Be Our Guest–In Which Alex Encourages Metamorphosis

Dear Lily June,

You’ll quickly learn, little Lily, that one of your mother’s favorite films is Groundhog Day, in which a man named Phil (played by Bill Murray) is forced to endure that minor holiday over and over (and over!) again what seems to be indefinitely. If nothing else, the clip below definitely seems to describe how your mother feels getting out of bed every workday morning when I have to leave you.

You may find yourself experiencing a similar kind of deja vu when you realize that I start all of these letters exactly this way:  I’ve put out a call to anyone (seriously! anyone!) who stumbles upon this blog to write you a letter for your upcoming first birthday on May 13. Below is the seventh of these I received, with my introduction to the fellow blogger who sent it.

***

Alex of OriginalTitle was the first blogger I exchanged emails with “behind the scenes,” so to speak, outside of our blogs. So admiring of her posts about being a mother and an artist and a writer and a reader was I that I self-consciously sent her some of my published work to peruse, crossing my fingers that she might like the poetry I put out into the world. I barely knew her, but from reading her writing, I respected her opinion immensely and immediately, and nothing since I’ve “known” her has changed that mindset: I approach her emails with humility (about my writing) and admiration (for hers), even when it takes me months to get back to her on a story she’s sent or an idea she’s had.

She humbles me, Lily, especially when I went back to her first email to me, and she’d written that she was “…basically…not a real writer yet” because her publication credits were, at that point, limited. I was tempted, at the time, to throw back at her the lines of Ilya Kaminsky who describes writer Osip Mandelstam, saying,

“He threw a student down the staircase for complaining he wasn’t published … shouting: Was Sappho? Was Jesus Christ?

or the ideals of Emily Dickinson, who believed that

“Publication – is the Auction / Of the Mind…”

But I didn’t want her to think I didn’t understand. I do. Oh, do I.

I have opened many a rejection letter in my writing life, and I know they pave the way to the eventual acceptances that, for Alex, will be inevitable. Alex is one of those writers you “meet,” and you know has the potential to change the literary landscape. Her talent is true, and deep, and raw, and honest, just as she is. Her storytelling abilities are spellbinding, and she can craft entire worlds with her prose that are disconcertingly familiar to our own, shedding light on the intimacies and interactions between feuding young lovers, capturing such universal conflicts as trouble-maker versus orange grove, man versus mermaid, or children versus an oppressive consumerist factory society.

She even, Lily, illustrated a children’s book about a satellite bot who circles the earth describing all kinds of love he sees across the planet. I couldn’t help myself and, even with our limited family funds, bought it in paper copy for you as a Christmas present, one we still read with gusto while you trace your hands over the beauty of its lyric words and lush images. I am excited, when you’re old enough to understand what it means, to announce to you proudly, I “know” this book’s artist, Lily. I feel practically famous by association.

What I did tell Alex in those first exchanges was instead one of my favorite quotations about writing of all time by Thomas Mann:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

The best writers, artists, teachers, mothers, wives, Alex-es, etc. make all of their actions look easy. I know the blood, sweat and tears, metaphorically (forgive the cliche, Lily!) that go into every piece of art–visual or literary–Alex produces, and yet, when you look at them, you’re so busy marveling at the figurative quilt she’s crafted that you almost never see the seams. And her stories are substantial enough to throw over your imagination when it is cold in your mind, and all you wish for is the warmth of a dream. I cannot begin to thank Alex enough for entering my life, or for entering yours, as she does with the incredible letter below, about the ever-changing nature of identity.


Dearest Lily,

It will soon be your first birthday, but by the time you read this, you will likely have many years under your belt, many bumps and bruises healed, many pages turned by your fingers, many a laugh, and many a cry as these are a small part of the immense process of growing up. What can I tell you that you won’t have already heard from a motivational poster, a book, a teacher or your own very skilled, loving and dedicated parents? Who am I to tell you anything at all?

In our society, adults are there to guide the younger of us into adulthood. Mainly we try to simply keep you alive, because the scary truth is that we are still learning how to be human. That is why I resist giving you any advice. I do not know much or anything at all yet. Since my first birthday many lives, many iterations of myself have come to pass. Sometimes I feel like I have never been just one person, one soul, one identity and that at each stage of my life I’ve shed a cocoon and achieved minor metamorphosis.

So, when you are struggling with “who you are,” as you might in the years to come, perhaps during the trying times of adolescence or the years of early adulthood when you realize you are on your own and wonder what to do with that desperately hoped for, yet terrifying independence–there is a simple fact: “who you are,” is not a static thing. At times you may be made to think that the identity you have at any given moment is the one you will have for life. This is due to the fact that schoolkids often have a tendency to label one another. And sadly, adults (even teachers!) have a tendency to force, and chart out the futures of children. Neither should have any business doing anything of the sort.

If ever you doubt yourself, or lack confidence, have no fear. The ‘you,’ will most certainly and continually change. You will remake yourself many times over and over and each time I have no doubt with the love and support of your mother and father, it will be an even more wonderful iteration. There will be one thing that will never change in your identity, however, and it is the one thing you have no control over–the seed of love and respect your mother planted in you upon your birth and will continue to water over the years whether you like it or not. Being a mother, and knowing your mother, I can say with full confidence, that no matter what, no matter who you are at any one point in the trajectory of your journey, your mother will love you with a fierceness you can not imagine.

With the best hopes for your future,

***

Picture Credits:

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9 thoughts on “Be Our Guest–In Which Alex Encourages Metamorphosis

  1. bitsfromheaven says:

    What a great letter of self love/worth/comfort. I wish all parents could understand how important that is to our children’s view of success in life. One could have all the money and things in the world but will always be unhappy if they aren’t happy with themselves or afraid to change themselves to get there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lonna Hill says:

    So well said. A letter I wish I could have given to all the students at the middle school I used to work at. It was a very competitive private school in Asia where many parents put so many unreasonable demands on the kids. My sixth grade students could tell me their top three university choices and what they (or their parents) wanted them to major in. It made me so sad–It was so hard to explain to them that there was value in just being a kid, that they should still be playing, that it was okay to have fun in the moment, to slowly discover who they were, and that they would (as the letter says) change over time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. bitsfromheaven says:

      Reading your comment made my heart ache for your students. I think there is a disconnect when Americans compare stats with schools abroad, especially using your words as an example. My kids may not test as high in the short term, but they will hopefully and bravely take on their dreams knowing it is theirs and no one else’s!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Lonna Hill says:

        Stats can be so misleading. They only tell a piece of the picture. That’s the case not just with education, but many things.

        I totally agree with you. I am so much more concerned about my kids developing integrity and good character than I am about their scores. Korea is so competitive, it’s heartbreaking. Often, parents will send their children to school after school (called Hogwans). I had students who didn’t get home until 10:00 pm. What about family time? What about sharing a meal together? I had one 7th grade girl who struggled academically and the more she struggled, the more tutoring they signed her up for. It was so challenging to get the parents to see they were doing more harm than good and that adding more on to her schedule was going to make her marks go down, not up. She was tired. She needed to rest and not feel pressure to be perfect.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. dearlilyjune says:

        I so agree with you. Nothing is as pernicious and insidious for the health of the mind, body or soul than perfectionism.

        Let my child be happy, and I’ll consider my entire life a success!

        Liked by 1 person

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