To: Opinion Editor <email@example.com>
From: Maya Salem <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Buzzing for a life outside of class
A couple of weeks ago, I was assigned to read a book for a literature class. It was 500 and something pages, written in Old Scottish vernacular and (due to some minor procrastination on my part) I had only a few days to finish it.
Though I had holed myself up in my room all weekend, separating the preposterous number of pages into manageable chunks to finish one by one, I promptly fell asleep the moment I took the book to the warm comforts of my bed.
The next morning I woke up, opening my eyes to the silhouette of the book staring back at me on my pillow. Angry with myself for not finishing it before I went to bed, I decided I’ll walk to a new cafe, where I’d be motivated to read, alongside a pot of hot tea in the cooling autumn air. Loosely following directions, I soon realized that the cafe in fact does not exist. I circled the block, staring into the ever-faulty Apple Maps, and willing the establishment to reveal itself. It did not. After walking another fifteen minutes toward another bakery that did not exist, I gave up, opening the door to the nearest chain coffee shop.
I decided to just go in and sit, having already wasted almost an hour of time I could have spent back at home reading.
I ordered a mocha at the counter, scanning the empty shop for the perfect reading nook. I turned back to the barista, but instead of handing me my finished drink, she dumped it out. I look around, searching for an explanation. She told me she forgot to add chocolate. I assured her, no worries, when I was, in fact, worried. The morning rush started to pile in behind me. A few minutes passed before she finally turns back around with my completed (chocolate) mocha, I caught a glimpse of her “trainee barista” shirt, and I thanked her.
I found a seat and pulled out my book. About an hour passed and I diligently read, but the increasing noise level prompts me to find somewhere new.
A block away at another cafe, it’s quiet, and I chose a corner seat warmed by the sun. The kind owner brought my scone to my table, toasted with butter and jam and a chalice-looking cup of water. I read, at peace and undisturbed. Until a bee buzzed over to circle around me. I already don’t do well with bees (and somebody just sat down a couple seats away from me), so I tried to politely and indiscreetly swat it away with my napkin. But it was a very persistent bee. I tried to dodge it with my book; I stood up; I sat down; and I rearranged my things. The bee wasn’t going anywhere. Nobody in the cafe seemed to be watching me, which was helping, but also not helping, as I’m sure I looked like I was battling an invisible monster over here in the corner.
In a moment of reprieve, the bee floated away, and I turned back to my book and scone in peace. I reread the last few pages which slipped from my central attention, trying to once again find the throughline.
But the bee came back. Analyzing the plate in front of me, I realized its attraction was to the peeled-back container of strawberry jam. The bee crawled toward it, sniffing around inside the little plastic container. Seeing as I had no other choice (either leave with my half-eaten scone or deal with the bee), I carefully slid out my butter knife and started to close the little lid of the jam package on top of the bee. It didn’t move, so I quickly laid the butter knife on top of the package, trapping it inside. Fully aware of the torture I had just now inflicted on this poor bee, I stuffed down the rest of my scone, trying not to look inside the jam package. It wasn’t moving at all, so I had to assume the worst. As I gulped down the remaining cup of water, though, I see the bee’s head wriggling out of the opposite corner of the jam package, from the loose flap. Amazed, I watched its determined movements for a moment. When its wings emerged, I stood up immediately, not about to deal with an angry bee. I carefully slid my empty water cup onto the table before basically running up to the till, paying for my scone, and leaving.
At this point, it was time for me to go to my meeting. As I walked over, I contemplated my hundred unread pages, preparing to fumble my way through our discussion. As my group members arrived, we all had the same sheepish look on our faces and half-marked books in our hands. None of us finished the book. After all, it was 500 something pages and we only had a week with which to read it.
We took our notes and discussed the book, but we also discussed our weekends and classes and fun plans. As I packed up my laptop and book, I realized I was stressing over nothing and I should have just known all I needed to do was try my best reading.
It was clear we all cared about doing the assignment and the content of our discussion; it was just too much to do without sacrificing ourselves.
In this literature class, we are required to read one book a week. It’s a lot. Sometimes I finish the books, and sometimes I don’t. What matters is that I try and that I prepare myself for our class discussions. But I don’t want to stay up all night and traverse an entire city in search of sustenance and a warm place to read. I want to enjoy learning and living.
Trying to care a little less and live a little more,
A version of this article appeared on p. 14 of the Nov 30, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.