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At the Halfway Point

Eun J. Lee

It’s that time of year again. No, shorty, it’s not your birthday. It’s mid-October, and the world is in an eerie limbo.

Fall break was only last week, but now it feels like years have passed since you saw your visiting long-distance honey. You dropped him off at the airport on Tuesday morning with a tearful hug and kiss, and since then you’ve been scrambling like a chicken with its head cut off to catch up on work you missed while pretending your life didn’t suck.

Parents’ Weekend seems even more distant as you trudge back through the Infinite alone and reheat the cold leftovers your mom made for you before she left. You go back to class, and after getting lost within the first five minutes of lecture, you realize that your professor actually was, in his own struggling incoherently nerdy way, trying to make last week’s lectures more understandable for your parents.

Now all the pretense is gone. Yes, it is the worst time of the year. Sorry kid, but your mommy isn’t here anymore to help you. It’s a time of year that I like to call “Facktober” (yes, that’s an “a.” There’s no need to be crude here. We all know what it really means.)

Facktober is a period of time that makes MIT the place that we all know and love. They don’t talk about it in the admissions presentations or on the campus tours, but if you think back to when you were a starry-eyed high schooler, you might remember seeing subtle signs of Facktober, like the faint crying you thought you heard walking along the Infinite, or why the tour guide sprayed Glade freshener as you walked past an Athena cluster.

For you freshmen, these feelings of deep hate towards yourself and the world might be new to you. You are scared because you do not understand why you are pretending not to see people you know as you walk down the Infinite. You torpidly stare down at the ground, and you’ve given up all efforts at looking cute or even bathing.

Don’t be scared, though. I know you might be confused, but knowing is half the battle. Be assured that your odd behavior only means that you are normal, and even more surprisingly, that your soul has not died yet. Listen to me -- we’ll get you through this together. OK, let me clarify and not be accused of false advertising. I won’t be there for you on those hopeless nights when the tonnage of manure produced by the state of Wisconsin’s entire population of cows hits the industrial strength turbine in the MIT wind tunnel -- that’s what Nightline is for. However, I will give you some advice within the span of these few hundred words from a seasoned veteran.

There are many reasons why this is the time of year that upperclassmen have nightmares about during better, happier times. It’s the looming feeling you got on fall Registration Day. It’s what you subconsciously dreaded at those times over the summer when you told people in some other geographic location about MIT and couldn’t exactly pinpoint where that hateful feeling at the thought of coming back came from.

But if you sit back and think about it, what makes this time of year so bad? Perhaps it is the anticipation of the impending doom of the coming, never-ending winter. Every nice fall day is poetically bittersweet. You are torn between the options of frolicking, romping through the rainbow of leaves in the setting autumn sun, or crawling up into a ball in the corner of your room wrapped in your electrical blanket with a iced tea and vodka-filled Nalgene bottle.

Also, unlike the spring term, there is little end in sight during the fall. After daylight savings, you can go days without seeing natural sunlight. In moments of desperation, you flip forward in your academic planner. Your heart sinks as you realize that your jumbo paper clip is maybe only one-sixth of the way through the book, and you’re only on problem set five of 15.

But not to worry, my little Padawan. This, too, shall pass. I’m not saying it won’t be painful, but you’ll get through this. Here are tips that can help you stay sane along the way.

The first rule of Facktober is there is no Facktober. Don’t call home. Alright, I know that’s impossible because those parental units love you so damn much that you often feel suffocated to the point that you can’t breathe and want to go postal whenever you see some old Asian couple staring at you like a laboratory animal, gawking and pointing at you as they finish their Chinatown bus tour at the women’s bathroom along the Infinite just as your bladder is about to explode... Sorry, I digress. I mean to say, man, I love old Asian people.

Anyway, talking to your parents about how you spent all day working on a problem set in a musty Athena cluster, ate dry ramen noodles for dinner, and have no will to live will make your parents freak out and make you feel sorry for yourself. Also your parents will harp on your miserable lifestyle, calling you while you are working to check and see if everything is okay, further keeping you from getting your work done. In other words, grow some sack, man.

Second, you need to bathe. Trust me. Even if you took a shower today already, take another one to wash off the stench of failure after you bombed your 8.01 test. It will make you feel better. Also, looking and smelling like crap is not going to help you stop feeling like crap.

Third, find God. I’m not advocating any organized religion in particular here. You can read “God” to mean any deity you may feel a rapport with, in whatever religion you choose. It’s nice to know that someone is rooting for you upstairs and that certain things are beyond your control. Keep in mind that you and MIT are only a miniscule part of the universe. You may fail a test, but what does that really mean in the grand scheme of things? It’s important to keep in perspective what’s really important in your life. If you think about it, one test does not define you as a person. So buck up, cowboy. Things aren’t so bad.

And once you’ve gone through the progression of emotions in mourning the loss of your self-respect, there is only one feeling at the end -- acceptance that while your soul may belong to God, your ass is property of MIT.