So I wasn’t always this way.
I wasn’t always easy to laugh, easy to forgive, nurturing and patient. I didn’t always have the ability to laugh at myself for the mistakes I make, or even to allow myself a Big Ole’ FAT ugly cry when I was upset. In essence, I used to be young. I used to be 21.
Maybe you’d assume I was a victim of the drink’, being the age at which I can consume alcohol. But no, actually everything got rough when I was 18. By age 21 though, I realized I needed to change something up: I realized I needed to start loving myself. That first step I took? I wrote myself a letter.
Dec 12, 2009. Not any kind of remarkable day with a remarkable story, just a day I chose to sit down and talk to myself. The catch was this letter I wrote? I couldn’t just look at it willy-nilly as I liked. I made myself wait until Dec 12th, 2015 to reveal it’s original contents. I guess even then I realized my overwhelming sense of urgency and noticed I lacked the patience I desired. So I made myself wait. I guess I was also trying to give myself something to look forward to, something personal: A secret- just for me, to myself. I guess that made it pretty special… I needed that.
Yeah… well… about that letter: I had forgotten about it! Dec 12th came and went, and I had the letter openly sitting out, ready for the BIG DAY. But it wasn’t until a good week and a half after the date when I happened to remember,
“That friggin’ letter!”
I wasn’t doing anything remarkable at the time.
You know how sometimes making a space, making something a “thing”, a ritual or tradition, giving it this air of significance makes a moment more momentous?
It was an off hand realization. I was running around my room, as usual, cleaning, hanging up clothes, and I remembered…
“The friggin’ letter!”
I believe my exercise playlist on iTunes was playing, bumping out some high-octane fuel. I didn’t switch it to low key, emotional music. I didn’t try to set the stage, center my emotions.
I didn’t make it a thing.
I opened the letter, and read it.
Now, back in 2009, my life was pretty damn different! I was a lonely, severely depressed, highly anxious college student with no free time because I overbooked myself with classes. I was stressed and decided I was to blame for that stress. I treated my body like it was public enemy #1 because I was the determined bounty hunter. Not an ideal person to be attached to! Every chance I got, I attacked myself, blamed myself, and tore myself apart with the guilt: Guilt on top of guilt, on top of guilt. I had so much anger but was so depressed and lost that I didn’t know where it was coming from. I blamed others and was a very, very difficult person to be around sometimes… especially if you were someone I loved and truly cared about. They took the hardest and most hits. Some stayed with me, some got the hell outta there. I never blamed them, although outwardly it would seem I did. Inwardly, I knew it was all me- but I was the queen of denial, queen of unhappiness, and queen of “I’m a freakin’ loser, woe is meeeEEEE!!!!”
But despite the terror that was I, I always had a spark. I knew what happiness had felt like. I knew I wanted to learn how to love myself better, and to treat everyone with love and respect.
So yeah, I knew vaguely what to expect from this letter. My past has been pretty well recorded. I’ve kept a personal blog since I was 14 and during 2009 in particular I wrote in it up to 9 times a day to relieve my mind of the destructive, obsessive thoughts that were morphing my mind into an all encompassing black hole of BLAH and AHH! And although throughout the blog I would curse myself, blame myself, tear myself apart- I knew it was because deep down, somewhere in the great abyss, I KNEW I had it within me to be better and find the light again. I just had no idea whether I was supposed to go right, left, – wait, did I pass go? I had never been lost before. And I had yet to find a working compass.
Alright, so I didn’t allow myself to think about all this the morning I remembered,
“That friggin’ letter!”
I just did it. I jumped in and didn’t have time to be a judgey-McJudgerson to my past and myself. “I’m sorry Mam’am, the baggage claim is on the wayyy other side of the building.” I was leaving my suitcase behind. All I needed was my ID and wallet: aka identity and abundance!
And so I read:
You know how you can be. You’re unbelievably talented and ambitious. I know you’re probably killing yourself right now to make things “perfect” or “just right” in your life. Just think like Eckhart Tolle- and think in the NOW- not the future.
You’re so smart and beautiful. You have so much going for you- so why create extra stress? I hope you’re still writing in your online journal- that’s good therapy. I hope you are where you didn’t expect to be in life- but in a good way. I’m only 21, young, naïve- you’re an uber adult now! What’s that about? Haha
I feel like I’m writing a letter to my older sister- because I just want things to work out for you/me. I hope you can make it happen- and you DID make it happen.
I think that’s all I’m going to say…
I’ll keep it short because I know it’s hard to read my own handwriting.
I hope everything worked out
your younger self.
As soon as I read it, I wanted to write about my reaction, get my thoughts on it out. But life had other plans. Life reminded me that we’re constantly moving forward and not to focus on the past too much. As my mom always told me (especially back in 2009!) Rumination leads to Ruination.
So, I moved on. I didn’t make it a thing.
This morning I wrote a new letter. I won’t say what’s in it- that would spoil the fun for Dec 2020! But I wanted to keep the tradition going: I wanted to have a reminder in the future of what it was like, and what I was thinking here in 2016.
It’s fun thinking how different I was in 2009, how much I’ve grown within that time: What I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, who I cared for. And I no longer harbor resentment for the pain I caused. I have learned from my mistakes, forgiven myself and I believe that is why I went through this ordeal: to strengthen myself.
And yeah, everything did work out. It’s still working out. I have much to be grateful for. When I was 21, I didn’t know these words: Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Abundance… I didn’t even know
Now I’m pretty confident I know what love is. I see it all around me, am able to connect with it, I feel it within me. Before, I would feel “love” but couldn’t communicate it, wanted to understand it and analyze it, ultimately stripping it of it’s magic. Now I just let it happen, I go with it. I can cherish others and especially myself.
