Vectors

Let’s talk about vectors. No, relax, put the physics textbook away. I’m not talking about a geometric element. I’m talking about a way of life. 

I could sit here and try to explicate this whole concept for you, but you know, show-not-tell and all that jazz, so I’ll try to explain by example. Ever have one of those days where everything looked planned out? Class from 10 to 12:30, lunch with Peter and Christine, meeting with your project group, go to the gym, thirty minute treadmill, twenty minute light weights – not too heavy, gotta get toned, not ripped – fifteen minute abs, treadmill cool-down, quick catch-up with Mom on the way home from the gym, shower, dinner with the guys, pop over to Sanborn, little reading, catch up on those blitzes, little more reading, head to meetings, head to post-meetings, pong game, head to Late Night, get some sleep and make it up for your 10A? 

Ever run into that freshman floormate on the way back from that project meeting, that one you haven’t seen in weeks except in passing, little between-appointments-run-ins like this, that one who’s going to the river and wants you to come? Ever felt that twinge of regret when you told her you couldn’t make it? Ever thought about it for way longer than you probably should’ve, weighing how many more times you could get away with skimming the readings during class or blowing off your mom before things really start to get out of hand? 

Ever looked down at that little Technicolor sea of iCal appointments and just said, Fuck it

You just changed your vector. Your day was laid out before you in so many colorful little bubbles; all you had to do was connect the dots, get yourself from one place to the next. But you took a hard left turn. And once you’ve done it, there’s no going back. You’ve stepped into the unknown. Sitting there by the river, 2:30 on a Wednesday, you realize, There’s no way in hell I’m going to the gym today. You’re outside – that has to count for something, right? Plus your floormate is going back to watch the World Cup game at 4. You’ve got time to watch a half. You’ll still make it to Sanborn to catch up on those blitzes later. 

I don’t have to finish that story, because you just finished it yourself. Remember the last time you did exactly what I just described. You soaked up a beautiful summer afternoon – if you haven’t done this once yet this summer, reexamine some fundamental principles and priorities in your life and get back to me when you’ve located the problem – and caught a nice dip in the river. You caught that soccer game – sorry for the untimely example, but what sports are left now that the World Cup is over? Baseball? – and you played that pong game at halftime, ‘cause why not, right? You caught up with those friends you keep seeing and let’s-get-lunching as you walk past them on the sidewalk. You sure as shit didn’t make it to Sanborn. But you went to sleep with a grin on your face – still overcommitted and under-tanned, sure, but content. 

This is not a moral screed. I’m not inciting you to blow off your schoolwork or bail on your friends and your no-doubt-awesome extracurriculars. The sheer fact that I’m sitting here writing this article instead of out doing all the things I just told you to do shows that I realize the importance of work. I’m just here to remind you that the time in life in which you can roll out of bed at 9:30, spend two hours learning cool things and the rest of the day doing literally whatever you want is incredibly finite, and thus shouldn’t be neglected without due process of law. If you’ve got shit that needs to get done, do it. And if the things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside also happen to be incredibly productive and responsible things, more power to you. 

But except for you lucky bums headed straight to grad school, our days of flexible schedules and minimal commitments are pretty much halfway over (blah blah Dartmouth X). So if you’re always telling yourself that one of these days you’ll get outside and do something cool, take that bike ride or sit on your porch drinking beer for lunch, quit talking about it and make it happen. 

Open up your iCal right now. Don’t lie, I know you have one. If you’re like all the people I eavesdrop on in class, you’ve got three or four – a calendar for homework, a calendar for social events, a calendar for when you’ll eat and sleep and have a poo. Now find the day that looks the freest. Nothing after your 10A next Tuesday? Keep it that way. And when you walk out of that class, I hope you think to yourself, I have nothing to do today. And it feels fan-fucking-tastic. 

It’s no accident that many of the most interesting people I’ve met here at Dartmouth have been the ones with the most vectors. They aren’t bums or burnouts – people who spend every day getting high and skipping classes are just as locked in to their vector as the meeting junkies – but they bring as much passion to their pursuit of fun and memorable experiences as they do to their classes or clubs. They’re always doing. They might not be perfect group project partners, and they might not get their papers done three days ahead of time, but when push comes to shove, I think they have their priorities more in line than most of us, because they realize that at the end of the day, the individual academic experiences Dartmouth has given us probably aren’t what we’ll remember, or what will make a difference in our lives, ten or five or even two years out. To be frank, I’m not completely sure I could tell you what I learned for my midterm last Monday, but when I sit by the Ledyard Dock I’m washed over with memories – of freshman spring afternoons and sophomore summer nights, of late afternoon canoes and early morning swims, of stunning vistas and growing friendships.  

If I overuse the river as a symbol of carefree fun, of the abundant resources Dartmouth provides beyond the classroom, or of the conscious decision to do something that doesn’t explicitly further any grand life goal beyond your own enjoyment and inner peace, it’s partly because of my own history. The Connecticut has been the setting for some of my most memorable experiences in these last two years. But it’s more than that. At the risk of being incredibly cheesy, I think the River and its gentle but steady current speak to an incredibly important message: go with the flow. 

In the end, I guess that’s all I’m advocating for. You don’t always have to dive in and just trust the current take you where it may – it’s easy to get sucked in, and swimming upstream can be difficult and dangerous. But pick your spot farther upstream – get up a little early, get that reading done, leave your afternoons free – and let the current, or whatever exciting new vector you throw yourself onto, carry you to exactly where you want to be.