Discover more from Letters from a Luftmensch
Welcome to my little pocket of cyberspace. I'm grateful you're here.
The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things
Nestled under my childhood bed are two shoeboxes containing every letter I’ve received since first grade. They provide fragmented snapshots of my life over the years: birthday wishes, postcards, a parting letter from my first summer camp crush. If I could only rescue one thing in the event of a fire, provided that my family and cat were safe, it would be this.
There’s something deliciously intimate about handwritten letters in an age of digital ephemerality—the creases and marginalia, the smeared ink and imperfect penmanship, the lingering scent of perfume. The knowledge that someone sat at a desk thinking of you, writing something meant for only your eyes.
Reading these letters always reminds me of the fragility of our bonds, the fickleness of time. People I thought would be in my life forever—to whom I wrote “BFFs” in a red-markered heart—are now mere blips in my Instagram feed. Problems that overwhelmed me less than a year ago are now irrelevant, all but forgotten.
I wonder now what I will remember about this strange period. The last half-year was the first time since fifteen that I have not held an internship or job; the first time in recent memory that I have had more empty time than I know how to fill. My mind, trained to function on five hours of sleep and a triple-shot of espresso, feels doughy with a full eight hours and a dampened need for caffeine. I started projects, none too promising, most abandoned. I wrote meandering journal entries; I read sporadically.
It feels a bit shameful to admit this online when I’ve just finished reading a slew of 2020 recaps that boasted of self-growth and professional development during these “unprecedented times.” But to be an honest scribe of my life, I must confront my shortcomings and insecurities. Sure, I know that my worth is not predicated on my productivity or resume, but I haven’t fully accepted it. I’m learning to trust that these empty days, these “useless days,” are all necessary parts of my becoming.
“Becoming” is a concept born from Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who believed that change is the only constant in our lives. Whereas “being” is one’s essential and unchanging nature, “becoming” is a constant state of flux and one’s perpetual renegotiation of identity. Just as we are in continual metamorphosis, so is the world around us—a man can never step into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.
I’ve been trying to differentiate between what is immutable—my being—and what is dynamic—my becoming. If I am unsatisfied with who I am now, is it because I am inherently unworthy (no), or am I simply going through an uncomfortable, premature stage of my becoming? (Yes, and it is temporary.)
I am reminded of this quote by Ira Glass, host of the “This American Life” podcast:
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
We are, in a sense, our most important project. I suppose that’s why so many people my age go through this angsty, nihilistic period: who we envision our ideal selves to be often seems impossibly distant from who we are now. But perhaps all we can do is beat on, boats against the current, holding onto some dear, flickering faith that we will grow into an authentic self, even if it’s not the self we initially imagined.
But more on that later.
School has started again. I found a part-time gig and enrolled in daily French classes. Though I’m grateful to have had this period of rest, I’m relieved, in a grimy, cracked-up-on-capitalism sense, to finally feel “useful” again.
But I want to remember these useless days. The days I sprawled on my bed and devoured books that made my brain feel as if it were physically straining against my skull. The days I compulsively wrote, then compulsively deleted. The days I felt so impossibly happy, I believed I could give every person in the world a scoop of my joy and still be overflowing. The days I cried. For every single one of these days was a part of the process of becoming, of figuring, of reaching into the darkest and most disquieting corners of my self and finding what is most pure and true. It is a long, arduous, unbearably wonderful journey, and it’s only just begun.
So, I’ve created this newsletter. It is the digital rendition of the letters under my bed: a record of my becoming, a collection of my musings, a chronicle of my endearingly ordinary life. It is my commitment to writing more, and publicly. It is a celebration of the beautiful absurdity of life; an excuse to shout into the digital void; a tribute to everything that shatters my sense of self and forms the foundation upon which to build a new one, one that will still be imperfect and nebulous, but hopefully more loving and fair.