I no longer need a letter to give myself something to look forward to. I look forward to everyday- but there’s something powerful about getting a glimpse of the past and recognizing the growth you have undergone, subtle or bold. It’s pretty remarkable.
So I’m making it a thing.
As I sit here, visiting my sister, Sarah, in her rural house, she plays on the piano while her husband sits next to her on the couch, running cake-decorating ideas past her. They work as a team, preparing the cake to celebrate her Baby Shower, happening tomorrow. Her belly is large, full of multiple heartbeats. Twins! Boys? Girls? They aren’t sure yet, deciding to wait until the birth to consider the amazing opportunities that await them.
I don’t often get a chance to see family, and when I do it’s usually always to celebrate a large family event. The excitement and anxiety in the air based around a huge life change is contagious! Getting to photograph my sister amidst this change is about capturing that energy. I watch my sister observe, calmly direct, and connect with her nephew in law and I see that crease between her eyes that our own mom used to get when we were growing up. I always called this phenomenon “worried eyebrows” and would physically push that look of concern away from my mother’s face with my fingers, making my mom laugh. My sister is perfect mom material. Sometimes she’s so “mommy”, I have point it out to her. “You sound just like mom!” It’s definitely a compliment.
In my own journey with kids, I am a beginner. Playing with John, Sarah’s 3 year old nephew in law, threw me into a learning experience for sure!
“I have to go bathroom.”
Oh no! Does he know how to go himself? Am I supposed to do something? I heard his mom and my sister laughing in the other room, knowing of my 0 to no experience with children that age. After determining he just had to pee, I was relieved of any overwhelming duties. Phew! All I had to do was keep him company.
“This looks so scary, doesn’t it?” Sarah stops me as I write, showing me the piece she plays, a Beethoven Sonata of some number. There are black marks as dense as a forest all over the sheet of music. To my eyes, it looked like this.
“Is it?” I ask.
But she knows it, having studied music throughout her life and growing up in the musical family we did. Some parts she plays slowly to get right. At every wrong note she pauses, laughs and makes a ridiculous silly noise. Her humor has always put me at ease, making me snort embarrassingly; but it’s just my sister, so snorting is perfectly acceptable.
Sitting here, listening to her play is like a blast from the past though, throwing me into our childhood where we grew up in a family that believed music was life. Everyone in the family played an instrument and sang. My dad was a music professor (a student termed him a “cute old guy” on ratemyprofessor.com) at Lock Haven University, jazz director, and played trombone in a Dixieland band. My mother was a music therapist, organist, and accompanist for Lock Haven University’s choir. All their kids (us) played multiple instruments throughout their (our) lives. Sarah, my older sister, plays trombone, piano, organ and studied music education in college. Sophie, our younger sister, can pick up any instrument and make beautiful music. I like to call her a music prodigy, but in reality she put a ton of work into developing her mad guitar skills! She plays guitar, violin, any string instrument really, and at one point an accordion and saxophone. Zack, my younger brother, plays trumpet, viola, and sings. Because he’s older now, his voice has matured and he sounds like a mini-version of my dad’s strong, baritone voice. Now, the mini doesn’t mean height wise! The dude is 6’4 at the moment, and I bet he’s still working his way up there.
I tend to tell people I am the “least musical” of the family. I tried my hand at piano, violin, and percussion instruments but stuck with singing for years and years. I sing in the Erie Philharmonic Chorus and was at one time the Development Director on their Board. These days I play the ukulele for fun and therapy, and own a guitar, which has a lot of dust on it at the moment. Music is my pulse though. I recognize it calms me, enlivens me, and is a necessary tool for staying centered in my daily life. This seems true for my siblings too.
And check this out! Sarah and her husband, Alex, are creating their own little musical family, similar to the families they grew up in.
My sister met Alex at their college, IUP, where they both studied music education. He comes from a very musical family himself, with 3 sisters who were all drum-majors in high school. He plays countless instruments that I’m probably going to forget some when listing! He loves the accordion– celebrating his Polish heritage– and plays wind instruments. Together Sarah and Alex are continuing the musical legacy. I remember the days, waking up early in the morning to the sound of our mom, playing a tune on the piano, yelling out “Sugar-boogies!” at every other wrong note, and the other times making small little exasperated screams and laughs at her mistakes. Yep, my sister certainly takes after her!
Saying it’s comforting listening to the process of learning a musical piece is an understatement in a way. It feels necessary to be surrounded by that creative process, any creative process. I may not be as musical or instrumentally blessed as my siblings, but that same kind of creative energy that fuels my art fuels their music. I can relate, I can appreciate, and I can be motivated to go out and create as well.
Sarah finishes what she is playing, running her hands messily over the keys of the piano, a stark contrast to the original melody. Always the comedian, she remarks, “He didn’t write that, I added that.”
Creating beautiful music is one thing, but my sister is an incubator at the moment, creating one– no, TWO of the best creations there are to create.
Feti! (As I lovingly call them)!
It’s just like her to, on her first go, create a quartet of a family. I can’t wait to capture the other large life events that my sister will go through. I often look to her to prepare for my own future. I’m grateful to have her as a role model and learn from her journey. Today, it’s a big belly-bump, but in a few months I will have two new subjects (Nephews? Nieces?) to photograph and spoil! So this blog post goes out to you, Sister. Congratulations on your new family!