The Perennial “To Do”

My to do list is never empty. It is categorized into “personal,” “academic,” and “extracurricular,” and each item on my list then further expands into a collage of reminders, plans, and details. My aspirations and my motivations are contained within the dictations of that sovereign “to do.”

Each day is another iteration of a cycle dictated by the to do. The moment I wake up, a set of impending tasks begins to descend upon me.  I am constantly moving forward—from class to class, from studying to rehearsals, from Val to meeting after unproductive meeting. My tasks are absolute, my body a vessel for fulfilling their necessary actions. The imperative to keep moving forward is so ingrained in my consciousness that I simply cannot live without it. In fact, without an all-commanding to do, I would simply feel hopeless.

Everyone I know has a to do. If not a physical list of tasks, then it is a will to action, a restless need for accomplishment, or some fantastical fixation upon the future—graduating, finding a mate, starting a career, or discovering “meaning.” Everyone is driven forward by something—at the very least, the energy that places one foot in front of the other, which commands thoughts to form sequentially, that essential force that propels us forward until we may reach an ultimate homeostasis.

Life at Amherst is continually moving forward. Even leisure seems to become reduced to mechanical action. Activities that promote happiness, such as partying or hanging out with friends, are calculated breaches in the continuum in order to maintain our sanity as we are again propelled into the advancing tide. Time seems to tick sardonically at anyone who lags behind in the incessant hustle for progress. We are ever the slaves of a ceaseless, ruthless to do. But to what end?

The Pirahã is a hunter-gatherer tribe consisting of around 400 individuals located in the Amazon Rainforest. The Pirahã have no conception of time. Their language consists of whistling and humming, and they have no numbers, stories, art, or history. For them, there is no way to conceive of things moving forward; life exists solely and infinitely in the present.

Time and the need to live linearly seem to be directives that are larger than us.  But our conception of time and its consequent drive to progress are contrived structures we have become entangled within. We have become the slaves of our own invention. It may seem naive to say that I wish to detangle myself from this conditioning which I have been subjected to, to separate myself from the very temporality which is intrinsic to my language and my thought—but I can’t help but hope that if I must live within this continuum, that there is a way I can become an engineer of it. I do not want to be passively caught within the grips of a to do that has been forced upon me. I want to find meaning within my own means; I want to be the agent of my own time.