On the end of the semester

Critical Musings

April is the worst, the Facebook statuses have declared. And they’re right.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land,” T.S. Eliot writes in “The Waste Land.” “Mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.”

In Berkeleyland, April is indeed a time to mix memory and desire — the desire for good grades, the memory of too many nights spent “not-studying,” the futile, final sprint of the semester to make up for dull brain roots (stems?) with that one last cramming session.

And this — right now — this is the worst of it. Not the final stretch but the next-to-last one. It’s one last week of classes before they stop meeting, and all you have to worry about is the entire semester’s worth of material that you didn’t learn. At least that amount stops growing once dead week sets in.

There is community in dead week. My favorite one is the cafe community, composed primarily of crazy-eyed laptop-starers who are on the lookout for open outlets. In these warm little rooms, we are individually frenzied about individual projects but together in that frenzy.

Not everyone studies during dead week, of course. But when people don’t, I think they’re very conscious of what they’re not doing. Often they’re together in not doing it, together in lazy beds, lying out on Memorial Glade, in the middle of a thousand brunches. Even if they aren’t together, their not-studying is the perfect opposition to studying — that makes them far more connected than if they were doing anything else.

There’s desperation in dead week, and there’s something comforting in being allowed that desperation. Desperation means you only have a specific time frame to repair what you’ve screwed up all semester. There are only so many more times you can make the wrong decision before there are no more decisions to make and you can stop feeling bad about them. That’s a relief.

If this weren’t a common desperation, it’d be terrifying. But everyone’s facing it. Everyone has a hard time during Dead Week. That’s comforting, too. Most people are at least a little bit stressed out, and many of us are too caffeinated to express that fact coherently. If you can’t fall asleep until 4 a.m., that’s OK, too, because there are no classes to get up for in the morning.

It’s OK to be a little kinder to ourselves than we would normally be. We are allowed to eat Pancho’s every night if we need to, we are allowed to wear Cal hoodies every day if we need to and we are allowed to admit how shitty it all is sometimes.

And then there are the endings that roll in once dead week goes back into hibernation — even these are better than the week we’re heading into. There is finals week, at which point what was nurtured during dead week must rise like “lilacs out of the dead land.” And though that’s scary, it’s cathartic, too.

Whether or not they really are significant, endings always feel that way because they’re one of the few parts of life that are easy to delineate. You can put a date on the end of a semester, a clean goodbye timestamp to spring 2013, the moment your last final concludes. And once the final final ends, you’re no longer a part of the semester — you’re beyond it; it’s over. Very few endings are so clear.

But there’s still this next week, the final week of classes, and it will probably be terrible. This week will be the one when I realize everything I’ve done wrong all along (If only I’d been to a few more physics lectures!). Even though I realize that, the realization doesn’t do much because if I really wanted to turn things around with these last prefinals assignments, it would take way more effort than I’m capable of at this point.

So the next week will crawl along, and when I ask people how they’re doing, they’ll just look at me with blank stares and I will look at them equally blankly and I’ll count down each day as it ends. And I probably won’t do as well in physics as I would like, and that’ll be disappointing.

Still, I think it’ll be OK. I have blissfully little control over each day’s passing, and most go faster than I think they will. The signs of dead week will start creeping in; my cafes will get fuller, and library seats will transform into valuable commodities and the very last Shakespeare paper will be turned in.

And then that’s it! It’s dead week and then finals week and then endings and this too will have passed and I think we can get through it. I think we’ll be OK.

Contact Sarah Burns at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @_SBurns.