#DearMe — An Open Letter to My Younger Self

Some of you may have seen the #DearMe campaign that recently debuted. It features the famous ladies of YouTube addressing their younger selves with life advice. It’s basically an “It Gets Better” campaign for ladies, taking aim at the insecurities that hold us back from being ourselves and reaching our potential. Check the video below:

A dear friend posted this brilliant and important bit of viral goodness to a Facebook group I participate in, and proposed the simple question: what advice would you give?

Obviously, I couldn’t resist writing a little something up. I love talking to Past Chelsea (as evidenced by last week’s essay), So I wrote these words to my former self. Younger me really, really needed to hear them, because she certainly wasn’t taking any of her mother’s brilliant advice.

Check it out, and let me know in the comments what advice you’d give your younger self!

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Dear Me,

You will spend your entire young life trying to be cool and proving your worth to others. Don’t do it. Your worth is inherent; it’s as fundamental as your propensity to breathe. 

Stop questioning yourself at every turn, and throwing yourself into the fire each and every time a person who can sense your willing vulnerability sets out to take advantage of you. They will. They will control you, manipulate you, rape you, discard you and throw you to the wolves. They will isolate you from the people who do love you and see your worth, and make you unrecognizable to everybody; including yourself.

You are not a savior.  

Learn to read their signs and to love yourself enough to walk away from them. 

And if you can’t — because lord knows with your bursting heart, you can’t — forgive yourself when they hurt you.

What they do says everything about them, and nothing about you. Go on loving and being the open-hearted, sensitive, hyper-empathetic, love-seeking writer that you are. 

You may not fit in with your family or your peers, but you will find people who love and appreciate you for you. Thing is, you will never find those people if you aren’t authentically yourself. 

Stop playing the “cool girl.” You’re not her. Not by a long shot. The “cool girl” doesn’t exist, and if she did, I doubt she’d cry into her journal after pretending to be cool with being a side piece. 

Listen to your mother. She sees what you can’t yet see. Her wisdom will speak to you when she’s long gone. One day, you’ll learn to read those subtle signs, too. 

Take care of yourself. Stop worrying about your body, and whether you’ll find love. Love will come when you learn to love yourself and stop giving yourself away to those who are unworthy. Your body won’t matter when that love comes. 

Let yourself be a writer. It’s ok to follow your calling, even if it won’t bring you riches or a steady career. Don’t let anyone convince you to give up something that is essential to your happiness and to who you are as a person.

Don’t let them make you feel not good enough.

You are enough. 

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The Epilogue of My Life

I’m sitting in my home office pouring over dozens of old journals filled with everything that once mattered to me: rambling descriptions of my days, exhaustive detail of my interactions with crushes (SO. MANY. CRUSHES.), short stories about things well beyond my understanding, the beginnings of bizarre novels, Backstreet Boys fan fiction, and of course, a crap ton of really bad poems. Some of them are unfinished — chapters I couldn’t bear to continue — and others are filled up to the brim; their front and back covers scrawled with memories and inside jokes that have long lost their meaning.

I initially pulled all of these journals out because I was looking for an entry I’d written about visiting New York on a field trip back in April 2000. I wanted to write about about how the city was everything that I didn’t know I was searching for, and how I found myself there, and why I eventually left. I wanted to say that moving to New York was the only thing I was ever sure of in my life. But digging through my memories and reading my decades-old writings led me to discover that those words simply aren’t true.

Leafing through some stories I wrote when I was 13, I found an epilogue (which I appropriately titled “What ever happened to?” by the way. 13-year-old me was so clever!). Under my name, it read “Chelsea took up a career as a writer, became a successful author, and lived happily ever after with her two best friends, their husbands, and the love of her life.”

First, I just want to say, HOW FITTING that I wanted to live with my two best friends and their husbands back then because I totally still do! I guess I’ve always been Janice Ian-level obsessed with my best friends to the point where people tend to question my sexuality, and I’m totally cool with that. I’m all about that group compound life, y’all. Some things never change, I guess…

Anyway, what really stuck out to me, and what I can’t stop turning over in my mind now, is that in my heart of hearts, I have always wanted to be a writer. After all, what could be a more obvious indication of longing than the aspirational words of one’s epilogue? It’s the one space where happily-ever-after exists, and there’s no room for condition or clarification; but-fors or bumps in the road. It’s simple. Unlike actual life, an epilogue makes sense.

There was always something else out there for me, besides New York and finding love, pulling me along, ever since I was a lonely pre-teen sitting up in my room in Connecticut. There was always one journal or another, my salvation. My words, written down; my history. Some are more beautiful than others, but even the ugly ones are inextricably tied with me and everything I am.

