January 25, 2011

Brave Same Old World

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Despite all of my big plans to explore and conquer, I ended up spending most of my winter break snowed in.Despite all of my big plans to explore and conquer, I ended up spending most of my winter break snowed in, in my mom’s apartment in some town in New Jersey that will, for the purposes of this article, remain nameless. Although New York City was a mere thirty minute trip away, I remained unwilling to brave the cold and ice and take the bus to the train to the subway necessary to reenter civilization. I stayed, for the most part, curled up in that tiny two-bedroom apartment, doing what many people would call ‘nothing.’

In a sense, you could call my winter break a failure — and by many standards it was — but on the other hand it was a tremendous success. I was able to do a lot of something that I find impossible to do on any sort of regular basis while in session at Cornell: read for pleasure. Eager English major that I am, I managed to tackle a variety of different books that had been collecting dust on my shelf for quite some time. To keep from getting too torpid and sluggish, I rode the stationary bicycle in the building’s tiny fitness room, but for the most part I focused on earning my literary chops and becoming the best reader that I could be. Using the books as a gateway, I took trips around the world, engaged in exciting and life-threatening activities and fell in love, over and over again.

One book that I found especially thrilling was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. For those of you unfamiliar with Huxley’s early nineteenth century novel, the basic premise is a dystopic future in which human beings are reduced to their usefulness to society, classified based on the type of work they are best suited to do and kept socializing in order to blind them from the reality of their meager existences.

Curled up in my apartment reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if I too wasn’t caught up in some sort of temporary winter-break dystopia in which I was reduced solely to the most efficient novel-absorbing version of myself. Was I living the optimized English major lifestyle, in which voyeurism replaces experience and absorption becomes the highest ideal? Was I really living if all my experience occurred through the barrier of words on a page?

While I know that my world differed from Huxley’s in many ways, I couldn’t help but be absolutely terrified of just how much I was getting done. And while I know that my reading serves almost no purpose to society, I couldn’t help but wonder: when perfecting one’s craft, how efficient is too efficient? When do we stop being curious readers and start being databases?

With the hyper-intensive pre-professional atmosphere that Cornell is known for fostering, I often find myself suppressing real life experience for academic success. The general rule has always been that schoolwork trumps social life and I have always been loath to argue to disappointed tuition-paying parents that it actually is pretty important to my wellbeing that I am able to see friends and engage in tomfoolery on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I personally know for a fact that while reading and learning about the experiences of others is a highly useful tool in crafting the intellectual mind, it is only half the battle. The other half consists of living, talking to people, walking around and doing what many people would call nothing.

As motivated students, I know it’s often difficult to defend partying, especially when we feel that were slipping relative to our harder-working peers. But I think the time has come that we give credit where credit is due. While there is no obvious usefulness to just hanging around, it is part of what makes us real people and not machines. Doing nothing is a very human pastime and it gives us the fuel to work as machines in the interludes.

So here’s to the procrastinators, partiers, lazy bums, and socialites across the globe! The world needs people to let loose and do ridiculous things. Voyeurism will only get you so far and it’s important to get out there and get rid of the buffer between you and the real world. Keep in mind how much of history is defined by some not-so clear minded kids, talking, thinking and engaging in farfetched shenanigans. Without it there would be absolutely nothing to read about. Keep making mistakes Cornellians — you may be in the midst of the story that will become the next great American novel.

Original Author: Adam Lerner