‘Dear Me’: A Novelist Writes to Her Future Self

Ann Napolitano in The New York Times:

If there’s a fire, my husband and I know the plan: Grab the children and the red accordion file in the hall closet before fleeing the building. The file contains mostly what you would expect: passports, birth records, Social Security cards and my husband’s certificate of United States citizenship. Also included — more unusual but equally valuable — are the four letters I’ve written to myself over the course of my life. Three have been opened and read; one remains sealed. I wrote the first letter when I was 14, and I stole the idea from a novel. I was alone in my bedroom reading “Emily of New Moon,” a series by L. M. Montgomery, who also wrote the more famous series “Anne of Green Gables.” There are three Emily books, and although I loved Anne, I related more to Emily. Anne is a spunky extrovert, whereas Emily is more withdrawn, more serious. I was a serious, bookish child. I could, in fact, trace my childhood via the female literary characters I loved: Trixie Belden to Betsy and Tacy, Emily of New Moon to Morgaine in “The Mists of Avalon,” all the women in Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.”

I was 14, and Emily’s bone-deep loneliness resonated with me. When I read the section in the second novel where Emily writes a letter to her future self, I put down the book and did the same thing. It was an impulse; the idea of the letter delighted me. It was a grand gesture, yet of the kind an introverted kid could make alone, with no one noticing. I described the current state of my life and listed my hopes and dreams for myself 10 years later. When I finished writing, I sealed the letter, and from that moment forward, fought the desire to break the seal. I can still remember how hard it was to keep from opening the envelope at the age of 16, and 18 and 20. Talk about delayed gratification! A decade — during that stage of life — was an eternity. I wonder, now, what I was hoping to find in those pages. A truth about myself that, if learned, would allow me to be happy? An answer to the question of who I was, and whether I mattered?

More here.