Dear Self: Where Have You Been?

As the big 3-0 begins its approach, one of the things I have been grappling with is my yearly letter. Every year since my eighteenth birthday I have written myself a letter reflecting on the previous year and outlining goals/predictions for the following year. Each year, these letters are harder to write because as we get older, we get too practical even in our dreams. But despite their difficulty, these letters have become more meaningful to me with each passing year because I am not a daily diary kind of person; I enjoy re-reading these letters as a way to see how my perspective on life has changed.  In the past year or so I have felt tremendous anxiety over my own shifting priorities and principles and keep searching for the mission statement through which I will evaluate all of the really tough decisions that life seems to throw my way. I came across this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal titled  What They Don’t Tell You at Graduation – WSJ.com and the advice was so accurate, it was exhilarating. I was particularly drawn to the #3 on his top ten list:

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it (Wheelan 4).

I have been searching, probably my whole adult life, for the eloquence of his final two sentences. “Changing the world” can be filled with deleterious actions. This past decade, I haven’t done much of anything to change the world for the better, but I have actively tried to say no to the things that I know would add to its destruction. My proudest moment as a writer; however, occurred almost thirteen years ago when I was a senior in high school and I wrote several articles in our local newspaper about domestic violence in adolescent relationships, bullying, and homophobia in our school. As a teenager I tried to speak for those whose voice were mollified by the crowd. As an adult I know that the sublatern cannot speak, but I haven’t always been the advocate for social change that I had hoped I would be.  The thing is that as a student I wasn’t looking to erradiate domestic violence, or bullying, or homophobia on the grand scale, I was focused on making small changes within my specific school community. As an adult I have yet to feel so strongly rooted in any community that my voice could carry significant weight. I have had a rather nomadic adulthood, quite the contrast from my, in retrospect, seemingly bucolic childhood and adolescence spent in only one town. Sometimes I wonder if as an adult I haven’t really been saying no, but rather remaining inconspicuously neutral, when I could have said or written more. To be neutral, as Eli Wiesel notes, helps only the oppressor and never the oppressed. When I reassess my goals for the comming year, I am interested in the serenity of the things I can change and the words I can say. Writing is only of interest and importance, if we have something meaningful to say. This is my wish for the 30’s: to more consciously use my words to advocate for the principles I know in my heart to be true.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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