Tiffany – First of all, thank you so much for posting about your own experience of sending yourself love letters every day for 100 days. This project wouldn’t exist without you! How did you come up with the idea?
Stasha – Well, I had just broken up with my best friends, one of which was my partner. I was in the most difficult part of my phd dissertation, where I was trying to not lose myself in the formula of academic writing. I had just been safe enough to realize that I was never going to be a front-line youth worker any more, and this broke my heart. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong, not be tolerated. I wanted to survive my phd with my soul intact. Both of these people who I had broke up with had told me that I should take medication because of the symtoms that I have from feeling feelings very deeply. This hurt me. I agreed that I needed an intervention of love, in addition to my normal methods of coping and healing.
I wanted this love to come from me and be all about showing myself that it is a joy to love me, not a burden!
Tiffany – That piece about wanting to be loved, wanting to belong, wanting to survive… that really resonates for me.
Stasha – I combined the daily love letters with listing three things that I was thankful for.
Tiffany – I love that approach.
Stasha – Right? Intense livin’! For me belonging is spiritual, how we belong to something larger than ourselves, like community or nature.
Tiffany – Yes! I’m hoping a community will develop around this challenge.
One thing I felt anxious about as I was trying to figure out how to put your beautiful idea into a format I could share widely was not wanting to participate in weaponized positivity – all that really brutal messaging around “you have to love yourself first or nobody can love you” and “you have to find the silver lining.” I think it’s possible to work on loving yourself without also becoming complicit with that victim-blaming, aggressively positive-at-the-expense-of-all-else stuff, but how did you navigate that in your journey?
Stasha – Ooooooo yes, I like this question. Writing love letters to yourself is so romantic because I know what Stasha likes, I know all her symbols, I know that if I write ‘think positive’ when she is feeling suicidal, that she will get super mad at me invalidating her experience. I said things I was thankful for not grateful for because the idea of gratitude has been ruined for me by the charity model.
It has been my experience that only privileged people demand positivity, and that this positivity erases oppression. Some of the things I was thankful for were ‘cats exist’ or ‘I listened to the river today.’ Fuck positivity, there is research that pessimists are happier because wehave our assumptions validated more! Joy transcending sorrow, because the sorrow is part of it.
Tiffany – Totally! I think that for myself, developing a concept of self-love and self-care that *included* my gloom, my sadness, my trauma (separated from the topic of healing – I am often working towards healing, but allowing myself to love myself and care for myself *regardless* of whether I “healed” or not was a turning point) – that inclusive shift felt a lot healthier and more sustainable for me than the idea that I had to fix myself first, or that the love would fix me.
Stasha – Yes! I recognize the Gloom Fairy as a way of recognizing this concept!
A lot of my love letters were about confronting things I do that are destructive to relationships. I did lots of art about how I could be a better listener and interupt less. I focused on what could help me with the feelings behind my interupting.
Tiffany – Confrontational love letters – yes! Love that is self-aware, and that holds us to the standard we want to meet (not the standard others have set for us). That feels like an important thing to bring into this project, and to the challenge.
Stasha – I did a lot of weaving (of paper and ribbons) and a lot of fairies stitching my automical heart back together. A lot of vines growing out of letters, roots and such.
Best kind of love, working on a never ending self-healing project.
Tiffany – Connective imagery in the art. I like that. Finding roots, finding new growth, finding healing. And fairies. ❤ ❤ ❤
Shiri Eisner, who is one of my favourite authors and bisexual activists and academics, has been posting recently about the problems with validation culture, and how not all behaviours should be validated – some of them need to be confronted. What you say above about lovingly coaching yourself into more constructive relationship patterns fits with what Shiri’s been posting recently.
Did you find it difficult to stick with the love letters over a long period of time?
Stasha – I wanted a role model for this kind of love. Love with great intension. One letter, I tried to draw myself with long flowing turquoise sea foam hair. Because my art skills are stick people, it ended up looking like a beard, so I went with it and wrote a poem about being a queer mermaid with a beautiful sea foam beard! When you write to yourself, you know about the ‘mistakes’ and if the acceptance and sentiments expressed in the letters are real! It’s high stakes!
