After my 7th birthday my mom asked me to write thank you letters for all my friends who had attended my soiree (and yes indeed it was a soiree because even as a young child I have always had a ‘vision’ for this special day). I begrudgingly agreed because well I didn’t really have a choice. If mama said write cards I was going to write the cards. Looking back on that experience I was really surprised how into it I got. Each card decorated with Lisa Frank stickers. Multicolored jaguar cubs and sparkly dolphins covered the envelopes. Inside the letters were just as spectacular. Each one constructed with thoughtful messages and pictures that I drew for each of my guests. I could hardly stand how excited I was to send these cards. Looking back at that moment I am now aware that this is when I fell in love with writing. Through letter writing.
Writing letters and sending cards has now become my space for reflection. A time when I can think more deeply about the impact a person or experience has had on me. At one point I felt a little selfish writing these cards. How could writing a letter to someone bring me such joy? Isn’t the point to have someone else feel good? I lick the seal of the envelope closed with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment. I feel oddly light. My body fills with excitement as I put the postage stamp in the right hand corner (of course choosing from a vast array of stamps in my collection- each one matching the mood of the letter). Each letter personalized. The nearly 50 somewhat letters I wrote when leaving graduate school in the spring left me with a deeper sense of connection. A more profound understanding of what those two years had meant to me.
Now I would like to reconnect with the medium that kindled my love for writing. Letters. When Amanda reached out to me to be a guest blogger for A Stronger Version of Her I was enthralled. I was excited to share space with a community of women wanting to better the world and themselves. I didn’t know exactly what to write about but I knew that I wanted to chat in the most authentic way I knew how- in letters. So throughout the month of April I will be writing love letters. To you. To my community. To the world. To myself.
I hope you enjoy these letters because they are my way of sharing a bit of my soul with you. My first letter is titled: Dear Friend, You Are Allowed to Listen to Yourself.
I’ve been trying to figure out how I got here. To the healthy and completely unnatural state of listening to my gut. It’s still such a complicated and abstract idea. A concept that is counter to how I was taught, and possible how you were taught, to navigate the world. Follow the rules. Radiate with perfection. Make everyone happy. I’m beginning to realize that these were just coping mechanisms. Masks. And how beautiful those masks were. This fragile mask handmade from paper mâché and tears protected me—not a good combination as you can imagine. But it allowed me to protect the beauty and pain that lie behind this façade. But eventually this mask got stuffy and I needed a chance to breath. Then one day I learned that I could move throughout the world without a mask. A professor of mine told me about this other, yet again imaginary, thing to help guide me. An internal compass.
When I heard this I imagined an old timey navigation device inside my stomach— my emotional center. Brass with intricate gears- kind of like Lyra’s from the Golden Compass. O and like her I didn’t know what an adventure I was in for when I picked it up. It took me a while to figure out how to listen and use this device. And at times it felt more like a ticking time bomb. But like Lyra, learning to use this compass was, and still is, an evolutionary process.
But to be honest I don’t think I wanted to engage in figuring out this device. I didn’t want to listen or know. The mask was familiar— comfortable. Which is weird because I couldn’t actually breath and the pressure of it was making me dizzy. But in taking off the mask I began to realize that I had to unpeel lots of layers of leftover paper and glue that had been thickly painted on for years. O and what a sticky process that has been. I’ve been knee high in left over paper and glue for years without even realizing it. It wasn’t a mask it was a paper mâché head caste. But this unmasking is a slow and gradual process. With every layer peeled back I can breath more deeply, profoundly.
I think I’ve made it clear how messy this process is but for me it also came at a cost. You may drift from people you thought would be in your life forever. You may end up in a location you never expected. You may find love and lose love within the same breath. You may learn that sadness and happiness are two sides of the same coin. In pursuits of this journey you may find that the people and circumstances around you change. Even more jolting, that you have changed. But this is solely my experience and I imagine this process may be different for you. I want to share this poem I read that helped me conceptualize this complex and intricate gadget.
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you--just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.”
― Shel Silverstein
Now I would like to tell you something that took me too long to accept—You are allowed to listen to that voice. Repeat and bold for clarification. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LISTEN TO THAT VOICE. I hope you know this. And how beautiful is that. It’s never too late. You’re never too old. Your circumstances are not too far removed from the life you want to live. Obviously this is a privileges statement and there are real obstacles. But you have me, you have community, you have yourself. Obviously I don’t need to give you permission to trust your internal voice but maybe you need to do this for yourself. Maybe this is how we find a stronger version of ourselves.
Paige is a currently living in Xela Guatemala as a year-long volunteer in an after school program. She has a B.A. in Psychology and Education and a Masters in Social Work. She enjoys learning more about herself and others. In her free time she enjoys salsa dancing, writing, learning Spanish and being outside. Throughout the month of April, Paige will be sharing other letters here! She began her own blog when she moved to Guatemala and she would love to share it with you.