To: Mme L.F. Indulgent-Scalawags
From: Miss Lily Fields
Woods by the Lake, Northeastern Ohio
Dear Mme Indulgent-Scalawags,
I received your letter last week when I visited my mother in The Village. I just moved into my own apartment in the Woods by the Lake, a cute little place which is all mine to decorate however I want to. Here! Here is photo of me in front of the lavender cupboards.
With my job, my broadcasting studies, my new boyfriend, and the musical I’ll be closing in a few weeks, I am quite busy, but I will try to make some time to write.
Aren’t all those similarities between us interesting! Just to add to them, I see that you live in France. I used to live in France, in Montpellier. I lived there for a year. Quel charmant pays!
I must comment on something: you have an intriguing surname. I am curious as to the origin of the name “Indulgent.” It’s not a name I’ve ever heard before. “Scalawags” is unusual, but as often happened at Ellis Island, it was probably shortened to something else more familiar. I’m thinking of Boz Scaggs, for example, with whom, due to your age, I’m sure you are familiar.
In any case, as for the detail of your letter: Thank you for your kind wishes regarding my career. I have, thus far, enjoyed being a big fish in a little pond, but the more I put myself out there, the more success I seem to have. I start with a new voice teacher next week who has been instrumental in the careers of several recording artists I admire. He thinks I have what it takes. This will be the next big step to getting into that bigger pond that you never got to swim in.
I feel rather uncomfortably singled out by your paragraph about the gift of gab. My grandmother, Gigi, whose single greatest literary reference was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, taught me that I should always talk about what is of interest other people and make them feel important. What struck me in your letter was that perhaps what Gigi wanted was for us to talk about her interests and make her feel important. It’s true that I tend to flatter profusely. But I do it to make other people feel good. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I’m sorry that you don’t feel legitimate, but, I hate to say it: Maybe you aren’t. I mean, you are writing to random strangers on the other side of the world.
In any case, I must sign off here. Off to rehearsals and then a date!
Mrs. Indulgent-Scalawags Responds
To: Miss Lily Fields
Woods of the Lake, Northeastern Ohio
From: Mme L.F. Indulgent-Scalawags
Thank you so much for getting back to me so promptly. I don’t want to waste too much of your precious time, so I am just going to throw something out there for you to consider.
What if that young man you played opposite in the show you just closed… what if he went on to be a star of stage and screen, to be nominated for a Tony Award, replace Jonathan Groff as King George and be an all round amazing human being, too? How would you feel about that? Would you be able to, in the secret of your heart, be happy for him, or would you harbor resentment for the next fifteen years because he had what it takes, both natural talent and grit, to be a star and you didn’t?
I only ask because that happened to me, and honestly, I carried the disappointment for more than a decade and it really rotted my soul.
Or what if your voice teacher, the one who coached one of the singers you idolize, asks you about your time in France as a side conversation and then tries to correct your pronunciation of the name of the city you lived in? What if he tells you that someone who lived in France should know better? It would be a stupid thing to get mad over, wouldn’t it?
What if he told you “If you can’t take that kind of critique, you’ll never make it in this business.” Is your pride so great that you would never go back to him, over one stupid little side conversation about the pronunciation of Montpellier, which you said with the local regional accent and he said with the standard French pronunciation?
Or your next voice teacher, who coached several big names who went on to Broadway careers, too. What if he gave you opportunities to perform and you made significant progress. But you didn’t work hard enough and you knew it. When he called you on it, would your pride get hurt?
I think it would take you decades to stop blaming everyone but yourself for your pride getting in the way of what you thought you always wanted.
I know that when I did make one last-ditch effort at a career, performing in an opera competition, and I was told I needed to “work more,” I said, “forget this.” And decided I would never sing again.
Don’t let your pride get in the way of your dreams, Lily. Don’t let your pride, whether about insignificant things, or even less, honest critiques dictate who you are willing to work with and how hard you are willing to work. Lily, listen to me: Natural talent will only get you so far.
Hard work always pays off. You will never get anywhere if you don’t take that warning seriously.
I hope I haven’t offended you by speaking so frankly. But Lily, you are young still. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.
Mme. L.F. Indulgent-Scalawags
PS: Since you asked, Indulgent is my husband’s name, Scalawags is the family name we chose when our children were born. My husband has always been open-minded and feminist on the topic of family names. But I happen to like the name Indulgent. It describes him perfectly.
PPS: That new boyfriend of yours is going to move to Bolivia in a few weeks and you will never hear from him again. Seriously, stop writing poems for him. He’s not worth it. With the time you save writing sappy love poems you could practice your vocalises.
This article is part of a series called Letters to Twenty Year-Old Me
Part One: Dear Miss Fields
Part Two: Miss Fields Writes Back (You are here)