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  • For those who don't already know this, Leonessa Clementine is the epistolary project of two friends living at opposite ends of the country. We have essentially turned our obsessive worry over not fitting in into a series of long conversations, compiled on our blog (cobblestonecontingent.tumblr.com) and in a series of essays we hope to turn into a book one day. You could say it is the evolution of two friends from ugly ducklings (hopefully, very hopefully) into swans.

    Clem turned 30 early in July, which was the topic of her letter to me (Leonessa) that month. This was my response to her. It's long for us on Cowbird, but I thought it might be nice to share.


    Hey my darling,

    First of all: a very belated welcome to the third floor. How are you feeling? Are your thirties more magical and revelatory than your twenties were at this (admittedly early) date? I can’t help but blame pop culture for this, but I very deeply envy your transition to thirty and flirty and thriving.

    Though I suppose there is the fact that 27 is my lucky and long-awaited number. Why baby me couldn’t have picked a smaller, more frequently occurring multiple is anyone’s neurotic guess, but that is where I am heading next year and I’m kind of thrilled about it. Greener grass where you water it, and that.

    Darling, as for your Trappings of Adulthood anxiety – I think it might be misplaced. Simply put: I don’t think you were born to order your life around dinner parties where the hot topic is doing your partner’s laundry. And why on earth would you let a seventeen-year-old’s whims dictate your life now: what is the point of being a grown-ass adult with no kids if your decisions are still being dictated by a child?

    Now that that is out of the way, we can talk about the truly beautiful and fecund time you have ahead of you. I have a creeping suspicion that if done properly, your twenties should be all about discovering what you don’t want: what sucks, what hurts, what is menial and embarrassing and foolish and ill-advised. (Also you’ll probably have some bad relationships.)

    With that finished, my dear: what do you want? What would make your slippery briny prickly heart sing? You know you probably don’t want to live the urban domesticated lifestyle. You know Boston is boring you right now. You know you want a life with love as its guiding star (and that is not naive: it’s honest, and wise). You know how to be with a good man. That last is a really deeply complicated skill that has a lot to do with unlearning the mentality of scarcity – of love, of wonder, of your own capacity for brilliance and transcendence – and I myself am still early on that path.

    It sounds like you are moving down it at a quick clip, barring one large obstacle. The tree that is fallen in the middle of the road, and over which you will have to climb in order to get where you are going, is the mighty invasive species (let’s call it a melaleuca for its propensity to parch the ground with its roots) known as Believing You Will Become Less Lovable As You Age.

    My dear. I want you to examine that presumption carefully. What you will become as you age, and this is the only thing: is more richly, fully yourself. So why do you believe that the only way a man could love you is if you are (to borrow a word) precocious, a fey ingénue, somehow unfinished?

    This is, of course, not something you pulled out of thin air. There are many men who want a woman who is malleable and weak, and who will drop you at the first sign of strength. I have been singed by those men too, and by the society that feeds them, that doesn’t require them to be better. Doesn’t, in its own funny way, allow them to rise to meet a strong, fully developed partner. But here is the thing about those men and the limited relationships it is possible to build with them.

    You know that I am a tall girl. I had to decide a long time ago that (ir)regardless of the height of my partner, I was never going to thrive by stooping. I needed, and need, to stand tall (and even wear heels) regardless of who I have by my side. Towering over people is sometimes hard. But it’s who I am, and there is beauty in that truth.

    In much the same way, it will not serve you to feel you have to stoop and hide behind a resume, a source of prestige, a presumption of flowering girlishness. This is on some seventies hippie shit, but it is okay – and wonderful – to be a woman instead of a girl. That’s also part of what will allow your partner to be a man instead of a boy, and encourage the two of you to stand side by side as equals.

    I don’t necessarily want you to dismiss your feelings of unease or the desire to skip your childbearing years: I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND. And there is a way in which all of the people who look at your life and tell you that it is fine are missing the point. If it doesn’t feel fine to you, then something is bubbling up for you to examine. It’s yours, after all. And as a wise man once said to a funky beat, “Don’t let nobody take care of your business better than you do.”

    What I think (not having yet mastered this in the slightest) is that the trick is to take the refuse that feels like it is piling up and suffocating you, and turn it into compost. Use it to grow your garden; feed your joy on the husks of your fears. You can use this fertilizer to fall passionately in love with yourself. All you need are the enzymes and cultures and bacteria that will catalyze the reaction - which, I think, are your past experiences and deep knowledge stored in your bones about what you want for your future. It sounds to me like you have enough of both to lean on them; let them lead you now.

    As for me: oui, I suppose it is possible (perhaps even probable) that the hot mess is the lens, rather than the landscape. But in my own case, simply knowing your blindness can be corrected doesn’t miraculously do the work of laser surgery. I am not doing coke in the dating meat locker only because that would imply that I know such critical and pertinent things as where the locker is, how to open it, how one finds a dealer, etc.

    The one upside to my remedial ways of the heart is that there are all sorts of terrible messes and mistakes I am simply too uninformed to be making at this time, which I am trying to see as a sort of backhanded blessing. I manage to get into enough painful trouble on my own here at the junior varsity level, and clearly I’m not yet ready to trade up.

    So be it. I don’t want to focus on my own clueless travails here – largely because this would totally undermine any authority I have to give functional advice. But for whatever reason, I really am capable of seeing the divine nature of others pretty clearly. It’s only on my own awkward mortality that I stumble.

    Honestly, there are moments (shockingly many of them) when I just wish I could fall asleep and wake up after menopause, all details of the big decisions (Career? Partner? Bebes? Yachts? Pish tosh!) having been rendered pleasingly past tense. They tell me it doesn’t work that way, so I continue to muddle along.

    But however confused and despairing about myself, I see you very clearly. You know what you need. You’re going to do great. And you’re so generous, I know that when this comes to pass and I tell you I told you so, you will graciously allow me the pleasure of having been correct about your unerring ability to get it right, all along.

    Ascend that shit,

    Leonessa.

    See this essay in its original cc habitat here. See everything else related to our #lyproject on Cowbird by clicking that tag below.
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