Storytime with Sten: On burning slow, or not burning at all


A group of friends hang out and watch the Super Bowl together. It’s not easy to be the responsible friend for such an event. (Dennis Yang/Creative Commons)

During the Super Bowl I worked on my thesis through commercials, in 30 second increments, then come back to the show (to what matters). I labored on and off, amid a haze of smoke and flowing beer, without judgment for the friends surrounding me, content in their detachment from the pressures of the material world. Yet, if ever there were a time to watch commercials or drink beer, instead of writing, it would have been right then.

Of course, it should be noted that if one smokes too often, the dendrites in their brain are kept from moving closer together and executing the leap over the synapse. In other words, smoking weed makes learning more challenging. But drinking, going out, catching up on a show, hiking and working out also keep us from our jobs as students. We do it all anyway, ostensibly to stay afloat in a sea of toil and forthcoming commitments. It’s a difficult balance we constantly fight to maintain.

As it turns out, a bunch of writers and artists have burned themselves to ash because of drugs and alcohol. Did you know that? My professor told me this, asking as if it wasn’t common knowledge. Really? As if I could take myself seriously in this profession, or as an English major without knowing about Thompson, Faulkner, Kerouac, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc.? But aren’t these classic writers prime examples of the possibility of being simultaneously bad and great? I feel that’s what most college students are, anyway – somewhere between embarrassing degenerates and impressive scholars.

I’ve considered this phenomenon in good faith since before my professor brought it up. Drugs open the mind then convict it again, like three-strike-offenders in that cycle of catch and release; the careers of many of my heroes lasted as long as a high. At first they were brilliant, but after their famed 15 minutes, or a quarter of their life, they became ramblers and paranoids. They became old before they were done being young, and that is the greatest fear I have for myself and for my peers.

What will happen to my youthful compatriots? We started to burn ourselves out so early that we may have charred our chance at clarity and enlightenment, even before the high. 

The game is over now. Today, our obligations begin anew. Tonight, I’m back at home, looking out my bedroom window at the patchy snow on the ground, the rooftops, the parked cars. I can’t hear my neighbors at the moment, but I know they’re bemoaning the beginning of a new week, or celebrating the weekend that was with their words, or their preferred vice. It’s not unlike us UConn students to dabble in illegality before being forced to capitulate to responsibility (just read the police blotter).

On campus tomorrow I’ll see the silent ones, who walk by with their headphones in and their burly jackets on, pondering about the game last night and their struggle between having fun and getting things done. 

I’ll be busy trying not to burn.

Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

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