One Book in a Library: Accepting That You Are Only One Story

One of my greatest fears stepping off the plane to Taiwan was that I wouldn’t make the most of my time abroad. “Study abroad is an unforgettable experience,” everyone told me, but as a person who strives to surpass expectations and embrace every moment rather than squandering time, I was not content with simply unforgettable. Before leaving for Taiwan, I asked teachers, mentors, and friends, “What more can I do while I’m abroad? What would you have done differently? How can I continue doing the things I’m involved in at home?”


As I prepared for and pursued the program, I found myself feeling inadequate. Every moment I spent doing something unproductive, I felt like I was letting myself and those who supported me down. I was meeting so many people from so many places, going on thrilling adventures with my new friends, and yet every time I heard someone talk about their own adventures, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Sure, I had seen the sun rise from a mountaintop and visited a police station in Taiwan because my friends and I had found a wallet on the ground, but why hadn’t I been there when another friend met some high school students on the metro and found herself at a comic convention?


I continued to set unrealistic expectations for myself until near the end of my summer program. With all the wonderful, beautifully complex people around me, I kept forgetting that I am only one story within the library of people studying in Taiwan. If I had unlimited time maybe I could accomplish all of my lofty goals, but at this point, I needed to remember I was only one person. I had to stop trying to live the lives of many and embrace the individuality of my own experience (a difficult lesson to learn as a fiction writer, but an important one nonetheless).


Stories are beautiful on their own, but trying to merge multiple novels into one will change its impact. I love The Bell Jar, The Great Gatsby, and the Warriors series, but blending even two of those stories’ plots, characters, and voices, would muddle the beauty of each when they stand alone. I cannot do all the things, and I cannot meet and become best friends with all the people. I continue to struggle with this from time to time, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that each person has their own story. That’s one beauty of libraries, isn’t it — the potential to read so many books while knowing that you only have time to read a limited amount, recognizing that the books you choose will turn you into a different person than the one you would have been had you selected other stories.