A colleague and friend invited me to see a play a few weeks ago: we had seen Menopause: The Musical together this summer, so we’re sort of play-going buddies (and kayaking buddies, though since I broke one of her bungee cords last summer she may reconsider that–don’t ask me HOW I broke such a thing): not to mention that once classes begin, we rarely get to see each other and this was one of those rare work-light weekends.
We went to a community playhouse that was putting on a reading/performance to benefit our women’s resource center. Five local actresses sat comfortably on cozy sofas, while taking turns reading, and performing, letters written by older women (aged 21-60+) to their younger (aged 4-40) selves.
The reading/performance was based on Ellyn Spragins’ edited collection of letters, What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, written by 40 famous women, including Maya Angelou, Ann Curry, Olympia Dukakis, Naomi Wolf, etc. The local actresses read a few of the published essays beautifully, but the most emotionally powerful letters were those written by the actresses themselves and those by some of the audience members—women who participated in a letter writing workshop.
The theatre is cozy, and serves wine, so we, the audience, too, settled in as if in someone’s living room. Of the 50 or so attendees, only 2 were men, and the women were generally in their 30s-60s.
As the director noted in her post-performance chat with us, she tried to select letters that covered a range of ages and subject, moving from light-hearted (don’t worry my dear 4-year old self: you will pass kindergarten and make friends), to the more serious (I’m sorry my 30 year old self: you will have to suffer from cancer again, but you survive it again, too). There’s a wonderful song by Pink called “Conversations With My 13-Year-Old-Self” that provided, at least in my mind, the soundtrack for this powerful performance.
The letters are all by women, alas: I think it would be fascinating to hear what men would write to their younger selves. I’m curious to know what subjects men would focus on–anyone want to run with that?
Now, I’m not so sure I want to read the book: I suspect there is unevenness, maybe even schmaltziness, to the series of letters. But, the reading/performance worked for me.
What would I say to my 13 year old self?
What comes to mind is just a series of nags: “Just eat that cookie instead of agonizing over it, and write MORE in that diary with the fake key.” But also some praise: “How COOL you were to study Latin, to learn to twirl a rifle, and to keep up pen pals from several different continents (obviously, my early blogging tendencies….), and try to write a novel. You were so incredibly courageous and curious. You’ll lose some of that for a few years while you obsess over boys and sex, but courage and curiosity will come back to you with a vengeance, so be ready for it.”