Welcome back to Letters to Yesterday, a podcast of messages to the past. Here we read letters from our listeners to their past selves, sharing advice and guidance. Hopefully we’ll inspire each other. Thank you again to everyone who left us a review and everyone who’s listened so far.
Today’s letter comes from Catherine Lundoff. Catherine is an award-winning writer, editor and publisher from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her books include Silver Moon, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories and Unfinished Business: Tales of the Dark Fantastic. She is the editor of Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space), as well as several other anthologies, and a wide array of fiction in multiple genres. In addition, she is also the publisher at Queen of Swords Press, a small press specializing in fiction from out of this world. www.catherinelundoff.net
Dear Me That Was:
I am looking at a picture of you on your senior field trip, the one where you went with your class to take yearbook pictures outside Lincoln Center. You’re trying to look tough and bored, but really you look tired and tense. You’re leaning on the guy that you’re seeing in secret because high school is complicated and yours is a bit more complicated than a lot of others, for its time. It’s a group picture and most of your classmates aren’t looking at the camera. Some are watching each other or something beyond the photographer that I can’t remember now or just plain staring off into space. Most look the way you do, tired, bored and unhappy.
I remember why you felt that way. You’re a scholarship student at a high school where you are genteelly poor but most of your classmates have families much better off than yours, you’re under lots of pressure to keep your grades up, you’ve got an alcoholic parent waiting for you at home, you’ve got a secret not-quite boyfriend with his own baggage and you’ve got an all weekend/every weekend job as a cashier at a local supermarket. And, of course, you’re the yearbook editor and you’re trying to maintain your status as 3rd or 4th (depending on the day) in line for being valedictorian because that’s what you were told colleges would look for. It is a lot. And I’d tell that it won’t always be like this, but that would be a lie and as a rule, I don’t lie to anyone, and certainly not to you.
What it will be is training and conditioning for the years to come. You will find things that you love and that you love doing and you will learn to juggle what needs to be done with what you really want to do. You will learn to compartmentalize, to tune out and focus. A lot of this will be amazingly useful. Some of it, on the other hand, will be bad for you and you’ll spend years figuring out the difference. But you’ll do it. And that’s when the adventures will begin, all of them, including things you never imagined would happen. Not the you in this picture, anyway.
Wait, that’s not true. The adventures start long before then, it’s just that you won’t always recognize them as such. You’re going to go off to college in a different state and create a whole new you, one that goes from hippy to New Wave in two semesters. You’ll find your people, start playing D&D and discover science fiction and fantasy. You’re going to do everything from joining the Society for Creative Anachronism to doing performance art in St. Louis. Why? Because it’s the 1980s and it’s part of you trying out things that your friends like to do to see if you like them too.
Did I mention that you’ll have friends? Lots of friends, although it will take a while to be able to pick out the ones worth keeping. And lovers. You feel like no one is ever going to really love you now, but it’s not true. It isn’t even true for you right now, me in this picture, but sometimes, it’s hard to recognize that. Oh, and by the way, some of that unresolved emotional turmoil? You’re bisexual or queer or whatever you want to call it, but definitely not straight. Figuring that out is going to be messy and huge, but you’ll be a lot happier once you realize it’s a good thing.
And all the baggage that you carried through high school, all the coping skills and dependencies you developed to keep yourself going, all the while ignoring a lot of what you wanted and what you needed, will fall apart and you’ll need to rebuild them, modify them, change them so they work for you. That last year, that photo, that field trip? That’s part of you figuring some of it out. That’s you with your friends and the clothes you bought with your own job, your own money. That’s also you standing around with a bunch of other bored teens posing for a picture in front of one of the great cultural landmarks of New York City. You’re kind of a mess now, but you’ve got the building blocks for a future you’re going to want.
So the number one thing I want to tell you is: hang in there. It’s a total cliché, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Roll your eyes all you like. You’ll be doing that a lot anyway. Eventually, you’re going to find more people who get your sense of humor so you might as well start now. You’re not crazy, not really.
And the second thing is that you need to read. Read a bunch. The day will come when you’re going to sit down at a computer (yes, you. They get easier to use than the one that codes in binary that they’re trying to get you to learn right now.) and you’re going to write stories. You’re going to draw on all the things you’ve imagined and some of the things you’ve done and you’re going to make stories that people like to read. Some of them will even find those stories pretty life changing, but that will come later. Learn to get lost in your imagination now, the way you always have when home and school got to be too much to handle, when you needed a shield or an escape. Do that until it gets easier.
Finally, believe people when you don’t have a good reason to doubt them. Believe them when they tell you that you’re worth loving, that you write good stories, that you do some good in the world and that you should stick around. It’s hard to realize now, but those people care and they want your way forward to get easier. Try to let people in when you can. Follow the path through the woods, the one that goes through the wardrobe or under hill. Ride the eagle, fight the battles, learn the true names of things, ride with Eowyn. Above all, try to be honorable and brave when you can. Open the door and step forward…
Thank you to Les Hayden for the use of their song Ophelia. Thank you to everyone who has submitted wonderful letters. If you’d like to write a letter, we’d love to read it. You can submit letters to Letters To Yes, that’s Y E S at gmail. The letter should be between 1000 and 2000 words and can be on any topic. What did you need to hear a year ago? Ten years ago? You can also join on us facebook and twitter at letterstoyes. Letters to Yesterday is Produced by Leslie J. Anderson.
Stay safe out there.