I am not a special snowflake. Despite what adults—parents, teachers, coaches—may have told me as I traversed the self-esteem bolstering landscape of grade school, I am not special, not one-of-a-kind, not even remotely unique. Life will not open up, effortlessly, to meet my every naive desire: I won’t be swept off my feet by Prince Charming or write the next Harry Potter series or become President of the United States. The world is not my oyster—I can’t simply pry open the shell of the Earth, steal its pearls, and call them my own.
But if I’m not special, why would anyone care what I have to say?
In the last few weeks of high school, the best teacher I’ve ever known gave an address to all graduating seniors at our annual recognition night. “You are not all special snowflakes,” he began, and I heard the auditorium hold its collective breath—proud parents and shimmering students, wide-eyed and stunned.
The dissonance swallowed me, there in that auditorium. I was voluntarily attending this night precisely for recognition, to glide upon that stage to the sound of my own name, to hear my accomplishments read aloud, to receive a pin and a meaningful pat on the back. I told everyone I was attending just to hear my teacher speak, but this was only a half-truth: really, I wanted people to remind me that I was special.
And here was someone I deeply admired, telling me, point-blank, that I wasn’t.
As a high-achieving student, defined most explicitly by my GPA and test scores and essays, I was raised to believe I had this quantifiable uniqueness—one that would magically open doors and split oceans and catapult me to “success.” I don’t. But, like Orwell, I do have an ego (as much as I try to suppress it)—it’s a competitive one, one that seeks awards and praise and opportunity. I feed off affirmation; I drown in perfectionism. I write from this place, sometimes. But I am not special.
Yet I am the center of my universe. Everything I do revolves around me: I’ve only ever seen through my eyes, I’ve only ever thought through my brain. Everything I know is filtered through the catacombs of myself. I contain multitudes—and contradictions and experiences, but these themselves don’t make me special. Not in relation to everything and everyone and everyplace else.
How do I bridge the unfathomable distance between the universe within me and the universe that surrounds me?
I had most of these thoughts, sitting there in that auditorium that held its breath, as my favorite teacher spoke. I shifted uncomfortably and sweated (probably) and felt somewhat itchy—both physically and existentially—like I do when I’m unsure of myself.
But my teacher didn’t invalidate my notion of self. Rather, he redirected it. “You can’t be special to the whole world,” he said. “Instead, you can work, tirelessly, to light up the corner of your universe.” Indeed, I am the center of my universe—not the universe. The universe is big; my corner is small (miniscule). And don’t have to be special to light it up, brilliantly.
I guess all of this is a long way of saying: I am not special, but I do matter. And so my writing matters. Not to everyone, but to someone.
I write to find and explore and light up my corner of the universe—to traverse these spaces of overlap, the centers of proverbial venn diagrams that connect people and places and thoughts. I write to bridge the chasm between the world that lives inside of me and the world that I inhabit. I write for empathy, for aesthetic, to feel special but not to be special.
So why would anyone care what I have to say?
Maybe because that abstract “anyone” is no more of a special snowflake than I am.
Maybe because they live in my corner of the universe—or maybe because they don’t.
Maybe because they, like me, are wandering around between notions of self, searching my writing for spaces of overlap.
“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” –David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas