Tuesday, January 24, 2006

i wrote a letter to myself

actually, it was to a girl on salon. she wrote their advice columnist about moving back to her small suburban town for a guy she thought she loved, and giving up on chicago, six months after moving there. she's in her early twenties, frustrated with some career setbacks, and uncomfortable and lonely in her new city. the advice columnist told her to go home, to chase the guy, but it was written with his regrets as the foremost concern, not her feelings. nosy and meddlesome brat that i am, i disagreed, and wrote a letter saying so. (here's a link to the original article, "I left the suburbs for Chicago, but there's a boy...")

upon rereading it (and rereading it, and rereading it, because i love to revel in my mastery of imagery, syntax, and construction) i realized i had just written a letter to myself. so i'm as guilty as Cary Tennis. such a shame to be found out as a hypocrite by yourself. anyway. here's the peptalk i couldn't give myself. (and the link.)


Unfortunate Advice...

I address this not to Cary but to the girl in question.

Don't listen to the response you've been given. The author may have his regrets, but they are his, not yours. The demons he seeks to exorcise through writing advice columns do not belong on your head. Despite the claim that the world makes one wise, it also makes one regretful and ruminative, qualities unfair to a young woman at the height of her powers and capabilities.

It is unfortunate that you find yourself torn between a young man you think you may love and the career and life you thought you might want. The easy thing to do is to return home, to return to him, to find safety and security in the arms of the familiar. This is what you want, your words beg for the validation of this, you ask Cary's permission to give up. But it isn't the right choice.

There is nothing harder then exploring the limits of your own potential. Sometimes, that potential is a constraining and frightening thing. It may be daunting to find where those talents are best applied, to fail repeatedly before finding success. Doing this in an unfamiliar environment only expounds the challenge. The shadows and noises that mottle a city can become a frightening composition without someone to help you find the coherent picture underneath. Isolation and lonliness are crippling, and without a support network, it can be easy to allow abject misery to take hold.

Resist. There is only one chance for youth, and youth is the best time for boldness, irrationality, and expansion. You are not the only new transplant to Chicago, there are thousands of you, sitting in desperate apartments, staring at walls, teetering between exhilaration and despair. They exist on every block of every city in every country. Your task is to find them.

Take the advice of other letter writers. Find a roommate who will navigate the little challenges of life with you. Join something, be it a wine-tasting class, a soccer team, a church group. Mentor a disadvantaged child, and find inspiration in them, their fears and strengths are likely the opposite of yours. Find a high quality temp agency, and experience a variety of work environments and fields. Smile at everyone you interact with in the grocery store, the drycleaners, the pharmacy, and soon your streets will become your neighborhood.

As for the young man you love. See him frequently, call him daily, get a webcam. Support each other, build your relationship, and it allow carry you both through the challenges you face now. You will be establishing a solid foundation for love and respect that will be essential to any further commitment. A year of waiting for him to finish college is a long time, relative to your twenty odd years of life, but not compared to the sixty some you have ahead. Be careful though, and do not use him as a crutch, for your relationship will only be bettered through your personal growth outside of it.

Read The Best Year of My Life by Paul Theroux. (You can find it on the New Yorker website, or with a quick Google search.) The pain, fear, and frustrations you face now are unique to you, but not to the human condition. Everything changes with age, and the mid-twenties is a terrifying time of uncertainty, as every decision feels immutable. They aren't though, and should you still feel this way in a year, you can go home without shame. But for now, wait, fight, and it will get better. I promise.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You only realized after the fact that you were writing to yourself?! Amazing how we hide and only see clearly in retropsect. I knew when you sent it to me that it was an internal rumination, that you were speaking to the part of you that wanted to run back home to safety. That is why her letter got you so riled up to begin with....

5:35 PM


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