September 28, 2017

JEONG | In Memoriam: Youth and Idealism

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My favorite book in elementary school was The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, a chapter book about a ragtag group of orphans merrily pickpocketing their way through Venice á la Oliver Twist. Upon finishing the book, I knew there were  two certainties in life: first, that I, too, would one day run away from home to join a scheming, yet kind band of thieves, and that Venice was undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world. Although I had never so much as seen a picture of it, I became smitten with the city. For class art projects, I would sketch a colorful metropolis completely submerged in water and stick figures rowing their way door-to-door on long gondolas. What is important wasn’t so much that I was showing symptoms of early-onset kleptomania  (I also enjoyed Ocean’s Eleven a little too much as a kid), but that I was exhibiting  a precursor to the romanticism that came to define my adolescence — where ideas and feelings held more gravitas than reason and rationality.

I’m writing this piece to commemorate the ever-waning existence of idealistic Jason. As I finish my first month of junior year, I find myself reminiscing about a time in which I found meaning and emotion from everything around me. I told people I was going to be a subway busker when I was older, geeked out with my friends over how deep the lyrics to “Wish You Were Here” were, and pretended to understand Thoreau in English class. But now that I’m in college, all that I have to show for is two professional fraternities and 20 credits of economics classes that has never once come close to addressing the “Emersonian spirit” that was once so important to me.

I can blame this disillusionment on a number of factors — accepting structural Marxism, being tired from walking up the slope everyday, slowly acquiescing to nihilism — but I find myself a bit melancholy thinking back to a time when I had the luxury of living in a daydream. Attached is a segment found in my personal statement applying to college:

On my first morning in Salzburg, I woke up two hours before breakfast, and wandered through the cobblestone streets with an empty stomach and a starving curiosity for the novel world around me. The sun was just peeking over the hills, and its ascension colored the landscape with a palette of crimson and orange. The town square, which had been teeming with tourists the previous afternoon, was abandoned. Without a map and unencumbered by an agenda, every sense and detail was magnified – the warm fragrance of the nearby cafés setting up shop, the beautiful Austrian sunrise and the unadulterated exhilaration of spontaneity.

When I first wrote this, I remember verbally congratulating  myself on how incredible and “artsy” it sounded. Fast forward three years, I find myself cringing at the 17-year-old kid who read Gatsby for Honors English 3 and thought he was F. Scott Fitzgerald. But more than that, I find myself fundamentally unable to connect to the awe-inspiring passion that high school Jason was able to attach to — what did I call it? — “spontaneity and the blissful promise of adventure” (what does that even mean?). Instead, I just look back at a summer in which I spent in Europe without parental supervision, hurling all over the streets of Salzburg because I didn’t know how strong a Vodka Red Bull was. The meetings, exams and various commitments of daily college life have diminished the beauty of my youth to the humdrum minutiae of daily life.

It’s funny because although I find myself rolling my eyes at the unbearable naivete of my younger self, post-grad Jason will one day read this and mourn the “glory days” of college. It’s possible that my childish idealism is the price I have to pay for acceptance into adulthood. Or maybe it’s something that will come in waves directly correlated to the number of events on my Google Calendar. Or maybe, in the infinite wisdom of idealistic Jason: “things will be okay, dude.”
Jason Jeong is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jjeong@cornellsun.com. Jeongism appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.