On an ordinary afternoon a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the poem “Love After Love” by Sir Derek Walcott as I was sorting through old files on my laptop. The title didn’t ring a bell at first. The file info says I had saved it over two years ago to the folder that contains poems I liked, which I also didn’t remember doing. So I opened on the file to read it, unprepared for relevancy of its words, and the clarity they would bring me.
“Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.”
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. According to my mother, when I was little I could memorize the stories she read me, so well that I could recite and flip pages at the right moments, making it look like I actually knew how to read. Then I grew up and discovered how stories were made, and wanted to make them myself, too.
I wrote on notebooks that had locks that didn’t really lock. I wrote on a third-hand laptop that froze every five seconds. I wrote when no one was home. I wrote after bedtime, under the covers holding a flashlight. I wrote in Chinese. I wrote in English when I learned how. I wrote when I was bad at it. I wrote when I got good at it. I wrote in secret, unwilling to share my writing with others, especially my mother, who I still consider my harshest and best critic. I wrote for the public, after the city newspaper published an essay of mine when I was ten. I wrote poems and plays, too, when I was in high school. Then I wrote an essay about writing, and it got me into Cornell.
Then I stopped. Or I tried to, anyway.
In one of Nick Swan’s columns from last month, he talked about how the pre-professional culture and high stress environment at Cornell have made many of us forget how to be passionate about something, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. Yet that wasn’t quite what happened to me — I got scared.
When people ask me why I’m not pursuing writing professionally, I tell them it’s an issue of practicality, which is the answer they usually expect anyway. The truth I seldom say out loud: I’m terrified of not being good enough. I’m terrified of finding out that I’m inadequate at the one thing I know I love above all else. It’s almost like that smart guy meme. I can’t fail at it if I don’t try it in the first place. I can’t lose it if I simply give it up.
So I picked up a major that’s “practical” while interesting, but it’s also one that demands almost all of my time. I throw myself into professional development, into becoming more like the people around me and into doing the things everyone tells me I should be doing. Yet despite all this, despite trying to pull myself back onto “the right track” time and time again, I come back to English classes, to the theater, to reading and to writing. I write on my phone when I’m walking. I write at 4 a.m. after coming off of a 30-hour project. I write in my code editor when an idea pops up while I’m coding and won’t leave me alone. I write for The Sun, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made at Cornell.
In the end, fighting myself was the hardest part.
So here I am, in my last column of the semester, admitting defeat to the part of myself that’s been relentless in its fight to break free. This is me putting an end to the war with who I am and what I love, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without The Sun. This is a thank you to this amazing paper that cares deeply about students’ voices. This is a thank you to everyone at The Sun who has encouraged me to write for Arts, shared or appreciated my passion for theater and literature, and helped me not only become a better writer, but a braver person. This is a thank you to you, whoever you are, for reading this far.
But above all, this is an encouragement for anyone like me, in conflict with their inner voice and their true self, feeling the pull of a passion but holding themselves back: Give back your heart to itself, and let it beat.
Andrea Yang is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Five Minutes Till Places runs alternate Thursdays this semester.