A Letter to a Future, Sadder Self

 This is a ruff. It is my favorite painting I've done this year (after the one of my best friends before they got married), and it belongs in this post. This bird is so wonderful. He is unapologetic. He is a walking celebration.

This is a ruff. It is my favorite painting I've done this year (after the one of my best friends before they got married), and it belongs in this post. This bird is so wonderful. He is unapologetic. He is a walking celebration.

Yesterday when I posted about my shitty critique, I kind of assumed I’d be whining into the blogosphere for my own personal getting-it-off-my-chestness. You forget that the internet is connected to zillions of people (scientifically, this is an accurate statement), and whatever you put out there might be, if you are lucky (or unlucky), read by some of them.

Truthfully, it’s a little embarrassing to go on record about crying at a critique. If I’m being totally honest, I might judge a person who did that. I might think, “She’s fishing for compliments. She’s needy. She’s egotistical to think her critique would have gone any differently.” I tell you this because it’s worth letting you know that my brain is a little bit of a bully; indeed, when I went back and looked at what I’d posted, I thought all three of those things right in a row.

But I’d made this pledge to spend a bunch of consecutive days blogging without censor about process. So I sat down and unloaded on you, The Internet, and the truth is that writing it all out felt wonderful. When I hit publish, I experience this deep relief. I thought, “Wow. Writing feels really good. Why do I keep telling myself it has to be anything more than it is?"

And then — maybe you noticed — there was this miracle that happened. There is no way to describe a miracle like this without sounding supersaccharine, and for that I apologize, but I have to tell you about it anyway, because maybe you were involved. All day long, there was a steady outpouring of support and love and encouragement from every edge of the earth. I got text messages from people I haven’t talked to in over a decade. An old teacher called me on the phone. My newspaper adviser sent me a novel of an email. And then there were these comments on my Facebook wall that Just. Kept. Coming. — long ones an short ones and all of them, every last one, so loving and kind that my personal inner bully didn’t stand a chance. This was some “Grinch that Stole Christmas” material, folks. It was unreal.

This affected me to such a degree that yesterday went from being one of the worst days of my semester to one of the best days of my life. I'm serious: It’s up there with the day in second grade when Travis Handley (not his real name — protect the innocent) told me my poem about peacocks was “important to him.” (You’d understand the magnitude of this moment if you could fathom how much I was in love with Travis and how much I NEEDED to be married to him.) It’s up there with the day I saw my first great horned owl. My shit day became a perfect day. That's the power of kindness.

So I had two action items. The first one was that I decided that for every nice text message and Facebook comment and email and phone call I received, I’d send an email to someone I admired but haven’t talked to in a while (or ever — hey there executive director of Women With a Vision!) and tell them how important they were to me and why. This has so far not been difficult at all. The number of people I admire is at least a zillion.

From this, my takeaway is obvious, and so rather than elucidate anything, I’ll simply remind you: BEING KIND FEELS GREAT. The benefit is fucking incredible. Especially in the divisive social and political climate we live in now: I am still so shocked at what the smallest (I mean SMALLEST) act of gratitude or love can do.*

The other action item was more selfish, but I’m passing it along because it has been extremely helpful to me over the past year and a half. It’s a trick that I learned from my graduate school adviser Jill; I told her that sometimes I am crippled by my own self-doubt and feel incapable of peeling myself off the floor and getting to the canvas or the laptop or the typewriter or what have you. And who isn’t? I told Jill I was horrified at what a cliche that was. I hated how unoriginal my self-loathing seemed.

Jill told me to write a letter to myself and keep it as a Word Doc on my desktop. She told me to start copying down all the kind things people said to me, because those things tend to get lost; they don’t have the same power as even the tiniest negative comments. She told me to capture compliments like butterflies in a net (she didn’t use that analogy but I am using it because it seems right and today I am unapologetically cheesy) and put them in the Word Doc, one after the other. 

My Word Doc, titled “TO FUTURE SAD SOPHIE,” begins like this:

Dear Future Sophie,

I am writing you this note from a day where I am pretty OK — it’s cold and everything. And I know that you are feeling bad and down about yourself, and that you’re not good enough, and Jill said to tell you that that’s “cute.” It is. It’s cute that you think you’re not good enough, but the thing is that you ARE good enough and your work improves all the time. You simply don’t have time to be feeling like you’re not good enough. And in that spirit, here is a list of things people have said about you, to you, about your writing, and about the work you are doing.

Friends, I copied down every last damn comment from my Facebook page into my “TO FUTURE SAD SOPHIE” document yesterday. I copied every email, and every text, and I transcribed the gist of every phone call. I do read this silly little Word Doc, all the damn time. This works. It is worth doing. It may sound very Oprah to you, but hey, maybe it’s not all that wise to snub Oprah: she is OPRAH, after all.

Finally, if it is not obvious: Thank you. I hope you know, in this moment, how much those words weigh.


* Another wonderful Facebook post I saw today came from Person I Admire From Afar Jessica Campbell, who wrote the following:  "As a way to help our community/feel a little less desperate and hopeless, Aaron and I have made kits of snacks/gloves/socks etc. to give to the homeless people we see every day in Chicago, an idea that we stole from Annie Koyama. I'm posting this just to say the people I've given these to so far have been so thankful and surprised that it is heartbreaking, and that hopefully someone else also steals this idea. Love to everyone in this brutal year.”   I am all over this idea. Spread it around!