A Letter to the "Self" of Note to Self
By Gus Pappas
This letter is the 2018 “Letters About Literature” Level 3 winner for the state of Nevada.
Dear Connor Franta,
I am sitting here writing a letter to a simplistic, beautiful, aesthetic human being on a Wednesday morning, 8:06 AM, on the spot, how thrilling. I would have written this late last night when my thoughts usually come alive, but, on the rare occasion, your average, hyperactive, teenage boy was actually tired and could avoid a sleepless night of overthinking and worrying myself into a dark abyss of lost causes and no hope and… Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so intimate so fast, it is a terrible force of habit, just ask the people I pay to be my friends. That was a joke, funny ha ha. Anyways, by now you can probably tell that I am not trying to write the next New York Times best seller on how to make great first impressions, but what I am writing to you about is your best seller, Note to Self.
First thing’s first, I have never been the biggest book worm. Of course, I say this while thinking about my impressive bookshelf full of untouched pages back at home, next to my bed. I hope those sheets and pillows miss me. However, your words and this compilation of beautifully crafted pages has become my personal Bible. Going into my junior year and coming out of my year of coming out, ironic, I made the choice to simply stop choosing my own path. Let me explain. Your unique binding of photographs, short essays, poems and letters has doubled as a roadmap through all of the sleepless nights, over thinking, and introductions of my true self to me and the world. This roadmap gave me confidence in the path I have been on, trust and loyalty in the people I increasingly came out to and a feeling of self-love I have never experienced. Truly, Note to Self is the best therapy anyone could get for twenty four US dollars. You, Connor, have opened high windows supplying a breath of fresh air and light to brighten a cloudy mind; a window I have never felt confident enough to reach and open myself.
Let me be straight with you, or as straight as I can be, I always imagined writing you a letter like this. It would be a letter where I could express to you my problems and the influence your book has had on me, but it feels like so much more than that. Upon being assigned a rough draft for this letter, my thoughts spilled out onto the paper where my composed sentences should have been, but I felt connected with you through the similar spilling of your thoughts throughout the book. A few hours into the night I looked down upon a paper filled with calligraphed phrases, first impressions, quotes and thoughts accompanied by sketches of flowers similar to those in the breathtaking photos included throughout your book. I never did notice the natural beauties some of our world still has to offer. After reading this one book, the only one I have truly connected with, my overthinking did increase. However, the enjoyments of poetry, songwriting, and photography, often shadow it. With the draft incomplete, and motivation restored, I started it the next morning, information we have already gone over, hope you were listening. There will be a pop quiz.
On a serious note, Note to Self is and was the one thing I went to when I felt I had nothing and no one else to confide in. In today’s environment for lgbtq+ youth sometimes it feels as if there is nowhere we can be ourselves whether it’s in our families or out in politics or even just around school, especially if we are only one foot out of the closet. The wise pages would speak to me in ways that comforted me and seemed to help put my current problems into perspective. I saved that advice and those pages for the sleepless nights. It was similar to taking medication when you are sick. Note to Self is mindfulness medicine. A relatable example of this was during a flight I took to New York on a choir trip to Carnegie Hall. The funny part about this is I am not the traveler type. Kiss my chances of meeting Bear Grylls, or being the next Christopher Columbus, goodbye. During the flight, my plane anxiety took over and, knowing I would need it, I grabbed Note to Self out of my bag and hugged it. I then took my airline ticket listed NV→NY and stuck it in the place my old bookmark was, pretty aesthetic right? As I noticed the closed eyes of many passengers combined with the slight snoring of others, I quietly flipped to page 46, what a page. My eyes glanced over the line several times that read, “When I'm on a plane going through turbulence, I don't bat an eye. Well there's nothing I can do now if this thing decided to go down, so why freak out?” It is a moment I will never forget on my JetBlue flyer experience, this is not a promo. I felt as if this book was written for me, for me and for me. It provides me with comfort and has traveled as far as I have across the US. From California to New York, your book has been there to guide the way through tough relationships and many mental, self-conflicting battles.
“Your unhappiness will not bring him back it will only further destroy you (pg 202)...you can't change for somebody and you can't change somebody for you (pg 242).” Boy let me tell you, if I had these quotes engraved into the small stones known as my frontal lobes, undeveloped, the explosion of thoughts, emotions, mindlessness, depression, anxiety, discord, and unconfidence, known as my sophomore year of high school, may have been avoided, not easily. And this was all due to one crush, on one guy, with one love – for girls. Now that could be my New York Timesbestseller. Your poem, “an old friend,” says it all. The constant, never-ending cycle of having what you need, not having what you want, and needing to deal with it for the better of each person's best interests. I never analyzed my feelings after telling this guy I loved him when he respectfully could not love me back. It is that moment we always see in the movies and television shows on Netflix that we do not cry to until the third time we have watched it through and finally understand the heartache. If there is any one thing, any one person in any one situation could take away from this book it is simply: make yourself happy. I have learned the importance of self embrace and the true balance of love through your poems and visuals. It is true that unhappiness is counterproductive, wow big word, to progress in life. From your words, a seed was planted in my mind. A small seed that would soon, “blossom in the shadow of adversity.” Your words have inspired one confused 16-year-old boy from Las Vegas and many others I know. I hope you know that the notes to yourself have become notes to myself, one person you have truly improved the experience of living for. I sing with a voice that feels true and speak with words that make an impact. Your pride and confidence has instilled a love in my heart for you, for the community you inspire, one I am proud to be a part of, and for myself. You wrote the dedication in Note to Self “for me” and now it truly feels as if it is for me.
You know what they say? “They say the truth will set you free, but what they neglect to mention is what happens when the truth isn't what you want to hear (pg xi).” Okay, I do not really know if that is what “they” say, whoever they might be, but it is what you said, and I heard it loud and clear. This quote of yours just gives me chills and should become everyone's life motto. You see, I go to school almost every morning and think to myself, What will they think? And perhaps it is the same “they” as referenced to before, but the point is that so many people live in fear of change and progress. Coming out to several people, including my best friend, my personal rock and beautiful friend, my crush, my sister, my parents, my student council, and I guess whoever reads this, it feels as if a great weight is lifted off of my shoulders each time. However, what appears even scarier, is the giant weight still suspended above me waiting to drop at any moment when that good feeling spirals. I will admit, the thought of people reading this letter makes me feel worried and unstable in my heart and gut, both of which I have always learned to follow and trust. Simply put, I do not know what the future holds, and neither do you, or anyone really, but that is one of the best parts about life. It is about living freely and allowing our paths to lead us. It is the beautiful, simplistic, aesthetic parts of our lives, just like you and your book, that allow us to love ourselves and each other. So I leave this note to myself with you: never change who you aspire to be in possibility that you will lose the ability to inspire others.
Gus Pappas is student at Silverado High School in Henderson, Nevada. His letter to Connor Franta, author of Note to Self, won first place in the Nevada Letters About Literature competition and advanced to the national level. National winners will be announced in mid-May. Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12, run through the Library of Congress in partnership with Nevada Humanities.
Images courtesy of Gus Pappas.