Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Balance



This blog post is basically brought to you by Paper Towns and my entire senior year so far. Balance is a hard way to go, and the way is clouded. What many people across the globe think of as the ultimate balanced way of life can seem outlandishly off the path. For instance, Buddhist monks in Tibet try to take the middle path, but to me their lives seem almost too simple. Their way of life is so unbelievably different from my own. I think this begs the question of whether balance is beating a new path, or simply walking the path. Personally, I prefer the second choice. I am a Catholic who has been brought up educated and prepared to think for myself and consider my sacred literature in a contextual sense. It's odd, but it works. I think my faith through and I don't blindly follow anything. Why get caught up in the little details? I take the messages of absolute love and acceptance my faith has taught me and I keep them as my core values so that I may be an eternally thankful and generally a better person. While I keep the faith, I do not let it rule over my life in the sense that I focus on it constantly all the time. Through this, I feel I've achieved a religious balance. I love my God and the people I see every day, but I do not devote myself totally to one and through it exclude the other. I also support the theory of evolution and the advances of science, keeping in mind that I still believe in something that sparked it all, that created all and set all in motion. If God is the source of all truth, and science is the discovery of truth, how can the two contradict?


Masterpiece Self Portrait Insert

Religion is not all I want to talk about, though. I am a student in high school like most of you, and we all know that being a student is a balancing act. When the second semester began this year, suddenly every single one of my classes demanded more of my own free time. In AP Art, we're suddenly required to start completing one piece per week for our portfolio. This is not as easy as it sounds, since you have to pour hours and hours into a piece before it is good and finished. AP Psychology no longer just requires more studying than my other classes because I am not great with social studies, but now I've had to take online tests every few days and complete projects at home. My precalculus class is suddenly getting more homework grades, so I need to take time out for that as well.

Mardi Gras Self Portrait

To put the icing on the cake, I'm taking two English classes this year, which means I now have two research papers to work on at the same time. My World Literature paper is due at the end of the week. One would assume that means I should be spending a lot more time on that one than the other paper which is due in a few weeks, but the fact of the matter is that I am currently failing my Creative and Critical Writing class due to not having 100 notecards yet for that paper. This means I have to focus my time and effort on them so that I can bring up that grade, since notecard grades for World Lit haven't been entered for me yet and I still have a solid B+. I don't even have as many notes for World Lit as I do for Creative and Critical because of this. I also still have to outline the entire World Literature paper and hand that in before I hand in or even write the final copy. In three days. All of this is piled on top of my regular World Literature homework, too. Sorry, Hedda Gablar, but for now you'll have to be content with me reading you between classes.

Outside of normal school work, I am also a lead in our school's production of Bye Bye Birdie as well as a soloist and only baritone saxophone for the concert and jazz bands. I'm in too deep to cut these out of my schedule, and to do so wouldn't free up much time, anyway. Plus, they're all hard work. They aren't just silly pointless fun. On the weekends, I maintain my social life, which is important to me. I feel recreation and some free time is important for people our age, or of any age, really. Isn't that why adults get the weekend? Why should I spend every waking moment of mine with my head in the books wondering if I'll get my schoolwork done just in time to go back to school and do more? I do work on the weekends, but I also want some time to enjoy myself during them. Especially with the abnormally heavy workload I have this semester, I get run down and burnt out quickly if I can't catch a break. To cut out my extracurriculars and my time for friends, family, and my girlfriend is to cut out an entire half of my life that I feel is just as important, which would tip the scale in a dangerous direction and likely be more destructive to me than productive. I don't just want to be a student and I don't just want to be a slacker. I want to be an educated person. My social life keeps my student life fueled. I work so that I can keep it up. But the work is so much more than I'm used to that it's been so very hard to keep up.

And so as I try to maintain this balancing act, trying to please everyone, I'm just finding that I'm letting everyone down. Everything will be okay by the end of the quarter, since I am catching up, but the entire situation is a good illustration of our balancing acts and how scary they can be. It can be an incredible trial to try and lead a balanced life. It feels as if any minute I'll have someone screaming at me for handing in one too many assignments late or I'll start beating on my own self esteem for not being able to keep up with one thing or another. It feels like those nights out on the weekends are all that's been keeping me together sometimes. As much as I am loving and incredibly interested in writing my research papers about comic books as an evolving new medium and video games as artful storytellers, the little deadlines between their assigning and their due dates are absolutely killing me.


Two perspectives from which people see Margo Roth Spiegelman. (Both arguably right or wrong.)

I could write books about balance, and maybe you'll see a sequel to this post one day in which I get into all the other deep philosophical stuff that goes with it, but I needed the space to vent, and now I want to talk about balance in relation to John Green's Paper Towns, which I finished just yesterday in the only time I've had to read for pleasure: my free time between and during classes. (School and homework also does a fantastic job of killing the joy of reading in students, but that's a different blog post altogether.)

John Green is very, very good at creating books that make his young adult readers think. All we're used to are stories that are to be read at face value in the form of young adult novels like (ugh) the Twilight saga or completely over-analyzed stuffy old literature we read in textbooks. These books are very insightful and can get you thinking a lot, too. Paper Towns is a book about perspectives, interconnectivity, people being people and not ideas, and the quest for something that won't be the same to you once you find it. And I loved it.

Photo from Samwisegirl12 via Photobucket
If you haven't read and don't want anything spoiled (hint: you really don't,) just scroll straight past, leave a comment, about the rest of the blog, and continue obsessively checking Facebook.

There is so much I want to talk about when it comes to this book. I could talk endlessly about the foreshadowing and little details in the plot (Quentin reading Moby Dick, anyone? Ahab's pursuit of the white whale? He's not much of a character aside from really going after that whale?) or a million other little things about this fantastic book, but I should talk about balance. The ending to the book left me frustrated. I finished it in the middle of lunch yesterday, and when I read the last line, I shut the book and yelled "THAT SUCKS." Cue the bewildered faces of my friends and my quick explanation. The book began with Margo describing what we all think about at some point. She described how pointless all the paper towns with the paper people living paper lives were. We just do what we're supposed to do and lead our happy little lives and sometimes they don't seem really mean anything. It seems all we've accomplished is the perpetuation of the cycle by cutting out more paper people to continue it. The shallow "paper life" is one of extreme pointlessness. It's built to fall apart and be rebuilt again, the cycle of life and death, but there's no color to it. Margo decides to fight this and lead an exciting life of traveling. This is completely counter productive, though. Where Margo's words outline the pointlessness of an overly ordinary life, her actions outline the pointlessness of an overly wild life. In the end, she's leaving to go on and lead a life very outside the obscurity and meaninglessness of the ordinary. So outside, in fact, that it would seem she's just disappearing into the obscurity and meaninglessness of the extraordinary.

We, the readers, were left with a difficult and frustrating end to swallow. Yes, things should be okay between Quentin and Margo, but it seems so unfair. It seems Q's learned everything and she has learned nothing. Even if we empathyze with Margo and genuinely like her, most readers I've talked to are still left with a feeling of disappointment. Like she didn't get the point or something. So now we have a Fight Club situation on our hands. We've seen both extremes and what terrible paths they are to follow in order to live happy and find yourself. This is the brilliance of the ending, though. Whether or not Green intended it, he's forced the reader to think of what path is a good one to walk.

This blog is running very long, so that's it for now. Fun Fact, though: The picture above this section? Taken in Agloe, NY. Cool, huh?

Posted at 1:00 A.M. EST on March 16, 2011. And here I promised myself I'd sleep tonight.