The first thing that happened was the yoga class. “We’re going to do something a little different today,” announced my yoga teacher, 15 min. before the end of class. “Who wants to try a handstand?” Despite the groans and murmurs from the crowd, each woman gamely pulled her mat up next to the wall as instructed. We started with the feet-up-the-wall pose. Easy enough. Then we turned around and moved into an inverted L, bracing our feet against the mirrored wall. A little more challenging. Next, we were supposed to kick up into a handstand. Uh, come again?!
There is something sobering about looking at yourself upside-down in a mirror — your shirt riding up, your childbirth-slackened stomach hanging out there for all to see. But no one cared. We were all too focused on whether we could, in fact, kick up into a handstand as our teacher promised. “Use the wall for support!” she shouted encouragingly. Would we smash the mirror? Collapse in a heap? Kick our neighbor in the face? That all remained to be seen.
The second thing that happened was the writing prompt: “Find a picture of yourself as a child, carefree and happy. Write a letter to your younger self. What would you tell her?” Now, I’ve done this exercise before. Not with the photo, though. Maybe because I had handstands on the brain, I happened to think of a project I did in grad school for a graphic design class. Did I still have it? I dug around in my sons’ closet, also known as the school-yearbook and bridesmaid-dress graveyard, and found it. Here it is:
I forget what the specific assignment was, but it had something to do with juxtaposing typography and images to illustrate the contrast between ourselves as children and ourselves as young adults. I chose a picture from a family vacation when I was about 10 years old. That’s my brother and me (circa 1984?), doing handstands in a field of wildflowers at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I went a little crazy with the photo filters (pre-Instagram, even!), but you can still see it, can’t you?
I remember my graphic design instructor suggested using my own handwriting in this version, versus the handwriting font I’d used previously. Countless hours scanning and snipping in Photoshop, but she was right. It’s more authentic this way.
As a longtime self-help junkie, I’ve noticed a common thread in materials intended to help you find your purpose or follow your bliss. They all ask you to reflect back on your childhood. What were you like as a child? What did you enjoy? While I appreciate the intention, I sometimes stumble in the execution of this exercise. Um, I don’t know . . . I liked to read and draw and make up dance routines to Cyndi Lauper songs with my best friend? Is that helpful? Does that get me anywhere?
As for what I would say to my younger self, again, I’m stumped. Would I tell her only the good parts of what’s to come? Leave out the bad parts? Would any good come from telling her that one day those handstands in the meadow will be all but erased from memory, thanks to the other stuff that’s cluttering up her brain as an adult – the permission slips and parking tickets, the insurance payments and the nutritional values of snack foods? Hey, Childhood Me – you will forget what fun is, rarely spend any time outside, and look forward to getting into your pajamas at 7:30pm! Future Me sucks, is what Childhood Me would think.
Future Me will complain endlessly: I already learned this once. Why do I have to keep learning it over and over? It shouldn’t be this hard. Why is everything so damn hard? The handstands, the life lessons, the EVERYTHING.
And yet Future Me will take her turn in yoga class, sweating and grunting and midriff-exposed, and, with the teacher’s help, kick her feet into a wobbly, ungraceful, but decidedly upright handstand. And she will feel strong. And even the tiniest bit carefree again. And she will not kick her neighbor in the face.
FLICK O’ THE WEEK: I really enjoyed the movie, This Is Where I Leave You. An all-star cast featuring the adorably scruffy Jason Bateman, a surprisingly serious Tina Fey, and a delightful Jane Fonda put the “fun” in dysfunctional family.