Valentine’s Day has just passed us by. The air is still ringing with the aftershocks of cheap chocolate and corner store bouquets and the war cry of the single against what is, essentially, a national effort to commoditize love.
In tribute to love–and in defiance of Valentine’s Day’s icky capitalistic overtones–Team Awesome decided to all write something in honour of the best, most important kind of love there is: self-love. We decided to undertake the un/surprisingly difficult emotional journey of writing love letters to ourselves, and before I share mine, I want to encourage you to do the same.
Why write a self-love letter?
Because it is one of the most empowering things you can do. It requires two things we all need more of: introspection, and tenderness. You need to reflect on yourself to write a truthful self-love letter, and that means you need to sit with yourself, in your own company and no one else’s. And you need to be willing to treat what you find with warmth and affection and compassion, to be able to believe your own radiance long enough to write it down.
It might feel trite. It might feel silly, or pretentious, or egotistical or untrue. These are obstacles that are worth encountering–they say something about how un/comfortable you are praising yourself, about how genuinely you believe all the good there is inside you. Work through the feelings. Work with them. You will learn something.
6 Tips for a Truly Powerful Self-Love Letter:
- Use your name. Your whole name. More than once. More than any combination of labels–sex, gender, orientation, race, faith, occupation, political leaning, Mac/PC preferences–your name is what defines you wholly and completely. It is the only collection of words that can describe you fully, without leaving even the smallest thing about you out. To name something is to recognize it, to make it real. Make yourself a little more real.
- Think about it. It can be easy to slip into generic praise: you’re so smart/pretty/funny/creative/etc. But what makes a truly great love letter–of any kind–is specificity. The way your nose wrinkles. The fact that you like tomato soup but hate tomatoes. Your gorgeous penmanship. That time someone said something hurtful and instead of hurting them back, you walked away. Dig for the things that make you want to be your best friend. Then shout them into the void.
- Don’t think about it. Contradictory advice is contradictory. Love is complicated. What I’m saying here is, remember that this letter is for YOU. It’s a ‘your eyes only’ thing, unless you want to share it. (And there is great bravery in sharing this sort of thing. I believe everyone should work towards a future where they’re comfortable doing so.) Don’t worry about whether everyone would agree that these are good or agreeable or lovable traits of yours–their opinion doesn’t matter here. It’s not their letter. It’s yours.
- Time isn’t real. Things you have done, things you are doing, and things you would like to do are all fair game for gushing about. Past and present and future don’t actually exist, according to quantum physics, and there is something to be said for loving the person you are becoming as much as the one you are right now, as the one you have been before.
- Forgiveness is a kind of love. So is understanding. If you want to use your self-love letter as a space to acknowledge the things you have done wrong in the past, to state that you fully understand your own reasoning at the time, to declare that despite your faults and fallacies and shortcomings (perhaps even because of them) you are full of forgiveness for yourself–well, more power to you.
- And a letter doesn’t have to look like a letter. Are you a songwriter? Write yourself a self-love song (I can think of two good examples of this, and you can listen to them here and here.) Are you a poet? Write yourself a self-love poem. Are you handy with crafts? Decorate a mason jar and stick a bunch of little self-love notes inside for yourself to untie and read later. As long as it is lifting you up, it can’t be done wrong. (Although I would recommend writing a letter-that-looks-like-a-letter once, because there is something touching about how simple and stripped-down a letter is.)
Because it’s Reading Week and I’m in art mode editing my book, I took #6 to heart, so my self-love letter is a poem. It’s raw and unpolished, and I’m absolutely going to revisit it someday and turn it into something I can perform, but for now, it’s honest, and it feels good, and that’s all that matters.
It took my mother forty-four hours and an emergency Caesarean section to birth me.
After nine months of easy pregnancy
cravinglessness and toe-touchability
after causing so little trouble we joke it’s only typical I’d
condense all that inconvenience into one compact two-day nightmare—
my pragmatism began in utero, you see, and
before I was taking breath, I was taking others into account.
The legend goes that Cirque du Soleil was playing in the background throughout
my whole unwieldy introduction to the world
and I suppose that’s why I’m so flexible,
I suppose that’s why I spend half my day in handstands
why I feel most comfortable hanging from a strip of silk,
spider dangling dainty from her web;
the legend goes that the C-section was messy,
that the epidural didn’t quite work how it was supposed to,
that my mother who was meant to be numb neck-down felt me
pull free from the open wound, open womb,
bloody and ochre-haired and expressive as anything
and I suppose that’s why they called me Sienna.
It’s Italian, you know.
It’s an earth pigment
equal parts clay and iron and manganese
it’s one of the first pigments humanity ever discovered
one of the first colours they ever sank trembling fingers into when they
learned how to trace the outlines of their passions,
how to translate a heart onto a wall.
My love is a terrifying thing (all the best things are),
shocking in its plenty
its abundance and intensity
my love is the city kid’s panic attack
the first time they go up north and
stand on the edge of the lake on a clear night in August and realize
the riot of a real night sky
the staggering sovereignty of stars
the fact that it’s like this all the time, you just never see it—
my love is the moment you momentarily remember you’re going to die like
not-just-hypothetically-but-for-real die like
present-tense first-person-perspective die
and your soul nearly jolts out of your body then and there from the
pre-emptive revolt of regret
the furious urge to live—
let me tell you something:
the family calls me an Old Soul
the astrologers call me an Aries
the highschoolers called me intimidating for my straightforwardness,
for the way I’d call bluffs
dare the vulnerability out of them—
but me, I call me Honest,
I call me Love Unapologetic
I call me five-foot-four firestorm ready to turn your tenderly-tended hedges of self-deception to tinder
I will make matchsticks of your briar of lies
I will burn your orchard down
I will wither that fruit so fast you can’t even imagine
turn pleasantry to ash in your mouth
make charcoal out of euphemism and platitude
take the taste out of every empty comfort till the only thing that makes you salivate
this mouth, it is versatile,
speaks English and French and Japanese but before all that it spoke
wonder, and before that it spoke
joy, and before everything else it spoke
Tongue of clay, teeth of iron, molars mortar-and-pestling manganese
making ready a little more pigment to
paint my heart on one more wall.