Writing yourself a letter

Have you ever needed advice and wanted to talk something over with someone, but you didn’t know who to choose?  Some of the things that can worry a person are personal.  And yet one needs to air one’s feelings.  And sometimes one simply needs advice.

I had a problem once of just this sort.  It was something very pressing and also very personal.  I wanted to get wise counsel, but I couldn’t think where to turn.  In my head I considered various people to whom I might turn, yet I found reasons in each case why discussing my problem with them would create only further problems.  I thought about “professional” advice, such as one gets from a psychologist.  But I must admit, I’m a bit skeptical about all that.  Anyway, at the time, I couldn’t afford it.

Amazing thing, though!  In sifting through my thoughts, in particular as I imagined what each person might say to my problem, I found myself listening in upon numerous imaginary conversations.  It opened a door of thought and helped me see my problem from the imaginary perspective of numerous fictional others.  And that experience of itself revealed solutions to my crisis that I had not seen before.

You can give yourself wise counsel.  One way is to write to yourself.  Write a letter to yourself and perhaps even answer it!  Imagine the various commonplaces, the ideas that you are likely to hear and respond to them each in turn.  You can sing your own version of the old song, “I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter/And make believe it came from you ….”  and you can be both sender and recipient.

You can write a letter to your future self and it’s a surprising form of correspondence.  You can give the wise counsel that you need to hear, and you can preserve your privacy in the bargain.  And you don’t even have to worry about the postage!

[Top of the post: Jan Vermeer. Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid. c.1670. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.]


What if

      A thoughtful reader has challenged me to offer a more particular definition of what I consider “junk.”  And in time I will try to do so, because having raised the issue myself, I ought to be willing to face it squarely.  But until such time, I would refer readers to the previous post where I criticize the work of Ellsworth Kelly, who I put forth as representative of the artist-as-charlatan.  I do so boldly from the sense that Mr. Kelly himself is unlikely to stumble upon my remarks and is therefore in little danger of having his feelings hurt.  Or, even if he were to read them — “famous” as he has become, he cannot expect everyone to gush about what he does.  Obviously he has critics, as assuredly he’s aware.  If one cannot take the heat (as we all know), one has the admonition to stay out of the kitchen.  Right?

Now then, to more pressing concerns:  self-confidence.  What about the artist who fears that his own works are junk?  What about the over-fastitious individual who cannot accept the merits of what he does, who is overly critical, who is perhaps crippled by a sense of failure?  Sometimes highly talented people — just the sort who we’d expect to be “great” artists, are of this type.  So what about them?

Van Gogh had perhaps the best answer when he said, “if you hear a voice telling you you cannot paint, then paint My Boy, and that voice will be silenced.”  Van Gogh heard that voice.  He fought that voice, which sounded in his own head.  The paintings he left — in their great beauty and brightness — are the answers he gives us. 

The cure for a lack of confidence is work.  Just do it.