A Dickens of a semester

Fish Out of Water


It was midnight, and I was sleeping peacefully in my bed (anyone that knows my sleep schedule should already know this story is fiction). Suddenly, I woke up, peace disturbed by the presence of a ghostly, bespectacled man in a worn suit, floating in the middle of my room.

The ghost raised an eyebrow at me and answered my unasked question. “I’m Woodrow Wilson, the Ghost of Writings Past. Remember me?”

I did, sort of. But I couldn’t remember anything about his presidency, which was the reason I failed my U.S. history final in high school.

“I’m the reason you failed your U.S. history final in high school,” he continued.

Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. Before I could get a word in edgewise, the 28th president sucked me into a vision of my past, filled with tests and essays. I relived my high school struggle to stay afloat and keep my college prospects alive as life threatened to overwhelm me.

Back then, every new semester felt like a fresh start where I could completely forget about all of the grades and responsibilities of the last and swear to myself that this time, I would stay on track. But without a doubt, I would fall into the same bad habits, or take on too much and endlessly worry about my future. Every time I let myself down, I’d feel like a bigger failure than the League of Nations, and every transition into a new semester or year would begin with me cleansing myself of the past.

The vision ended, and I was pulled back into my bedroom, disoriented and feeling secondhand stress from watching my past self. I asked Woodrow Wilson why he showed me this.

He smiled, said nothing and disappeared.

An hour later, I was once again woken up. Haruka and J, my editors, greeted me.

“We’re the Ghosts of Writings Present,” J said. “We just wanted to talk to you about your column last week, about selling out. What did you think about it?”

I supposed it was fine. I was happy with the way some of my thoughts turned out, but when I read it again on publishing day, I felt dissatisfied.

I looked up to respond, but they had already begun to fade away.

“What’s happening?” I asked, but Haruka only winked, and then they were gone. Meeting them for edits Tuesday was probably going to be pretty weird.

Last week’s column was unnecessarily verbose at times, and although I paid attention to editing each specific paragraph, I didn’t look enough at how it read as a whole. Looking at each paragraph as its own thing caused me to write without taking into consideration the paragraphs that came before. Every point that I added made the whole thing less clear.

Then it hit me — looking at each semester as its own thing causes people to think in terms of fresh starts without taking into consideration the semesters that came before. I’d always resolve to work harder instead of smarter. I would tell myself that this time, I would keep everything under control, then inevitably take on too much and get overwhelmed. I see a lot of students doing the same — alternating between sprinting and stopping rather than keeping an even pace, and in the middle of the semester, everything on their plate hits them at full force.

The fear that we’re not doing enough to get ahead follows us and causes people to tell themselves that this semester is the one where they really accomplish all of their goals. It’s what causes people with no programming experience to become pressured into taking CS 61A, rather than a class that might be a more thorough and well-paced introduction like CS10. People don’t want to feel as if they’re behind.

We want to push ourselves, and sometimes we go too far without being aware of it until it’s too late. We become overstressed and fall behind. Then we look for the resolve to turn all of our problems around on a dime. The idea of a cold open, fixing our bad habits and mistakes for an immediate fresh start based on some milestone, is appealing. It’s why we have New Year’s resolutions and inevitably start to slip a few weeks in. But getting ahold of our lives comes from consistency, not overwork.

I sat there, wide awake, for the next hour, thinking. When the clock hit 2:00 a.m., I looked around in anticipation. The door slowly opened to reveal a silhouette.

“Are you the Ghost of Writings Future?” I asked hesitantly.

“What? No,” my roommate said, turning on the light. “What did you just say?”

Louis Lee writes the Wednesday column on what you just read. Contact them at [email protected].

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  • Dumpling

    OMG! That’s my situation, too much on my plate, and they are not dumplings!

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