April 25, 2014

Gunning for fun

When it comes to choosing between activities, it helps to know what you want at the end of the day.

Best Delegate knows its audience. Touting its summer programs online, the Model UN tutoring firm promises to teach aspiring diplomats “Public Speaking,” “Research Made Easy,” and other skills likely to win a parental seal of approval. It downplays the stranger moments onthe Model UN circuit. One of those came last Saturday, when I was dragged into a packed conference room, interrogated at gunpoint for 20 minutes, and executed to applause from members of the Colombian Senate. Thus ended my brief stint as Pablo Escobar, 1980s drug kingpin and bane of our ChoMUN “Crisis Committee.”

No, my half-hour in a camo shirt didn’t make me a more confident speaker or capable researcher. It had just been fun, and we all know how fun fares at U of C. Later that evening, it gave way to a familiar anxiety as I kicked back in my hotel room and looked over the next week’s workload. Short on the tangible results that Best Delegate would have promised me, I found myself wondering: Should we gear our precious free time towards fleeting highs or concrete gains?

Seven months of UChicago RSOs have been enough for me to realize that it’s not a one-or-the-other decision. In fact, the activities billed as “fun” by a friend, coach, co-president, or Secretary-General seemed to fall into four categories, based on what they leave us with at the end of the day. Here they are:

1. Heavy productivity: A few months ago, I wrote about the satisfaction that comes with practicing “tradecraft.” While outlining an article for The Gate or perfecting an audition piece, you’re expending as much intellectual effort as a class project, with an extra, empowering dose of self-motivation. Do I enjoy every split second of the research and revising process? Of course not, but the prospect of a unique end product to share with the world makes the difficult stretches worth it.

2. Light productivity: In this category, you’re stillthinking hard, but the end results are less tangible. Most of the academic clubs around campus—UCPU, Quizbowl, and, of course, ChoMUN—fall into this category. Helping run a collegiate Model UN committee may not leave me with a polished clarinet solo or *Viewpoints*column. Yet perhaps I’ll be more creative under pressure after responding to frantic notes from the Colombian Senate. If not, at least I’ll have an amusing anecdote about that time I was the most powerful drug lord in history.

3. Hard leisure: Includes just about any activity where you’re focused on enjoying yourself in the moment, doing something that will somehow serve you well down the road. Think jogging along Lakeshore Trail, going to an IOP talk, or kicking back with the latest from your favorite pop nonfiction writer.

4. Soft leisure: The strictly unproductive brand of “fun” that makes you no smarter, fitter, or accomplished-er. When playing Halo or going out to Valois with friends, you’re expecting a temporary surge of endorphins, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t want to belittle Soft Leisure; God knows we need to relax our minds after a hectic week of school.

Where does this leave the time-pressed UChicago student? With another standard to allocate those valuable free hours.

Facing the O-Week activity tables, I had gone by interest alone, joining the familiar crowd of PoliSci, PubPol, and History majors that circulates through the Maroon, Model UN and IOP. But as someone who gravitates towards “heavy productivity” and its concrete results, I’ve found that an interest in politics alone doesn’t cut it. Last weekend, as I tried to crank out a decent Viewpoints column in the 90 minutes before our next ChoMUN session, I realized that both activites are “fun,” but only one gives me 800 words in print every two weeks.I also realized that it’s hard to make time for heavy productivity.

Can I strike a balance? It was time to face that question when I received a friend’s text at the end of ChoMUN Day 2: “I’m glad you’re finally having fun!” she wrote. “Coming back next year?”

Did I really want to commit myself to another weekend of Light Productivity? “Maybe,” I replied, playing it safe. I don’t know whether I want to trade student journalism for interrogations at gunpoint a year from now, but I sure don’t want to feel pressured into it. After all, what’s the fun in that?