Dear Lily June,
One Bit of Background
I’m not much for optimism when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. I’ve lived long enough to fill a balloon up with their hot air and ride around the planet. Twice.
In fact, in the past, I might have even taken a hard-nosed Fight Club stance,
valuing the depths to which my depression could sink more than the heights to which my idealism could climb. Depression, after all, is awfully fond of whispering in your ear, with your earlobe caught between its teeth, that its reality is the real reality–the only reality that matters.
I’ve read some blogs like that already this year, and to you, shadowboxers, I genuinely tip my hat. Yours is a hard row to hoe, and it may, in fact, be the most reasonable row.
I seem to recall (though don’t trust anyone who’s read something, Lily, and can’t provide you with the actual source) reading somewhere that those who are depressed can actually, more accurately, assess how others feel about them. And yet, how much is the chicken and how much the egg?
How often do depressed people guess that they aren’t well-liked when, in fact, their depression makes them difficult to know and their ideas sharp to swallow? This is coming from someone who’s experienced depression down to its “I might as well just be the furniture I sit on” near-catatonic depths, so I’m no way mocking the Eeyores of this world. I’ve been there and may be again.
Two New Identities
I’ve always been a writer, from the moment I wrote some dark murder mystery on my mother’s typewriter at the tender age of four or so. But in May of this past year, I became a mother to you, Lily. And by July, I was a blogger. And for some reason, those two second identities, donned in my third decade on the planet, lent a sense of immediacy to that first identity I’d always carried with me: Writer.
Suddenly I knew who I was writing for, and it wasn’t just me or your father or a slew of professors or editors or unnamed, faceless readers as was the case when I was publishing in literary magazines. I’ve always been drawn to the epistolary, and in writing this letter to you which, my dear, may take both of our lifetimes for me to complete, this blog has become like a microphone cord connected to a ventricle in my heart that keeps beating a song for you.
I don’t know how the lyrics will unfold in 2016. But I know how I’m starting the year: anew.
Three Stolen Mantras
Though I couldn’t actually find the words when I went back to look on her page, the blogger of &OtherLongStories gave me this mantra:
“Love yourself through it.”
I’m not going to lie, Lily, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. That shit is tough. Like, takes a lifetime to achieve, tough. Like, some people die by their own hands because they can’t get there, tough. Like climbing an emotional Mount Everest with the aid of toothpicks instead of grappling hooks, tough.
For someone who has wrestled some days with even liking myself (or trying just not to loathe myself even), this has been a stretch. I have had to, for the past week, set down my pack of
coffin nails cigarettes. I have had to, for the past week, hold my head up. I have gotten out of my office chair at lunch, and I have forced my body, grown large and unwieldy like a tuna net full of peaches, up and down dark and empty campus hallways. I have listened with humiliation to the sound of my breath, sucking and gasping at air I had, for almost a decade, deprived my lungs of.
I have caught sight, in the sharp square glass of classroom doors and stairwell windows, of my ballooning body. And I have wanted to look away, to not meet who I am now head on and imagine instead I have the body I did the last time I thought I looked like anything resembling beautiful: my skeletal seventeen-year-old self. She has been gone for fourteen years, Lily, buried in the dunes of my chin, the valleys of my hips, the expanse of my, um, land mAss. I can’t keep chasing her down anymore.
I have to look with love into my current body’s reflection. I have to walk, not because I hope to chisel her down into something I can stomach seeing, but because it gives me an opportunity to see her, really see her. And without seeing her–her stretch marks, her rolls, her double-chins–I can’t love her. I’m not going to get healthy out of vanity anymore, Lily.
I’m going to strengthen my arms the better to lift you with. I’m going to strengthen my legs the better to run after you with. I’m going to strengthen my heart the longer to love you with.
For the past week, I’ve set a new routine that I intend to stare down the barrel of for the next year. I hate stairs and sweat and side-stitches, but I’m going to take them all because of the second mantra that I only just read on a blog I’ve only just started reading, Veuve Noire:
It was just a caption to this New Year’s post’s subsection on Choosing a Goal, and yet, I think it is the goal I’ve set. I think I’m willing, this year, to let the hard things–like getting in shape or kicking bad habits–be hard.
As children raised in a home of violence and neglect, my sister and I became hard-wired only to do a thing if it got us attention, though we went about it in completely opposite directions. My sister chased trouble in the form of addictions and affections so that punishment could become her love.
I chased attention in the form of goody goody gumdrops and grades and competition. I wouldn’t do a thing unless I could become the best, as if being the best would turn my parents’ necks and fill their faces, gazes to glistening grins, with praise. Neither strategy worked, but it did give my life a trajectory when a couple of teachers discovered I liked words and encouraged me to keep pursuing them like men pursued my sister. I did.
And now I wonder, though I don’t lament, who I might have been if I’d let the hard be harder. I wonder if I’d be a better writer if I knuckled down and wrote until my poet’s heart calloused over like the fingers of a guitar player. I wonder if I’d be a different person altogether if someone had thought I’d have an easier time with algebra or painting or soccer.
But what I’m doing now suits me fine: I’m not walking on my lunch breaks and trying to eat less and giving up smoking because it’s so easy, or because it turns the world some delightful shade of rose-colored. It sucks, and it hurts, physically and emotionally. I’m losing sleep and struggling to breathe and my feet hurt and my calves sting. I’m trying to struggle more because it occurs to me, quite late in this life (though I’m loving myself through my prior naivete) that the point to living might not just be in making things easier.
Which brings me to my third mantra, stolen from Thomas Jefferson by way of one of my favorite bloggers, Allie Potts Writes. She quotes,
“If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
What is it I want? To love myself so I can teach you to love you. To treat my body with more respect, so I can live out the promises I made to it back in the first post I ever wrote that got Freshly Pressed. To make an honest, earnest, lasting change in my life to prove to myself that people, myself included, are capable of making a metamorphosis.
It’s not about having a stereotypical beach body, Lily. It’s not about get slim quick schemes or even about proving something to myself. It’s about attempting to do a thing I want you to someday see: That you have power over your own life, though not full control over its course. That you have the ability to heal yourself with, and in, health and heart and hearth and art. That there is nothing, young lady, you can set your mind to that you can’t achieve.
Love yourself through it. Struggle more. Do something new, as I’m trying this one on for size for the first time in my life:
This year, I’m going to BELIEVE.
- “Hot Air Balloon Shadow” by Dixonsej. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hot_Air_Balloon_Shadow.jpg#/media/File:Hot_Air_Balloon_Shadow.jpg