Preparing for a storm | The Dartmouth

A reflection on the attempts (and failures) to meet the challenges of the term in stride.

by Marius DeMartino | 26/10/22 02:30

This term was terrible.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. There’s no looking at that term with rose-tinted glasses for me this time – yes, there have been good times, but I think it’s a fair enough assessment to say that this term has been my worst yet. I am writing this reflection as I sit on my flight back to Boston, having taken advantage of our Caring Day to escape home for a few days. I dread my inevitable return to the boiling waters of the ten-week battle.

I started this fall with high hopes, starry-eyed with visions of fall foliage and a fresh start. And for a while, it was exactly as I had imagined it to be: brand new classes, reuniting with my friends, an autumn air full of possibilities. As week after week seemed to sink me into the ground, I lost sight of those initial aspirations. But as I struggle to get through the term, I’ve noticed a pattern: I’ve turned to the kitchen for emotional support, trying to put my life in order.

Baking is nothing new to me – for years I used it as an emotional crutch. I grew up on a diet of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookies baked with my mom on school nights. From there, my hobby took hold, giving way to more complicated recipes. Bundt cakes, brownies, oatmeal scotch: All through high school, pastries were the solace that got me through my chemistry homework or my friend group drama. Whatever turmoil arose in the outside world was drowned out by the beeping of the oven or the smells of fresh cookies.

This term was no different: as usual, I turned to baking to try to console myself. When I got cut from my favorite fraternity at the eleventh hour, I put my heart into a pan of brownies. After a weekend trip to New York that failed to relieve the stress of term, I baked apple cake in a last ditch effort to remind myself of home. And this weekend, as I tried to get away from fractured relationships, I distracted myself with a loaf of pumpkin cake. Whatever the recipe, baking is my tried and tested distraction: during the few hours I spend in the kitchen, everything is simple and organized. My outward struggles fade away as I methodically measure out ingredients, toward a known result—the only messy issues I have to deal with are spilled flour or sugar on the counter.

For some unknown reason, these baked goods just didn’t provide the same comfort as before. No matter how many times I ditched campus for a weekend, no matter how many times I pored over a recipe and mixed up a delicious dessert, I couldn’t pull myself out of this quarter’s struggles.

When I found out I was in no rush, the first thing I did was head straight to the co-op and buy some brownie ingredients. I thought maybe I could distract myself from my inevitable spiral of sadness and self-doubt with a few hours in the kitchen (my brownie recipe is one of my most laborious). But while it was nice to have a gooey dessert to stress out, my brownie casserole didn’t do much else. Maybe it’s because my current issues are a bit more existential than my high school ones — a batch of cookies might cure school stress, but they struggle to address deeper emotional issues.

At first I lamented that my usual mental escapes just weren’t the same. This weekend, on my way home, I hoped that putting a thousand miles between me and Hanover might instill in me a renewed enthusiasm – and while seeing my family provide temporary relief, the fact is that I have to return to New Hampshire and with it the same rut I’ve been stuck in all term.

I do not write to lament my persistent problems. On a larger scale, sometimes it’s perhaps best to accept that certain parts of life won’t be good — times when even a steaming bundt cake can’t sweeten the deal. I can try to water down the events of the quarter: Yes, I enjoyed being a freshman travel leader, taking weekend trips to the farmer’s market and watching the beautiful foliage return. But no matter what angle I look at it or how many plates of cookies I make, for the most part this term has been extremely bad.

Part of the problem, too, is that Dartmouth is asking us to take all of these things in stride – the endless march, both infinite duration and a constant barrage of activity compressed into ten weeks. Hit by one obstacle after another, I feel like I’m expected to pick myself up and keep going. It’s the kind of attitude that constantly leaves me teetering on the edge of complete collapse. This term, I think is ultimately acceptable and necessary to accept that this kind of overcoming mentality doesn’t always work.

I spent weeks trying to find the silver lining in a term full of big dark clouds. Rather than trying to bury the things that bothered me, maybe it’s finally time to recognize that these are just events that I have to accept, not things to ignore so that I can come back to this term fondly. Instead of trying to paint a picture of perfection, accepting that this fall wasn’t ideal could be the key to finally breaking down the closing mental walls.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll have the best November Dartmouth has to offer – a sudden burst of energy after the malaise of the past six weeks. More likely, I’ll just limp to the finish line, happy to finally be home for Thanksgiving. I’ll be back in the kitchen this week helping my friend bake cupcakes for a bake sale (baking might not be the emotional savior it once was, but it’s still fun). Perhaps the best thing to do right now is to accept the bad and move through the present, one batch of desserts at a time.