It is, as they say, the most wonderful time of the year, that inestimable potpourri of ulcer-inducing academic demand, consumerism run homicidally amuck, and the tireless repetition of toxically saccharine jingles. Given that they also say not to cry over spilled milk, though, one might be inclined to question “their” veracity.

I for one have never cried over anything, much less a matter so petty as the toppling of beverages; if I was to spill milk, my faithful manservant Cornelius McCornelius would assess the situation, determine exactly how many amphetamine-ridden Taiwanese dwarves might be lassoed up for entertainment of the carnal variety without running us into the red, and take that mofo by the horns from there. As such, “they” should always be taken with a grain of salt and a great big dollop of something terribly illicit. Like the fella said (that fella being Lou Reed), “I need kicks.”

You might regard that little detour into Justin-land as evidence that I’m more than a little fried, and you’d be correct, sah! Late-semester malaise always tends to thonk me right in the mental groin, transforming every writing assignment into a site of arduous struggle between professional obligation and nigh-insurmountable [expletive]-it-all-itis.

The disparity between liberation’s proximity and a workload that’s nearly always mountainous only exacerbates this dilemma.

The situation is troubling enough on the cusp of summer, but fall semester’s adjacency to the holiday season introduces yet another layer of complication to the proceedings for many. I’m not one to rush out on Black Friday and mace my way through the aisles, but a glance at numerous post-Thanksgiving headlines creates the impression that I’m in the minority.

Manic consumerism permeates our culture to begin with, but something about this particular time-frame sends it into violent overdrive.

One has to wonder what material object is so desirable  as to warrant the kind of ritualistic insanity displayed in stores across the country, or what loved one would condone such behavior for the sake of receiving said object.

Certainly there’s much to be said about the virtues and satisfactions of gift-giving, but I’m not so sure that even enters into this particular equation. It’d take a special brand of sociopath to draw warm and fuzzy feelings from clearing a line with pepper spray.

Some might think it overly cynical to cast the so-called “holiday season” as largely a commercial construction, but the almost primal tenor of certain shoppers indicates a detachment even from the end-result of recipient gratification.

The media-perpetuated imperative to consume for consumption’s sake becomes so overpowering that it’s easy to lose sight of the communal element on which this whole business is supposedly founded. (I’m not touching the spiritual side of things, as I think religion has been pushed to the margins of this discussion for a  good while now, and my interest is more in the secular aspect anyway.)

In light of such artificiality, it’s vital to keep things in perspective. If it comes down to the wire between grabbing that Lawrence Welk box set your significant other’s been craving (it’s what us kids are all about these days) and decking that granny who’s making off with the last one, take a moment to ask yourself if they’d be cool with Operation Break-That-Hip. This is, after all, a time ostensibly focused on compassion and generosity, not egocentric vitriol.

By a similar token, it’s important not to let finals stress get out of hand. Certainly give it your best shot, but within reason – when your health takes a downturn, it’s time to step back and look at the big picture. Academia is pretty far from the be-all end-all of existence, and your future won’t be forever wrecked if you don’t do so hot on this paper or that exam.

It might be tough to see while in the thick of the storm, but there are plenty of things worthier of losing mind and body over. On that note, best of luck, and soak up that R+R at the end of the tunnel (I know I will).


Justin Levesque can be contacted at

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