selfie preservation #011
Tell me about something that makes you feel hopeful / optimistic (hmmm what is the difference between the two)
Chugach National Forest, Hope, Alaska from the air, October 2017
Hmmm, you have caught me at a bad time. I consider myself an optimist by nature1, but I really have to work to be hopeful these days. What is the difference between the two? In my head, “hope” is a long term, almost progressive system of thinking, while “optimism” is a short term approach to daily life. I am generally optimistic about the little things in life, but not necessarily hopeful about the big things. Optimism, as I’ve defined it above, is easy for me. This is my approach to the everyday stresses of living in this current iteration of modern America. I am optimistic that the the little stresses are will work themselves out, that they don’t really matter that much. I’m optimistic, generally, that everything is technically ok. I’ve gotten better at this. But hope. Hope is a lot harder for me right now. I will have to keep thinking about it.
So I am going to cop out on this a bit, and instead share the “Letter to My Younger Self” that my therapist asked me to write this week.
I am just about twice your age right now. For narrative’s sake, let’s say you are just about to graduate high school. It is 2004. You are eighteen and a half. For the last year, people who know you have been telling you that in college it will be different. It will be better. They are right and they are wrong. At first, it will be difficult. It will be different than you expect, and you will have trouble adapting to this. You will not shine like you did in high school. Not in the same way and not on the same scale. This too will take some getting use to - it will feel bad at first, but it will teach you to see yourself and understand yourself better. You will learn so much about how to think, and what you think is important. The 4 years you spend at the University of Michigan will be the best thing that ever happens to you (so far anyway), and it will shape what you do and who you become.
For at least the next 17-18 years, you will not be any thinner than you are now. You will only get (bigger, chubbier, fatter, curvier, more plus size, whatever phrase feels most comfortable to you) and there will be times that this feels like the worst part of yourself. There will be times when you are shamed to tears about this. Your mother will continue to focus on this for awhile. You will continue to make jokes about it, but underneath it will continue to bruise you deeply. You will cry about this in front of your closet, in dressing rooms, in friends’ bathrooms, outside bars, in cars, and finally in a tailor’s dressing room in your wedding dress. The shame you feel is not your fault. It is your mother’s, of course, but it is her mother’s and probably her mother’s before her. It is none of their faults, either. It is the fault of an interconnecting system that means to distract and disappoint all of you - patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, capitalism. All of these forces are working against you understanding, respecting, and loving your body. As best you can, do not let them. It is a radical act to love your body when it is does not properly fit into the imagination of this system. You know this. You know this because when you look in the mirror now, and when you look in the mirror for years to come, you do not hate what you see. You know that you are “supposed” to hate what you see. But you don’t. So you will never go down the rabbit hole of self-harm to change this body of yours. Your weight and appearance will ebb and flow, and sometimes you will be ashamed and sometimes you will be proud.
When you begin to have sex with the guy you will fall in love with, you will wear a white tank top when you have sex, until he asks you why, and encourages you to take it off. Being naked and vulnerable with him in this way will strengthen your relationship to him and to yourself. When the two of you get married, you will feel pretty in your wedding dress and the pictures will show that. Knowing this about yourself feels cringeworthy, but it would be great if I could save you all the mental energy worrying about this for the next several years. Eventually you will be doing YouTube yoga in your own home and the yoga instructor in the video will be a childhood friend who has moved across the world and she will instruct you to appreciate your amazing body and mind, to be grateful for everything that you have and everything that you are. Listen to her.
I mentioned that guy, right? He will be special. I cannot explain how you will fall in love with him, but it will happen gradually and naturally. In many ways, he will be the only one. You will not date anyone in college, and this, at times, will be difficult for you. It will make you feel incredibly lonely and sad sometimes. You will try to tell yourself it doesn’t matter, and that will not work. You will put yourself out there in ways you think are cute and coy and they will never work. Not until the end of college when you accidentally fall in love with this guy. He is the smartest person you’ve ever met in person, and this will astound and arouse you. His love will give you confidence and it will protect you from yourself, the feelings that have built up during college about what feels like your unlovability and your virginity (the loss of your virginity will be mundane in some ways, but interesting in enough other ways for you to get a good party story out of it later). But before him, you will find yourself in compromising situations with boys and they will hurt you. Not in the big, overt ways that scare you, but in smaller, stranger, indecipherable ways that will take a long time for you to understand. There will be many times when you drink too much and these hurtful men will capitalize on that in ways that confuse and shame you. You will get yourself to safety, but they will damage you in visible and invisible ways. Think twice before you tell yourself it is just a hickey!!!
On the one hand, discussing your body, sexuality, and love will annoy you because you think that focusing on these things instead of your academic and professional ambitions is derivative and pedestrian. You’re right. However, on the other hand, we both know these are the parts of your life that keep you up at night. This annoys you as well. But we both know that you are good at school and you will be good at work. Obviously there are things you will need to learn, to adjust, to change, but generally you will succeed in the ways you expect.
You will laugh a lot. You will cry a lot. You will see the parts of the world you have been dreaming about, and so many more that you haven’t yet considered. Some of the friends you have now will still be your friends later. Others won’t - some of them you will miss and some of them you will not. You will make new friends and love them in new and different ways than the friends you have now. These friends will come out, get married, have babies, and you will love them, their partners and their children. You will get to watch the people you love grow and change in extraordinary ways. You will be so proud of them. But people you love will die and the grief will swallow parts of your heart and probably never give them back.
The world feels uncertain to you now, and it will get much, much worse. Though you will never be in immediate, physical danger, the world will shift in terrifying and unexpected ways. It will be imperative for you to follow your conscience, to stand up and be counted when it matters. You know this. You have what I believe is really incredible intuition; follow it. The most important thing, and the thing that is and will continue to be a struggle, is to TRUST YOURSELF. I promise you know yourself best.
This newsletter really keeps my hope in check and front of mind
Speaking of hope - “Tomorrow is a place we are together.”
As we enter back into “scenes,” some context is worthwhile
Speaking of high school, I am obsessed with this movie
I kept a LiveJournal the first two years of college called “cockeyeoptimist” that is still out there on the Internet should any sleuths wish to track it down lololol