dear self: a letter to katie in her senior year of high school.
So I’ve got some good news and bad news. The bad news is that almost 10 years from when you graduate, Calabasas High School will finally do West Side Story. In that new theatre that was supposed to be ready for you and your friends right now. And it’s gonna be a damn good show. Yeah. Curse if you need to. Be jealous. Cause it’s awesome.
The good news is that I saw it last night, 10 years in the future (you’re 26 now – crazy, right?), and it prompted me to write this note.
I miss you, Katie. And I feel myself coming back to you, full force. Since I hit the pre-quarter-life mark a couple years ago, it’s been like a homecoming. I don’t know why I am just writing about it now, but I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I enjoy who you are. You are silly, you are gracious, you are sexy (I know you don’t want to, but OWN IT!), you are thoughtful, you are flirty and fun and insightful and honest. You hold your own in a crowd, and you take immense pride in being a leader. I know you feel selfish admitting that last part, because you are always so wonderful at pointing out everyone else’s strengths before you even hint at your own. Keep that part of you – but be ok admitting to yourself that you thrive in roles of leadership. That’s not being full of it. It’s not vanity or pretentiousness. It is being grateful for the gifts you have been given and using them, for if you do not they will be lost forever to the world.
Katie, I need to tell you something that you might not be able to understand yet. I know what you think. You will never be one of those people who identifies with what you’re so often advised; “If you find something else you love, do that.” But I want you to stay open. Nothing will ever be as safe for you as it is now. I want you to know this, recognize this.
Your instincts are right and good. Stay with them. Even when people tell you that you are a certain “type” or try to help you calculate the right decisions to be accepted, to get in, to stand out, the best thing you can do to achieve any and all of these is trust your instincts. You have a talent and intuition that cannot be taught, and that will never let you down when you actually go with it. This might not seem hard right now, because like I said, you are in the safest place you will ever be. You are allowed to be fully and 100% self expressed; allowed to be less than final-product when you audition and search and discover along the way amongst friends. I know you love the element of surprise. You always have. That little thrill you got when you sang in Portuguese last year, or when you were 15 and got that comedic role that was so unexpected. You always have doubts and tears when approaching decisions that are out of your hands, but deep down you know what you want and you work hard to show that it is rightly yours.
I hate to tell you this, but there will be a lot of negativity in the next few years. And it will cut down at your self-confidence and make you a shadow of yourself. The world is not like a CHS audition where everyone is given the same song. You need to choose your own and show why it is the best choice. The world will not say “This is what we want you to do,” leaving you to merely create your best self within that mold. You will have to decide what to do and whether that is the best choice or not. It’s not your strongest suit – you’re really good at taking direction and exceeding expectations when someone gives you something specific to do. But your own decisions entirely? When there is no direction or blueprint and it’s up to you to take a chance? This is where trusting your instincts is going to come in handy.
So despite the meanness and becoming shaky in your vocal support, you will get to sing and act for a living. For a little bit. Where I want you to keep your mind open is in what you really love and how that relates to what you DO. There are so many ways to be in front of an “audience” and exchange energy, lift people up, fill a space. You will always do that, I want you to know that. But what I wish you would see right now is how perfect for the “world” you are in this very moment. You don’t need to learn a thing technically – all you need to learn about is life.
A little bit more about what is on your mind now, because I know you are curious: you will get over the heartbreak of first love (seriously, your journal entries are getting pretty dramatic, girl), but the downside is that because of the regret you’re experiencing now, in the future you’ll have trouble breaking it off with people when it’s just not working. You’ll wait to even bring it up until it kills you inside. Feel it all right now, but know in your heart that it will be okay. He’ll still be in your life and you two will remain friends – and you’ll remember the sweetness instead of the knife in your chest. You will give a STELLAR audition for UCLA and USC but you will not be accepted into either. Please know this has nothing to do with your talent. Because you will think it does. You’ll end up being friends with all those people down the line anyhow, which is pretty cool.
