The idea of “unplugging” can smack of a certain irony at a time when much of our leisure (and much more of our work) happens within the context of our attachment to technology and our technology’s attachment to the wall. But unplugging (in both literal and metaphorical senses) is possible and important. I recommend doing something novel. It needn’t be big—a trip to a new coffee shop, a craft you’ve thought of trying—although it certainly can be. The point is, shaking off the ingrained patterns of the term is a great way to mentally reset. That thing you’ve wanted to try but have never found the time for? Give it a go—even if that just means taking the first step.


A small first step to take in unwinding from the term is to clear away the physical traces of it. I'm not advocating burning your notes, but there's a great sense of catharsis in returning a pile of library books, bulldozing the snowdrift of papers in your room and literally clearing your desk. Electronically, you could put those files that have been sprawling around your hard drive into folders. Blast some music while you get rid of the flotsam and jetsam of a hectic term, and then you can focus your attention on the things that you want to do because you genuinely enjoy doing them.


Plugged into our computers, our faces mirrored in so many Zoom windows, our speech funneled into chats and emails, it’s easy to feel a bit like a disembodied brain hooked up to a complicated technological machine. This suggestion is “old-school,” and certainly pre-Zoom: do something active with your body! Go for a longer hike, or just a walk around the block in the crisping winter weather with a friend on the way to coffee. Try a run, or a rock-climbing class, or Barre, or download a yoga or meditation class (yes, this might involve your computer). Be mindful of what it means to be an embodied brain this break—you might find it’s a great way to recharge and refresh. 


We all have our own ways of unwinding during Winter Break. After the expense of mental energy that these final weeks of a term demand, allowing the mind to reset is beneficial both to well-being and to intellectual acuity in the long run. To disengage from my laptop, I love to do outdoor activities such as skiing. There is something uniquely satisfying about the contrasts that a trip to the slopes can evoke. As you reach the top of the mountain and simply stare off into the distance, a sense of peace, of calm, washes over you; soon afterward, you set off down the run, gripped by an exhilarating sense of speed as you carve into fresh snow, cutting sleekly through the winter wind. Both moments encompass useful modes of mental reset: embracing the quiet, on the one hand, and engaging in physical activity, on the other. This is just one of many possible ways to clear your mind; making sure to do so, in whatever way you prefer, brings newfound clarity when you return to your writing and other academic work.


Notes from a Writer's Desk: How to Unplug during the Winter Break

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