Fly on the Wall—As the Mercury Drops Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid!

Fly on the Wall—As the Mercury Drops Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid!

“It’s freezing out there!” We’ve all been that person who bursts in from the cold, accompanied by a bracing gust of frigid air.  Greeted by icy stares we slink away to our study corner.  Winter is a challenging time for AU students as the indoor biped population increases.  More people in the abode can mean more fun but along with that comes more distractions.  Winter, like so much of AU life, is about what we make of it.  Even the fact of temperature is not a given; like our favourite academic discipline, temperature is as personal and contextual as any other life experience.  Like all tastes, preferences, and proclivities, temperature is a social construction, a pastiche of interpretations congregated around raw facts.

Much of our subjectivity, our sense of self, include assessments of temperature and the metaphors that guide our interpretation of what heat and cold mean.  Just think of how your palms sweat when you sit down at an invigilated AU exam; ice cube, please!  Yet cold seems to have a certain power over us; it gnaws away at our very being.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both Celsius and Fahrenheit were invented in Northern European countries (Centigrade in Sweden, Fahrenheit in Poland and the Netherlands)

It’s Always the Same Temperature in our Brain

No matter our reference scale, inexorable freeze is in the nature of a Canadian winter.  Even our brains may feel like they’re slowing into a torpor.  Our motivation to do our coursework seems to freeze over.

But those are feelings, not facts; education is about learning to separate intuition from cognition.  There’s a reason that, for better or worse, the first grade of elementary school includes a lot of training of little ones to stay in their seat.  Emotions and attention span are poorly matched and, hey, it’s easier to follow the whims of play than the dictates of cognition.

Summer fits makes all of this easier, however.  Languid cricket songs, sultry and dreamy, induce a sense that anything is possible.  And where comfort abides, temperature’s reality is never far behind.  Whereas crickets can function like thermometers in warm weather, as the temperature dips we are reduced to using our conscience and core beliefs as our guide, and technology that abstracts nature into numeric symbolic form as our epistemic temperature chart.

The fullness and richness of an outdoor context alive with foliage, not to mention birds and bees, is far removed from the dull certainty of dropping thermometer readings.  Likewise, our thoughts may feel darker and our study time more dreary as the cold outside brings a numbing loss of creativity to the cold light of our minds.  Winter leaves us reduced to the mute certainty of reading numbers off a machine.  The temperature news is usually grim and that means study breaks aren’t outdoor frolics in our skivvies, or at least not for long.  We need not freeze off our creativity, however.

The Devil’s in the Details, The Truth’s More Than Numbers

Wherever numbers are implicated and deployed there’s a bigger story at work.  Consider how many feelings are hurt by phrases like “so and so’s a 10, so and so’s a 6”.  Numbers reduce, repress, and replace a full person as we know them with limiting judgements.  It’s in the nature of all methodologies to reduce what counts to that which is chosen for measurement.  As such, the thermometer seems to force us to accept its claims without question.  Our relative motion by outdoor exercise holds no place in the accounting procedure and thus, returning to indoor climes, we usually feel far hotter than anyone who remained stationary inside the entire time.  Numbers on the thermometer also require discursive translation if we are to elicit a social response; brief phrases like “effin’ cold”, “cold as hell”, or “uninhabitable as Uranus” all come to mind.  Emotions inhabit words and words are the stuff of life and the impetus to action.

So as we burst into a roomful of board gamers, their tabletop enterprise as yet unflipped in heated rage as a natural outcome of sedentary frustration induced by the game’s many and intricate rules and rigidly unforgiving demand for attention span, the crowd may nevertheless gape at us with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance.  Of course it’s cold out there, they seem to say, and why state the obvious?

Whose temperature is it anyway?

Each of our personal realms almost feels under attack when someone states a temperature they don’t agree with; an apt response to the outdoor temperature is that it was cozy in here until you arrived.  We’re all bearers of the personalized nature of temperature when we speak and especially when we feel; this is why subconscious flush indicators are key to social interactions.  I’ve even heard it said that if a couple can’t agree on the thermostat setting then that bodes poorly for their future marital bliss.  Likewise, as the comedian Larry David illustrates with hilarity, cultural differences impact temperature expectations.

Happily, it’s always cooler alone in the corner of a room, and, ironically, that’s also the best place to get your studying done!  A big part of our success at AU is having supportive spouses, family, and peers who understand that our unique struggle is real.  People care that we succeed even if their scale of priorities differs from our own.  So, before we pronounce a temperature, it helps to recall that the greatest fires of inspiration, those that will serve us well as we accomplish our scholastic goals, are those we light from within.


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