A Letter to the Present

Dear 25-year-old self,

It’s the year 2023. I write to you from the future. I guess you’ve figured that out.

I’m you at 35 years old. Hey, you’re still alive. I don’t know why that’s always your first question—you sometimes wonder if you’re a bit of a hypochondriac, but then you wonder if labeling yourself as a hypochondriac makes you not one (like how self-identifying as crazy makes one sane enough to not be crazy) or if diagnosing yourself as a hypochondriac is just one of the deliciously “meta” coincidences of life.

Anyway, hi, you’re alive and well.

What does being a middle-aged person feel like?

First of all, I’m not middle-aged, thank you very much. I’m only 35 for cripes sake. I’ve just had my first child—you know me… er, you... us?—always waiting ‘til the last minute. I know you really, really wanted twins, but she’s only one, healthy, baby girl. Taking care of her sure does feel like taking care of more than one baby, though. If she doesn’t need feeding, she needs changing or burping or bathing or just want to cry for no visibly curable reason.

I’m taking a little time off of work right now. Before you jump at my throat with your loaded gun of a feminist speech rant, I literally just had our baby three weeks ago. Give me a break. I’ll be back to work in no time. I love our baby, but you and I both know that we can’t dedicate our whole entire selves to one thing/person/job we love.

I know you’re dying to know what our job is now, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourself in a couple of years.  Or a few years. Or a year. That’s a secret.

What I can tell you is that you love, love, love your job right now. You searched all your late-young-adult life for the perfect dream job. You lived passionately and searched desperately and wondered what you were doing wrong to have never found Mr. Right Job.

And then you stopped worrying about it. You let life happen. You appreciated all the things you did have, like a loving S.O., a healthy and happy family, two funny, smart, independent sisters, and travel opportunities of a lifetime to name a few. Right now, your‘right now’, in the year November of 2013, you’re worrying about your next step in life. You’re worrying so much about that next step in front of you when you’ve got at least ten more to get to where I am here in 2023.  Those steps will come, my dear, don’t you worry about that. Life is not a ladder that you climb and climb with all your strength, it’s a moving escalator. You can enjoy the ride or you can race to the top, but trust me, the future—my present—will come whether you want it to or not.

OK, so I won’t tell you what I do, but I can tell you a bit about our life now. As I write to you, I'm at home in front of computer on a small desk in a modest study room. Yes, you have a study room. And now you’re thinking of the little extra room that you have in your apartment in Japan. That was a cute study room, too, but you never used that desk to write despite how inviting the room is for contemplative, undisturbed writing. This study room, the room I’m in now, is used to its fullest potential.

As I look around me, I see several shelves stocked with new and old books, most of you’ve read, but many you haven’t gotten around to yet. There’s a huge collection of picture books in one corner, a few editorial-type books, plenty of self-help books (all of which you’ve skimmed and put down before finishing completely), two shelved (!!!) of memoirs. The rest of the shelves that line the wall are stocked with fiction novels. You bought all your favorite books that you had first read on your Kindle or borrowed from the library or bought once upon a time and lost in the shuffle of moving from country to country.

The wall to the left of me is covered with photographs from your travels, including the same pictures that are on your wall right now from your first Asia tour. Among other photos, there’s one of you in front of the Pyramids, a picture of you and Brian on a train in Europe with yours backpacks, and a picture of you in a jungle smiling with a tropical bird sitting on your head (I won’t tell you which jungle you’re in because the story of how you ended up there is better experienced than heard and is so serendipitous that you wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway).

In front of you is a large window overlooking a green park. It’s nighttime now. The cloudless sky and bright moon illuminates the blue-blackness of the cityscape, making the view look clear as day.

On your desk is three notebooks (you still haven’t gotten over your squirrel-like obsession of hoarding notebooks)--two small ones and one medium sized one—a Spanish grammar textbook and Spanish to English dictionary, a novel in Tagalog, a framed picture of your parents from the time that you went to Kauai together, a drawing done for you by one of your students, a thank you letter from another student, two curt rejection letters from two publishing companies, a polite rejection letter from the New York Times, and a royalty paycheck that you have just taken a picture of with your smartphone to deposit into your bank account (can you believe people still use checks nowadays?).

It’s November, but it’s warm where I live, so I’m wearing the jinbei you bought in Japan in 2014.

What else can I tell you? I’m infinitely happy right now. We’re financially stable, not rich, but stable. You’ve run 19 marathons (the last one being at least 10 months ago… you’ve kept in shape as best you can  though, and Marathon #20 (Greece!) is coming up). You attempted two ultramarathons. I won’t tell you the results of either, but I will tell you that I don’t regret entering each of those ultras. You write a lot—several hours in a day sometimes. The writing life is not as romantic or even prolific as you imagined, but you slug through the pain of exhaustion, rejection, writer’s block, criticism, and self-loathing like a champ, if I may say so myself. You’re lucky to have the support of your entire family, your friends, and your husband, who have all been wanting you to write for longer than you’ve wanted to write.

I guess this is where I'm supposed to close with some 35 years aged words of wisdom: Don't be afraid of change. Experience and endure failure--in fact, you've failed epically a few times by then (your now), and you lived to tell the tale right? You haven't seen the end of your road of failure yet, and I hope you never do. I know that sounds harsh, but if you're not failing enough, that means you've stopped attempting new and challenging things. If you're not failing enough, it means you've gotten comfortable or you're afraid. Stop being afraid. Don't compare the new with the old. Take control of your emotions and choose to be happy. Let go of inhibitions and be yourself, even when your true self seems strange and foreign to others around you. You are strange and foreign to others around you. Don't be lazy. Don't Be Lazy. I'll say it again--DON'T be lazy. Take care of your body. You're independent, proud of it, and good at it, but start taking care of others. Go out of your way for students. Be there for your sisters. Be helpful to strangers. Follow through with your commitments. When a deadline is approaching, honor the deadline, not your perfectionism. Leave good enough as is. Stop and reflect on the road you've traveled. Never stop writing. Never Stop Writing. NEVER stop writing. No matter what.

Enjoy your travels.