One of the books I read and enjoyed the most this summer was called My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh. It tells the story of a privileged young New Yorker who, deciding that her life and job are too stressful, chooses to hibernate for a year, taking a cocktail of sleeping pills to ensure she spends the majority of each day asleep. Whilst awake, she rarely travels outside of her apartment, visiting her psychiatrist once a month in order to keep being prescribed medication, and buying food and drinks from the twenty-four-hour bodega on her street. She remains convinced that the only way she can recover from her breakup and the death of her parents is secluding herself from the world, watching films and sleeping at least eighteen hours a day.
Whilst I obviously have no desire to spend a year in hibernation, it got me thinking
about reactions to Cambridge, and the need to regenerate after a year of hectic eight-week terms. No matter how much I’ve enjoyed a term, I have never not reached the end of those two months and not needed at least a day of just doing nothing. Before university, I would get restless after an empty day, bored of being confined in the house and a lack of socialising. Cambridge has definitely changed that for me. Now, in the midst of week 5, I will long for a day spent lying in bed at home, with no impending essay deadlines or stacks of books that need reading.
I always say to non-university friends that everything in Cambridge, from academic
work to extra-curricular activities, is intensified compared to most universities. I’m not sure whether it’s the effect of the short terms, or the fact that Cambridge attracts people that throw themselves into anything, but Cambridge is not the type of university where things are done half-heartedly. This is great in so many aspects: you become immersed in your subject, you get the opportunity to listen to world-class speakers, you can read professional- level student journalism. But it can also leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. Even the end of year celebrations in Cambridge are ten-hour long endurances. At times, Cambridge can feel like running a marathon at the pace of a sprint.
Summer is perhaps the ultimate period of detachment from the stresses of
Cambridge; there are no looming coursework deadlines to think about next term, exams have been completed, and you know you’re definitely returning to Pembroke in October. I haven’t been completely disconnected from uni over summer, but I have definitely made a conscious effort to spend time not thinking about it at all. I have read fiction books for fun instead of history or politics books, I have spent time with friends from home and I have had a job that won’t further my career but required very little work. At times the summer felt endlessly long, hot days that seemed to stretch on forever. I’ve found that after three months, I’ve started to look forward to returning to Pembroke. I’ve also come to realise that I’d much rather spend a few days bored than move back not feeling fully ready.
I used to wish that Cambridge terms could be just a couple of weeks longer but with
the same amount of academic work, so that there would be a tiny bit more time to breath. Now, I’m not so sure. I think that I would probably manage to fill that time with something else, making me no less stressed during term, with holidays that would be even further away. What I now understand is that whilst a year of heavily medicated sleep is neither healthy nor desirable, a summer’s worth of rest and relaxation is perhaps better preparation for the coming year than any introductory reading list.