Kurt Vonnegut, employed for a brief period at Sports Illustrated, supposedly walked out of his first story about a race horse by writing, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence.” This is me doing the same.
After talking to my father, I am not sure I want to pursue journalism or publishing as intensely as I have been.
I wish very much to say that my last year of college went swimmingly — it didn’t. I wish very much to say that I enjoyed the days I had left as best I could — I didn’t. The finale of my college career was spent cowering in the shadow of a formless future, a kind of solar eclipse with no end in sight. I’m not sure I have the tenacity needed to throw my voice into the wind.
My father asked me why I wanted to pursue these industries so badly. “People can write doing another job, Amy,” he said. “Why are you so stubborn?”
I have never been able to explain to him that I am afraid. I am afraid that I am not talented enough to have a different job, write on the side, and let my writing be taken on its own merit. I feel I need to build the following to make it easier to publish my work. I am afraid that I don’t love writing enough to do it if I am not pushed by financial need. I am afraid that whatever childhood passion I had for literature will fall victim to the mundanity of life.
But the only thing which came out of my mouth was, “I want to be great.”
My father swiftly chastised me and explained that my idea of greatness was selfish. I was chasing greatness in the form of self-recognition, when truly great people accomplish their deeds because they chase something outside of themselves.
He was right. My whole life, I have pictured greatness as Instagram flashes of beautiful girls fisting champagne on boats, people in fine coats promenading down Fifth Avenue. My idea of greatness was superficial, focused on privilege and not the actual product.
I no longer want to chase a selfish kind of greatness, because that lifestyle is unsustainable to me. Nowadays, in the sweep of social media, we can get lost in what it means to do great things when everyone has always told us to do great things. Great things are not the symbols of recognition which acknowledge larger-than-life actions. Great things are the actions themselves which move society — and which very often go unnoticed.
Though deep down, I have always known I would be a good teacher — and like doing the work — I have been averse to becoming one because I thought it would mean I had failed. My high school literature teacher influenced me in the most profound way, yet I dreaded being like him. To me, he had boundless promise when he was young and wasted it by choosing to live in a small town, alone and nameless.
I can’t say that I have completely reconciled myself to being a teacher, but I am ready to think of something besides myself. I can’t say that my story will have a picture-perfect ending, that someday, you’ll see my name again in the bookstores because — who knows? Maybe I have come to the end of my creative rope.
In which case, let me take a brief aside to thank Daddy, Mommy, who have given me my imagination and integrity. Mélanie Péron, who believes in me possibly more than any other person ever has. My editors these past two years — Isabel, Alessandro, Harry. My wonderful friends who have been the sources of my stories. All of you who picked up my column and thought it was worth reading till the end — I am more grateful to you than you can ever know.
As Elena Ferrante writes, “Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines towards obscurity, not clarity.” I don’t think a story has to have a perfect ending to be valuable, nor even any sort of sense in the middle. We all live lives that are random, filled with meandering, but that are for the most part happy — or trying to be. It is the “trying to be” that ultimately means the most.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. She served as an opinion columnist from the fall of 2016 to the spring of 2018.
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