A Birthday Letter to my 30-year-old Self on the Eve of My 52nd Birthday
Dear Thirty-Year-Old Tanya,
It’s your birthday eve. I know exactly what you are doing tonight. You are going out to dinner with your mother, your best friend and your fiancé at Café Escalera, an elegant restaurant in downtown Santa Fe that no longer exists. You will have your wedding reception at the same restaurant, after you marry Steven on a stunning fall evening a year and a few months later, high in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Tonight, on your birthday eve, you’re wearing a new black miniskirt from Ann Taylor, because you have killer legs and a perfect ass and you know it.
You’re desperately afraid that you are unlovable. You’ve never felt pretty enough. In acting school, you were told that you weren’t pretty enough to play an ingénue and not interesting looking enough to play character roles.
You’re afraid that your fiancé doesn’t really love you.
You think that you’re a failure because you still see yourself through your mother’s eyes. You didn’t become a lawyer or stay at that high paying job with the Japanese company you worked for in NYC.
You’re mostly an unpaid or underpaid actor, but you are a good one. Thank God you know that, too.
You have a dream of doing a one-woman show. It’s followed you for over ten years. You can’t shake it. You wake up every morning and think about it. You’re acting in plays, back-to-back, in the evenings and working with two precious girls with Down’s Syndrome to pay help with the bills during the days. But you know it’s not enough. You have to do your show but you don’t find anyone who knows how to do this work. So, you are trying to figure it out yourself. You will. You will figure it out. You are reading books on writing and taking workshops on writing. You are finding your voice. You don’t know it this evening, but you are going to write and perform your solo show within the next 18 months. And it’s going to be a success and you are going to be changed by it forever.
You’ve already survived terrible grief when you lost your beloved grandfather at age 14, and your best friend to AIDS in NYC, just a few years ago. You’ve lived a lot of life already and have encountered quite a bit of roughness , though you don’t convey that in your manner.
I want to stop and tell you, that I admire your heart. You are sensitive and earnest to a fault. You truly want to love others. Right now, you think that’s your weakness and a liability. It is going to turn out to be your greatest asset. What I wish I could go back and teach you now is to understand that being loving not only includes loving yourself, but that loving yourself is actually THE priority. I wish I could help you learn that lesson sooner than you will. There will be suffering because of your own resistance.
But it’s all okay. You will get there. I promise. You get there as soon as you possibly can and it will take much longer than you expect.
That’s something else I want to tell you. Most things in this realm take longer and cost more money than anyone expects. You will have to learn a patience that does not come naturally and develop sides of yourself that you do not know you have. Be grateful for this.
I know you want to have a normal life with your husband to be.
I’m sorry that you’ll experience heartbreak when you don’t get that.
More than anything, you want to know deep love and deep truth. You also want to be a self- actualized artist. I know, at 30 you think you can find a way to have it all at once.
I’m happy you’re celebrating tonight. Of the people at your table, you will have lost all but your mom by the time you’re 38. Your brilliant husband-to-be, voted Best Looking at Beverly Hills High School, and graduate of UC Berkeley, with a wide open future will, unbeknownst to everyone, including himself, suffer a schizophrenic break so severe that he will never come back from it. You will have a child together, a perfect blue-eyed daughter that he will give you, before he leaves you to go down the rabbit hole of his madness. You will become a single mother, the one thing you say you could never do. Before you marry – in a moment when a cold wind blows through you – you beg him to promise you that if you have a child together, that he will never, ever allow you to parent alone. Even, if divorce happens. He laughs and hugs you and says, “Of course I would never leave you to raise a child alone.” And he believes it. And so do you. And that is as it should be.
Your best friend will betray you and you will betray her. Something precious will be lost forever that you cannot even imagine. But tonight, she will make you laugh as she always does. Enjoy it. You will always have her burned into your heart, though at some point you will not speak anymore. You will survive the loss. You’ll miss her forever.
You will get pregnant with the human being who will become your greatest teacher and greatest gift. Chloe Grace. Your only child will come bursting into this world, brighter than the sun, in August of 1997. It is good you do not know how much difficulty is yet to come. It will come and go. There will be days so painful, that you cannot even imagine it now.
But here’s the incredible, miraculous, joyful news:
You are not who you fear that you are. You will discover the incredibly powerful, brave and creative woman you actually are. You will dig deeper into your own wounds to create not only a show, but you will rise to transformative autonomy. By the time you’re in your mid-thirties, you will begin to know the power of what you offer. This knowing will grow alongside experience. You will accumulate thousands and thousands of hours working with individuals on the expression of their stories. You will stop worrying about your looks, and experience your unique and individuated beauty. And it is enough. It will be intoxicating to many, including to your own self.
The most important thing you will learn is that you can fall into the deepest end of the ocean grief and rise again and again to love. You will love and love and love and love. You will make friends and have clients from all over the world, who ride into your life on a waves of love, creativity and story. You will come to love your life. It is enough.
Looking back from this vantage point, I can promise you one thing. Things you worry about generally do not come to pass.
Better things will happen. Worse things will happen.
This pattern will teach you that you are not in control in this world.
You are unimaginable expansiveness. You are a human being, and you will end up finding that it is safe, after all, to be here in this life and to be here in your body.
Love yourself. Breathe when you feel you can’t take one more step. Ask for more help. Receive more of what others want to give you. Give your whole heart to everyone and everything that means something to you. Stay true to your inner compass.
Most importantly, as a favor to me, if you could just change one thing, please start wearing sunscreen now.
Happy Birthday! Celebrate!
Fifty Two Year Old Tanya xoxo