“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Unknown
“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish” – David Foster Wallace
“There is a story of a man fleeing a tiger. He came to a precipice and catching hold of a wild vine, swung down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above while below another tiger growled and snapped waiting for him to fall. As he hung there two mice began to gnaw away the vine. Just then he saw a big wild strawberry growing nearby. Reaching out with his free hand he plucked the strawberry. How sweet it tasted!” – Joseph Goldstein
The coffee is lukewarm.
It’s the dregs from yesterday morning my flatmate has left in the pot to condense overnight, my first cup in 72 hours. I spent the previous several days hiking the Kepler Track, staying in huts lacking electrical outlets and precluding the convenient preparation of caffeinated beverages lest a maker with 60-kilometer extension chord in tow be lugged for the duration of the trip. The surface interval has done me good, offered me a gulp of fresh air before plunging back into the caffeinated depths of exam week. The ‘how many shots in a long black?’ and ‘yes I’d like an extra’ surely in my near future, hooked on black ambrosia and a gradual acceleration in life’s pace that will bring me to the exam desk and airplane terminal in two-shakes of a freshly birthed NZ lamb’s tail.
Today marks the beginning of the end. I can practically smell the salty sea air of the Malaysian beach where I will sit and luxuriate in post-finals freedom. I can feel my feet digging into the sand and the equatorial rays on my skin. I can taste the strawberry daiquiri. And the second one. I can hear the waves lapping at the shore and the inoffensive tropical music over the hump that is the next week.
On Halloween I will sit for my remaining exams. Two days later, I will leave New Zealand for a cheeky jaunt through the South’s of East Asia and Africa. If all goes to plan, this trip will continue to add hours to the time of my life.
But I’ve got a long way to go.
My first order of business is to dig myself out of the academic hole in which I have wallowed for far too long. Baring a mad scientist tainting the water supply with amphetamines, it seems as though this project will consume most of my remaining time. The odds I go on another backpacking trip are slim, the chances I see the stars at Lake Tekapo dubious. So be it. I may never return to check them off my bucket list, but the experiences I’ve had so far more than compensate.
My second task involves gradually extracting the roots that have begun to take hold. I need to find homes for all the stuff I’ve acquired over the past few months. I’ve got books to read, camping gear to sell, and a cactus in need of adoption. I’ve also got 20-odd liters of homebrew to humanely dispose of, a confounding variable I could probably do without. And of course there are the goodbyes, the U.S. phone numbers, and the hugs to exchange before I can step on the plane.
The flatmate has brewed another pot this morning, leaving a half-cup a few degrees hotter than the previous one. Impossible to resist, I refill my mug.
The law of diminishing returns applies in spades to the bitter liquid; coffee is a crazy new girlfriend, an initial rush of euphoria in exponential decline, creeping resentment brewing with every minute together, a reluctance to break things off given the threat of an unknown but definitely not good subsequent several days and because my goodness is she seductive. A constant teeth gritting of which one can never quite determine the origin concomitant in each study session, bouncing one’s leg up and down to the erratic scribbling of notes, work a means to the end of going home and passing out so you can wake up and do the same thing the next day. It’s perversely enjoyable, finals a sort of free pass to stay up at odd hours and embrace a strung- and stressed-out lifestyle with a clear end in sight.
This week is the climax of my semester. Rather than enjoying the perfect cadence of a contemplative and restful study abroad denouement, I will race toward the finish line. I will ignore the birds in the botanical garden and I will not stop to smell the flowers. I will spend hours in the library and consume tepid cups of methylxanthines and fit in travel planning and friends at the margins. The hectic state of mind is all too familiar, and perhaps unavoidable, but at least I know it’s coming. I will do my damnedest to enjoy it.
The last sludgy sip has been consumed, straggling grinds and all.