Sunday, September 20, 2009

Letters to myself

I've kept a diary since I was 9 years old. I've always called it a 'diary', but like the rest of my writing my diary-keeping has been neither prolific nor regular. The result is a somewhat erratic record of my life from 1989 to present, culminating in this handy 14 volume set (pictured right).

But more memorable (and easier to heft) are my letters to myself. When I was 12 years old, I wrote a letter to my future 18-year-old self, sealed it, and tucked it away in my 1992 diary. I remembered this first letter every now and then over the next 6 years, but didn't open it until I was 18. The act of writing the letter wasn't an original idea on my part - I ripped off the idea from L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon (in fact, I plagiarise Emily twice quite shamelessly in my letter, which readers familiar with the Emily books will have to excuse). But I think the act of keeping the chain of 6-yearly letters going is mine.

This is my letter:

It reads:

"Dear Eighteen,

How is year twelve? Year seven is very easy. You'll have to excuse all these mistakes, the correction tape on the type writer has just run out on the last letter I wrote.

The end of term social was on last Wednesday, and Nilumi and I went as Yin and Yang. Are you still friends with her? Do you still want to be a vet?

I hope you're not laughing at me. Don't be all stuffy, be dramatic and romantic, I love those things.

This writing paper will have long run out by the time you get this. Do you still keep a diary? I am on my one with the cherubs kissing. It's quite small.

Pete has brought home a gym mat and a trampoline for me to do gymnastics on when I feel like it.

Do you still love Alice Anne? I hope you write a great book soon! Hey, do you have a car? A mazda 121? I doubt it. You probably have a beat old minor or something.

Do you have a boyfriend?

You had better still love reading. If you don't then I don't know you very well at all.

I give you a handful of moonshine, ten kisses and the soul of a leaf from a chinese tree, I hope you Haven't quite forgotten your foolish Old Self xxooo"

I love this letter. I love the blend of mundane fact (the expired correction tape, the new diary that is 'quite small'), floweriness and curiosity ('Do you have a boyfriend?' gets a line all to itself). I love my own assumptions that I'll be able to drive and that I'll be heterosexual. I love my own mixed ambition to be a vet who writes great books. I love that I am still friends with Nil, and that I sold Alice Anne (a porcelain doll) on eBay.

At 19, I wrote another letter to myself as a future 24-year-old:

It's a somewhat different letter, and no longer nicks phrases from other books. Actually, it does nick one, but I meant it as a reference - no, really I did. But the tone is the same - curious, passionately encouraging and unflinchingly sentimental and earnest. Before I wrote this blog I wasn't going to transcribe it, as the last time I read it a few years ago I thought it was still a little too close to home. But on reading it again, I've changed my mind (though a couple of paragraphs of it I'll omit to protect the innocent).

"Dear Twenty-Four,

My, how you've grown! I sit here, your nineteen-year-old self, propped up in bed on a soft warm night. The window is open, and breaths of cool air are rolling occasionally across my arms. It's the right sort of time to address the future.

There are so many questions. By my calculations, you must have finished your Arts/Science degrees last year - and now - ? Are you doing an honours year? Or have you launched into the wide world of work? I'm presuming you left UC [residential college] eventually, and have found yourself a flat. Do you live with someone? A boyfriend?

Are you still friends with dear Laura? And what about Nil and Mara? There's too many questions to ask.

Do you still keep a (rather erratic) diary? Do you still have a passion for children's literature and cappuccinos?

But most, most, most importantly - are you still getting closer to being that person you always dream of being? You'll get there, my dear, don't let yourself sink into ever thinking you won't. Your life is yours to play with. Your family love you, you've a brain in your head, you're not dying of cancer (yet - ha ha), and you can write well enough to get better and better. I just know you're going to learn and learn and learn until it lifts you beyond what you only dream you can do. Cling to that.

Do your remember you once told me you had decided to be an extraordinary person? Keep doing it. Sink your teeth into every opportunity and take on the whole bloody world, my girl. You're the luckiest woman I know. Think about it. This is the point of Babette [quote from Don Delillo's White Noise]. Things go right for you - always have.

Now look out the window, remember Emily of New Moon, and drag out the wild, dramatic poet in you. Take her for a run over the other side of the Hopkins, and keep working towards being that extraordinary person you want to be. Be romantic, never lose that to mere reality. Do what you've always been able to do - glory in small happinesses, and never forget me.

Because I am rather fond of you.

Smile for me, for the memory of

your affectionate,

Self xx"

I love this letter too, and it gives me the same mixed feelings of love, embarrassment and inspiration. I love that I still make assumptions, and that I'm still so ruthlessly supportive of my future self. I love that I am still friends with dear Laura, Nil and Mara. But most of all I love the fondness I feel, both as a 19-year-old looking forwards, and as a 29-year-old looking backwards at myself.

Tucked away in my 2006 diary is another envelope:

To Anna at Thirty-Two, From Anna at Twenty-Six. Plus cocktail stickers. It's still sealed, of course.

I've got no idea what I wrote in there. Every time I write one of these letters, I think I'll remember what I've written, and I never do. I guess 6 years is a long time.

But I can guess that when I'm 32 and I break it open, I'll smile, squirm with embarrassment, probably go a bit misty,

but still feel very affectionate towards my