I’ve just seen someone talking about a website called My Future Self where you write to yourself privately and check back in later — either much later, or just a few months. The potential for encouraging, moving, sorrowful or grateful readings years later is all there, and it seized my imagination in the moment. What a novel idea, I thought.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
But then I remembered I’ve been writing myself a letter every single year for the past 16, 17, 18 years — I can’t remember how long, as I don’t always keep the letters. I do it once a year, and I always do it as I’m taking the Christmas tree down, filing the letter in a sealed envelope deep in the decorations box. Then, when it’s time for the decs to be put out once again, the letter is there, and I’m able to review where I was — and see where I am, in comparison.
Every single time I forget a letter’s going to be in there, then I laugh at my own surprise, and then I see it and I put off reading it because I’m a sombre little sod with a leaning to the saturnine, especially at the turning of the year when Christmas is over and I’ve a whole year yawning out before me. No-one reads this letter, and I wholeheartedly don’t want them to; I can’t bear the idea. It’s addressed to Moley, because that’s what Leigh calls me and it’s what I feel is most purely and entirely Me. And usually, in that moment, I’m feeling a bit small and mammalian with trouble seeing into the distance.
Moley’s usually a bit sad, and the letter’s always long and a bit rushed, because I write it between dusting and wrapping up decorations. I never thought I did journaling — I react to the word with the cynical lip-curl of a teenager who thinks All That Stuff Is Bollocks (which is a cringingly obvious sign I probably should be doing some of it) — but I realise this is what this is, albeit with entries a year apart.
What do learn when I read these letters?
Well, I learn that I love to moan it all out onto the paper. All the things I can’t say to anyone. I am very cross with myself, often. I definitely swear a lot and I stay angry about things. Not exactly grudges, but if I spot something that seems to be afflicting me from one year to the next, I can see that I get really f*cking angry about it. I like to take it all out on myself. I like to take it out on others, too. I like to choose a different sparkling fountain pen ink to do it with, the glitter gel pens of the same eye-rolling teenager much in evidence. And I also see that the struggle is real when it comes to giving gratitude: these letters have shown me year on year that I can only see the things that aren’t sorted, that weren’t done, and that still need work.
Work itself, actually, isn’t mentioned that much — a significant book publication or project might get a nod, but that’s not what this is about; I have Instagram (for now) to show me a chronology of professional high points. When it comes down to it, my assessment of the success of the year hinges on three things, and is seen through the prism of those: my relationships, my health, my mind, and the stuff I didn’t do.
I still have a lip-curling teen reaction to the idea of journaling, of brag documents; I’m not comfortable with end of year round-ups of my achievements on social media (though we do that privately, making coffee and going over the previous year’s wall planner before we put it away) but I wonder if I need to rethink my approach. Because left to my own devices, left to my own blank page, I only fill it with ire. And the amount of stuff to be grateful for, and celebrate is, in fact, overwhelming.
“Beating yourself up is never a fair fight” — Andrea Gibson