There is nothing louder than the embarrassment of one’s rainy, rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the B floor of Firestone Library. But there I was, breaking the sacred silence, as I ventured to my new locker with the first two books out of the dozens I requested for my thesis research. Somehow, despite the self-conscious embarrassment of my sonorous shoes, it was in that moment of carrying my books and battling the dial lock for the first of many times to come, that I finally found a sense of calm and stability this fall.
Prior to this rainy day, I was like a broken record in my responses to inquiries of how I was doing — stuck in a refrain of “way too busy” and “almost overwhelmed.” That was my baseline for weeks. Somehow, everything in my life had colluded to demand so much of me these weeks. Days on end in which I would be triple- or quadruple-booked for meetings and other events multiple times per day. No conversation — not even those with friends — seemed to end without a lengthening of my to-do list. And one Thursday in particular, when I already felt like I was dragging myself and a dead camel across the week’s finish line, the final straw fell.
It was one of those moments when you can’t decide if you want to cry or yell at someone or at the sky or quit everything or break some plates, but then you remember you’re sitting in a very public space surrounded by others. The only option is to take a few deep breaths and push onward.
I wonder how common these days are for the people around me. My gut feeling leans towards an answer of, unfortunately, too common. These first few weeks have reminded me what in Princeton’s nature is so challenging: this place, underneath its pastoral appearance, is a machine of perpetual motion. There is no stopping — that undermines its very premise. One day is unquestionably followed by another, each with a potentially back-breaking weight of demands. Any achievement is celebrated by a cornucopia of everything else to do.
When all this arrives on Week Three of a semester, it’s a struggle to not drown in the doubts. Doubts of what one signed up for. Doubts of one’s ability to make it through the week, of somehow all 12 of a semester. Doubts flood the mind. They pour in like the rain on campus these days: unrelenting. As I write, we’re on day five of this rain — everything from drizzling to downpours, all unrelenting, nothing left dry.
Somehow, however, this week, I’ve managed to pierce through it all — the rain and the doubts.
As I squeaked through the B floor, in came flooding memories of the spring when I filled a different locker on the same floor with books for my junior paper. It was something that brought me joy that spring: digging around the stacks, losing myself in old books and archival materials, assembling a little library of my own in my locker. Finally, my life had eased up enough this fall for me to be able to welcome this joy back into my life.
What has scared me, though, is that I didn’t do anything to resolve the stress of the last few weeks. I could only manage waiting until everything resolved itself around me. Or really, that’s what scared me until I heard someone else point out how much I do — how much I have done. It’s such self-sabotage to downplay all one does, but on a campus full of do-ers, all my work can often feel like it’s not enough.
Enough. It’s such a devilish word, but these first few weeks have forced me to know it intimately. The work done was enough. The juggling was enough. All I managed to push through was enough. What’s more, I could say back to the world: Enough!
Enough with everything to do. I’ll leave some pages unread so I can go chase after a brilliant sunset. I’ll leave the text messages unopened for a while longer so I can enjoy the rain from under the canopy over McCosh Walk. I’ll sleep in a little longer. I’ll rest my eyes a little longer while getting dressed in the morning to enjoy my view of Prospect House, which will soon disappear behind the new art museum as construction progresses. I’ll go about my day less urgently so I can wave to and chat with all the friends I walk past. I’ll let everything wait for me to have appreciated enough the turning leaves — the last I’ll see fall on this campus.
I’ll let myself wade in this enjoyment of my days instead of drowning in everything else.
This, I realized as my shoes dried and the squeaking diminished, is how I resolved these first few weeks: by going back to the B floor, by going back to the rhythm I’d known so well from my previous times on that floor, and most of all, when I’d last left it with a finished junior paper in tow, when I myself could see just how much I’d done.
There is so much to do in so little time here. I’ll have to remember my way back to the B floor — for the sake of my thesis, for the sake of the calm and stability I found once more amidst its stacks. That would be more than enough.
José Pablo Fernández García is a senior from Ohio and a head editor for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their views and lived experiences. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at email@example.com.