February 25, 2020

LORENZEN | Laundry: A Parable for the Ivy League

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You go downstairs to get your clothing out of the dryer. You open it up to find that every article of clothing is still soaking wet. You mutter a seven letter word which my editor won’t let me print. You take out all of your clothing and transfer it to another machine which will hopefully work. You swipe your card and pay another dollar whatever to the ghost of Ezra Cornell. You return upstairs to do homework or whatever responsible thing it is you’re assuredly doing to pass the 60 minutes.

An hour later, you return downstairs to get your laundry. You realize, incredulously, that the dryer never started. It still reads ‘Select Drying Cycle’ on the digital screen. But you pressed it before. You definitely did. Didn’t you? You mutter two four letter words and that seven letter word again. You select the cycle again and go back upstairs to procrastinate doing homework or whatever responsible thing you really should be doing to pass the 60 minutes.

Third try. You stumble downstairs and pop open the dryer. Your clothing is there… And it’s dry! You mutter the four letter word happily now! You haul your clothes up to your room triumphantly. When you turn the handle, you find that the door is locked. Why the (censored) is it locked? You left it unlocked. You always leave it unlocked, but somehow it locked itself. And you don’t have the key. Of course you don’t. You dial the number of the RA on call. She assures you she’ll be down momentarily to get the extra key for you. You begin to feel a little better. When you finally have both the key and your laundry, you open the door and return to your room triumphantly, actually laughing a little. It was all so trivial and so absurd, but it’s alright now. You finished your laundry.

Mission accomplished.

You begin to fold the laundry. It really wasn’t even as much as you thought it was. Already, you’re almost done folding. Wait. Already, you’re almost done folding? Where is that shirt you like?

You. Forgot. The. Other. Load. Of. Laundry.

You had to split your laundry into two dryers because it was too much, and you forgot all about it. You say the four letter word a few times and a nine letter word for good measure. For the entire night, you have been fighting to accomplish one singular task — do your laundry. Every single time you think it’s done, it never is. You keep reaching towards the dryer like Jay Gatsby in a faded t-shirt from high school. Your own carelessness and inattention has created additional roadblock after roadblock, which were somehow further heightened by an uproarious collection of almost cosmic turns of fate specifically designed to disrupt your evening plans. It all has gone wrong — terribly wrong. You’ve put your entire heart and soul into doing this laundry, into getting it done and having it all folded absolutely perfectly without the slightest crease askew, and you’ve utterly failed and destroyed yourself in the process.

And now, it really is done.

That second load of laundry is, presumably, still sitting in the machine — fully dry. You should be perfectly able to go down there, take it out of the dryer and bring it back up to your room. Your sacred goal of literally just doing your stupid laundry remains in reach, but now you just feel disinterested. You sit in the chair and scroll on your phone, the thought of that second load of laundry gnawing at you. You’re Odysseus, but you decided not to return to Ithaca out of frustration.

You don’t want to be the Odysseus of laundry. You don’t want to be single minded about simplistic goals to the extent that you drive yourself absolutely mad in the process. You used to like doing laundry. It was stupid and mundane, but there was something relaxing about doing something stupid and mundane. Elite universities like Cornell have a way of focusing the minds of their students entirely on end results: that dream job, that prestigious graduate school, that perfectly completed load of laundry. Yet, this winnowing of our focus in life to a binary succeed/fail end state and perspectivizing of the process of chasing a goal to solely a means to an end removes the personal enrichment we derive from what we do on a daily basis to chase our aspirations. We pick classes based upon what will inflate our GPAs and thereby boost our resumes rather than what we actually want to learn, we cater our essays to what we know will receive an A rather than what we ardently want to argue, the list goes on and on.

Elite colleges are like telescopes. They allow you to see things you never could have possibly imagined and learn about that which is beyond your reach. They focus you on what is ten thousand yards beyond your line of vision. There is real value to that. There is also real risk. You forget what’s in front of you and spend your time chasing the far off to the detriment of your personal well being. When things do not go according to plan (as they never do), you risk finding yourself wholly incapable of handling it healthily because you’re entirely focused on that tiny speck through the telescope, and the thought of not reaching it is petrifying. Eventually, the stress builds to the point where the idea of reaching that tiny speck you see through the telescope no longer even appeals. You’ve lost your love for it, and even worse, you don’t recognize anything around you when you take your eye away from the telescope. We become so fixated on finishing our laundry that we come to loathe the process of actually doing it and when we fail, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Don’t let it happen to you. Don’t spend all your time looking into the telescope. Enjoy doing your laundry and try not to fixate on how bad of a job you’re doing on it.

It’s going to dry eventually. There’s no need to worry.

Andrew Lorenzen is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Tuesday this semester.