When I attended the Girls Leadership Institute I was going into my freshman year. For most people, this is a pretty transitional time. Most incoming freshmen are attending a new school, or at least a new division of their school. My school was different. High school started in 7th grade, and so I was pretty sure I knew everything I needed to. I think I thought of myself as a pretty confident person. How I measured this confidence, I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with standards I compared myself with. Did I think I was pretty? Yeah, I was basically satisfied with my appearance. Did I think I was smart? I had good grades and I went to a good school. Did I feel comfortable meeting new people? Hey, I was at GLI, and I’d just made a ton of friends, so yeah, obviously! In a way, I wish I could back to my fourteen-year-old self, and sort of do a reality check. I think I would have sat myself down and asked myself different questions.
You might be wondering what’s causing me to examine my former self. Well, the other day I came across a pretty interesting letter. It was from me, Fiona Lowenstein. I realized it was the letter I wrote while at GLI all about my goals for the future, and the person I thought I was currently. It was mailed to me six months after I wrote it, but I don’t really think it made as much of an impact then. Only now, in second semester of my sophomore year do I really get it.
I remember when we were told to write the letters. I remember sitting there and thinking, What do I want to change about myself? What am I unhappy with? It had been really hard for me to self-examine for the first week. It was only after a while that I realized there was one thing I wasn’t completely happy about in my life, and that was my music. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing songs. I say that because my parents tell me I used to just sing as I made my way throughout the house. Apparently, I would create entire musicals in my room. As I grew older, it developed, and so by the summer before freshman year, I was singing and playing songs I’d written on the piano, and I had a bunch of them. There was only one problem: I was only playing them for myself.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I played them for my parents, and their friends sometimes, when they asked me to, but I was not comfortable performing in front of my friends. This seems sort of weird to me in a way, looking back on it, because I never felt afraid to be who I really was, or like I lived a double life in any other way….but, I really was. I would come home from school and sit at the piano and write two songs in one afternoon, and then I wouldn’t tell anyone aside from my parents about it. The worst part is, it didn’t bother me that much. I was happy and secure in nearly every other part of my life, so why would dwell on this?
Looking back on it, I’m realizing that it went deeper than the songs. It was not just a strange shyness about playing my music…it was an attempt to fit in. In middle school, and even high school, I think we’re all trying to figure out who we really are. Are we the prude? The slut? The smart girl? The class clown? The list goes on, but the fact is, it’s almost impossible to be more than one. The problem with that is…we’re all more than one! We’re all prudes, sluts, geeks, and every other label imaginable, it’s only that not everyone gets to see those sides of us.
Reputation is such a loaded word when you’re fourteen. You need to have a good reputation, whatever that means. I think I worked hard to create a balance so that people would think of me a certain way. The funny part is, I can’t remember what I wanted them to think of me as, only what I didn’t want them to think of me as. I was definitely happy, though. I managed to secure a positive reputation early on, so why would I change that? Why would I risk losing being thought of as the smart girl who goes for what she wants? Yeah, that may not have been my first choice label, but, labels are like playing roulette. You could make the most harmless movement, and lose everything.
I didn’t realize any of this back then, of course, so that’s what’s so interesting about my letter. It doesn’t say any of this. It mostly mentions people I’m not even friends with anymore. There’s just one little line that says, I want to be able to play my songs for my friends. It doesn’t say, I want to feel comfortable reading my poetry out loud. It doesn’t say I want to feel comfortable blogging. It doesn’t say I want to risk it all to be who I really am. But all these things are there, if you only read between the lines.
A lot has changed since then. I gradually began playing music for groups other than the people I went to school with. I made friends at school who hadn’t known me in 8th grade. I was able to reinvent myself, until I had fully introduced another part of who I am. It was a truly amazing feeling.
In the past few months, I’ve opened myself up even more. I can credit the internet with this. I’ve blogged for The Huffington Post, this website, and my own site. Not only does this mean sending out my message to the world, it means I can receive comments on whatever I say. This is a scary thought, when you think about it, because there are some rude people out there, but I guess it’s all part of introducing myself. Not everyone’s gonnna like you, right?
Lastly, I set up a youtube channel for my music. At first, it was fine. I mean, it’s almost easier with strangers, sort of like performing for a large audience as opposed to a small group…you can’t see anyone’s face. Then, people I know started watching. It started out with my close group of friends, but the day after I posted one video, I had people I’d never spoken to before come up to me in school and talk to me about it. Everyone seemed to know…and it was okay.
So far, I haven’t gotten any rude comments on any of the content I post on the web. I received a couple emails about my website which called it “too liberal” and a few anti-abortion emails, which didn’t bother me, because I don’t even mention abortion on the site. They were sort of out of left field. Now I look forward to the comments; I love hearing the feedback, even if it’s constructive criticism. I can’t imagine what my 8th grade self would have said about that!
The fact is, it doesn’t really matter. I guess my only regret is that instead of finding my letter from 8th grade in 10th grade, I could have found a letter from 10th grade in 8th. I’m guessing it would have gone a little something like this:
Take the gamble; be yourself.
PS—always read between the lines