At the beginning of every year, I write myself a letter — intentions, sorrows, the state of things, ideas for tackling what’s been bugging me. Then I promptly lose it. Organization of items isn’t my strong suit, and has been on my list of self-improvement strategies for so long that eventually I realized I didn’t truly care. Because, look! I found one of these letters flung in with the holiday cards.
Funny, I didn’t even remember writing it six years ago. But there it was: Dear Future Laura, it started. I hope you are hanging out, rested, maybe dating, and laughing occasionally, which would be 100% more than you laugh now. Have you made a big change?
I sat on the couch to read. This was a long one. The gist of the next several pages was that I wanted A Big Slow. Not only an escape from the go-go-go-ness of my life — kids to soccer, books to publishers, myself to meetings, hurry! — but from the ruts of my mind and life and culture and even well-meaning friends and forces around me.
I wanted a way out of my own ego, that oh-so-human feeling that I could always be doing more, that I wanted to give my kids more than I had, that I should do great things well before I died. Not bad impulses, really.
And yet. Clearly, this good stuff was somehow not good. It was all at a pace that my nervous system could not jibe with, an earnestness that left me feeling exhausted, a loneliness that left me hollow. The fact that I had created it, or had allowed it to simmer for decades — fine. I was open to owning my culpability. The issue was What To Do About It Now.
Because, as I frankly wrote to myself: You. Are. Unhappy. My goal, I said to myself, was to resist overscheduling, even if it meant saying no to some friends, and to be mindful and careful of who and what I said yes to. For example, instead of a large set of acquaintances who pulled me this way and that with various requests for lunches or whatever, I wanted to focus on real and deep moments with a few dear friends.
As with many journal entries and letters — don’t we often journal at critical moments? — I seemed to be at wit’s end. I sounded very dramatic and ruined. I don’t want to be this hassled even for another week. My body can’t take it. I’m so tired, feel so badgered, and I never laugh. The future me, I told myself, would be more chill, less serious, and oddly, for someone who is maturing, less responsible. When I picture future you, Laura, you’ve cut loose. You’ve UN-grown up!
I finished reading the letter, looked around my house and wondered: How would I respond to that younger letter-writing me? I started to laugh. I did it, kid, I thought.
So much has changed. I am more rested, for darn sure. One luxury in life — and I wish everyone had this fundamental human right — is to sleep most days until I wake up naturally, usually still around 6:30, but no alarm or kiddo to do it. I refuse to put any workout, breakfast, job, appointment, or meeting above my body’s wisdom. Not a morning goes by that I’m not grateful.
That, of course, is made possible mainly because my kids grew up. And indeed, the whole parenting job has evolved greatly in the six short years since I wrote that letter. I went from driving them across town in rush hour for an hour of soccer (which still strikes me as absolutely insane, and yet it’s been normalized) to having them graduate college. I do not miss the constant cooking or laundry or school schedules. I do not even miss them, because they come over weekly for dinner and we all take walks and vacations together. We’ve evolved from parent and children to friends, and whooeee, friends is way better.
And romance and relationship. I met a man soon after writing that letter and we’ve been sweetly partnered since. After years of being happily single, punctuated by some wacko dates and a few short stints with some nice guys, I found a keeper, and it appears that our main pastimes involve calmness: walking, snuggling, conversing, and sitting around at microbreweries rating beer, for no good reason except that it is fun. We laugh a lot.
So, yes, I’ve pretty much arrived at where I had pointed myself those years ago.
I understand that things can change, and quickly, and dramatically, and sometimes terribly, so I do not take this for granted. But still I can feel it: I am having the time of my life. I made some mistakes by not doing it sooner, I think. I got married when I was 22, had dozens of jobs to pay for college, where I was as overachieving and straight-A as they come, and I was very serious and very committed to everything.
Now? I work hard at my full-time teaching job. I write novels. I clean my house. I pay my bills. I still have occasional stints of crushing over-obligation. But there is also far more room to maneuver. I have thrown more parties than I did as a teenager (which was admittedly zero), I stare at clouds. I say no to things. I sometimes say no to people. I glory in the way I move through time — my afternoons, especially, have taken on a meandering, serene quality with a calm, sweet rhythm. I start this new year feeling rested.
It’s such a simple thing to want, such a beautiful thing to experience. Rested.
I think I’ll sit down and write a letter to the future me, to be read whenever and wherever I find it. Dear Laura, I’ll start it. I hope everyone is healthy, I hope you’re giving your people and work and life your all. But I hope you’re as soft and melted and rested as you are now. There’s always room for improvement — stay humble — but the ship is pointed in the right direction. Well done, you.
Laura Pritchett is the author of five novels and winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the WILLA Award, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the High Plains Book Award, and several Colorado Book Awards. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. More at www.laurapritchett.com.
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