A Love Letter to My 20-Something Self
When the hilarious Scottish guy you meet on the bus from Luang Prabang to Bangkok suggests you share a cheap hotel room for the night, don’t do it, or rather, go ahead and do it (you’re going to anyway), but don’t be so surprised when you learn that every young-and-reckless decision comes with consequences. When you learn you’re not invincible, wear your mercy proudly. Life has marked you and you’re still okay.
You’re always okay, even when you feel you’re not. And most of the time, you’re so much more than just okay.
In your mid-twenties your boyfriend will be an incredible musician. He will go to his band rehearsal every Sunday night and come home to you late, usually when you’re already asleep. This will be something you count on. One Sunday night like any other, he will go to rehearsal and not come back. You will think he is dead but he is not. You will beg and bargain and suffer and then eventually accept that people can walk out of your life just-like-that (*finger snap*). Any given morning you could wake up alone and never find out why. You will learn that closure is a thing you create for yourself. Four years later when you’re telling the story to a new friend - likewhen your lover dumps you in the middle of the night - it will sound like a joke and you will realize your humor has become your grace.
Pain never actually goes away. Pain is an energy that changes form. It will be whatever you turn it into. Pain is a blank canvas. Work with it.
For years before you even start you will tell people you’re “writing a book” because you’ll believe that one day all you’ll have to do is sit down and type up your travel journals and then you’ll magically have a book. What you’ll actually be doing is a lot of waitressing and a lot of late-night drinking in bars with men. When you eventually sit down to do the work, you will learn that writing a book is both like magic and nothing like magic. It will take commitment and discipline. These are things you will have to teach yourself. Try not to get so frustrated. You will write three books before you turn thirty and still wonder what the fuck you’re doing.
Suffering is not a prerequisite for art. Your relationship with your writing will be a continuous evolution. Get over the “tortured artist” thing as soon as possible. Jaded isn’t as charming as you think it is.
When you sit down and make a list of all the countries you’ve been to in your twenties (43), feel proud, but not tooproud. Yes, you’ve been incredible in your pursuit of exploring the world. You’re innovative and savvy and you made it all happen by working damn hard, no help from anyone. You must also recognize your freedom and wanderlust is a great gift, a privilege afforded to you by the circumstances in which you were born. Let gratitude humble you.
While on a third date in an East Village bar with a guy from OkCupid, don’t mention to him that he’s worn the same shirt on all three of your dates. Don’t think you’re helping him out or doing him a favor. Let people learn their own ways of being. Don’t think you know better. You can never know what is right for anyone except yourself.
On your 21st birthday you’ll be at dinner with your friends, wearing a pretty yellow dress. You’ll be sad that a guy isn’t texting you back. Through your whole twenties you’ll often be sad because some guy isn’t texting you. Please try to focus on things more worthy. Eventually you’ll see that every text you never received had an even greater message. You’ll be grateful for all the silence in which you had only yourself to answer to.
When that-guy-with-the-girlfriend sits down next to you in the coffee shop, go ahead, walk knowingly into the fire. Make it the most impossible, wonderfully torturous time of your life. Let it linger on and on, carry it across the ocean. Wait and wonder and yearn. Learn the undying art of hope. Learn true longing. And then let it go. And when it won’t go away, let it go again. And then again. Some connections between souls are unexplainable. The hard lesson will not be that the unreal is actually real, but the unreal is not enough in the real world. Accept the beautiful tragedy of inconceivable things. Accept your loss. Understand that everything is a co-creation. Part of it was inevitable, and part of it was a choice. You chose to burn.
In the middle of your solo road trip across America (yeah, girl!) you will be in a motel somewhere in Oklahoma off Route 66 and you will be heating up the other half of a burrito you ate for lunch and you will realize that this is the longest drive of your life and if you keep doing what you’re doing it will never end. Just put your phone down. Take a bath.
Remember, you’re okay. You’re so much more than that.
The day will come when you cannot be The Dream Girl anymore. You will have to evolve from this one-sided dimension of yourself in order to honor everything that you are. The I-could-disappear-at-any-moment act will get old. You will have to learn to commit, to trust yourself to stay, to stop glorifying the notion of running away. You will mourn the loss of The Dream Girl because she was your favorite version of yourself. Over time, it will become easier to admit you’re not perfect.
One night you will find yourself exhausted and angry, trying to sleep on the floor of an over-crowded departures lounge in New Dehli airport after everything went wrong - engine failure, a missed connection, a problem with your visa. You’ll be using your backpack as a pillow and an old Indian woman will lie next to you and put her oily head on your bag. She’ll immediately close her eyes and fall asleep. Don’t get mad about your space being invaded, don’t swear out loud, don’t get up and move. Yes you’re tired, and so is she. Let her sleep.
As soon as you realize you have nothing to prove, things will be easier. When your parents come to visit you in New York, you’ll be at a Mexican place in SoHo and the what-are-you-doing-with-your-life question won’t even come up. You’ll just be three grown-ups drunk on Corona.
When you’re sitting on a blue couch sobbing and you’re asked where you feel the pain in your body, you won’t know where to put your hands because it’s impossible to touch your whole body at once. You will realize that trying to hold the infinite in a limited space is impossible. You will learn and grow and heal in so many ways. And then you will find no matter how much work you do on yourself, how much you dig, you’ll always have more work to do. The great journey into ourselves is never over.
One night you’ll be late to a going-away party, standing alone in your own kitchen drinking vodka because your social anxiety is a very real thing even though you’ve spent your entire life pretending it isn’t. When you arrive at the party you’ll stand at the bar with someone you’ve worked with for more than a year but don’t really know. You’ll admit to her you don’t want to be there. She’ll say she feels the same. She’ll tell you two years ago she killed her boyfriend in a car accident and then apologize for letting that slip out. After this, you will never make small talk again. You will become really good at asking meaningful questions.
When one of your closest friends has her second miscarriage and tells you that your words alone gave her comfort in her darkest moments, hear it like this: your words are healing the world. Forget your obsession with being heard. Forget trying to get published, forget the quest to find an agent, forget the god-damned Instagram likes. That shit is nothing. There is a reason you write and this is it, everything else is just noise.
When you’re twenty-four you’ll be sitting in a hostel room somewhere in Cambodia when a hot German guy walks in. You’ll make intense eye contact immediately. You’ll spend a few days together, the way it goes in the world of backpacking, and then you’ll part ways. When you hug goodbye you’ll say something vague yet promising about things always coming back around eventually. Believe in the power of your own words. Six years later, out of nowhere, he will quote what you said in an email. And then he will come across the whole world to see you again. Three weeks before your 30th birthday you will book a one-way ticket to Germany.
In spite of all of it, your unfaltering belief in true love is both a gift and a testament to the kind of person you are creating yourself to be.
There will be a day - that is today – you will be lying on the floor of your all-packed-up apartment in Hawaii, one block from the ocean. You will find that in spite of living your twenties as fully and completely as you have, you will feel an overwhelming sheep-like resistance to your 30th birthday. You will find yourself mourning your twenties like something is over. But you’re wrong. This is just the beginning. You’ll stare at the ceiling fan and feel nostalgic for how many times you’ve been here before, in-between-places, in a room you’re about to leave, staring at a ceiling fan as a meditation. You’ll remember a text you sent to a friend years ago: My soul is a twenty-one year-old girl sitting on an airport floor reading a book. You will feel overwhelmed by a kind of love that feels brand new yet so incredibly familiar. It will take you thirty years and almost no time at all to realize this love has been the force behind all of it.
Happy Birthday to you, my wild little soul. I’ll see you at the airport. x