William Carlos Williams once wrote that “so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens.” And he was an idiot. So much depends upon momentum, and every med school student knows this.
It usually happens two or three weeks before an exam, but you’ll see every student stay later in the library, talk less, take shorter meals. They’re switching into higher and higher gears of focus. It takes a while, but the hope is that the week before the test they’ll be operating at their maximum, absorbing everything, learning like a machine. Once that test is over, they don’t celebrate or take a day off. They hunker down for the next four days, never changing gears, in order to tackle the next exam. Momentum is so valuable and so hard to build that losing it over a celebratory beer seems irresponsible. And it is.
Once the week of tests is over, most will gather around a bar, drink the weekend away, and gladly lose all the ground that they’ve gained. Others will relax for a day, and then start on new material with the momentum that they refuse to lose. And this works, for a while.
But the thing that you learn afterwards is that so much depends upon balance. Studying straight, 14 hours a day, for five weeks and you start to burn up and burn out. You lose the joy of learning. You hear the stories of what you missed that weekend and soon enough you’ve lost your precious focus. It’s times like these where you have to push the responsibilities away, go out, and remember how funny life is.
Tonight I went to Stewart’s, a local bar on a floating dock. Students are buying 16 beers at a time because they hate waiting in line, a lot. The men’s bathroom has two urinals, and I feel humiliated every time I have to use that one that is obviously for children because I’m not 6’10”. At the end of the night a young couple knocks on my door asking for ice, and promises that they’ll bring me some ice tomorrow. I try to explain to them that I can just grow some more but they insist. Fine, I’ll take your ice cubes.
This recharges my batteries. This is what I’ll laugh about when I’m locked in the library for the next three weeks rebuilding my momentum.
“So much depends upon a young couple, sloshed with warm liquor, begging for ice.”
Take that, William Carlos Williams.