The Most Important Letter I Ever Wrote

To Dad, From Kelly began with a single letter I wrote to my father in fall 2011, one year after he died. The words in that letter are the most important I’ve put on paper. With my memoir published, I decided to write another letter to reflect on my three-year writing journey. The twist: I’ve addressed this one to the 2011 version of me. As today is the 4th anniversary of Dad’s death, I’ve decided to share that letter.

Dear Kelly,

You’re pale. And plump in the midsection. You love writing because it makes you see the world more imaginatively. You think that writing makes you a more caring person.

Just wait. In three years, after hours spent writing in your basement, snow will have more color than your skin. And that slight bulge will become a noticeable belly. It’s OK, writing will have become more fun and important than exercising. Still, avoid the once-a-week 2,000-calorie Taco Bell orders when you can.

Soon, you won’t just love writing. You’ll need it. The creative release will sustain you. Writing will transform you into a deeper, more invested person. Writing will offer you an outlet for the emotions you cannot otherwise form.

Around a year after your dad’s death, a friend will ask you to write a letter to him. The decision to write it will launch the most harrowing, rewarding, and introspective journey of your life. Buckle up because the ride ain’t easy.

You think you can write well. You can’t. But you’ll improve.

You think you’ve cried before. You haven’t. Noah’s Ark might capsize in the torrent of tears you’re about to shed.

You think you understand hard work. You don’t. But you will.

On most mornings you’ll feel exhausted as you stare into a blank computer screen, its flashing cursor seeming like a giant middle finger flicking up and down—taunting—howling that you don’t have the heart to finish. Words will flee. Paragraphs will evaporate. “Why the fuck can’t I write?” You’ll wail. But fight. Listen to your dad’s voice and force yourself into the dark hurt of hearing him speak. Slice the scars protecting your deepest wounds and stitch yourself together by unleashing raw fury into the writing.

You’ll eviscerate you’re mind, body, and spirit. But you’ll survive. And heal.

Don’t fight your changing music tastes. From folk and bluegrass to soul, gospel, and even Negro Spirituals—all forms will carry a tune you need to hear.

And don’t fret when you spend the last 6 months of writing listening to only Jodeci and 2Pac. The journey, in all its forms, will be unexpected.

You’re impatient so you think you need to finish the manuscript now. When your bosses ask you to finish the work for which they are paying you, remember this: They are not sabotaging you’re writing career. Quit complaining and do the work.

That 3rd draft you finish and declare the publish-ready manuscript is shit. Friends and family will be supportive, but you can (and will) do better.

The open mic night you believe you’re attending on a random Tuesday evening in May 2013 isn’t actually an open mic night. The community theater hangout that you stumble into will cascade into a leading role in a play you are unqualified to act in, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing over the next 4 weeks will become some of the most rewarding moments of your adult life.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Most are better. Steal from them. Learn from them. Be as good as you can be.

Believe in the value of your story. It’s the only one that nobody can replicate.

A fall Friday will arrive when you are weary from work and writing. Get off your ass, grab The Power of One, stuff a notebook and pen into your pocket, and sit in the corner of an old world bar sipping IPAs and eating stuffed cabbage.

Your life is about to change.

When a spirited, dark-haired girl sits on the barstool to your left, announces (loudly) to the bartenders that she’s searching for a mid-century modern couch, and orders a glass of red wine, don’t wait 60 minutes to introduce yourself. She’s the one.

Love strikes unexpectedly – especially for those who spend their Fridays reading, writing, eating, and drinking by themselves at bars.

Never confuse being alone with being lonely.

You’ll read this quote from Neil Gaiman about writing: “The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”

Print the quote and stuff it in your pocket. You’ll need the words to persevere through the gut punches of honest emotion you are writing.

The stories you write will cause your family pain. The writing is too truthful. Appreciate their sorrow, but continue on your journey.

As you write, you’ll want more from your father. More time. More conversations. Answers. You’ll be frustrated, angry at missed opportunities. And that’s OK. Because when the final period is typed, you’ll be thankful for every crooked grin, bit of sarcasm, and wisdom he shared.

Three years from now everything will be worth it. The scribbled-in moleskins. The writer’s block. The smashed computer parts. The edits. The Red ink. The Revisions. The underlined books full of margin notes. The reflection, introspection, and desperation. When you finally hold To Dad, From Kelly in your hands, everything will be worth it.

Good luck my friend,

Kelly

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12 comments

  1. Amazing…live this! You have an incredible gift and we are blessed for you sharing it with us. I can only imagine the incredible things written about ten years from now.

    ralph lazaro VP DIGITAL PRODUCTS GROUP | FINDAWAYER

    877-893-0808 x216 direct | 704-816-9733 mobile rlazaro@findawayworld.com

    Findaway World 31999 Aurora Road Solon, OhIo 44139 USA 877-893-0808 phone | 440-893-0809 fax

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    1. Thanks Ralph! Appreciate the kind words. It’s tricky, scary, and frightening to share deeply personal stories but also rewarding. Looking back to 3 years ago, I never could have predicted any of the events that took place. 10 years from now, i’ll be in my 40s and thats enough to terrify me!

    1. Tyranny is correct. As a would-be writer, there are few moments more frightening than staring blankly at a blank page wondering “what am I going to write next.” A healthy mix of wine and coffee and creativity helped me endure…

  2. My, how you’ve grown! Every raw emotion, from love to grief, reaches out and grabs the reader by the heart. Thank you.

  3. Speechless. I’m believing these are the most honest words you ever written. Talk about gut wrenching and laying your soul open for all who care about you to understand the healing that writing has allowed you to begin to move forward. Thank you Kelly. Love.

    1. Thanks! They are pretty honest, that’s for share. Not much of the Lytle hyperbole (inherited from Grandpa Bill) in there at all. I’m glad that I can share my journey with others and I hope they continue to find it worthwhile to hear the stories. Thank you, thank you.

  4. Just read your book. Your Dad had a heart bigger than the big house and a soul larger than the Rockies. Your book challenged and continues to challenge me to be a better person, father and husband. You are/were both humble, endearing people in the presence of aquantences and total strangers. Never feel guilty celebrating any current or prior aspect of your enviable relationship with a poignantly deep man.

    1. Thank you for the kind note. I think as a writer we never know how our words will be received so it is meaningful to know that you’ve found them impactful and even challenging. I appreciate you sharing that information with me. Thank you again!

  5. Hi Kelly…I coached with your father at Fremont Ross… My son J.J. and you would run around at camp imitating those who came before both of you… I loved coaching with your father and loved Fremont Ross football… I just started to read your book… It is wonderful!!! I am reflecting on all those discussions during the week… Game night… But most importantly the off season… Thanks for sharing your dad and yourself!
    Coach Dan Fought

    1. Coach Fought- How are you? Thank you so much for the note and the support. I remember all those days very well and often think back (fondly of course) on how special it was to be traveling with the team and coaches, watching games from the sidelines or press box, and – of course – having an up close look at Charles Woodson and his talent!

      Sharing the book is my pleasure, and I sincerely hope you enjoy. I wrote as honest as I could. Though personal, I hope that the book’s many reflections resonate for you as you read.

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