give up the ghosts
I’m writing to you from San Francisco, but in the coming weeks I’ll be writing to you from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and (maybe) Miami. There’s a lot of movement going on in my life at the moment. Motion is good, but overwhelming at times.
It’s a new year and that means both the end and the beginning to many things. On a related note, I’ve been thinking about closure, endings, and letting go. Hence, this draft of an essay below. To be completely honest I’m not sure if I like it, but I’m posting it anyways – not everything has to be perfect to be shown.
Thanks for reading. I hope to write to you often, and have it be a kind of conversation – what can I do better, what should I write about, what do you love to read? Please let me know :) you can reply directly via email.
Caveat to this essay: I am talking about the variety of closure that can be self-given. There are some events that people need professional help to process.
PS: I intend for this substack to be pretty low pressure and against perfectionism – which means the structure will vary from week to week, sometimes short sometimes very long. If you’d like to read some longer essays, I will be posting them on Mirror.
At the end of 2021 I fell asleep before midnight and woke up to a new year groggy and unwitting. Like most changes, you blink and before your heart can register it, you’re in it – fully submerged. You’re in the city you wanted to be in, larger, grittier, sharper, but more beautiful than you imagined. You’re in your shiny-self era, hurtling toward new places, gym routines, people, jobs. It feels kind of impossible that we’ve arrived at a new year again, but here we are. The ends of most things, is invented and arbitrary, and yet so precious. There’s something endearing about the collective effort we put into marking ends and beginnings. Text friends that we love them and deep clean our apartments, download all the reflection templates, pull out the weeds, plant new, hopeful things. We try our very hardest to believe in the possibility of sudden narrative change that comes with a new year.
But hard as we may try, there are things we take with us into new years that probably should’ve stayed behind. After the gloss of the first few weeks peels off, what’s left underneath is the same: habits, insecurities, wanting.
It’s human nature to desire neatly tied ends and packaged feelings; so that we can compartmentalize, store the old versions of ourselves in the back corner room of our hearts. That’s why we crave and anticipate formalized ways we declare things complete: be it the ball drop at the end of a year or graduation ceremonies or post-mortem breakup conversations. But not every ending gets a ceremony or explanation and that makes closure and acceptance difficult. Many endings are completely internal. There’s no exchange of goodbyes, no dust that settles. The river runs in one direction, and laps into the ocean, pooling into its new form. One night a pattern is broken and a new state replaces it. You can’t schedule closure into your internal calendar - can’t tell if you’ll feel this way for a month or for years to come.
Letting go is a practice we’re not naturally very good at. Aren’t there many ways in which we never say goodbye, never close chapters? We stay stuck in love with people out of nostalgia. We stay in familiar places that no longer inspire us. We stay fixated on parts of ourselves we considered difficult or awkward or ugly or fundamentally unlovable. In those ways we are frozen in attachment to the past.
A conversation I had last week with R: Sometimes I still think I’m the old me and I overcompensate for it. It’s crazy how many ‘objectively’ successful people have told me something similar. No matter the promotion or the next round of funding or the beautifully curated life, they wade through life like it’s a thick slab of mud with all this imposter syndrome weighing them down. No matter how you score on traditional metrics of success or wealth or aesthetics, you can still dwell on a half-formed version of yourself, identify deeply with all your ghosts.
I do believe that closure can be be self-enforced. But it does takes fucking discipline. It’s a muscle. That may be tough love, but the truth is: you can’t move on to new chapters when you keep re-reading the old ones again and again and again, even if they tug at your heart, open the door, beg you to stay. Regardless of the texture of closure: whether it’s a person, a place, an old version of yourself, if you linger and never let go, you inadvertently steel your heart against new and beautiful experiences to come.
A new year doesn’t somehow magically make it easy to move on from the past, and it’s somewhat harmful to portray letting go as anything other than hard work. With hard work, you just have to keep showing up, keep moving even if it’s crawling a few inches. Even if it takes longer than you think. Even if it means discomfort. Eventually the movement gets easier, picks up momentum. Seeking closure to the past allows us to step into new versions of ourselves, with lightness.
Olga Tokarczuk: “I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”
The morning of the new year we got into our little car and drove down the coast until we saw the sparkling line of ocean. The seam between the city and the water. The precipice of the past and present. The blue-ness of the ocean: full and expansive.
Every new year feels like this, every old year feels like this. Life continues as a series of waves. Some will be gentle, pushing us in the right direction. Other times everything crashes down with force at once. Every year we swim in a little further from shore. Take the past and release it here. My dear, you can’t hold on to moving water, ever shifting and morphing – no matter how tight your fist.