Balk: A Northwestern student’s guide to Winter Quarter apathy


Tim Balk, Opinion Editor

Winter Quarter is the most challenging time to be a Northwestern student for many of us: the air is cold, the sky is gray, the nights are long and added stresses rear their heads. Fraternity and sorority recruitment and pledging consume the time of some, while others take more intense course loads or partake in ambitious extracurriculars. The fervent energy of the start of school and Wildcat Welcome that lifts Fall Quarter has faded. There are no more football games, tailgates or sun-soaked autumn Sundays to pick up students after long weeks.

Winter Quarter is bleak. School spirit craters. Some students struggle with seasonal depression. Plenty question what the heck they are doing at Northwestern — and what they were thinking when they chose a college in the Midwest Tundra of Evanston.

Of course, there are plenty of solutions to Winter Quarter sadness and malaise, but one I strongly endorse is a consistent reminder that all that seems so important in Winter Quarter, well, isn’t.

Warm weather will eventually return. The sky is not falling. Moreover, we’re all just tiny ants on an enormous rock rotating around a star. In the big picture, it’s of no great importance if you wind up in your dream fraternity or sorority, whether you ace your psychology midterm or if you flub some random last name on a story in JOUR 201-1 and earn a Medill F.

That all sounds nice and is easy to say, but convincing yourself that your Winter Quarter struggles are molehills, not mountains, is no small task. So I am offering some tools that might put you in a relaxed, insouciant attitude. I call it Tim’s de-stress plan.

First: Watch Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works.” This film is nihilism 101, but manages to make its nihilistic message feel so good. Its protagonist, the kvetching Boris Yellnikoff, played to grumpy perfection by Larry David, says things like “What the hell does it all mean anyhow? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nothing comes to anything. And yet, there’s no shortage of idiots to babble.” And “I happen to hate New Year’s celebrations. Everybody desperate to have fun. Trying to celebrate in some pathetic little way. Celebrate what? A step closer to the grave?”

Step two: Listen to Billy Joel’s “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” the Piano Man’s classic ode to apathy. “I found that just surviving was a noble fight,” Joel sings. True that.

Step three: Play.

Yes, play.

It’s alright, you can afford to miss a class or a meeting. Sure, if you’re swamped with work, and feel like the world is ending, a good solution might be to get some of the work done and out of the way. Indeed, that’s often the best course of action. But stress overload should sometimes be matched with a little bit of escape.

Go for a run. Head to Blomquist Recreation Center (pour one out for the SPAC basketball courts) and shoot some hoops. Watch a couple of episodes of a sitcom. Heck, even play a board game. Take short breaks that allow you to get your mind off the stress.

Playing is a fantastic tool of distraction, and physical activity reduces stress and assists in the maintenance of mental alertness and cognitive function, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A little play might go a long way, not only in getting your mind off things, but also for reducing general anxiety and fatigue.

Steps one and two are optional in my plan. But step three—the act of play—is the real key to the whole formula. Taking a deep breath and swallowing a big gulp of soothing apathy is my prescription to mild winter quarter stress.

If you care about yourself and your mental health, the best solution might be to, at least for a moment, stop caring at all.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.