Tiffany – I hadn’t considered that aspect of “mistakes” before. I think that’s really relevant. You’re right about it being high stakes!
Stasha – I was so fucking anxious that I was going to let myself down by not following through. It got worse when I told other people about the idea and they were shocked at the commitment. This feedback helped me see the fierce way I love though, because I have totally done things like this for other people.
It was a great grounding experience to create the letters and it was really fucking nice to get a love letter every day!!! If I was really sad one day, I would write something that I had to look forward to, like visiting a dog or hiking or a great breakfast. It was so nice to be able to respond IN THE NOW because I needed love to get through that summer. Now it is wonderful to be able to look through a stack of love if I forget how much I love me.
Part of what I was/am working on is self-regulation or ways that I calm myself. So this was great for that.
Some letters were just lists of things I didn’t hate. Like cake. And rivers.
Tiffany – That’s really inspiring, and encouraging. And I think you’re right about the way that we often love fiercely when we’re loving someone else, but we don’t often bring the same intention and joyful generosity to ourselves. A long project like this (100 days is a lot!) allows for ups and downs, sad days and happy days, long letters and post-it notes. It’s a different project than a week would be. (Not that a week isn’t valuable – just different.)
Stasha – That is me being positive! Yes I wanted to turn that love inwards for a bit. The phd really messes with your sense of time, 6 years doing a project! I think the scale was partly about that and partly about the scale of my losses and grief from the five years proceeding the break ups.
Also I am a huge research nerd and I love a huge pile of data!
Tiffany – Yes. I can relate to that.
I do relationship coaching, and one thing that I often think as I read the books or take the courses, is how applicable many of the strategies can be to our relationship with ourselves – offering charitable interpretation, maintaining clear and compassionate boundaries, meeting needs, bringing awareness, intention, and compassion to the relationship. But we rarely talk about our relationship with ourselves in those nuanced terms. At least not in the spaces I’ve encountered.
I also know, for myself, that I am a slow and cyclical learner. I need time with a project before it sinks in. I need to be able to circle around it many times before I feel safe with it, let alone anything resembling comfortable.
Stasha – Yes, that is one part of your work that I really admire, turn this strategies towards self! I wish I had done this project when I was 15 years old. I plan to do it several more times before I die.
Tiffany – This does seem like a project that has value in repetition. I am also curious (because I’m a research nerd too!) about how it would feel in each different season. (Maybe I will run the challenge once a year over the next four years, in each season.)
Did you run into negative reactions to the project?
Stasha – It is very meta with the levels of awareness. Every one was encouraging. It made me sad how many people said they wanted to do it for themselves but didn’t. Makes me sad because I think a huge part of oppression and abuse is the messages about how we don’t deserve that/are unlovable. So it is a revolution at many levels. Some people wanted me to share them publicly, and I was like ‘f off’ this is between me and me. We need our privacy!
I was afraid that people would think I was selfish, and I worried about that less and less as the love rained down on me!
Tiffany – Yes! That part about privacy is huge, and is another thing that I felt/feel some anxiety about with turning this into a social media thing. I’ll make a point of finding ways to make it clear that this challenge is open to anyone, even if they don’t share anything publicly. Thank you for that reminder.
I have been thinking about Feminista Jones’ recent tweet thread about how angry men get when women accept compliments, and I wondered if any of that would land on a project like this. But I think your point about the level of fucks given dropping as the love rains down is really relevant, and lovely. (But it is another reason to make it clear that participation does not have to be public to be valid.)
I’m doing a little give-away as part of the challenge – I’ll select five random entries from folks who self-select into the contest, and send them hand-written letters. I had originally set it up so that the way you enter was by emailing me a link to your tweet/post/blog/instagram/whatever. But I’m going to change that, and you can enter just by emailing me with or without a link/public sharing.