The Ideal Spring Break

The stereotypical college spring break is filled with exotic beach destinations, an abundance of alcohol, crowds of scantily clad members of both genders, and endless music and parties. As a college kid living in a common culture with and driven by similar biological drives as most most college students, I can get why that kind of 100 miles per hour, drown-out-everything-else kind of escape could be appealing.

My ideal break is a bit different, largely due to how they’ve turned out in the past. For context, I was raised in a very academically competitive neighborhood, and to keep up with the rest, free time = opportunity to get ahead of others. My breaks were usually were filled with STAR, SAT II, SAT, and AP testing prep, completing homework or projects for classes, applications to summer programs and colleges, and various extracurricular activities. As most of my classmates know, this mentality was driven into us from the social narrative of increasingly difficult college admissions, to our heritage, and sometimes, even from ourselves.

The few breaks where none of these commitments dominated my time were spent in family vacations (which never were the do-whatever-you-want-lets-take-our-time ones, but always the lets-squeeze-in-as-many-sights-and-attractions-as-possible ones) or poring over the pages of the Qur’an for hours at a time, reviewing what I had memorized months or sometimes years before.

I don’t regret any of those breaks. I learned a lot from all those hours of studying, and to a certain extent, it did allow me to keep up with the rest of my classmates. I’m glad that I had the learning/growth experiences during those breaks, because I wouldn’t be where I am in life today without them. But were breaks ever relaxing? Rarely.

For me, relaxing is freedom from commitments. It’s not forcing myself to think about what I need to do next, but allowing myself to ponder whatever tickles my fancy. Relaxing is scheduling commitments at my own leisure and having the free time to make spontaneous events happen. Relaxing is working on recalibrating the rhythm of my life by eradicating negative trends I’d observed before the break and establishing positive trends to maintain during and after the break. Relaxing is also just being okay with doing absolutely nothing for a while.

All my life I’ve been told that time is a resource that must be leveraged to maximize benefit. I stand by this creed 99% of the time. I believe that the other 1% should belong to the gaps in which we get to relax in whatever way that suits us. It leaves us feeling happier and more motivated during the 99% of the time when those resulting positive emotions can determine our successes and failures.

What sparked this post is my happy report that this past spring break was the best relaxation I’ve experienced in years. We didn’t go out on vacation, there was no school work to do, there were no events to organize, nothing – just me and whatever I liked, whenever I liked. I engaged in one-on-one conversations with almost every member of my family in a way that would have been impossible on a trip; I slept early and woke up early, just like I’d wanted to do since the beginning of the year; I ran almost every single day, covering more miles in a week than I did in the last six months; I spent quality time with every distinct group of friends; I read for leisure; I improved my web development skills; I often did nothing for hours at a time; and much more.

I couldn’t have asked for a better week. I feel refreshed and ready to take on what Spring Quarter can throw at me. More importantly, let this raise the bar for what breaks should feel like, especially for the kids going through the stressful period of preparing for college admissions. And here’s to many more in the future.

(ps I’ll do my best to post once a week now, usually Sundays/Mondays. Thanks for reading!)

Life Log

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Harharharhar.

Wow, it’s been almost three months since my last post. d(thingshappening)/d(time) only seems to be increasing as I get older. Argh. Calculus.

So much has happened. I’ll do my best to enumerate…

When I made my last post on July 5th, I was in the midst of my first couple days at RISE, or the Research Internship in Science and Engineering, the seven-week research program I attended at Boston University during summer. It was my first long-term experience away from my parents, and in many ways, it was wonderful. Wonderful because of the friends I made. Wonderful because of the independence I developed. Wonderful because of all the Suits, Parks and Rec, True Blood, and various movie marathons. Wonderful because of the food. Wonderful because of all of the different things I learned in being exposed to advanced electrical engineering, public speaking, an intellectual, outspoken, active Muslim community, and people from all around the world. I think my last post reflected some of my experiences in the latter.

There were some negative aspects to the experience as well. The weather for about half of the program was horribly humid and muggy, which, in addition to me being sweatier-than-average, made the acclimatization process…novel. Some nights, it was impossible to sleep without two fans: one at full power blowing directly into my face from a foot away, and the other oscillating, also at full power, to cover the rest of my body. In some of the last weeks of the program, I began to grow a bit homesick, but not in the I-miss-my-brother-and-mother-and-friends-and-home-gut-wrench-overbearing-sadness way, more like in the-stability-and-routine-of-the-home-life-would-be-nice-right-now way. I especially missed Yusuf, my youngest brother, which came as surprise to me. I had entered the program believing I would be homesick for absolutely zero seconds.

I entered the program believing I would check in and walk into my dorm with the happiness of adventure and freedom, the type of happiness that manifests itself days before the object of the happiness comes to pass. I expected the type of happiness of a inmate being released after a lifetime of jail duty. Finally! No one to bug me when to sleep, do prayers, eat food, no one to constantly be checking on me and being a police officer. I was going to be me. I was going to grow, unrestrained and FREE! I was going to rise up (ha) to the the top of the program, defy my professor’s expectations, enter my project in Siemens and STS, and WIN… my potential was limitless.

To a large extent, these expectations were not met. I did not end up submitting my project to Siemens, nor did I defy anyone’s expectations. My parents still called me  every day and got worried and stressed when I wasn’t able to call back. After about a week of acclimatizing, things began to settle into a routine monotony occasionally broken by the purchase of something new, a dinner treat with my roommates, or a field trip somewhere, like the beach. Or a talent show.

For me, that may have been the best night of the entire program. I performed a rap about the program with Andrei Isichenko, a fellow unicyclist and floormate I met there who also happened to be a beatboxer. I attempted to write a transcript of the performance from memory below. You can find video footage of it on Arnav Gautam’s Facebook wall. You would have been able to find it on mine had I not deactivated my account three days ago. You should watch the video, but if you cannot, read on (SPOILER):

(Andrei begins beatboxing)

(Pointing at Andrei) To my right we have Dr. Dre, also known as Andrei
(pointing at myself) and I’m DJ Yoloswagtastic MacBook Air, also known as Aamir

(I pause; Andrei continues to beatbox)

What’s this weird looking Indian guy doing on the stage
with a beard wearing crocs like some pretentious weirdo
he can’t even rhyme his lines got big bags under his eyes
what is he sleep deprived god let him meet an early demise

Well I’ll tell you. I’m a rapper. I like to keep it dapper
young cash money heroes cars girls screw the coppers
I-I mean, when they break the law. Oh also I like girls
see that one with the crop top (I point over the audience), yeah I’d tap her

with my finger and say hi, cuz, I’m a really nice guy
tell her and her friends I went to RISE and leave with three of them by my side
(cue exaggerated eyebrow movements and suggestive lilt to my voice)
go back to my place and discuss the arms race
and other political issues facing the nation today

like how Obama hasn’t closed down Guantanamo Bay

I forget the rest. But that was the general gist of it. It was the first time I had performed a rap live on stage or tried to write a humorous rap. I’m happy to report that Andrei and I concluded our performance to thunderous applause and lots of “you were the best performance” afterwards. That was probably the best night of the program.

This post feels unfinished, but I’ve got to head to bed. I have to write a report of my time at RISE for my professor for my letter of rec, so maybe I’ll publish that here when it’s done. There’s also much more to be said about my life since I’ve come back but that too shall have to wait. I’m glad I wrote this. I’ve forgotten the catharsis of confession and recollection.

Until next time.