student has behind their computer screen. Sorry lecture on Max Weber, but my cats and a box of junk I found under my bed win today’s game of “Who Will Grab My Attention?” once again. 

Really, I think most students do try to listen. There’s nothing like paying $400 for a class but only being able to carry a coherent thought for about five minutes. 

And it’s not our fault. If you were raised like me, screens were something our parents stuck in front of us to turn our brains off, not rev the thinking-dial up. I am only made to do call-and-response at a first-grade level. I can say “Swiper no swiping” any day of the week, but there’s no way in hell I can explain a concept that’s taken hundreds of years and several Ph.D. theses to only explain sorta well. 

I think many of us have been stuck in a break-out room only to find out that no one is caught up on homework, let alone able to work on the assignment we’re supposed to be doing. What day is it? What does it matter? Time is irrelevant and we’re all just grains of sand in the vast expanse of the universe, this drudgery is both infinite and inconsequential.

Oof—got a little existential there for a moment, my apologies. But I don’t think I’m the only one questioning life choices and significance right now (I blame you, Neil deGrasse Tyson). 

Before the pandemic hit, many of us were so busy working, studying or sleeping we didn’t even consider: Do I really want to spend thousands of dollars and years of my life getting a degree in a subject I chose when I was 18 so that I can get a job I don’t really like, so I can pop out two kids in a home I’m always comparing to others, spending my time looking forward to having a break from everything, only to be in my 70s, finally able to relax, but all I have energy for is to complain that the younger generations don’t work hard enough?

But then we had some free time, and we were like, “Oh yeah, that sounds not so good.”

So right now, our worlds are small, the number of people we see and interact with feels pretty limited. For many of us, the things that take up our time, school and work, aren’t feeling too fulfilling or even important. We’ve had time to consider the fact that this path we don’t like is leading us towards another path we might not like. 

All of this is to say: life is hard right now, and it’s allowed to be. Don’t try for the big victories or the lifestyle changes. If you’re wearing pants right now or have even tried in the last week, if you got out of bed, if you can think of one person you love and care about: you’re doing fine. Life won’t be perfect because of these things, but you can recognize that the little victories keep the days moving.

Remember: C’s get degrees, a lot of people are having a tough time right now and the amount of time you spent working doesn’t equate to your value as a person. It doesn’t matter how many people you have in your life, the number of activities you have planned or how far down your to-do list you are, there are worthwhile and important things that exist outside this periphery.

So yes, everything is going to shit, but we’re all going to shit together. 

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