Musing over spilt milk – 3: Picking which moment to live in

Tara Cummings 5 February 2014

The weird intensities of Cambridge life have a tendency to push a pretty odd method of prioritisation. After the third Sunday this term spent debating the merits of working all day to somehow justify being in Life by 11pm, and potentially in bed on Monday until 2pm, a weary friend claimed that somehow this structuring seemed depressing. Why does there have to be such a sense of pay-off? That certain points of the day have to be attached not just to specific practical events- mealtimes, sleeping- but much more abstract notions of fun and effort?

It obviously depends on your personal preferences; giving up Sunday Life for exam term, with the promise of a May Week where every night is Sunday night, isn’t going to motivate someone who dislikes slimy walls. But the idea of time-management does seep into something much more emotionally driven when the day is divided up – not into what can be done, but what is allowed to be done.

When this extends to a term, and even an entire degree – I’m fairly sure that the self-assurance that staying in to finish a revision textbook (just in case) will make sense will be familiar to pretty much anyone who sat A Levels to make it to Cambridge. But when the prize is itself sacrificed in the hope of a bigger reward, the perpetual postponement becomes both a losing out and an odd type of security.

To choose this moment as the one to live in places a stark importance on your every move. Deciding that yes, the stereotypes are right, and university is probably the highlight of your life, stresses the need to reach an unbelievably peak of happiness and success – right now.

When your time here is as definitively marked as three years, or nine terms of a student loan, a bad week seems like a loss never to be recouped. It would be counterproductive to attempt to make the best of everything, drawing a blank as to what a twenty year old Arts student really wants, and how to even try and get it. Yet to endlessly defer the high-point, and so preserve it for future use, risks pushing it into a territory where it won’t actually fulfil its potential at all.

A certain level of conscious matching is worthwhile- consigning the workless day to a Friday with no contact time, an essay to an evening before an early start. But trying to force these beyond loose definitions is futile in the face of unaccountable external influences.

Claiming that your three years (or more) at Cambridge are for putting in as much time at the ADC as possible before embarking on an insecure acting career seems logical in reaching one goal, but omits the work on the degree that’s keeping you here in the first place. A summer dedicated to vacation schemes looks good in the long run, and is wasted on an eventual career change. Equally, handing over three months to visiting friends misses this opportunity out for some people you may not remember in a decade. Life isn’t a static timeline of events, and seizing the day should sometimes leave a little for the day after.