HOLMES: Planned spontaneity

Taoisms

One afternoon last year, I accused one of my suitemates of leaving no time for anything spontaneous. His rebuttal was prompt. “Tao, you don’t understand. You have to plan spontaneity.”

Tao Tao HolmesWhen it comes to young life philosophies, my friend Sam and I register on opposite ends of an amorphous spectrum. I see college as a time to explore, he sees it as a place to build his resume; I value spontaneity and uncertainty, he values security and stability.

Sam’s whole concept of “planning spontaneity” was disheartening (and oxymoronic at the very least), but it was also unsurprising. During my time at Yale, I’ve felt frustrated by most of my friends’ inability to do anything on a whim, because everyone is almost always hurrying off to something Very Important, generally a Meeting. Students’ G-Cals are like two-dimensional LEGO fortresses, colorful protection against the menace of passing whims and fancies. Risking the tribulations of being a troglodyte, I early on dismantled my own G-Cal walls and decided to fill my days with only as many things as I could successfully remember.

Around the same time last year, another one of my friends told me that he couldn’t wait for senior year, because he would no longer have all his extracurricular commitments and would finally spend some real quality time with friends. It was a mildly depressing statement, suggesting that dedicating time to friends had been demoted to a secondary priority for three of his four years at Yale. It felt to me like he had been socializing with organizations rather than people, groups rather than individuals, and I didn’t really grasp the concept of compressing everything meaningful into one quarter the time available.

Both of these friends have been part of a broader, more insidious culture of postponement — postponement of spontaneity and postponement of people. Yalies often talk about their individual obligations as though they are ensnared against their will, but college is a period when we have more control over our schedules and how we spend our time than we have ever had and possibly will ever have again. Yalies talk about how they don’t have time for all the things they want to do, but wait to squeeze them in right before the end of senior year. Bucket lists are a dicey concept, because they buy straight into this culture of postponement — postponing your first visit to the Harkness bells, trip to the Yale Farm or hike up East Rock. Postponing until there is no time left to postpone.

Over the past few years, when adults outside of Yale have asked me how things are going at college, I’ve told them that it’s super busy. Oftentimes, they’ve expressed surprise — reminiscing on their college days of idle afternoons with friends and last-minute weekend road trips. They ask: “But isn’t the point of college not to be busy? Trust me, you’ll get plenty of that once you’re out.”

Perhaps these adults are looking back through a tinted lens, remembering only the things that have remained worth remembering. And busy isn’t unequivocally bad in any way — Yalies are busy because they do some truly laudable stuff, such as write and perform plays, host conferences, publish magazines, volunteer in New Haven. Busy is only bad when it comes at the expense of reflection, relationships and room for the unexpected. Busy for the sake of being busy is spontaneity’s archnemesis.

The other week, I received an email from a close friend of mine in the junior class with the subject line: “Adventure is out there!!!” I clicked and kept reading.

“We realized that there is an unsatisfactory amount of adventure in our lives and that this is a sad fact because we live in a beautiful place with exciting people!” The email promised interested recipients one small adventure each week (“on Yale’s campus, in apartments, grocery stores, to natural landmarks, in people’s back yards and in the ocean, in clothes, without clothes, with food, candy and with bourbon”) and was followed by a bevy of energetic reply-alls.

The cynic in me doubted whether any of this ostentatious enthusiasm would manifest itself in actual adventure attendance (would anyone find time for the impromptu?), but my inner explorer was also relieved to see sophomores and juniors eager to imbue their time at Yale with a healthy dose of spontaneity, even if it had to be slightly planned. For those who actively choose not to postpone adventure till senior year, bucket lists will nearly always be irrelevant. Visit the carilloneurs today; take a peek around the Beinecke archives tomorrow; sit down tonight with that one friend you love but never see and lose track of your phones for a few hours. I don’t particularly like the idea of planning spontaneity, but better to plan it than postpone it, or rule it out altogether. The longer you wait, the farther in advance you will have to prearrange all your impromptu adventures — and at that point, you run the risk of indefinite postponement.

Taotao Holmes is a senior in Branford College. Her columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact her at taotao.holmes@yale.edu .

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