19th Century Letters

This might be one of the most personal, revealing, embarrassing entries I’ve ever posted.

Once upon a time, I wrote a letter to an actor. He’s not super famous, and a lot of you wouldn’t recognize him on the street. But he’s someone I admire, and although you can’t know what a person is like until you’ve actually spent time with them, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. He makes me smile.

So on this night in particular, I was sad, but instead of letting myself turn destructive, I sat down and wrote a letter. This is it.

Dear ____,

Christ, I don’t know why I’m writing this. I haven’t written a letter to a celebrity since I was 14 and realized my fan mail to Bill Nye never actually made it to his desk. I’m sure this will be no different, but the truth is, that’s something of a comfort. I’m not proud of writing to an actor I admire because I’m too ashamed to admit to most people in real life that I’m depressed.

What makes this situation even sadder is that it’s not like I don’t have friends. I’m an adult by every standard that matters, yet I’m too cowardly to admit to anyone who’d recognize me in passing that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the winter. But that’s why people love celebrities, isn’t it? You don’t know us, and we don’t know you. We can build these enormous, impossible characters on a handful of moments captured in interviews and Twitter, and let ourselves forget that in all probability, you run the same risk of letting us down as the people we actually know. We can turn you into superheroes, and because we’ve never met, you rarely disappoint.

God, what an awful burden. I can’t imagine you’re not aware of it, and for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to try and live up to the impossible.

I could go on for pages about why I’m depressed, but now that I’ve started writing, I realize that I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s happening, and I’m sad, and earlier tonight, I wrote a suicide note, but rather than signing it and nailing it to the door, I’m writing to you instead. I guess on a night like tonight, when there isn’t much else to celebrate, that’s enough.

I would rather tell you a story, since that’s what I do. I like to think that if you read this, you’d understand. Actors and writers have the same job, after all: we both spend our lives pretending to be other people. Writers are just shier about it.

I’ve never been the sort to do as I’m told. I don’t mean that I’m a bully or a thief; I just have a problem with unsatisfied curiosity. That’s why, when I was six, I dug a nine foot hole in the back yard, and when I was eleven, I burned my brother’s G.I. Joes. So eventually, when I decided common sense be damned and stared up at the sun, no one was surprised.

Now, the event itself isn’t as important as the long-term effects. Thankfully, I didn’t cause any permanent damage, but for a long time after, I saw an impression of the sun behind my eyelids whenever I closed my eyes. The darker the room, the brighter the light, and sometimes after the sunspot had faded, I’d close my eyes, tilt my head back, and face the sky. I’d watch sunlight creep in through my eyelids like shining, moth-eaten lace. I never opened my eyes again, but god, I wanted to.

Years later, one of my editors told me that the most important thing I could do as a writer was to figure out what I wanted to do as a writer. What message did I want to send? What feelings did I want to evoke? When people thought of me as an author, what was the lingering impression I wanted them to have?

I want to create something so beautiful and profound, it’s agony to stare straight into it, and when the curtain drops, and the audience closes their eyes, they can still see it shining in the darkness.

Shine on.


He never wrote back, but he didn’t need to. I felt better just having written and sent the letter.

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