These days, I don’t know where I’m going, and thinking back on it all, I guess I never have. I can’t help but notice that my epilogue never mentioned where I would live, whether I ever bothered to marry the love of my life or if I’d start a family of my own. I watch those around me map out their lives with certainty, always feeling a nagging sensation of cluelessness about my own future.

I still don’t know where I’ll end up, or how I’ll get there, or what it all means. I just know that if I had to write my epilogue here and now, I’m not sure I’d change one word: “Chelsea took up a career as a writer, became a successful author, and lived happily ever after with her two best friends, their husbands, and the love of her life.”

A girl can dream, can’t she?

The Catskills Diaries: Part Three

We’ve reached Day 3, the pinnacle of my solo trip in the Catskills. At this point, I was starting to feel “on my own” for the first time ever. It dawned on me that each decision I made was completely my own, with no “adult” to consult. There were times when I thought, “I NEED AN ADULT,” (such as, when I began to worry that I would pop a tire on one of the many dirt roads I encountered) but then came to realize that I was the only adult around.

This was a stark, and somber reckoning for me. I have always reveled in the guidance and safety of my mother’s presence. She was both my sounding board and my North Star. And, while I had admittedly spent the year leading up to her stroke reluctantly crawling out of my extended adolescence, I was far from ready to lose her support.

So, here they are: my impressions on being “on my own” for the first time, moving through the world as proper adult. Or something.

To catch up on the Catskills Diaries: Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here.

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Day 3: Wednesday, October 2

Wednesday was relaxation day. I went into town and visited a shop called, maybe “Splunk.” Is that right? I’m not sure (Ed. Note: No, that was not right. It was actually “Plunk,” but NICE TRY two-glasses-of-wine-deep Chelsea). The shopkeeper was extremely friendly and helpful, and she talked my ear off about biking, and where to go in the area. I bought some things from her and walked around. The town, Livingston Manor, also had an organic shop, a pizza place, a grocery store, and a few other businesses. Plus a cute little park in the center of town on the river, where I ate lunch. 

It was a nice town, but lots of stuff was closed. Apparently many of the shops and attractions close in the Catskills during the week, especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, after the weekend tourists leave. Their weekend is essentially Tuesday/Wednesday. I find this to be a very interesting mountain town phenomenon. 

Livingston Manor’s town motto is “Small Town, Big Backyard.” Which is both adorable and TRUE. I cannot believe how much of the land is “for the people” here. The streams, the mountains, the parks, the forrest — so much is public land. There is signage everywhere indicating what is for public use and what is private. 

It’s really nice being somewhere like this, where the people have ownership of the resources around them. And they use them! It’s so different from the city, where resources are vastly limited and there is nowhere to be alone except your own room, if you’re lucky. 

I hung around for awhile and got some things at Main Street Farm (the organic market) for dinner and headed back. It was kind of muggy out and I just wanted to enjoy the cabin. I made myself a nice dinner, and put together a playlist of songs that inspire me, move me and make me dance. I turned it up, and just had myself a party! 

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Did I mention the view from my cabin?

I stargazed, played my banjo, wrote, snacked, hookahed, cried, danced, failed at building a fire, and just felt. Yes, I let myself feel it all. I let the beauty of the mountains, my loss, my fear, my happiness, my overwhelming love for Dave, and my giant heart bursting with so much more take over and just listened to myself. 

It was. I don’t know. It was so lovely. One of the best, most life-affirming nights of my entire life. Like, this is it. This is what you get — this place exists in the world, and you can just go here alone when everything feels wrong and feel right again. 

Hiking up a mountain can bring you back to life.

Stargazing can remind you it’s still ok to dream. 

Smoke leaving your lips can give you just the right high to let your guard down and dance alone. 

The leaves changing can keep you mindful of the changing seasons, which like life, evolve in phases — constantly metamorphosing and overlapping; turning.

And fear can make you reverent to all that is around you and wake your dulled senses. 

I learned so much that I cannot even say. I am alive again. There is hope. I will be ok. I will create again and I will feel drive again. This deep sadness is temporary. There will always be adventure and inspiration to be found — I just have to remember to let it in. 

The rest feels insignificant. It all culminated like I hoped it would. I thought I would cry my eyes out, and then some (Ed. Note: That did come, days later) but instead, I basically danced around and did whatever I wanted to do. I felt free. And in a life of debt, and obligation, and responsibility, and loss . . .

I found freedom in a cabin two hours north of biggest metropolis in the United States, dancing around in my sweatpants like a teenager. 

Sigh. I’m gonna make it after all.