My answer—hackneyed but genuine—was that I would tell my 20something self to write what was true, what I really believed (or believed in) without paying heed to market or popular opinion or trends.
But even as I said it, I was thinking: “Never mind the young writer, what would I say to the young woman?”
I don’t look back on my 20s and early 30s, ruing the fact that I didn’t publish. In fact, it would never occur to me to construct my personal history as one of a writer. Writing is something I do, a career I love, and a field in which I’ve been outrageously lucky. But it’s not who I am.
I am, I was, a flawed human being—a daughter, a mother and a wife.
At age 21 (a quarter century ago) I had just given birth to an infant I wore in a sling on my body, confident that I could control and make perfect everything in his world. I was married to a man who drank and smoked and spent money heedlessly before our wedding; yet somehow, I believed the ring on his finger would magically—poof!—turn him into a sober, frugal, “provider” kind of guy.
What would I say to that arrogant little flower child if I could call her up through time?
YOU’RE NOT SO POWERFUL – Maybe 12% of life’s factors are within your control. Do your best and learn to deal graciously with the surprises and disappointments. Don’t take them personally, because they aren’t about you. In a universal sense, each of us is an unimaginably tiny speck.
BE KIND – You have choices in everything you do. And being kind is almost always the right way to go. Even if your husband drank up the rent money, you don’t have the right to be a bitch. There are a thousand different ways to respond. Take a breath and choose carefully.
SLOW DOWN – Just in general. You’ll make half as many mistakes and get twice as much out of life. You think you’re accomplishing more because you’re rushing around madly and forcing things, but that’s all an illusion. Really, all you’re doing is raising dust and making noise.
I doubt my 21-year-old self would have listened. And from where I sit now, looking back at 46, I feel both frustration and affection. Damn, she tried hard.
What would you say to your younger self if I could fold back time and give you the chance?