June 2, 2005

Summer will be little more than a break from the Life of the Mind

As I leave my first year of college I can hardly help but be more philosophical than usual - just ask my roommate about my incessant pseudo-crisis. Recently, I have been asking myself where all the "classic" U of C students are. Sometimes I feel like our generation is like a social experiment to make the school "more mainstream" without losing the integrity of the core. The current College students only know the reduced Core and a school with students who are eerily well rounded. Before I came here I had no idea what a "classic" U of C student was and now I desire to be one. I came into this school believing the Great Books to be all talk - I wanted to go to Brown. I had many justifications for an education without begrudging, restraining requirements. I never thought I would be so intoxicated and puzzled and intrigued by these "great books." What makes a book great? If I believe these books contain integral knowledge of the human condition what about the people who will never have the luxury of a pure liberal arts education? Are these people somewhat "less human?"

Furthermore, does the fact that some humans never acquire this knowledge not complicate the intrinsic worth of these "great books?" And what about the non-Western world - the rest of the world? So as it turns out, not only do I enjoy these books I once disparaged but I believe they have some importance - if only for the controversy they stir.

I blame these books for my issues with returning home. The other day in class I had my first panic attack about learning - I internalized the vast amount of knowledge in the universe that I will never be able to understand in this, or a million, lifetimes. And then I thought about the glimmering lights of New York City and I realized it epitomizes all the materialistic, ephemeral things I have grown to disdain. I thought that perhaps I need to spend my summer here, spending some alone time in Harper with these "books." I decided the school year provided too many social distractions from really connecting with my work. Then of course I spoke to my friends back home and my very insightful roommate questioned how much I would learn alone with my "magical books". Now I have come to the conclusion that in order to remain enthusiastic about these "books" I may need to take a break. This theory is dubious at best but what is life of the mind without . . well, having a life.

The more inspired I am with my work, the stranger my "home" becomes.

This is where I feel at home. An emotionally exhilarating, draining, and fulfilling year. Sometimes I think that when I get home I will just have a cathartic cry. Then again I may just go out with my friends and realize how lucky I am to be a student her. Undoubtedly school is very different with the advent of boys (yes I went to a darling all-girls school) and even more so with a co-ed communal bathroom. Yet, these are the nominal changes and the most startling experience of college has been those moments of seeming freedom. I'll be walking by myself and have the mini-moment of realizing I can do what I want. Of course, not really. But it's those sweet dregs of freedom that are more exciting than I ever imagined them to be. So I pack up my bags and my "books" for a short break, which hopefully will just be a variant on the past nine months. I would argue that this whole life of the mind thing is a continuous, at times strenuous, and ultimately very rewarding process. Summer can't be a true break, but rather "an absence of assigned work." Perhaps, there is no such thing as the "classic U of C student" but perhaps its a lofty goal that may be worth at least aspiring for.