Letter to my Younger Self
Apr 30, 2019
Letter to my younger self :
You love to read. As soon as you get home from school, you climb a tree and sit high above the house, reading until they call you in for tea. In the winter you sit on the windowsill with the radiator burning your legs, reading, reading, reading. You know this, of course. Either family life is not very satisfactory, or the world in books is just – better; more wondrous, more dramatic, more engaging. Hungry for these other worlds, you consume books with both pleasure and a sense of achievement.
As yet, you don’t know you’re going to be a writer. No one you have ever met does that as a job. It hasn’t really occurred to you that it could be a job rather than some sort of holy privilege granted by irrepressible talent. But you have some things in your favour.
You love to listen. Sitting in the room while your mother talks with neighbours, you get a sense of their different worlds, their accents and phrases and peculiar obsessions – it fascinates you. When you move to different countries you listen with delight to the new patterns of speech. Welsh women’s voices rise and rise as if goading more and more sliding, musical sentences out of each other. New Zealand men are impressively concise. The lilts and inventive turns of phrase of girls in my class from a range of origins – Maori, Scots, Persian, Chinese – all tune your ear to the subtleties of speech, to the gorgeousness of language and its flexibility and range.
Throughout school and uni and after, you write a diary, and poems, and letters, long letters every week to friends. This practice of listening and reading and writing is preparing you. It keeps you aligned with a self who reflects, observes and analyses. Perhaps it provides a kind of safety valve; difficulties can be released onto the page, and you carry on, coping.
There will be a lot to cope with – if you knew how much, you might jump off the windowsill. But you don’t and you won’t. Instead you’ll keep on writing stories, crafting poems and dramas that explore something of your thinking, your emotional life, your unique point of view. Your stories will be published and broadcast to audiences of millions. From the radio transmitters, those creations will stream out into space, continuing their journey long after you are no more, and knowing that will amuse you. You’ll help hundreds of others to use and enjoy the facility of writing. You’ll enable the voices of others to be heard, especially those who need to be heard and have been quashed or silenced.
When your life is so full of duty and tasks and cruelty that you almost break, you will keep writing. When your partner and doctor suggest drugging you as a solution to the duty and misery and tasks, you refuse, knowing that you are not the problem. You have another life too, on the page, that provides strength and solace and a sense of self that might otherwise have been obliterated. Keep going, stay connected to yourself, and engage with the culture too, being part of creating it, always reading, always listening… Writing will keep you aligned with your self. It will keep you sane. It will feel worthwhile and juicy, and although it may be ignored or belittled, guard it. It saves you.