Off the beat: New opportunities, but old habits die hard


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This winter break, I stayed predominantly in Berkeley. Aside from a brief sojourn to Los Angeles to visit friends and extended family and some weekend trips back home to San Jose, the majority of my time off from classes was spent in my room, watching TV, sleeping and occasionally wandering around a nearly empty campus and surrounding city. Not the most exciting use of a four-week resting period between hectic semesters, I know, but after a stressful semester of internship applications, the ever-present battle to keep grades up and insistence from my parents that I “have a plan” after graduation, the thing I needed more than anything was a break from it all.

The wonderful and terrifying thing about sticking around is it kind of feels like you’ve found yourself in some postapocalyptic scenario. Students have been a rare sight over the last few weeks, and the quiet bustling of graduate students and co-opers eating in restaurants on Euclid Avenue was almost nonexistent, save for a few scattered kids and parents here and there. The co-op I live in on Northside had been virtually uninhabited until about a week ago, the only residents in that time being myself, two other people and the various creaks and groans of an old house; Christmas Eve was one of the creepier nights I’ve spent in my house, given I was the only person there.

As my co-op’s winter house manager, my main jobs have been to make sure no one breaks in, talk to the police, should they come knocking, and prevent the house from falling down. This was an easy enough job, so with this abundance of free time, I told myself I would try something new, something I hadn’t been able to do because school work was bogging me down. Of course, there was also the matter of planning out postgraduation stuff — jobs, internships, grad school — but that could wait, because four weeks is a long time.

My brain was in break mode, and given my location in a culturally rich region with plenty of opportunities to get out of the same boring routine, what excuse would I have to not venture out into the wide world of the Bay Area? Perhaps I could have a day in San Francisco just taking public transit to wherever, or I could treat myself to a stroll around Lake Merritt or even just walk up to the Big C — something that, despite being a UC Berkeley student, I had still not done in the four years I’ve been here.

As classes start again, I am happy (and a little ashamed) to report I have done exactly none of those things, nor have I really done anything outside the same boring routine I have known for months. I feel like I’ve squandered a golden opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do (that public transit and money allowed for) and not have to worry about midterms or homework. One would think that with all this free time, I would rise to the opportunity that was in front of me, seize the day and all that — at the very least, get out of the endless cycle of TV, lazing around my house, sleeping and eating.

Old habits die hard, I’ve realized as I write this in the cafe that I pretty much go to every week after buying comic books. What really gets me as well is the fact that I go through this same pattern every time there is a break of some kind: excitement at having free time and the ability to get out and do something other than what I normally do, falling into the same routines, realizing at the end of the break that I have done absolutely nothing new and then feeling bad about that and how boring my life must be. That’s a particularly bleak way of looking at it, I know, but it’s kind of inevitable; as students, we’re not really adults with adult problems yet and have moments of time where our normal student responsibilities are put on hold for a few weeks or months. Wouldn’t it make sense to use that time to go explore what the world has to offer us?

Given an increase in free time, I reasoned I would go do something new before my responsibilities set in but instead decided to fall back into the same routines. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though; that might just be my naturally lazy tendencies talking, but when we’re faced with months of harrowing work that takes its toll in multiple ways — both mental and physical — don’t we deserve a few weeks of doing nothing, even if that nothing involves following old routines? Some people go traveling, and others decide to bike down the Pacific coast; I opted to chill in my room and around Berkeley and Oakland, and that’s totally fine. We’re UC Berkeley students, and we do a lot already. It doesn’t hurt to do a lot of nothing, even if it’s for four weeks between semesters. Embrace the laziness.

“Off the Beat” guest columns will be written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.

Contact Youssef Shokry at [email protected].