We are all made of cosmic dust, my fiction writing professor once told the class.
This statement clung to me like a drenched shirt to skin and I responded to it in two different ways. On the one hand, I was fascinated by the realization that our physical bodies are composed of elements and compounds forged over billions of years -- that our existence is rooted in the birth and death of stars. On the other hand, I felt insignificant and irrelevant, as it occurred to me that our existence is merely an accidental, randomized composition of an infinitesimal amount of cosmic matter. This knowledge fed into a nagging, deflating pessimism that my troubles, pursuits, and preoccupations were trivial and insignificant in the face of an unfathomably vast universe.
My professor expanded on his point, though just because our lives may seem small, that does not mean we should fret about insignificance. Rather, we should focus on activities that we enjoy or are passionate about. What my professor encouraged was not a hedonistic mentality, but rather the confidence to go after a supposedly ambitious career or a hazy pursuit, despite supposedly well-validated anxieties about finances and fears about narrow career prospects.
As a Writing Seminars major, I have always wanted to become an author and dedicate myself to a lifelong career in prose writing. I enjoy the bursts of inspiration that come to me spontaneously, the disparate subtextual ideas that are eventually spun together into a common thread, and the light of dawn that cracks through venetian blinds after I’ve worked through to the early morning in a long writing session.
But my passion is often faced with the twin hurdles of self-doubt and hesitation. My family shares the same concerns: when I told them that I wanted to apply to an MFA program in fiction after graduation, they were not supportive of my decision. For me, their reluctance and lack of encouragement for my ambition were understandable as there is reasonable skepticism to be had about my prospects of becoming an established writer able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. My parents’ underlying assumption was that writing should be relegated to a pastime, not put front and center of my career ambitions. I have considered their perspective again and again, but I am reluctant to let go of my perhaps too-ambitious dream of becoming a full-time writer. I do not consider myself to be a “great” writer who knows how to craft poetic prose, but I feel the most content when I write.
Moreover, beyond my parents’ assumptions is the nagging fear that I do not have the ability to become an accomplished writer; this fear rises and falls like a tidal wave. Sometimes, the doubt arises when I am taking a long, aimless walk around the neighborhood. Other times, the feeling dissolves when I am finally able to write down the first sentence of a story or essay.
My writer’s block never loses its grip on my mind, however, and it becomes more prominent after I receive submission rejections from literary magazines. The critical voice grows louder with each edit or rejection letter, and yet this feeling of uncertainty eventually fades away after I finish writing a story, even though it may be filled with clunky, hackneyed phrases or illogical plot points. The accomplishment of finishing a story after days of brainstorming, outlining, writing, and rewriting overpowers my fear and this provides me with the momentum to keep writing, despite the many places where my stories can be improved upon or drastically revised.
I remind myself to cherish this feeling of accomplishment whenever I feel my writer’s block setting in, actively rejecting the temptation to question a career pursuit that may seem dim in its prospects. Sometimes, I feel that my ambition of becoming a writer goes against my rational self, but I remind myself that there is nothing irrational about pursuing an activity that I am passionate about.
I judge myself lucky that I have discovered and pinpointed a passion that I am eager to pursue. I also realize how much the fear I experience about my future stems from the fact that writing is such an important part of my life; I cannot simply let this pursuit go or dissipate into thin air due to hesitations and a desire to choose a “safer” career path, one I know would lead me to a safe and stable income.
I am risk-averse and I find the boldness required to act spontaneously to be incredibly frightening, yet admirable; however, as I sit down and write, it dawns on me that I have the ability to control my circumstances, regardless of what others tell me (including myself) about the impossibilities of becoming a writer. Writing is an activity that brings me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Should I let this dream go, I would lose the momentum to do what I love.
The universe is vast. It has existed for billions of years before us, and it will exist for billions of years after us. My nagging fears and pursuits are, in the grand scheme of reality, so tiny and fleeting that my dedication to writing becomes one of my most passionate and important pursuits.
So, when my professor told me that we are all just cosmic dust in the universe, I realized that the idea of our lives being small doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completely insignificant. With this realization, I thought about the precarity of wanting to become a writer, as well as the fulfillment that I will experience in finding my purpose and working through the challenges to realize a goal that I care about.