This week’s Poets & Writers‘ prompt:
Think back to yourself ten years ago–where you lived, what your preoccupations were, who your relationships were with, who you were. Write a letter in the form of a poem to yourself then from yourself now.
I had the most ridiculously hard time writing this thing. And even now, three days into it, I have nothing. Nix. Nil. Nada. Bupkis. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching another decade (40, here we come!) and ten years ago I was doing the same – but I just cannot seem to write this thing. Here’s what I started out with:
A Letter to Myself on the Eve of Turning 30
Twenty-nine defines you, I know. This year
Is made up of back road cornfields you wander,
completely at ease with being lost. There is no way
you can know what your thirties will bring:
a childless marriage, the push and pull nearly
ripping you in half; the coming graduation
and then another; a career you will dominate
and systematically deconstruct. Everything
is circular. Ten years from now, you will be
in nearly the exact same spot: wrestling with words,
at ease with being lost. The only difference
will be the lack of answers you think you have
Clearly, I stopped before going further. Then I came up with this:
I know you know where your life is headed:
Graduation and then a job, marriage and then
Children. You have it all worked out. Only,
That’s not exactly the way it will happen. Oh sure,
You’ll graduate and get a job. But it won’t be
That sweet tenure-track writing position
With the 2/2 load and lots of time to write. No, honey,
It’ll be six back-to-back classrooms full of eighth
Graders and a principal who will yell at you
In front of the entire middle school class
For chewing gum. She’ll have a strict
Gum-chewing policy. Don’t worry, you won’t stay
Long and you will, eventually, get that dreamy
university gig, which you’ll then (almost immediately)
Begin systematically deconstructing. Trust me,
You’re gonna love where you end up. And you will
get married, and even to Johnny, but you won’t
have children. I don’t want to say too much, some things
Have to be lived. But be gentle with yourself,
When the time comes, it’s no one’s fault, least of all,
Yours. And on the cusp of forty, you might wonder
If you wasted your thirties working on a plan that,
In the end, you didn’t really want after all.
When that time comes, remember everything
This was too talky and not crafted AT ALL. Plus, the tone shifts pretty dramatically. So, I started yet again. This time I decided I would try to go with the “Honey chile” tone:
Honey, I know you’ve got it all worked out.
On the cusp of thirty, you have all the answers:
Graduation’s not far off, you’re gonna get
That sweet tenure-track job with a 2/2 load
And have lots of time to write. You and Johnny
Are gonna get hitched and have a passel of babies
And maybe, you can’t be sure but you think maybe,
Your manuscript is gonna win the Pulitzer. I’m sorry
To tell you, it’s not about to happen that way.
Oh, you’ll graduate, don’t fret about that, but the job
You get will be
Yeah. Dropped that one mid-stream too. Mostly because the voice is completely inauthentic and not me at all. Which would be fine if this were a poem from an old southern grandmother to myself at thirty. But it’s not. So – two more false starts:
I know you’re almost thirty and have it all
Worked out. But I just want to say one thing:
Things may not turn out the way you planned.
You may find yourself, instead of the ivory tower,
In a cinderblock room teaching six back-to-back classes
Filled with eighth graders and answering
To a principal who will yell at you for chewing gum
(she’ll have a strict gum chewing policy). It’s true,
you may become a professor, one day, though you’ll likely
begin to systematically deconstruct that career
almost immediately. You’ll probably get married
You are a girl made up of back roads, wandering
Amidst rows of corn, completely at ease with being
Lost. Hold on to that. You’ll need it later, when lost
Becomes more than just knowing the road you’re on
The first tries speculating on the future (this will “probably” happen) which is pure crap because, obviously, I know what’s going to happen. The second starts to sound eerily like the lyrics to a country music song. Sadly, the version I finally stopped on reads like a Hallmark card:
Dear Me at Thirty,
Pay more attention to your friends,
you’ll miss them in years to come.
Write as much as you possibly can,
words will not always come this easily.
Don’t forget the way the wind moves
through the corn.
Be okay with chucking the plan,
it’s not really what you want anyway.
Buy a dog and hold on to her like she were
your savior. She will be.
Mom will have heart trouble some day,
don’t worry. She’s okay.
Remember the lesson you learned
the day Barney died.
Life is short. Laugh.
All the time.
Wow. This prompt was so much more difficult than I’d anticipated. In the end, I think I’ll scrap the whole project and try again as I near my 50th birthday. Maybe then I’ll have something worthwhile to say to myself. 🙂 Sometimes it happens like that, folks!
If you do this prompt and actually come up with something, I’d love to see it. Happy writing!