About a month into the fall semester, a phenomenon occurs that I refer to as the October Schlump. It’s easy to recognize: first-year students, (who every night up till then have turned Washington Square into a giant social playground,) suddenly disappear. For a few weeks they are conspicuously absent, and then slowly, as Halloween approaches, they begin to tentatively reemerge from their dorms. What happened?
I know, because I went through it. For students new to this amazing city, that first month is like a dream. So many wonderful things to see and do that were never available before; new friends to make, new places to go, new things to discover. But it really feels like a dream: there’s a constant sense that this is illusory, that at any moment you will wake up and this opportunity you worked so hard for will dissolve around you. When a new friend invites you to go to this party at their friend’s place in Brooklyn, you think, Brooklyn! When else will I get to see Brooklyn?! When you read about a new exhibit at the MoMA, you think, the MoMA! When else will I be able to visit the MoMA?! When you pass a new Mexican restaurant in the Village offering a two-for-one Margarita special, you think . . . well, you get the idea.
This lifestyle is, of course, impossible to maintain. About a month in, you wake up one day, maybe around 5 PM, and think, what day is it? You realize that you slept through an entire day of classes. See, you meant to just take a short nap – it was 3 AM, you’d just gotten back from a party at a friend’s – Happy Wednesday! – and you realized you didn’t have any clean clothes, so what a perfect time to do laundry! You threw a load in the washer, and then came back up to finish that essay on Socrates – that’s what New York’s about, multitasking! – and about two pages in thought, I’ll just take a quick nap – an hour or two, tops. After all, you haven’t slept in two days, so it’s about time to give the body a little refresher. Now here you are, essay not finished, classes missed, your load of laundry having been removed from the washer and scattered aimlessly all over the laundry room floor by some jerk. And even after sleeping twelve hours, you still feel tired. Or not tired, more than tired – exhausted. Your resources have been depleted; nothing in you wants to get out of bed, go anywhere, do anything. The momentum is gone.
This is the October Schlump. Although skipping meals and missing sleep are major contributing factors, the Schlump is not a disease, at least not physically. It’s the mental state that settles in when you realize that you barely have any idea what you did in the past month. You were in constant motion, you went and saw and did a million amazing things, but you can barely remember any of them. Some of them you liked, some of them you didn’t, but which were which?
So, for about a week, you don’t go out. You stay inside, do homework, get lots of sleep, eat right, and figure out what to do next. In that time, you realize that New York City isn’t going anywhere. It won’t disappear under your feet one day; it will be there the next day when you wake up, and the day after that, and the day after that. You will have at least four years, at most the rest of your life, to explore. So after that week, when friends call you up and invite you to this or that, you can say no, not tonight, rain-check. You don’t even need to give a reason. You can (in fact, you must) spend a night in now and then. And you must do is reflect. You are swimming in a sea of new experiences, new stimuli, new ideas, and some are good for you and some are not. You can have all these experiences but if you never stop to reflect on what they mean, they are – literally – meaningless.
As anyone who’s lived in a dorm can attest, dorms can be a lot of fun, but they aren’t really the best places for quiet reflection. After my October Schlump, I began to seek out places I could go to be by myself, to think and ponder, to reflect and debate. I can’t give you the answers to the big questions of life that all college students confront during those four years – I don’t have them. But I can share with you come places I think will provide the stillness, the solitude, within the bustling metropolis that we call home, to find some of these answers. And I will call them Chambers of Solitude. More to come.
And in the meantime, if you need to a moment of calm and some advice on chill-axing, (sorry, I won’t use that word again,) go here.
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