“We always end up at Beta,” has become a sort of masochistic mantra among my friends. We don't know why. We just started during NSOP and never stopped. We're like Odysseus's crew—tired and weary from work, we stumble ashore into a frat, and after a lotus or two, we forget to leave. We've kind of forgotten to leave for a whole year now.
This past Bacchanal, in between exoduses to my floor, to the lawn, and to Greek brownstones, I'm fairly sure I ended up at Beta two or three times. I couldn't tell you why exactly Beta was the choice. To be fair, I don't think I could even tell you why we frat-hopped in the first place. But, 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., there we were, doing what can only be described as convulsing to Kanye's “Gold Digger” in a dingy basement.
But what is so appealing about the little red, white, and blue brownstone? The peeling paint? The sticky floors? The tall, dark, and average frat boys? It has become for us, as Alfred Tennyson says of the Lotos-eaters, “A land where all things always seem'd the same!”
Now, when Odysseus and the Lotus-eaters get brought up, as they so often do in everyday conversation (No? Just me?), the first thing that usually comes to mind is adventure. What people forget, however, is that the Lotus-eaters episode was essentially a yearlong drug-induced haze that seemed good in the short term, but turned out to be damaging in the long run. Homer doesn't spend more than a page on the Lotus-eaters in the Odyssey because he has bigger things to tackle once Odysseus and his crew get their shit together and leave. Alfred Tennyson, however, dedicated some poetry to this little episode:
A land of streams! some, like a downward smoke,
Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn, did go;
And some thro' wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumbrous sheet of foam below.
If that doesn't sound like a frat party—streams of booze, beer foam on the floor—I don't know what to tell you. The parallels are uncanny.
As Columbia students, we have all of Manhattan at our fingertips. So why do we choose to go to the same few, mediocre places time and again—be it Mel's, your favorite frat, or the trashy EC suite of some senior you don't even know? Why do we engage in the same behaviors we don't even necessarily care for, repeating our Choric Songs thoughtlessly?
Frat parties are to freshmen what casual hookups are to relationships. We start going because it's the easiest way to get into the social scene at Columbia (questionable Carman parties don't count) and so that we can eventually meet enough people and have our own parties.
But then, we get too comfortable. What starts as an easy way to make friends at the beginning of freshman year becomes a staple of our social life because we just get too adjusted and never leave. This, of course, doesn't mean all frat parties are terrible. It just means that, for the most part, going to frats isn't actually what we want to be doing. It's just, at this point, what we do.
Or think about it this way: Say you've been single for a while and really want a girlfriend. So you hook up with people until one sort of sticks. You don't particularly like or dislike this person—they're attractive, the hookup is usually fun—but they're there, and eventually you just start dating to date someone. You're in the middle before you even realize you began. It's not a meaningful relationship; it's a quick fix. The same goes for a job that wasn't meant to be a career, or a gap year that became a gap decade.
Odysseus and his crew were weary, and they needed a place to rest. After years of being at sea, the island of the Lotus-eaters was a welcome stop where things were easier—good, even. The island of the Lotus-eaters had its merits, but it wasn't their destination, and it definitely wasn't their home. It was supposed to be a temporary resting place, it almost became a permanent distraction.
Sometimes we need stepping stones, respites from our journeys, to get us to our destinations. But we should be careful to recognize if and when our brief stops become “lotus stops.” And if they are, to not unintentionally stay there for a year (or worse). These stops can be necessary, but they should not be permanent.
Rather, we should always, as Tennyson's "Ulysses" puts it, continue “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield [to Beta].”
Hannah Barbosa Cesnik is a first-year in Columbia College who will probably see you at Beta this Friday. She can be found on Twitter at @HCesnik. Everything I need to know I learned in Lit Hum runs alternate Tuesdays.
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