Wednesday, April 16, 2008

biking as metaphor

For the last week or two it's been nice enough to bike the 3-4 miles to school. (Otherwise I usually ride the shuttle bus that takes us from our "campus housing" to campus.) This bike ride is fairly nice, because I usually take the tow-path that runs by the canal behind our place. This canal is about as "outdoorsy" as we can get in Jersey! (OK, that's not exactly true, there are nice outdoor places in New Jersey, like the Delaware Water Gap, and I hear south Jersey is pretty nice, too, but haven't been there much.) Anyway, so I ride along the canal for a while, and then comes the challenging part: riding uphill for the last mile or more.

So as I've been biking this most school days, at the end of the hill I usually find myself wondering, "Why am I doing this?! Why don't I just get off my bike and walk the last block or two?"

I realized the other day that the reason I won't let myself get off the bike and walk is because this is a metaphor for how my semesters generally go. There's a nice, flat-ish part at the beginning, where I get to watch some nice scenery go by (in the form of learning some cool stuff). There are little ups and downs, and I definitely have to pedal the whole time to keep going, but it's enjoyable and refreshing.

Then comes the last third of the semester or so: at this point, I've worked up a bit of a sweat and now comes the hard part. No matter how fast I'm pedaling on the flat part it doesn't make the hill any smaller. It's still a hill, and it still makes me feel like I'm going to die. For the last bit, the whole venture seems pointless and I wonder why I'm doing this to myself and feel like giving up, and have to rehearse my reasons and my nonsensical, stubborn determination until I make it up the hill on sheer willpower.

Of course, this all happens more effectively if I'm in shape, which is where this metaphor kind of breaks down, because as I do this hill every day I get better at it, and obviously this doesn't work well for the semester metaphor. But I think the part about doing a little bit every day does say something about how the semester goes: if I keep working at it instead of saving everything for the end, then it's still a major hill, and it still is difficult, but it's not as bad. (Hopefully this will be a semester like that!)

Guess what part of the semester I'm in now? 2 1/2 weeks left until I'll be completely done for the year, and I'm rehearsing in my head the reasons I do this to myself. Just like, "It's good exercise...pant,'s good for the environment...pant, pant...because I can...pant, pant..." I have to keep telling myself, "This is a good discipline, because otherwise I don't do all this research and learning. I really do enjoy learning this stuff, just not the stress that goes along with it. It's only 2 1/2 more weeks--I can make it."

When it's all over it feels worth it. I get off my bike and I have more energy for the day, and I've gotten to spend time outside, and I can get around in town faster...

After the semester is over I can look back and say, "Yes, those were important things to learn." But in the midst of it, right now, it's really hard to see over the next rise, to see my goal, to believe I'll actually make it there.

And so I have to convince myself every day, by continuing to pump up the hill, reminding myself that nothing good comes without having to work for it. (OK, so that's totally theologically inaccurate, but you know what I mean.)

1 comment:

Swallowtail said...

I second that emotion! At least now, after 4 semesters of grad school, I have the confidence that I can make it and I know I'm better off than I was 2 years ago :)