My 2010 "Dear Me" letter.
January 5, 2010
So I have to ask myself why ... why am I doing this? I suppose part of me wants to do it because I've never done it before. It’d be cool to be able to say, “Yep, I did that back in twenty-ten!”
As I write, I wonder what my older self will feel when she reads this letter months, maybe even years from now. Will she think me naive? Will she look back with her seasoned eyes and cry for me, knowing what this younger version of herself has in store? She will be much wiser than I with more of life under her belt. Will she wish she could warn me of what’s to come?
2009 was a blur, whizzing past like the landscape outside a car window. Funny how time seems to speed up with each passing birthday. I remember as a kid Christmases seemed an eternity apart. Now ... now I'm pushing forty-two and wish I'd savored my children's youth just a little bit more. I wish I'd known then that their muddy clothes and their running through the house and their too-loud cartoons and their jumping on my bed in the early morning hours was ... well, that was the good stuff, but when you're a young mother up to her neck in barely eeking out a living you don't realize these things. You're just trying to make ends meet. You're oftentimes so caught up in life that you forget to live and enjoy it.
Shannon, this is supposed to be a letter to yourself about your writing goals in 2010.
Yeah, but it's a letter I'm writing to myself, so I suppose I can write about whatever I want, right? I'm compelled to write about this, and I always write what demands to be written. Now, where was I? Oh yeah, I wish I'd known at twenty-two what I know at forty-two. I've learned a few things over the years. I've learned the meaning of life. I've learned a lot about myself, too.
People are gonna laugh at you if you claim to know the meaning of life.
Let 'em laugh. I've learned the meaning of my life, is that better? It's all about kindness and being a decent human being. It's about being a woman of my word and having empathy for others. It's about integrity and honesty and dependability and consistency. It's about realizing there's nothing wrong with old-fashioned values. It's about coming to terms with who I am. It's about doing unto others as I'd have them do unto me.
Here we go. That old private school mentality is rearing its haloed head again. It lingers, that stuff. You haven't stepped foot inside a church for years, yet its influence is evident.
And is that such a bad thing? Is it wrong to treat everyone, whether they're a vagrant on the street or a doctor who saves lives for a living, with equal amounts of decency and respect?
Why do onlookers shake their heads when they see me give a homeless man a five dollar bill? They say, "You're just enabling him. You know he's going to buy booze with that, don't you?" You know what, that's not my problem, and it's none of your business. I've done what I'm supposed to do. I've helped out another human being in need. Besides, you don't know that man. You've never walked a mile in his threadbare moccasins, so don't presume to know what's best for him. Maybe what he needs right now is a can of courage to make it till tomorrow. Maybe that bottle of whiskey is exactly the thing to keep him warm tonight when it's twenty degrees outside. Maybe that wine is what takes the pain away and silences the voices in his head, if only for a moment.
I think people have forgotten how to be kind. Do you remember what it was like in the days and weeks after the tragic events of 9/11? The country came together. We were one in spirit. Congress stood on the steps of the Capital and sang God Bless America with one voice. There were no democrats, no republicans, no black or white, rich or poor on that fateful day. We were united by a disaster of cataclysmic proportions.
On 9/11, we were all just ... Americans.
Ahem, excuse me for saying so, but you're digressing.
Okay, okay. You're right. I apologize. I just get so frustrated sometimes. I don't understand society anymore. I don't understand the pervasive selfishness and cruelty. We have become so desensitized that it is now socially acceptable for families--some with very young children--to flock to slasher films to watch characters torture and kill each other in horrendous, prolonged ways. Don't people realize that once those images are in their heads they're there forever? Why not fill your mind with things worth remembering?
Will I be worth remembering? I often think about the legacy I'll leave behind and what people will say about me after I'm gone. Will they say I was worth knowing and that I touched their lives in a positive way? Have my words and actions done more good than harm? Has my writing made people laugh or cry or connected somehow on a personal level? Has it meant something, if only to one person?
My writing has always been a journey of self-discovery, self-actualization and self-expression. Each and every time I sit down to write, a little piece of me pours out onto the page. Every character, every situation, every emotion, every piece of dialogue I write is a compilation of things I've said, experienced, witnessed or heard. Like a chamois, I absorb my surroundings, then I twist and spin them until their essences drip out, allowing me to incorporate them into my repertoire.
I've always likened writing to literary exhibitionism and reading to literary voyeurism, but for those of us with voyeuristic tendencies they're ... well, they're guilty pleasures to say the least. Each and every one of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, age or religion have experienced love, hate, sorrow, happiness, fear, courage, victory and loss. It's a relief to know we're not alone--that others have experienced and overcome what we're going through right this very minute. The written word connects us on levels so personal, we become one in empathy.
Your ADD is showing. At least you're talking about writing now, but what about your--
Ah, to heck with my 2010 writing goals. How about my 2010 life goals? How about my 2010 philosophy? How about my 2010 mindset and way of life? Why not strive to be a better person? Pledge to be a little kinder ... a little more open-minded and caring?
All rainbows and butterflies, eh? Sounds nice, but you're really not following the rules, kiddo. Hard to win a contest when you don't follow the rules.
Well, maybe winning isn't what's important. Maybe the message is what's important. This is a letter to me and to anyone else who cares to read it. This is a reminder--a manifesto of sorts. I happen to believe if you live by a certain set of rules and convictions, that philosophy will spill over into every other aspect of your life, including your writing. If people are moved by what you write ... if they're touched by it in some way, why not touch them in a positive way?
I can see it's pointless to argue with you about this.
Possibly. Don't you see? We are inundated with negativity. Every time I turn on the television I see nothing but madness and mayhem, death and dying, commercials about animal cruelty.... People lie, cheat and steal without a second thought. Visions of war bombard me from every channel. Starving children stare back at me with pleading eyes while natural disasters wreak havoc around the world and people search for their loved ones beneath the rubble.
Perhaps we have a responsibility, you know? Writers, I mean.
What do you mean by "responsibility"?
Well ... like maybe we should be using our abilities, our gifts, for good. The written word is a powerful thing. Just think about Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have a Dream" speech or classic stories like A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. Their messages are timeless, life changing, as applicable today as they ever were.
Please tell me you're not comparing yourself to Martin Luther King Jr. or Charles Dickens.
Good grief, you're completely missing the point. Don't you get it? It's all about kindness and charity ... about appreciating what we have and accepting our fellow man as he is. It's about tolerance. It's about grace and redemption, equality and empathy. It's about love.
Hmm, I can definitely see the appeal. Good goals indeed, and writing a letter to yourself is a clever way to keep them fresh in your mind.
I think so. In 2010 I aspire to be more tolerant and accept people for who they are. I want to listen more and talk less. I want to be more gracious and kind, more grateful for what I've been blessed with, more generous with my money, time and affection.
And your writing?
Well ... maybe if I live and write with these things in mind, it'll be contagious--like laughter.
Imagine--if something I've done or said or written touches just one person in a positive way, and that one person touches one person, and that person--
Yep, I get it. Kind of like that movie Pay It Forward. A bit grandiose, but in a good way. It's a long row to hoe.
Nah! Anything's possible, right? Besides, I already try to live this way. It was ingrained in me at a very young age ... all that "private school mentality," you know. I'm just determined to try a little harder, that's all.
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Ah, the exceptional Maya Angelou. I love her. See, she gets it! She knows what I'm talking about.
Okay, you've won me over. So, how do you want to start this crusade?
One compassionate gesture, one empathetic glance, one kind word at a time.