Living in Tartu, we partake in a life of luxury that our peers in larger cities only dream of. Rapid pace of life, long distances, impersonal and hurried interactions - Tartu has none of these usual frustrations of adulthood. Unless you are studying Physics in the middle of nowhere near Lõunakeskus, you can get to your department in what, five minutes? Compare to world average of 40 minutes, one way.

In Tartu, food craving emergencies are easily resolved, since Comarket is like two meters away from the dorm. Going out at night is a piece of cake: no need to fret about tube closing down or to spend inordinate amounts of money on cabs. The city centre is your backyard. 

We all agree on this. Here is my question then, guys: how on earth did I manage to end up an utterly stressed out mess last semester?

I thought I did everything right. I had a daily planner. I went to the grocery shop regularly. Come on, I even went to the gym with frightening regularity! I grew muscles, man! I gave up coffee! And yet now that I’ve had several weeks to relax and take stock of Autumn 2012, I can see myself for what I have become: a hamster in a running wheel. (Tragically, a hamster with less-than-ideal grades).

As the student body trickles back into Tartu for a new semester, the question of how to live efficiently (and happily!) seems urgent. To put it in pseudo-economic terms, efficiency means managing your time and space in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes pleasure. What could it mean for us? 

Here are some thoughts. As always, I want to hear your ideas. (I know I’ve not been perfect at responding in the past, and I’ve been doing a horrible job with the Estonian Music thing. Sorry about that. Blame it on the running wheel.) Anyway, here we go:

1. Choose courses wisely.

This is not as easy as it seems. Last semester I made an idiotic decision to try my hand at sociology, and that was a predictable disaster. Worst of all, I had absolutely no reason to take it and, in fact, had to fight to justify it in the context of my (gloriously non-socialsciencey) program in folkloristics. So anyway, counting my losses and moving on. What are you guys taking this spring? What are the most exciting courses of this semester, I wonder? I bet Philosophy of Sex and New Age Healers would score pretty high, so I’m signing up for both of them.

2. Plan to learn how to cook new things.

This one seems like a boring one, but hey, it’s important. I ate yogurt for at least two meals a day last semester, no joke. And I mean tons of yogurt, like terrifying amounts of yogurt. This has got to stop. So how about Sunday is the designated market day? And getting to cook something new at least once a week would surely be exciting. 

3. Pursue a skill or a sport.

Rock climbing, weightlifting, boxing. All non-ladylike activities that I am dreaming of, ever since Dark Knight Rises introduced me to the awesome badass character of Catwoman. The Sports Centre offers all these and more.  

4. Pick and choose your fun.

The variety of activities that Tartu offers is too exhilarating. One can go out every single day and never get bored. But as my friend Elise says, one’s personal time is a precious resource, and if one doesn’t actively protect it, it will get filled up pretty fast. That’s what happened to me last autumn. Studying, blogging, random (failed) translating projects, the printing museum, a creative writing group, events of different sorts, conferences and travelling to conferences, friends coming to visit, coffees, lunches, parties… I said yes to everything. It was wonderful and it was awful. And I’ve sort of had enough, and you know why? Because I want to have IDLE TIME sometimes. 

This spring, I will exercise my right to say no. And then go home and doodle. Or maybe cut pictures out of magazines, because that’s what I loved to do as a child and because it has no point and no foreseeable external reward.

***

This is it for now, then: we’re not getting any younger, time to get off the hamster wheel. Or at least learn to run in a more enlightened way, kind of like this: 

 Squirrel in the Wheel by Natalia Pavlova

Good luck to all of us. Here’s to a new semester, and a new spring!

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