This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.
~ Mr. Antolini, an excerpt from Catcher in the Rye (Chapter 24)
I’VE READ Mr. Antolini’s words before, when I first picked up a copy of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye just over nine months ago, when I was still a senior in high school. Since then, I’ve still related to Holden’s character, to some extent, because I know he tends to portray himself as a very pessimistic and cynical teenager. Being outright rebellious with his teachers and the Pencey Prep administration, I eventually saw a slight parallel occur in my life when I too argued with various high school teachers and the administration as well. But that should all be behind me now….
That was high school, and this is college. The environment’s slightly different here, but it has taken me quite a long time to suppress my own angry memories of my past life, I will humbly admit.
Still, I am moving on from all of that.
But there are still times when I wanted to give up as well, like Holden. But here’s where Antolini steps into the picture. He tries to reassure Holden to not give up on his education, just because he doesn’t feel like it, because there might be prospects Holden hasn’t yet discovered, revelations that haven’t yet come to him. That’s why Antolini trusts that Holden will make a comeback to continue his education, and in the end, Holden does manage to take up on his favorite teacher’s word.
He begins to perceive the world—and his life in a completely different way.
Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it’ll fit and maybe, what it won’t. After a while, you’ll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it might save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don’t suit you, aren’t becoming to you. You’ll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly.
~ Mr. Antolini, an excerpt from Catcher in the Rye (Chapter 24)
Ever since I’ve laid my hands and eyes on Catcher, the book slowly and increasingly became a personal revelation to me, as I could relate to Holden’s frustrations, emptiness, loneliness and bitterness. But my favorite turning point in the plot itself was the precise moment when Holden visits one of his former English teachers, Mr. Antolini, and asks him for advice on what to do and where to go about at this point in his life, and seeks guidance and direction.
As Antolini tells Holden what his role should be as a student—that same revelation spoke to me yet again nearly nine months later—now—in college.
As this Fall Quarter is slowly coming to a close, and with finals just two weeks away, my academic future may be in jeopardy as well, and I find myself at another crossroad one more time.
In recent correspondences with my professors, it is possible I might fail two of two of my General Ed classes—English and Pre-Calculus—and now, I must “consider my options.”
As I have heard, two possibilities exist for me at this point right now: I could either be placed on academic probation for the Winter Quarter, in a frivolous attempt to bring my grades back up—or simply withdraw from the University now—and come back later when I feel I am ready to start all over again.
Which is why on Monday afternoon, I will personally go have a talk with my Academic Advisor and weigh my options then—though my parents have suggested to me before that when worse comes to worse, withdrawal might be the better option—lest I face worse consequences, I wouldn’t want to be expelled.
And all this talk about poor academic performance reminds me of a time, many years ago, when an older classmate of mine, Eric Choi—now a college junior at UC Berkeley—wrote a Devotional on academic dishonesty, and in it, he makes a crucial and vital point on why teenagers are to get an education in the first place:
Have you ever heard of the Latin phrase, “Non scholae sedvitae discimus” – We do not learn for school, but for life. This phrase is hanged up on a wall in my history teacher’s room…and it teaches a very important lesson.
~ Eric Wooshik Choi, an excerpt from Memory Verse: Week 6/2/08 (2008)
So what is that lesson exactly?
The lesson is that we study for life, that we may grow and develop intellectually as well as physically and emotionally…and what have I gotten out of my education so far, you may ask?
I have learned not just how to study, but more importantly, why to study, and why it is important to take away life lessons from teachers and mentors who have walked before me—so that I may take their lessons, grow old, develop philosophies, and teach these same lessons to the next generation—or at least, that’s just one huge chunk of it.
The other part is that so we may be global thinkers, so that we may expand our horizons and know how to survive out there in this great big world—and an education can better your chances of preparing yourself for that moment, like when I’m in college now. It’s like a morale booster, when I seriously think about it.
As of now, I recently have been re-asking myself the question, “Why am I here in college?”
To have fun, or to study?
Because lately, I probably have been having too fun to focus on studying, and that’s not good. But then, on the opposite end of the spectrum it’s—“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”—so that’s not healthy either (you can choose to disagree with me as you wish, and say that work should be placed at a higher priority than fun, but my main point here is on balance).
