Letters From The Past
This post began when I got a letter from 12 years ago in the mail last week. I should have gotten it eight years ago, but things got a little lost along the way. But then, found.
I received this message on Facebook the first week of June.
This is your freshman English teacher from BGHS... I just found your letter that you wrote to yourself to be opened your senior year. I'd love to send it to you if you would send me your snail mail.
I answered immediately with an emphatic YES. You see, this English teacher was great. She gave me my first copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, which I still have on my bookshelf to this day. She served as one of my teacher recommendations on my college application, because after switching high schools three times, she was the only one I had kept up with and she understood where I hoped to go with my life. And she also had this fabulous assignment: spend a class period during the final weeks of your freshman year of high school writing a letter to be sent to your graduating self during your senior year of high school.
The only problem was that in all my movings throughout the years, my home address on the envelope was no longer accurate. But through the glory of social media, she and I found each other as Facebook friends, and now, this written letter passed its way through the postal service and through time to my home in Oberlin.
I won't bore you with every word from my seven-page handwritten (wow, handwritten) letter on lined looseleaf notebook paper, though I will be sharing some observations about myself AND answer many of the questions I very specifically (rather than rhetorically — which, by the way, I asked a lot of and yes, I did already know what rhetorical meant) asked myself in the final three pages of the letter.
Some themes that came up in this letter that still come up today, which I'm going to write back to myself in a similar reflection as I projected in my letter:
Every year changes your life. (Actual quote from my letter: "Freshman year was the year that changed your life. You became a new person.") If you'd written this same letter every year since your freshman year of high school, you probably would have written that same sentence. Probably means you're doing something right!
You ask a lot of questions. No one is surprised by this, definitely you. Keep on asking them.
You're a community organizer and trendsetter. (Especially when it comes to food.) You convinced many of your friends to start bringing their lunches during your first year. (I still do this now. I started making jar salads for lunch, tweeting photos of it with the hashtag I helped create for food-related conversations — #foodhat!! — and a small group of friends have started doing the same now, too.)
You're a good writer. You can tell a good story and you even use pictures to help strengthen your words (I drew a picture of my lunch table to talk about the friends I'd made that year). You're even pretty decent at organizing your thoughts, which is actually more amazing then than now because when you handwrite stuff, you have to think in a more organized way. (Totally not like this blog post; I started thinking about another section just now, popped down and wrote it, then came back up here to continue this thought.) You're still making silly typos, though: forgetting letters in the middle of basic words, like "brining" instead of "bringing" — you know, your typical brain moving faster than hands syndrome.
Your people come and go. Sigh. You wish this weren't the case, but it is, especially when you're the one who was on the move for most of it. All the people you mentioned in your letter have fallen away into their own lives, ones that pop up every so often on Facebook in the form of photographs or likes on your life changes. This is still the case, and that's okay. Because...
You're resilient. You had no idea how much more shifting would happen during the rest of high school when you wrote this, but this letter indicated that you had a strong foundation and that you could do anything.
You're creative. First of all, you embellished your name on the outside of the letter beautifully! You also totally forgot about this until reading this letter, but turns out that you starred in one of your first movies in this English class, and also started rewriting Shakespeare as if you were a member of Monty Python.
Look at me trying to be all fancy!
You're kind. Your stories and your questions to yourself in this letter show a consideration toward the people around you and compassion toward those who help you.
Awww. You thought that was sappy? We haven't even gotten to the best part of the letter yet.
I asked my future self some great questions. You want to know what 14-year-old me was thinking, don't you?! YOU DO I KNOW YOU DO (from the moment I knew this letter was headed to me, I did, and let me tell you, you're invited to laugh along with me because I fell into fits of giggles at my dining room table reading this and my brother can vouch for this fact).
My terrible handwriting. Also that's three pages of questions, everyone.
- Did you make any new friends? You had friends that were freshmen and some upperclassmen, but did you branch out and meet anyone new?
Why yes, yes I did, past self. I went to two more high schools and college after that and I met basically all the people of all years and it was super great. Actually, I'm pretty sure my life wouldn't be as interesting and fun-filled if I hadn't met all kinds of people during many different of their academic (and now life) paths. My friends are great, y'all (I shared them in this post) and don't worry, I collected some tips on making some great ones yourselves!
- Did you end up taking the 10 AP classes and tests you were planning to do? You seemed on the right track as a freshman with APP English and planning to take APP Chemistry and English and AP US History your sophomore year, you seemed to know what you were doing.
Oooookay. So apparently your Ma'ayan was the same overachiever she is now. What really happened: between all the high schools I attended, I didn't even have 10 AP courses available to me. I ended up taking AP History, Biology, Statistics, and Chemistry, but that was it. What I did do ended up being more helpful in the long run: I took four college courses at the local community college once we moved to Hawaii, which was a great preparation for attending college AND because they were comparable courses from an accredited institution, those credits transferred smoothly.
- Did you continue with music? Or were flute lessons too much for you? Were you in any musicals or All-State Band? As a freshman, you weren't that bad, so you ought to be in the higher levels of music now.
