A whispered note to my reader:
If it seems at times that I am laying it on a bit thick with Lily Fields, age 20, this is because I know how she thinks and I know that she first needs to feel important and admired before she will ever listen to anyone. She is much more comfortable talking than listening, so in this first letter I need to gain her confidence, much like the wildlife researcher does in the jungle.
We will be joining her in her natural habitat. If you find my methods too transparently manipulative, please know that tomorrow we’ll be getting to the heart of the matter, but for today, we need to tame the wild animal and get her to trust us.
To: Miss Lily Fields
The Village, Northeastern Ohio
From: Mme. L.F. Indulgent-Scalawags
Dear Miss Fields,
I hope this letter finds you well. Your name was given to me by a mutual friend, who suggested we might have a wealth of common interests.
I understand that you are an accomplished musician.
I, myself, have always loved to make music, and while I would never presume to call myself accomplished, and certainly not as talented as you are, I understand that we have performed some of the same roles and oratorio. I am in admiration that you have your whole life ahead of you to pursue this as a career.
At forty-three years old, I have come to accept that, while my dreams of a career on the Great White Way are nothing more the stardust now, I can find some semblance of satisfaction in having found where my voice and musical gifts can be useful and even bring consolation to those who are hurting. It’s not glamorous, but it is meaningful in its own, scaled down way.
But you…you have so much talent and so much charm! I hope that you will succeed. That cutthroat world of the entertainment business proved to be too much for my sensibilities. I’m sure with your self-confidence and vim you will go far.
The gift of gab
I also understand that you are a young woman of great wisdom with a gift for gab.
I admire this as well! Personally, I have a paralyzing fear of silence in a conversation, which I fill with, what we call in France, “âneries”…silly stories and long, poorly told anecdotes only tangentially related to the matter at hand. The problem with this tendency is that people have come to pigeonhole me as “flighty” and “shallow”, and thereby any good idea I want to express gets lost in the shuffle.
This has been an aggravation to me since I was your age. I actually got offended once when someone said about me, in my hearing “Wow. She has an impressive quantity of fairly decent ideas.” Why did I get offended, you ask? Because the person said it in an embarrassed, secretive way. As if, based on what they could see of me and knew about me, that this would be an unpopular opinion.
If they only knew: I had been shoving good ideas down for all my life, trying to leave space for everyone else to flourish. I was always afraid to take up real space (not that flighty, shallow space I so eagerly inhabited…) out of fear that I wasn’t legitimate. I genuinely believed I didn’t have the right to take up any serious, legitimate oxygen in the room. This only changed with a chance encounter at a birthday party when I was thirty-one.
I am certain that you have the perfect mix of adroitness and self-confidence for this not to be an issue for you. To be so poised at twenty, I can’t stress this enough, is an amazing gift.
I was pretty, like you, and it was easy to fall into the trap of, “Good girl. Now just sit here and look pretty.” Learning to speak up took a long time for me, because, although no one ever actually said it to me, I believed that my role was to look pretty, sing pretty and make pleasant conversation, always prioritizing other people’s interests over my own. I am sure that you balance this without a second thought, given what I hear about how wise you are for your age.
I say I was pretty, because, as you know, a woman is at her most beautiful when she is twenty. Her beauty erodes measurably every year after that. A twenty year old has the roundness of youth, plump, smooth skin, overachieving hair, and an even, perfect complexion that women like me, who must rely heavily on flattering camera angles and filters, admire.
I’ve heard you negotiate with brio that fine line between being pretty and being modest, so as not to be a “temptation” to men, yet still being in touch with what you like, what you want and how you want to feel. I would humbly ask for some advice on the subject, as this has been an area of struggle for me throughout my life.
Lastly, I understand that women your age are tremendous advocates for your health and your sexuality.
I admire this: At your age I struggled with my my self-worth in regards to my body, my desires and what I should do versus what I wanted to do. At your age, I buried thoughts about my own body and stalwartly ignored it until I was almost forty.
This put me behind in all kinds of projects, notably, founding a family. I am now forty-three years old, raising a four and five year old, when my best friend, whose birthday is eleven days after mine, is now sending hers off to college. “Oh, but they’ll keep you young!” some may say. Yes, well. For some reason that is not a great consolation when my youngest is riding me horseback pulling out handfuls of white hair from my mane.
Only now am I able to talk about what I like, what I want, what I expect. It took losing two babies to miscarriage to understand that in the end, my body and I are the ones who have the final say on decisions about my healthcare. It was only then that I began to advocate for my own health.
Miss Fields, I would very much like to strike up an epistolary conversation with you about these things. I feel I have so much I could learn from you.
Would this be something you would be willing to entertain?
With deep admiration,
Mme. L.F. Indulgent-Scalawags
This article is part of a series called Letters to Twenty Year-Old Me
Part One: Dear Miss Fields (You are here)
Part Two: Miss Fields Writes Back
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