I know you are feeling alone because so many of your closest friends just went off to college. But they needed to for you to learn about yourself apart from their influence. The friends you met through theater and music will be your family – you might not see them very frequently, or even at all (there is gonna be this thing called Facebook that will connect you even when you never talk or hang out…like never see each other ever…like, ever…never mind; too much to explain). But you grew together and knew each others’ strengths and weaknesses and still cheered each other on anyway. That is family. And these bonds will inform what kinds of interpersonal relationships you truly crave in your life. Don’t settle for anything less, and don’t be sad when you don’t find that again for a while. It’s not worth doubting who you are or making yourself less-than to try to fit in.
You will do away with daily vocalization exercises and periods of notepad-carrying silence, but you will never lose your voice. You made out pretty well without voice lessons for 15 years of your life – if and when you stop them (money is a bitch; you’ll learn that too) the only thing you really need to do is keep singing. The most pride you have had in your voice has been when you have sung uncoached, unrefined. Let that be a sign to you that you have everything you need already.
You will go into college and you will be told your type. You will be told you are an ingenue, even though you know you are not. And you will go with it because you’re told this is what college is for; to find where you fit. But I beg of you, please experiment despite what anyone else says. You will for the very first time during your junior year, and it will cause you great humiliation but it will show your most respected teachers and mentors that you are fearless. You will not have been fearless for so long, Katie. Keep that alive in yourself, you are all the better for it.
You’re writing now, is that a pleasant surprise? Not only writing, but published writing. You are an editor – so keep exchanging papers with Sally when it comes to peer editing time in English. She is making you a better writer and a better critical thinker. Plus she gets your brand of humor, which I never want you to doubt or lose. You know all that stuff you write in your journal that you think is too deep, too poetically verbose, too exposed to ever be shared with anyone? You’ll gain the confidence to let it all out into the open. And that will only come with time; it will only come with going to dark places you do not yet know and with needing a way to understand what’s going on in your own mind. You love being the strong one; I know that. But you will learn through your writing that being strong does not mean having the answers.
You love being a part of a group of tight-knit friend circles, but I want to remind you that that is not all there is. You will find your closest friendships one-on-one, and while this will challenge your sense of “belonging” it will make you a stronger individual and leader, as opposed to part of a collective voice.
I know you think you are on a straight path. I know you think you have the next 10 years mapped out for yourself and that the plan is fail-proof. You think you will not be one of those people who won’t know exactly what she wants to do, you think you will not be someone who “finds herself” because you already know who you are. Well, part of that is true. You know who you are and what you stand for…in this moment. You are not faking it or being a sardine and I applaud you for that. But you will have huge lows and great uncertainty. You will have the rug pulled from under you and find yourself questioning your talent, your capacity to love, and your map will not survive. I know this all sounds bad. But right now you do not know what it is like to be anything but the leader and exemplary. And there is a depth you cannot reach when you’re always at the top and can predict what you’ll get.
You know that you love to be the example, and love to feel loved when you perform – but take a look at why this is. It’s because when you are in front, it is one of the only times you allow yourself to feel loved – everything else about your actions and your life is about loving others. You need to know know the opposite. You need to know how to give love through your performance and leadership, and how to receive love in the rest of your life. You need to know what it is you want to accomplish and how you want to serve as a leader. And right now, you do not know that beyond aspiring to be like the people you admire. Your path will not look like theirs so do not get so mad at yourself when it starts to look dissimilar. When you almost fail Tap 1, when you don’t get accepted into the New York Satellite Program the first time around, when you sing a song all wrong for you and know it, don’t beat yourself up because you are not Sutton Foster. This is not a reflection on your talent or your ability to accomplish. You are you, and the reason you love her so much is because she is so unquestionably herself.
It does not matter where life takes you – and it will take you all over – as long as you act from your heart and with the unique determination that is all your own. Be a force, but stay soft. Be giving but remember to never stop giving to yourself. Be unquestionably Katie Horwitch. Be that.
I’m ready for the next 10 years if you’ll lead the way.
Love you so much.
Oh, and clean your room.