Sunday, September 24, 2006

The World's Largest Ball of String

I met with a group of friends from school tonight. We meet weekly to play games and talk each other out of dropping out of graduate school. (Each of us has a pet plan for the day when we've finally had enough. I plan to go to Australia. I first got the idea from Alexander, of the timeless classic Alexcander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I figured if it's good enough for poor Alexander, it's good enough for me. That and I'm not sure where to find that island from Where the Wild Things Are. I think I'd get along with the Wild Things. They don't seem to be big on rules, which is one of the primary qualities I'm looking for in a dropout destination. Since the location of the Wild Things' island is undisclosed, I settled for Australia. Which actually seems to be a pretty good choice. I mean, they really don't seem to take life too seriously down there. They're always saying "no worries" and going on walkabout. And then look at the wildlife; kangaroos are really funny looking, and it would lighten up anyone's day to see them hopping around all over the place. I've also heard that their standard amount of vacation time is three months. Three months! I could really handle three months of vacation a year.)

Recently, with the the threat of scholastic burn-out more serious than ever, we've come up with an incentive to get us through the year. If we manage to take care of all of our business this academic year, we will go on a road trip in June. Actually, this won't be just any road trip. We have started referring to it as "The Great American Roadtrip" and it will encompass every roadside stand we pass, every local burger joint we come across, and, most importantly, every little "World's Largest Ball of String" type attraction in a 100 mile radius of every place we stop. We're going to ferret these places out, and take plenty of pictures, and buy refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs and T-shirts at every stop.

Initially, this idea sounded really fun. It was going to be perfectly spontaneous, a time to be without a plan and just do whatever we feel like doing. But, there's one in every group. A Planner. Someone who takes an idea and then organizes the life out of it. Mere days after the idea originated, we began getting emails from our Planner. The first one said that we needed a soundtrack with one song for every state. She had included a list of all of the state songs she could think of, and invited us to fill in the blanks. OK, that's not so bad, right? It could be fun. The next one proposed that each of us keep both a journal and a scrapbook for the trip. We would need to keep up with them every day so as not to get behind, and then at the end of the trip we'll have a party and pass them around. Now, this is beginning to sound suspiciously like work to me. The next email said that we'd have to make plans for Sunday. Since we won't be in church, we could have a sermon-giving contest while we drove. Are you kidding me? A sermon giving contest? Not only is that work, that's boring work. Why would we do this to ourselves after we've already made it through such a long year?

Tonight, we were informed of the plans that she's made over the past week for this trip that's still NINE MONTHS AWAY. This week, she concentrated on games. Mad libs, of course. Desert Island and Would You Rather. An alphabet game tournament with a scoreboard and prizes for the winner. A magnetized version of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. As she talked, I came up with a theory. This is where all of the anti-fun in the world comes from. Planners. It goes like this. Someone has an idea. It's a good idea. Then a Planner gets ahold of it. The Planner is excited by the idea, so she Plans, and the more she Plans, the more excited she gets, and the more excited she gets, the more Plans she comes up with. So at the end of the process, all that's left of this beautiful, exciting idea is a check list and a goal chart. The idea has become work.

I'm pretty sure that this is the process that turned all of us into the wannabe dropouts we are today. Someone had an idea. We'll have school for people who have already graduated and they want to learn more. It'll be great. We'll meet with other people who study what we study and talk about ideas! Then we'll try the ideas out and see if they work! But then, a Planner came along. And the Planner said, "OK, this has potential, but here's what we'll have to do. We'll have to meet every week for three hours at a time, because we want to make sure we'll have plenty of time to talk about everything. And we'll all want to make sure that we can talk about the same thing, so we'll read a lot during the rest of the week and then we'll all talk about that. And we should have a set number of pages we should have to read every week so that we're maximizing our learning. And we'll want to supplement our learning, so everyone should have extra topics to research every week and they can do little mini-presentations. With powerpoints! And handouts! AND we'll want to measure our progress at the end of the course, so we'll all write 25 page seminar papers at the end, and then read them to each other!" And before you know it, we're all dying for a vacation.

The solution? We get rid of the Planners. We institutionalize them like the true crazy people they are. We put them all in a building and give them plenty of stuff to plan, far away from others, so that our ideas can't be turned into work. And then we have our ideas, and we carry them out, but without the use of mission statements and organizational diagrams and evaluative rubrics, and maybe some of the fun is left in them, and maybe then there will be no more burn out, and no more need for an escape plan like Australia.

1 comment:

Ann said...

This is a wonderful post...mainly because I agree with every word about The Planner. You're lucky, I suppose, that there's just ONE in the group. Trouble is, in their super-competent way, planners "compensate" for their small number and become even more hyper-organized. But fight on-- this scourge must be resisted.