Messing with monotony

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Our most ingrained memories of college are distinctive. Let me jog your memory: that bizarre video you saw in your FYS, the creepy interaction in Broad Ripple, your roommate’s spontaneous hedgehog adoption (which, in my own experience, actually happened). In a crystal-clear fashion, these instances are recalled through play-by-play in our minds. We remember weird stuff; it chops up monotony.

The years of vivid childhood imagination are likely behind us. Replacing that innate, colorful wonder often lies in the allure of things like Netflix, which has satisfied the insatiable thirst for limitless consumption in the realm of film and television.

Why do we crave entertainment today in an unprecedented scope? Why do we constantly seek out situations that involve shock value or elements of surprise? How important is it to experience spontaneity? To break boredom?

Each movie or episode creates a dreamworld for viewers, chock-full of stimulating scenarios and images. When ordinary, everyday life is humdrum, adventure unfolds with the screen of our laptops. Wouldn’t it be exhilarating to live out these storylines?

The “college experience” is romanticized in many of these productions as the most glorious, action-packed years of life. While Butler University is a veritable beehive of activity against a stunningly picturesque movie set, it often seems that life flatlines with the correlating Midwestern landscape.

Even the most jammed class schedules dictate an even, repetitive rhythm which lulls us into the next week and the next week and the next week. The creative centers of our brains might lie dormant, overpowered by the grinding gears of routine.

One of the best feelings, one that sends dozens of Pop-Rocks fizzling in your stomach, is having something to look forward to. It’s the buzz you feel with concert tickets in your palm, when your best friend curls your hair for a date, when your dad is packing the trunk for a beach weekend.

How can we replicate this feeling without the material implications that typically come with it?

Experiment. The characteristically outspoken English professor Dan Barden suggests something like this: Go sit in Starbucks for forty-five minutes. Just listen. Listen to the little snippets of conversation. Weird stuff happens where you least expect it. Pay attention, imagine where these conversations lead once they leave the building.

By coincidence, I typed this outside Starbucks. Suddenly, in this early hour of the morning, a well-dressed student dashed across the pavilion, clutching a liter of lukewarm Cherry Coke — sideways? I’m still wondering what on earth he was doing.

Later that night, while at work, I scanned an older gentleman’s Butler alumni ID. The picture on the card had very obviously been slashed several times, maybe by a key.

He smiled, “My girlfriend did that once during a fight. She knows this card is something I hold very dear.”

Perplexity must have been written all over my face. It was one of the oddest things I have seen this semester — and peaked my interest of this stranger’s story. Had I not been instructed to start paying close attention to interactions like these, I’d barely be affected.  

Barden also suggested clicking around Jeffrey Yamaguchi’s creative musings in the “52 Projects” website. Each link leads to a simple exercise in subtle pathways to spontaneity and creativity. Some of them read as trifling and childish, but the explanations provided underneath might click for you.

Number 16 challenges the reader to find a new recipe for margaritas. Number 37 asks you to track down pictures from every place you’ve called home. Spark a flame in your groove.

If nothing exciting looms on the horizon, make time for it. When business law is throwing a curve, at least you have a hike scheduled on Saturday.

Incorporate some funk into your routine. Check out the seedy secondhand store no one else has braved. Tap another teaspoon of cayenne into the recipe. Subscribe to a new magazine. Play devil’s advocate in a debate. Write your class notes freehand. Stop pressing snooze.

Derailing our routines to be spontaneous takes away time from med school applications or LSAT studying. As students, most of us are focused on the future, but let’s take in the “now” as much as possible. You won’t remember the score from an obscure pop quiz, but I’ll bet you’ll remember the time your phone fell in the Star Fountain at 2 a.m. Have some entertaining stories in your back pocket. The worst part about writing this piece was trying to pry interesting anecdotes out of people. No one could think of anything off the top of their heads:

“Has anything odd or spontaneous happened to you recently? Have you tried anything new?”

“Uh, no…not that I can recall.”  “Not really.”  “What?”

Out of the five people I asked, not one could give me something of interest. Their answers were literally monotonous.

Maybe the next time overwhelming boredom invades, we could find something more fulfilling to fill the void and break the cycle of monotony. Not every Tuesday is an episode out of “New Girl”. But if we appreciate the little stuff, listen a bit more closely and put our best (Birkenstock-clad) feet forward, we will realize everyday life is in technicolor.


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