Hmm. Well, I continued with flute lessons as long as we were living in Kentucky, but as soon as we moved, I couldn't figure out how to continue pursuing my musical interests without my teacher's support. I feel like I've entered an entirely new level of music, though, I have enough of a background in it that appreciating live music is an absolute thrill for me. I couldn't have chosen a better environment for that outlet, too. (Well... actually, don't forget that I can play the spoons. That's important.)
- Did you have any more killer birthday parties after your freshman year?
I was thrown a surprise party by my friends my freshman year of high school that was pretty ridiculous (bowling party, in which I had never bowled before!), the remainder of my high school birthdays were unmemorable, but I've had some wonderful celebrations with Oberlin friends and family, but nothing I would describe as killer. But I did become awesome at throwing birthday celebrations!
- Did you make it to State Academic Team any more? You didn't do that bad as a freshman (3rd at District in Language Arts, 7th at Regionals). Hope you got far!
Actually, I recall doing really well my sophomore year at my next high school, but then after we moved, there wasn't any academic team to do anymore. (Think quiz bowl but also with some written academic tests and creative challenges. It was the perfect thing for my trivia-filled mind and competitive streak.) I still join some trivia night groups here in Oberlin, but more importantly, I helped write the script for Oberlin Jeopardy, so that's something :)
- Did you grow from the time you were a freshman? At the end of 9th grade, you were four feet ten inches, 100 pounds. Are you as tall as your mom yet? Did Ben pass you up long ago, or is he still barely an inch below you and scrawny?
My brain grew, my height did not, my weight did, then didn't. I'm a comfy 4'10", 111 pounds, not as tall as my 5'1" mom, and my brother passed me in height before he turned 14 himself. Good going, lil Ma'ayan.
- What does your handwriting look like now? Is it as bad as this letter? Better or worse than David's (lol)?
David was one of my best friends my freshman year, and he had very neat and tiny handwriting. I... did not and still do not. And my handwriting has not gotten better, and actually might have gotten a little worse since then since I type a lot more than I handwrite at this point. No matter.
- Were you accepted to Oberlin? Your dream college? Or are you at Pratt or Rhode Island School of Design? Or are you not even interested in fashion anymore?
This is my absolute favorite part of my letter for two reasons: I have no idea what possessed me to want to be a fashion designer at the age of 14 (getting dressed is really hard for me, okay?) AND YEAH MA'AYAN, YOU WERE ACCEPTED TO OBERLIN. (This was the point in reading the letter for the first time that I started yell-reading parts of it out loud to my brother.) I was accepted to Oberlin, my dream school, and yes, it was amazing. I'm so glad past Ma'ayan knew that, wrote it down for future Ma'ayan to read, and that my English teacher not only helped me get to this point, but enabled basically everything you're reading right now. Mrs. Scott, you totally rock.
- Were you kissed before you turned 16? Enough said.
Enough said indeed.
- Are you still in touch with old school and camp friends?
Eep. Not so much, lil me. I was great at it until sometime in college, with much help from the internet, but so many of us changed and moved and started doing our own things since then that we've drifted. It's okay. People change, and I did too. We'd probably still like each other and be friends if we saw each other now... which leads me to this great sidebar of a story: in February, while hanging out at BriteWinter Fest in Cleveland, I spotted someone across the room as he beelined toward me with a look of fervor in his eyes and we simultaneously said each other's names, the name of the camp we attended some ten years before in a completely different state, and then spent the next hour catching up. So, while I'm not in touch, I probably should be. Consider this a personal goal that's been upgraded to now-life.
- Do you still like punk rock?
Ohhhhh lil me you're hilarious. Punk rock is still awesome but I don't know when I last listened to it! Time to start making a throwback Spotify playlist!
- Are you valedictorian (sic) of your class?
Yes I was! I even slammed my valdictory speech and someone in the audience told me I would be the next Dr. Seuss and I thought it was a grand compliment! (I also took a photograph of the audience from the stage, which I then repeated at my college graduation.)
I would be remiss to not share my last words of my letter to myself, and to the rest of you all:
Was high school a success? Do you think it was a success? Your freshman year was definitely a success, any way you look at it. Hope the rest of your high school career was a blast, and you enjoyed every minute of the four years.
You know, I'm glad high school is behind me and I don't have to go back there again (I'm sure many of you have or will soon feel this way too), but to look back at what I hoped for and what I did in fact achieve: cool. I knew myself (or at least the start of myself), I knew I would grow, and I knew I would continue to explore. And for that, yes, I would deem high school, at all of my campuses, to be a great success.
To those of you out there about to enter your final year of high school, or on the verge of starting your first year of college: I highly recommend this written (really written, not just typed) exercise. Write yourself a list of experiences and goals, and revisit it in a few years down the road. As I wrote in my post script: "Save this letter for your kids!!" but really, this letter was a great way to look back — and forward — to the Ma'ayan I was and the Ma'ayan I wish to become.