A Letter to the Self as a Young Artist

Matt Young
Jan 19 · 5 min read
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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dear Matt,

What follows is something you thought to be true at at least one point in time. This does not guarantee that it remains true, but it does not discount the possibility that it may become true again.

You have almost completed your first ever second semester of university. Your attempts at autobiography have resulted in you trying to immortalise feelings you felt sometimes and not at others, with the grand result being a constant and brackish taste of untruth in all that you have produced. The problem is that you live your life on a continuum and are always identifying yourself with the thoughts you have at any given time. You transcribe these thoughts to screen or paper and tell yourself that you have produced a great revelation, failing to realise that your thoughts are constantly mutable and anything you write about them will be, by necessity, about something different to what you thought it was about at the start. Still, you branded those thoughts with the vertical pronoun and bound them in writing to constitute your entire, unchangeable being. Is it healthy that you change your mind so completely in the space of a few hours? The question is moot, the fact is that you do it. Repeated experiments have yielded consistent data to that effect, beyond empirical doubt. In this way you are prevented from producing work with a clear focus. You rely on a subjective subject (your self) and act surprised when your writing rattles from point to point without latching onto objective detail.

You seem to be realising that there is a vast world outside of yourself, and although the mind may stretch infinitely inward, the universe extends concretely outwards. In doing so you have finally discovered the great value — the great joy — the great relief — of looking beyond yourself. Your life, though marked by a smattering of interesting events, would do better to be grafted onto another character along with the hopes that the host accepts the transplant. You are a human person, no paragon of virtue. You have so much more available to you in the imaginary than the real — you have just as much available in the real that isn’t you. The finest things that you have written have not been in your voice. That, perhaps, is an indicator of your voice. You are an excellent mimic, you can repurpose another’s words to say something entirely different. You are enthralled by characters and quotations. You enjoy amateur journalism. You have not lived enough life to merit telling anyone all of it. It needs more context to mean anything.

You have based your most recent uprising of consciousness on your continued experience with meditation, half a dozen self-help audiobooks, Quicksand by Steve Toltz, and another acid trip — one that you will, this time, not devote a thousand word tract for publication in a university press anthology to.

You have been trying to change your internal monologue in the hopes that it will cease to say ‘I’. You are trying to employ psychological distance in the form of the second-person perspective for the sake of your own sanity. You are too affected by that which you love, and it could easily (truly simply, at the drop of a hat) be argued that you love yourself too much. You need to maintain a healthy separation from your writing, lest you confuse yourself with a work of art.

You want to be a writer and you are working to make that happen. In order to do so you took a business skills subject that forced you to think of yourself as a product and it bummed you the fuck out only to re-form you. You are only the product if you are selling yourself — that is, if you are synonymous with your content. You need not be this way. You need to provide value to others, you need to show them reflections of themselves.

They say you should write for someone, and for too long you have written for yourself. Write for your friends, show them all the wonderful things you think of them; all the ways in which you love them, the attention you have paid to theirs habits of action and speech. Test the accuracy with which you have predicted their thoughts. You have long wanted to biographise your comrades, catalogue their individualities — do so. Barely anyone has heard about you but all that have are sick of hearing it.

You have put plans for habits of action into place so that you may do more focussed work. You are giving more time to the whetstone. You are also attempting to develop habits of thought so that you may produce more interesting work. You are learning to describe locations — your obsession with internality has led to your work providing only cursory references to the space your stories occupy. You are working on your memory, you are practising similes and metaphors, you are learning love languages and emotional vocabularies. You are trying to get closer to others. You are trying to be nicer.

You got narcissistic in your young age. You were obsessed with tarot and totems for so long. They are still of cosmetic value, novelty perhaps, but you cannot abide by the belief that you admit you once held that everything is imbued with a meaning intended specifically for you. Like the hero in the second half of a story circle you are moving away from passivity and passion — from looking at the world in terms of what it has to offer you, whether that take the form of validation or catharsis. You are moving towards activity; to taking action upon the world so that you may offer yourself to it. Passion is worthless and writing will give you nothing if you just want it really hard. You are a craftsman, ply your trade.

I will be interested to hear if you agree with any of this when next you read it. Needless to say, I believe in you. Your one undeniable talent is a capacity for change.

I love you very very very very very very very much.

Yours always,
Matt Young.

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