Yesterday, an e-mail on behalf of National Novel Writing Month popped into my inbox.
“Dear Burgeoning Novelist,” it said. “I’m writing to tell you I need you. I’ve been swirling around in the breathtaking labyrdinths of your unconscious mind for a while now, and I’m itching to leap into the world. The only way I can come out, though, is if you commit to writing me in November.”
It was signed off with a simple, “Your Novel.”
At 13, I was working on a full-length novel for the first time. I never finished that novel and abandoned my next one at just shy of 25,000 words. I had been writing that one just before I came to college.
The e-mail reminded me of how long it has been since then. But though I want to restart, I know that I have too many papers, midterms, and other college-related commitments to spend this November writing. I closed the e-mail and went onto the next one.
The girl I was when I wrote my college essays dreamt of changing the world through scientific research, writing and other lofty aspirations. I had some trepidation, sure, but because the future was far enough away, I could ignore it and dream of great things.
Somewhere along the way, I settled into a routine and stopped dreaming dreams of greatness. Where I used to think about changing the world, now I only hope to make a positive difference.
I consider it a victory if I am satisfied with the paper I turned in, if I’m sufficiently put together, if I’ve gotten my groceries, and if I’m reasonably prepared for the upcoming midterm. There is no daydreaming about tomorrow. Tomorrow isn’t this romantic land of possibility, it’s just another day.
There’s something about growing up that chips away at your optimism so that you can’t think of why you can do something without also thinking about why you can’t. I used to dream of what I wanted to do in the future – but now I am not so sure.
The other day, I was skipping down Low steps on the way back to my dorm and I looked down on Butler. For the first time in a while, I had that quintessentially Columbia moment where I realized I was just happy to be here. It was a beautiful evening, and with Butler’s lights glowing softly in all their glory, I thought how – even after two years here, in the midst of another grueling season of midterms – it still felt surreal to be here.
At 13, a place like this was the faraway dream that I worked towards. For a girl who has always loved books, a grand library like Butler was also a fantasy. My high school library was little more than a room, and my hometown, Islamabad, only has one public library with a very modest collection of books.
There is something about childlike fantasy, about the future being some faraway land that makes you believe you can have everything. That limitless, wild, wonderful fantasy can seem inconceivable in adulthood. But all of us are, or once were, dreams. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t.
So we should take a break from our routine sometimes and dream again. My promise to myself for my junior year is to try and dream more – to forget about the reasons why I can’t, and concentrate on all the reasons why I can.