My Father Xue Mo and I (2)
By Chen Yixin
translated by J. C. Cleary etc.
My father used his experience of half a lifetime to teach me one thing: Choosing. He has told me three points about “choosing:” First, every person’s fate is chosen by that person. Second, every person at any time can always choose. Third, whatever kind of person you choose to become, as long as you make the effort, you will surely become that kind of person.
I firmly believe this, without a doubt. So when I was in my junior year of high school, I chose to write a novel, and I chose to withdraw from school. At the time almost everyone was against my withdrawing from school. Some of them expressed regret, some ridiculed me, some did not understand, some blamed me. Everyone lectured me on a lot whatever reasonable, trying to persuade me. I would give a slight smile and shake my head. Seeing that I was not moved by this, they turned their spear points toward my father: “How can you let a young kid decide this? Later on he will blame you!” But my father did not stop me. He said: “Have you chosen well or not? If you have chosen well, then go ahead and do it.”
In fact, the other people could not understand the situation at that time. In those days, I got up every day at 3 a.m. to write novel, and then at 6 a.m. I went to school. Because I was about to enter my third year of high school, the pressure to study was very great. But there was no longer any way for me to put my energy into studying; what filled my mind was novel, and every day I was immersed in the atmosphere of the novel, and I was annoyed by not having enough time to write. A year of time had rushed by in struggle and confusion, and the novel had been written up to the point of its climax, but every day I was unable to bring it off vividly. The trifling three hours would pass in a flash. I seemed helpless, my body and mind were exhausted. Many nights I could not fall asleep, and my eyes stayed open until the alarm sounded at 3 a.m.
If I went to college, then for the whole of the senior year in high school there would be no way for me to write, and my novel would come to an untimely end. It was very clear to me that within a particular period of time, that particular feeling could only appear once. It was like youth: once it goes by, there is no way to have it again.
I truly could not take this suffering and torment, so I chose to leave school. This choice was very difficult: it implied that I would lose many opportunities. If I could not succeed in becoming a writer, later on even surviving would become a problem. But I thought, if I don’t succeed, then I’ll perish for a righteous cause. Surely I would rather live in poverty than live a life of regrets. I said: I must cut off all avenues of retreat behind me, and not turn back, and not turn around, and not retreat.
On the afternoon of June 29, 2006, I handed in my request to withdraw from school. I remember the day. The sun was shining bright.
My request to withdraw from school was written like this:
Under my father’s influence and tutelage, I came to love reading books and writing. Moreover, I understand clearly that time is flying by, and no one knows whether or not he will live another second, and I am running a race with death. This is not a useless effort: I need more time to concentrate on reading books, and to consider these questions, but when I am in school I can never quiet my mind down. Starting last year in June, I have been getting up every morning at 3 a.m. to work on my writing, until I go to school at six o’clock, but this is far from enough, and a mere three hours cannot fulfill my requirements. Even more alarming is that at school I cannot wholeheartedly enter into the studies, my physical strength will not permit it. Thus, in the nearly ten or more hours at school, I virtually waste half the time. As long as a person does one thing well in his lifetime, that will do. I follow this principle, and I must be responsible for myself. This is one of the reasons I have decided to withdraw from school.
A person’s life only lasts a few decades, and the essential time, the time for achievement, is no more than ten or twenty years. Every day that goes by means one day less to live. I must gather together my energy and do a good job with the work that I must do. I cannot go on any longer living by just drifting along, going through the motions. I believe in my own ability. I respect every person who has a dream, including myself.
Of course, I know the importance of a university education, but as who I am right now, I cannot abandon reading and writing. I have chosen another path, and perhaps I will pay the price for my choice, but I respect myself, and I will do all I can to realize my own value. I am full of faith in myself. This is not a rash decision, and I believe time will prove it all!
Looking at this now, I could only have written such a flighty text when I was at that flighty age.
The strange thing is, after I withdrew from school, I ended up not being able to write a single word. During that period of time, I lost my spirit, and I was like a ghost wandering apart from the human crowd, feeling the world had suddenly left me far behind. All the voices faded away, and all the hubbub left me behind. I was no longer busy every day at school and at home, and I no longer pondered the connection between parabolas and coordinates, and I no longer imagined what kind of life I would lead after I entered the university.
Every day I sat in front of the computer: this was my whole life.
In my journal, I expressed it like this:
After leaving school, a kind of nameless emptiness has suddenly attacked me. It is as if I have had my backbone pulled out, and in my confusion I cannot find myself, and even my dreams are as murky as mudslides. I wander around all day half asleep and half awake, enduring the time with a heavy head and light feet….
This was a frightening period of time, and I ended up understanding that “loneliness is more fierce than a tiger.” I finally understood why my father had hung on the wall of his closed room that epigram: “One who can endure loneliness is truly a good fellow. One who does not encounter the jealousy of others is a mediocre person.”
After a few months, I recovered my normal state of mind and began to write calmly and quietly. I immersed myself in the novel again, and every day madly proclaimed that I was a genius.
In fact, I very much missed my former life at school, and longed for the university life that I would not have. More than once I dreamed that I had returned to school, and I was having fun with my classmates on the sports field, or in the classroom listening to the teacher giving lessons. In my dreams I could always clearly feel this longing, to the point that it was etched in my memory. I have never told this to anyone else, including my parents. I have stubbornly traveled the path I myself chose, and I will not turn back.
Later, many people asked me: “Do you regret abandoning going to the university?”
I may have had some misgivings, but I do not regret it. Because this was my choice.
(To Be Continued...)