A few months ago, someone asked me, “Would your ten-year-old self be proud of who you are today?” It’s a sweet idea, to judge your success based on the innocent dreams you used to hold. It makes me imagine a little girl staring up in wide-eyed wonder, meeting a superhero that used to zoom around her imagination.
Truth be told, I think Gwen at Ten would be wide-eyed. Also, mute, shocked, stunned, staggered, confused and a little flabbergasted. But that’s okay. I would look at her the same way. She once told our mother that she felt “all grown up.”
Gwen at Ten thought that her adult self would be living in a small house on the beach, where she’d have bookshelves instead of walls and spend all day writing her novels. She wanted two cats: a sleek white thing called Paper and a sleek black thing called Ink. She wanted a large dog (to be named after any number of heroes from literature) which I think was more her desire for an excuse to run around outside. She wanted a lot of awards hanging on her walls, a lot of papers with words like “youngest” and “best” stamped across them. I’m still not sure what that meant to her, other than obstacles knocked over and challenges beaten.
Well, Gwen at Ten, I live in a split level house, hours from the beach. The same one you were living in, actually. And thank goodness. Your adult self likes being able to ignore the weather and hunker down inside her fortress.
I do have lots of books, and I’m in search of more shelves. I have now witnessed the pure pragmatism of cats and no longer want them. I do not even want a large dog, but you should know that I hike mountains and raft down rivers and turn my face up into the sun simply because I want to, and no one looks at me sideways for exploring and being a girl. I’m not sure where you got the idea that they would.
I have never been in the papers either, Gwen at Ten. I have never been “youngest” or “best,” though I did get a few awards at school with words like “exellence” and Latin phrases of praise. I am not famous, which I think you hoped for me, and I know, I’m ten years past due on getting my first novel published. I’m sorry.
But you should know that you didn’t hold onto those plans as tightly as you thought you would. When you were eleven, you decided that you could be an actress and write at the same time. You spent a few years memorizing lines and talking with other writers backstage. At thirteen you spent a whole week doing nothing but waiting for a phone call to see if you got the lead villain, and when you did, you spent four months feeling deliciously beautiful and powerful. You also spent a lot of time developing a crush on the boy you tried to stab at the end of the third act.
By the time you were fifteen, you were dating him, so wrapped up in him you switched to imagining an apartment in New York where you would both go to school and crown yourselves conquerors.
Yeah, Gwen at Ten, I know you’ve read enough books to know how that worked out. You and he broke up. You spent the next year learning how gullible fifteen-year-olds are and falling out of love with more than just a boy. You stopped acting. You stopped dreaming of New York. You realized for the first time that people changed as they grew older, and you didn’t like it.
Gwen at Sixteen spent most of her time looking backward, not forward. She did well in school, she applied to college, she set up all her tomorrows, but her wishes had nothing to do with them. She kept wishing that she could find a way to strip back down to the fearless little monster she had been at ten.
So while you’re calculating how far I’ve fallen short, Gwen at Ten, please take into account that Gwen at Sixteen is proud of me.
She’s proud of me for going to college, and holding a grade point average that kept me on scholarship while still dancing past midnight with my best friends at every formal. She’s proud of me for being able to speak a language that is both beautiful and useless (because it’s pretty close to dead). She’s proud of me for having been on planes, trains, boats, and buses and using them to escape the continent from time to time. She’s proud of me for wearing mismatched shoes to church a few weeks ago.
Most of all, she’s proud of me for what I want.
I want an apartment in a big city. I’m thinking Boston right now, and yes, I know it’s cold, but you love snow. You’ll learn that soon.
I want a Chihuahua Cocker Spaniel Mix. You can laugh. Everyone does. I would name it Cerberus and train it with ancient Greek commands. Kathisde! Mene! Mei apokteine me!
And yes, I’m still writing that novel. It’s good we waited this long, because, believe it or not, the story I’m working on now is ten times better than the one you wrote about the girl who could turn into a dragon. Well, maybe two times better. Dragana was pretty cool.
Thank you, daily post, for this sweet Sweet Sixteen challenge:
When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?