Kicking and Screaming, Sort Of
By Campbell Haynes, Guest Columnist
Published on Wednesday, September 12, 2012
My coach ride up to Hanover last week was unusual for me. Usually, I’m anxiously excited to get back up to school. I spent most of my previous coach rides using Google Maps on my iPhone to determine the exact distance remaining to Hanover, frustrated only by the intermittent cell phone service.
My frustration on this bus ride was of a different sort. I aimlessly watched the featured film. As we pulled in to Hanover, I realized I wasn’t excited to return to Dartmouth.
Dartmouth has always been a summer camp to me. I first visited Dartmouth as a debate camper before my senior year of high school. A year later, I managed to put about half of my requisite freshman moments and embarrassments behind me in eight weeks working at the same camp. Responsibility was limited, and my appetite for carousing was high. These experiences colored my first two years at Dartmouth. I was buoyed by the seemingly infinite possibilities — academic, social or otherwise — available to me at Dartmouth. “Yeah,” I told my parents after my freshman year, “My grades could be better, but...” I proceeded to rattle off the intellectual value of the friendships I made freshman year and the impressive sounding plans I had made for the future: consulting, working for the Obama campaign, starting a sports and music blog.
My sophomore year was a more concrete manifestation of the limitless possibility I felt freshman year. My academic interests coalesced more fully and the Greek system provided a convenient vehicle for meeting new people, deepening preexisting friendships and helping me find my own niche. Plans, though, were still amorphous and non-binding: the further in the future, the better.
I had lots of big, and generally recurring, plans at the beginning of each term. Eat healthier, exercise more, go out less during the week, maybe ask that girl out. It was all too easy, though, to rationalize these goals away: the limitless possibility of Dartmouth meant I could just follow through in the future. My career-related worries? I’ll just deal with it after sophomore summer, I told myself.
12X was an exaggerated version of my Dartmouth experience: quite literally a summer camp, my carefree attitude shot down only occasionally by my job and duties at my fraternity. The cliches about it are true, for the most part; what you don’t hear is how depressing the end is. I refused to think about the end of the summer and all it represented — actually finding a job, converting talk into action, buckling down, et cetera — until I was driving away from campus. The paralyzing shock I felt then, I suspect, explains the tired and depressing end to sophomore summer. It’s hard to enjoy summer camp when the real world beckons.
At the end of my summer, I watched the movie “Kicking and Screaming” upon a friend’s recommendation. This 1995 flick (not about a kids’ soccer team) appealed to me instantly: It covers a direction-less group of smart, recent college graduates who spend hours engaged in highfalutin but ultimately pointless arguments about sports and pop culture while putting off the realities of the working world. A bit too real for me, to be honest. The protagonist, Grover, explains that he cannot call his girlfriend in Prague because “it just seems like a lot to do ... and that long distance code is so long.” The movie ends on a crushing note: Grover takes a risk and decides to spontaneously buy a plane ticket to Prague, only to be foiled by his lack of a passport. “Well, you can always go tomorrow,” the booking agent replies, as Grover laughs grimly.
While out Monday night, I was still thinking about the movie and my conflicted coach ride back to Hanover. Perversely, I realized, I’d become like Grover by thinking about whether or not I was: Overanalyzing my inaction had become a paralyzing procrastination method in and of itself. Grover mistakenly views his college graduation as the end of his freedom; I was doing the same thing, only halfway through. Focusing on the end of limitless possibility — and its detrimental effects on my development — was a vain and pointless distraction. Acknowledgement of a limit to my Dartmouth experience gave me a better sense of what I could accomplish, what I wanted to accomplish and how to do it. I’m finally starting that sports radio show my friends and I have been talking about since freshman winter. Could have done it tomorrow, but I’m doing it today instead.