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Matthew Hein

Yes, the leaves are turning. They’re falling and creating their own little weather pattern. The South Park Blocks actually look like they’re auditioning to be the backdrop of one of those back-to-school commercials from two months ago. It must be time for fall midterms.

To homegrown Oregonians like myself, this season-specific display provides ample opportunity for staring out windows. We have learned, over the years, to appreciate the myriad browns and reds, so much more peaceful on their trip down than the leaf-blowers that herd them into bags and piles.

These are not the things I generally think about during midterms. Once I’m at home with my books, I imagine myself diving in as deep as possible. It may be that I imagine if I suffer enough over the pages of my books, I will somehow martyr myself into the knowledge required by my classes. Perhaps I think that worrying about how far behind I am will somehow cause me to magically catch up.

According to the folks who know about such things, the kinds of people who put on study-skills workshops, these strategies of mine are not actually particularly effective. Short but frequent study breaks are apparently the most conducive to learning and actually getting things done.

Being the time-effective multi-tasker that I am, I’ve attempted to integrate these psychological relaxation sessions with some of the less glaring objects on my to-do list. Sure, we all know about washing dishes and sweeping the floor instead of working on a big paper, but what about catching up on that long-distance correspondence while simultaneously allowing the brain a little space in which to unclench itself?

When strolling past Lincoln Hall, inhale the autumn air through your nostrils.

What word describes it? Watch for your breath when you exhale. Do you see it yet, or will it only chill into visibility next week, or the week after?

Does one of the leaves on the ground across from Millar Library stand out to you? Pick it up. Is it still green on one side? Slip the leaf safely into a heavy textbook (surely you have one or two of those on your person at all times).

Once you get to wherever you study, assume the hand-on-forehead, elbow-on-desk position that seems to work so well for Rodin’s sculpture. Stress yourself out. Lose your focus. Spend more energy on grand plans for catching up in some other class than in studying for the upcoming test reflected by the book in front of you. Good. Everything is going according to plan.

Now, get a hold of some hot cider.

Turn to the pages between which you have secreted your deciduous detritus.

Remove the leaf and close the book. This is your break. The leaf is your focus point for this cheap-and-dirty Western self-help-style Zen session. The friends or family in San Diego or Miami need to know about this leaf and autumn in the Portland parks.

So you write to them. Let them know all about the way that the leaves get wet and stick to people’s shoes. Describe the flight patterns they engage in on their way down from the sky.

These people may love you dearly – they may even send you occasional birthday gifts – but they don’t need to hear that school is hard. They don’t need to be told that you are slightly behind “but working all the time to catch up.” So you might as well tell them about the weather.

Have you run out of things to say? Is there only so much one can write about a stupid leaf? Well then, you are finished. Slide your letter and your leaf into an envelope, address the damn thing, borrow a stamp from your roommate and send it off along with a little love from the Pacific Northwest. Now dump out your hot cider and get back to work, you lazy hippy!