Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Nina, the Mayflower, and a Pirate Ship

This year, my school had an idea. The idea was named "fall break." This would occur for two days in mid-October, and would result in a four-day weekend right around Columbus Day.*
When Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, he did so with a small fleet of three ships. Later, a group of Puritans would come over to that new world on the Mayflower. Much later, three vegetables would sing about not doing anything while on a pirate ship. These five ships describe perfectly my fall break.

Looking at the calendar in the summer, I had bemoaned fall break. Wouldn't it be nicer to have two more days of summer? How about a whole week at Thanksgiving? A little bit more Christmas? I'm all about delayed gratification when I'm in my house in Colorado, watching TLC and baking with my sisters. But around October 1st, I started to be really excited about fall break. Christopher Columbus needed to be recognized, by golly! What better way to celebrate than by me not going to class?

As it turns out, fall break has been one of the most delightful four days of my college experience. I hung out with my cousin in Brooklyn, walked to, across, and back from the Brooklyn Bridge with my roommate from last year, fittingly watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off, saw an incredible rain/hail/thunder/lightning storm, went to the gym, hung out with two girls from my house, and had a really lovely time.

Perhaps most notably, I went on a day trip with three friends, and we saw Boston in the fall! (For those of you unfamiliar with Big Idea Productions, Veggie Tales, and other cult favorites of evangelicals, the Pirates who Don't do Anything sang about how they had not painted daisies on a big red rubber ball, bathed in yogurt, or been to Boston in the fall. As a result, autumnal Cambridge has become a bit of a mecca for those of us who grew up with the lazy pirates.)

Yes, it would have been nice to get more Thanksgiving, Christmas, or summer. The idea of delayed gratification (going to school the previous two days, enjoying more break later) plays a huge part in capitalism. In fact, delayed gratification is one of the driving forces behind the accumulation of capital, which is essential for capitalism (see Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for more on this idea). The ability to wait and sacrifice a bit now for a bigger payoff later is a good skill to have, and leads to a wise and fruitful life. Weber argues that the Puritans did this almost obsessively, leading to the accumulation of capital necessary to ignite capitalism. Way to go, Puritans, way to go!

If, however, you do not have the luxury of being the one to set the school calendar (or of being John Calvin), sometimes fall break happens. This immediate gratification feels a little frivolous, a little wasteful, a little silly. Wouldn't we all be better, stronger people if we could hold out through October without a break? Perhaps. But another crucial aspect to capitalism is the ability to take unexpected circumstances and make them work — also called adaptability. This lets you take less-than-ideal situations and use them to your advantage (see Jim Collins's Good to Great for more on this idea). In other words, you very rarely get to pick the situation — you just have to decide how to use it.

I'm not saying that fall break was "less than ideal," but I probably wouldn't have chosen it if I had set the calendar. Now, however, I see the benefits, joys, and wisdom of fall break. Delayed gratification is still good, but the future is uncertain. The Puritans, masters of delayed gratification, worked hard, lived sparse lives, and eventually profited, practicing Protestant virtues and enjoying Boston in the fall. Thanks to the calendar though, I had to choose between enjoying Boston in the fall and dutifully doing my homework in preparation for another week of toil. While the Puritans got both, I'm quite content that I got Boston. Thanks to Columbus's three ships and partially spurning the hearty Mayflower, I followed the footsteps of three vegetable buckaneers and took my pirate ship to Boston on fall break.

I contemplated the mid-break joys of our autumnal respite in:
Purple patterned empire-waisted dress with "one quarter length" sleeves, eggplant tights, silver hoop earrings, black and silver watch, and black leather boots.

*This parenthetical remark was too long for parentheses, hence the asterisk. Columbus Day is an anomaly in attitudes in the western and eastern United States. Typically, the east is much more pretentious, uptight, politically correct, and easily offended, while the west is more casual, relaxed, devil-may-care, and hearty. However, when Columbus Day rolls around, people in the west get their shorts in a bunch, and have lots of protests, because Christopher Columbus was a big meanie who came and killed the natives and opened up the continent to conquistadors, and didn't really do anything because he thought he found India, and why are we celebrating that kind of a jerk? In the east, they just have the day off from school.

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