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.
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,
- By asenat29 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/72153088@N08/6510934443, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org