Graphic made by Laura Elizabeth Hand, CC’19
“I’m just too busy.”
“Can’t; got to go to Butler.”
“Just because you want me to come doesn’t mean I will.”
For most Columbia students, keeping track of the number of times their friends and classmates have “flaked” on them or turned down their offers to hang out because of their “busyness” is an impossible task. This can easily be seen in both conversations with peers and the stark difference between the number of people who sign up for events at Columbia versus the number of people who actually show up. As a student body, we are each obsessed with the idea that we do not have downtime. You always need to be working and getting ahead while also espousing the idea that you’re failing all your classes and cannot find enough hours in the day to sleep, let alone let loose and fun. Despite the constant Spec op-eds and Facebook rants bemoaning Columbia’s stress culture and lacking mental health resources, when it comes to us individually doing our parts to remedy the problems we continue to critique, we don’t because we value our own reasons for being stressed above others’ reasons.
“I need to get into medical school.”
“I care about my education.”
“I have to get a 4.0; I’m trying to get into a good law school.”
In each one of these sentiments, we create a metaphorical barrier, an us versus them mentality. We perpetuate the idea that there is a goal we need to constantly struggle to capture and that to a certain extent, those around us are trying to distract us from it.
But what does it mean to be busy? How can we both enjoy the benefits of being students living and learning in America’s busiest city while also capturing these goals? In many ways, we should look to the message encapsulated in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, “Sunday in the Park with George.”
For those who have not heard of the show before, it follows the artistic process of famous artist Georges Seurat as he creates and develops the painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Throughout the first act, Seurat is completely fixated on drawing sketches of the people who are ultimately portrayed in his famous painting. As he works on the piece and obsesses over “Finishing the Hat”, he fails to consider the lives and feelings of those around him.
“Finishing the Hat” performed by Jake Gyllenhaal
In particular, the audience is exposed to the romantic relationship between Seurat and Dot, the latter being the role played by Ashford. Gyllenhaal who plays his role perfectly as he time and time again dismisses and chides Dot as she complains about having to stand still under the hot sun while Seurat sketches her. Seurat’s goal is to develop a work of art completely like no other. He has had the idea and now is steadfast in achieving its completion. Despite listening to complaints from his love Dot, Seurat does not truly hear and process them as they conflict with his direct desires. Dot even tells him:
Yes, George, run to your work.
Hide behind your painting.
I have come to tell you I am leaving because I thought you might
care to know-foolish of me, because you care about nothing-
In being so passionate about his goal, he forgets the people in his own life. As the plot develops and Dot eventually moves on, after realizing she cannot stay with Seurat, he still fails to address it, instead retreating further into his work.
Like a Columbia student dedicating so much time to their specific craft, they lean on it as their excuse and crutch. Just as Seurat in the production cannot escape his work, we too cannot see beyond our work: our looming deadlines, upcoming exams, next club/board/committee/council meetings, impending fellowship and scholarship applications, and imminent job and internship interviews. The list of work we each have goes on and on, adding to our lists of reasons to skip that food truck fair in Brooklyn we talked with our friends about for months, or miss seeing that old friend who is visiting NYC over break, or cancel plans to go to that free (or extremely cheap) event that we RSVP’d to as going on Facebook. We look at the world and people around us in the same manner that Dot describes as being characteristic of George:
As if he sees you and he doesn’t all at once.
Instead of fully valuing those around us and the opportunities we have, we simply ignore them — out of sight out of mind — and obsess over our work. And while we did come here to learn, we need to really understand that there is more to a Columbia education than just mentally locking ourselves into libraries and priding ourselves in unhealthy sleep habits.
As students, we need to break out of using our work and goals as an excuse. Dedicate more time to trying something new, leaving Butler and going off-campus, finding the color and lights that can brighten our days rather than groveling. As much as having dreams and passions is great, so is being able to explore new topics and brighten the day of others by just listening to them and putting in the effort to get to know more about them and their passions.
Tickets to “Sunday in the Park with George” can be purchased here. Performances run until April 23rd, 2017.