I know I need balance in my studies, as well as in all the other areas of my life, and yes, I am still striving to find my “center” as well, like with yin and yang and being at one with one with the universe etc. I’ve heard it before.
Moreover, I can recollect a time, a long time ago, when I studied hard all throughout the school year to earn a 3.7 cumulative GPA. That was me in the 7th grade, as a proud and confident middle schooler.
But how did I get that 3.7 GPA, you ask? I didn’t just study books all day and all the time. I participated in my classes and actually enjoyed my subjects, and most of my teachers were awesome too. I made friends, I unknowingly got placed into Drama class—because my parents assumed it was “Public Speaking”—but ended up loving Drama so much, I took it again my 8th grade year.
Sounds all great, right?
Well, I also made mistakes, as any person could make.
I constantly stressed myself on prepping for the next quiz or test most days during that school year in my World History class for example, that I ended up resorting to copying one answer off of someone else’s test on one incident—and admitted that I cheated because I wanted to be extremely honest with myself—and I took that honesty to the extreme, seriously. I was a perfectionist, and I’ll admit, I still am in a way—though not as extreme as that anymore, but still, I stay true to my values no matter what.
Still, over these next few weeks, I know I need to regain that kind of “3.7 GPA mentality” all over again—maybe not stress myself out to the point where I might run home crying if I get a B on a test or something—but decent enough that I can and will pass my classes—and if worse comes to worse, withdraw from the University, take classes at a community college close to home, pass my classes there (and transfer all my credits), and come back to UC Riverside when the time appears to be alright again.
But I also realize the other difficult part in all of this is trying to balance my academics with my social life, as most high school and college students these days do.
That’s the hard part right there: finding that balance.
DON’T BE surprised at how often the solution is balance.
Too much or too little of virtually anything is bad. It’s true with the obvious — eating, sleeping, exercising, studying, working.
– Too much food and you’re fat. Too little and you’re skinny and/or have an eating disorder.
– Sleep all day and you’re lazy, under-productive (or sick). Sleep too little and you’re exhausted, ornery (and you end up sick).
– Exercise too much and you’re over trained and obsessed. Exercise too little and you’re out of shape and weak.
– Study all the time and you hate your life. Never study and you’ll end up hating your life.
– Work too much and your relationships suffer — and you’re boring. Work too little and you’re unproductive, unsuccessful — and boring.
It’s hard to find anything where balance isn’t important.
Our bodies are incessantly seeking something called homeostasis. Too hot is uncomfortable. Too cold isn’t any better.
A basic teaching tenet when writing curricula and planning lessons is to balance the difficulty. Too hard is overwhelming and discouraging. Too easy is unchallenging and boring.
Finding the center isn’t easy.
Kids are taught about the importance of balance the first time they read “The Three Bears.” Yet, because it demands constant adjustment and endless fine-tuning, the search for balance is a lifetime quest.
~ Jaime Richards, an excerpt from The Quest For Balance (2010)
Well said, Jaime. Well said. Now that I am indeed in college, I can literally see, touch and feel that the quest for balance never ends. Thank God He made our bodies with a biological homeostatic instrument implanted in each of us—otherwise, we Homo sapiens probably would not be around for very long—or have the biological ability to physically adapt to a wide range of biomes, ranging from the Arctic to the taiga to the deserts to the rainforests to the deciduous forests of the world (and thank you BBC for Planet Earth and Human Planet, and the Eyewitness documentaries I watched growing up—these are by far some of the most insightful, powerful, and awe-inspiring scientific documentaries I have seen yet).
So that’s what I’m going to be doing for these next few weeks—and months—and years: striving to find the balance in everything I do.
Balance in my studies at school, balance in my relationships with my family, friends, and professors, balance at church—where I can continue to grow in my faith with God—at the end of the day, every day, everything boils down to this mere concept of balance, which evidently, most of us have yet to fully comprehend and grasp—but that in itself is a whole other balancing strategy, I’ll say—understanding the denotation of “balance.”
But hey, even though we’re imperfect beings, we can still try to find and if necessary, create, the best solutions possible to solving our everyday problems, when problems do come our way.
Am I right?
Well, time for me to get back to work…enough said for now and until next time.
~ A Fellow Columnist, Josh Chen.