The Love Letter
Today has been a day full of attention deficit; I can’t hold my mind still long enough to complete any one task. The art I started lays dormant, not having enough creative juice to carry it from the initial sketch to a recognizable form.
Phone calls I made are un-returned, and I want to leave my studio for the day, but since there’s nothing waiting for me on the other end, I stay. I have successfully wrapped up a few odd, loose ends, which felt good - but ultimately, this will be one of those forgotten days wherein nothing of particular use or value occurred. Although, perhaps by writing this, it will shift the purpose of the day.
I spent most of today reading though old writings; thoughts and words carefully arranged on the page to illicit a response or some clarity. I was enchanted by these words of my younger selves; a creature full of paradox - beneath a suffocating blanket so full of sadness, rays of hope filtering in through the threads. She was a survivor, alright. She taught herself the secrets of humanity through simple observations. She reinvented herself, she shrank and then she grew.
It occurs to me that by wasting the day, I am not using my time here on earth wisely. I have been given the gift of presence, and yet, am not fully present currently, in my own life. I listen with rapt attention as strangers weave their stories, while my own stories tug at my sleeves and I tell them, “later, darling. I’ll listen to you later.” And so, they have stopped tugging.
I’m doing the workbook in the The Artist’s Way series with an artist friend of mine. There’s a sort of comfort in having a friend accompany me on the path I’ve walked alone so many times. This is not the first time I’ve engaged in the weekly tasks, but this is the first time I’ve done so with a partner. We offer each other encouragement and advice when needed, and a friendly nudge to keep going when the tasks are daunting and uninteresting. I like having a traveling companion; it makes the terrain so much more interesting.
If you don’t know what The Artist’s Way is, briefly, I'll explain. It’s a daily practice of journaling (first thing in the morning), a weekly walk (to clear your mind), a weekly artist’s date (to fill your creative well), and finally, a handful of tasks, so to speak, that change every week. And there is a small amount of reading. Lovely reading. Questions to answer, excursions to take. The tasks are all pretty simple, and they don’t take a lot of time. The insights gathered are valuable, and since I have learned to recognize their value, I engage with them as fully as I can.
It’s interesting that knowing the benefit, there are still some tasks which tasks I avoid. I'm interested in finding out why I avoid them. I feel that I can learn as much from that which I avoid as that which I engage with - if, and only if, I am willing to look.
The task I am avoiding right now is writing a love letter to myself. My friend read me hers, and its simplicity and beauty struck me. It was as if her inner 5 year old piped up in defense to tell her older self simply that she is fun and nice. I liked that.
I address myself in my proper name, “Dear Elizabeth,” the letter opens. And then, crickets.
I stare at that empty page for a good long while before I pull out another blank page, full of earnest intent.
“My dearest Elizabeth,” it begins.
Why is it so hard to write a love letter to oneself? It occurs to me that I have not written a love letter to anyone in far too long. If I wrote one to my boyfriend now, he might think it sweet, but a little strange. No, I have little practice in this art. Which, given that I am a self proclaimed incurable romantic, I am surprised that I cannot write a word.
I begin on yet another blank sheet of paper. I worry about the trees I’m wasting, but begin again.
“My dearest Elizabeth Rose,” it reads.
Something about using my middle name perks up my own interest. What a beautiful name, I think. My parents really did something nice for me by naming me that. My middle name is after my Grandmother, who recently passed away. And then I am sad and filled with regret - why didn’t I go out to visit her at least once in my adult life? I traveled to South America three times, I could’ve flown to see her once, but I did not.
My thoughts are swirling in a million directions, and I don’t write any further. I did mention this was my own personal day of attention deficit, right?
Here’s the thing, though. I am stubborn and determined. I wholeheartedly want to complete all of the tasks assigned to me by the book, just to simply say that I was disciplined enough to do it.
That does it. I actually begin to write.
It reads more like a self help seminar, my own personal motivational speaker, than a love letter. But I suppose it’s better than nothing.
In it, I am reminded of my own strength, my ability to survive, and at times thrive, in spite of great obstacles. I read words that I have used in recent conversations to friends and loved ones, this time re-framed and pointed directly at myself - reminding us all of our own talents and abilities.
In this time, something remarkable happens. I stop taking myself for granted. Let me repeat. For one precious moment, I stop taking myself for granted.
I am fully present with myself - who I imagine myself to be, who I portray, how I see others, how they (perhaps) see me, and how my actions are different from all of that.
I realize that yes, there is still a great distance to travel and a great many marvels to discover and uncover, but I see how far I’ve come. I see how picking myself up and dusting myself off time and time again has paid off in great dividends in my personal story and creative evolution. I recognize and marvel at the wonder of my heart, at the center of my being, plugging away, pumping the life giving blood through my veins. And I realize, for the first time in, well, maybe ever, the marvel of simply being alive.
What better love letter than standing in full recognition of the miracle that is existence? This isn’t about me, or what I’ve done, or who I am or think I am. No. This is about the miracle of life, and that after all these years, after all the heartache and the sorrow and the love and the laughter and the hopes and the dreams - after it and in spite of it, I’m still standing here. Breathing. Heart beating proudly in my chest.
Wow. I am alive.
And so are you.
PS: If you are reading this, may I suggest that you write yourself a love letter. Notice what comes up, and what that might be teaching you. It’s a marvelous exercise.