Mike Makowsky: Skirting the shark

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

In the midst of senior year my show was in a creative rut. The ratings were plummeting fast and I suspected that my remaining viewers lingered merely to hate-watch, so they could gripe on the message boards about my general passiveness and knack for defeatism.

Two pop culture-savvy psychiatrists termed my complex “Truman Show delusion” — subject believes he is the center of a kind of postmodern sitcom. I knew well enough to discern that the subject was likely just a paranoid narcissist. Nevertheless, I continued to feel like a letdown to the greater audience that had endeavored to DVR my show, only to find Mike wallowing in his bed, swapping between homework, Bagel Gourmet take-out and Netflix (all mutually exclusive). Yeah, we’ve got better things to watch. Erase.

Like Fonzie water skiing in his leather jacket, I’d officially jumped the shark. Though WaterFire and RISD parties sounded appealing, I lacked the resolve to venture off the Hill. I’d still never set foot in Boston. Over the past six semesters it had been easy to succumb to a stable routine. So what if the days dragged on every now and then?

Inspiration to seize the day never came by way of a Dead Poets Society-fueled epiphany. Instead all it took was an ad in the Providence Phoenix about King Richard’s Faire. New England’s largest renaissance festival offered jousting tournaments, turkey legs and the prospect of mixing with a wench or two. This was unchartered territory. A chance to spend the day in an entirely new world, along with a bunch of awkward teens who brandished foam swords and managed Game of Thrones wikis in their downtime. (In a way, it wasn’t much of a departure from Brown.) And King Richard was only a 50-minute Sunday morning drive away.

Wenches or no, I ended up having one of the best experiences of my college career. Afterward, I committed myself to doing a minimum of one random activity every day while I was still a Brown student. I bought a calendar and forced myself to fill each square with something I’d never done before — this would be my alternative bucket list. The feat might be as simple as striking up a conversation with a new friend or discovering a study spot off the beaten path. One month into the experiment my calendar overflowed with four years worth of experiences — first treks to Boston and Federal Hill, the sting of a post-SPG hangover, hurling through a tween mosh pit at the Sum 41 concert, reaching the SciLi rooftop (sometimes all you have to do is ask), and the difference in taste between La Laiterie charcuterie and 5 a.m. Loui’s banana-chocolate-pumpkin-whatever pancake. I crashed DUG events, indulged Morning Mail and invented reasons to wear blazers. The only casualty was my Netflix usage.

However, for all the excitement the calendar assured, it brought another problem — I was now firmly in the habit of quantifying my experiences from an objective lens. The pressure to fill in the squares, of anticipating what constituted new and fun, strangely kept me from fully partaking in each activity. My “series” was better, no doubt, but it was now more artificial than ever. There was only so long I could keep up the act.

Ultimately, though the calendar had to be discarded for my own sanity, it taught me how to pursue opportunities on an impulse. I learned not to see my world in wholesale or as a collection of episodes. Instead, my senior year evolved into a different kind of series — one of spontaneous and unstructured moments, big and small, taken in stride.

Mike Makowsky will be working for Marvel Studios next year, where his contract stipulates he is never to look Jeremy Renner in the eye. Regrettably, his water skiing ability is mediocre is best.