Monday, January 10, 2011

Holding Down the Fort: J-Term @ Mac

As a corollary to Natalie's post, I thought I'd paint a picture for everyone of what it's like to spend your J-term at Macalester. Being a native of Minnes(n)o(w)ta, myself, choosing to stay on campus for the break wasn't a drastic decision, with my hometown only half an hour away by highway commute. But with an on-campus job and an internship in Minneapolis it made more sense to me to be in St. Paul where I have the Twin Cities at the tips of my fingers at all times. Not to mention I was also filled with a Harry-Potter-esque Hogwarts-is-my-real-home type of sentiment, and spending the break at Macalester was, for me, a very natural choice.

Natalie touched on it and I'll elaborate: the semesters at Mac are colossal time sucks-- when you're not in class, you're at work, and when you've got down-time it's Homework Time which is inevitably interrupted by Friend Time and Aimless Internet Browsing time. And let's not forget that you've also got to squeeze in Meal Time and (every girl's favorite) Exercise Time. Add to that your Co-curricular Time, Volunteer Time and/or Internship Time and you'll find that very few hours indeed are left over for Sleep Time (see pie chart for reference).

Time Pie Chart

*Other Times include (but are not limited to) Perfunctory Family Phone Call Time, Waiting For The Bus Time, Meal Time, Illicit Nap Time, Exercise Time, Still Waiting For The Bus Time and Errands Time.

The refreshing thing about Winter Break is that it is a break in the truest sense: unlike Spring or Fall breaks, Winter Break falls in between semesters, meaning that it is virtually impossible to have homework for the break [1] which opens up nearly-forgotten avenues of pure, unadulterated Free Time. But with Free Time comes great responsibility. Lesser people lose themselves in the vortex of a no-demands-on-my-time world. Their minds sink into stupor and their brain muscles atrophy. They get caught in day-time TV traps and prowl on Facebook for hours on end taking patchwork quizzes to find out which Twilight character they most resemble, or which car best describes them as a person-- futile attempts to regain a sense of identity in their new life-state.

But there are plenty of things to do over the break, especially around campus and in the Twin Cities, to keep busy, stay engaged, and be productive:

1). Read Books, Listen to Music, Watch Movies

Now's your chance to catch up on literature and media! My reading list was an ambitious one for this break including: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Douglass, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and, to get a head start on what promises to be an avalanche of reading (see footnote) for my 19th Century British Novel class, I've just started sifting through a brick of a book entitled Middlemarch by George Eliot. On the music front, I've been delving into dubstep mixes and screening The Current radio, whose Top 89 of 2010 is a fantastic, versatile smörgåsbord of delights. The countdown even features a song collaborated on by a Mac grad, Amanda Warner (of MNDR fame), who worked with Mark Ronson, and Q-Tip to produce the single "Bang, Bang, Bang" (video below). And films, let's not forget those-- I attempted for perhaps the fourth time to watch The Hangover all the way through to the end, but lost interest about halfway through. I much preferred Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds and got really retro one night with one of Molly Ringwald's classics, Pretty in Pink (80s fashion never ceases to flabbergast me).

2). Intern or Volunteer Somewhere

Opportunities to lend a hand, for credit, money or out of the kindness of your hearts, abound in the cities. Check with the Career Development Center or your chosen Department of study to find J-term internships to keep you busy and put something on your resume. I chanced upon an unpaid stint with The Loft Literary Center and I'm loving it so far. And let's not forget the Good Samaritan clause. Mac has access and works in conjunction with a lot of organizations that are always in need of volunteers, including local public schools in need of tutors, or Habitat for Humanity looking for builders. I like to take a few hours every month to usher or set up shows at the Guthrie Theatre-- where I am happy to report that you can cash in your volunteer hours for tickets to fabulous Guthrie productions!

3). Ride the Light Rail, Explore the Cities

One of the most oft-repeated snippets of advice when you first arrive on campus is to get off campus and soak up the city around you. But once the term gets under way, extricating yourself from class, homework, meetings, events and the like quickly gets tricky. But the advice is valid-- especially for out-of-staters who can sometimes start to feel confined to the Mac island between Summit and St. Clair during the academic year, unfamiliar with the surrounding neighborhoods, theaters, party-spots and parks. The more acquainted you become with the urban geography, the more at home you feel and the more occasions you find to make off-campus weekend excursions. A good place to start your exploration: the light rail. Apart from being some of the most fascinating people-watching around, it also helps you to orient yourself, passing through some of the more popular Twin Cities spots from the Mall of America to the Saturday-Night-Destination, the Warehouse District.

So get out, and get busy! You can sleep when you're dead, right? But until then, CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

[1] Unless you’re taking 19th Century British Novel, in which case you might want to get a head start on your 4,000+ pages worth of reading.